After providing a considerable amount of data about what is probably going to happen in New Paltz over the next several decades due to changes in the climate, members of the Climate-Smart Communities Task Force have gone back through those data to help prioritize the efforts of town and village leaders. They presented several recommendations at the joint meeting of both boards held on February 4. Among them are more public outreach, building climate data into existing evacuation plans and making these available to members of the public and creating more areas of shade in public places to help dealing with expected rising temperatures.
Greater outreach on climate change and why it’s a concern underpins all efforts to minimize its impacts, because people who understand the broader problems and how they can change individual behavior to address them will be more likely to do so, the climate-smart volunteers believe. Such outreach could include working with existing local groups devoted to addressing environmental issues, but in addition to “preaching to the choir” it should also involve contact with leaders of companies that are responsible for a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. Additional recommendations include a website as well as use of the local public access channel and newspaper. More communication “helps people understand the rationale behind these actions,” said Jim O’Dowd of the climate-smart team.
New Paltz of the future is likely to be a community with fewer snow days and more flooding events. What climate smart volunteers would like to see are evacuation plans that will help residents know where to go based on where that water ends up. They were unaware that there are plans in place for evacuating the community despite searching for same; the plans are apparently not available to the public, which these volunteers think would be preferable. A member of the climate-smart team will be invited to future emergency-planning sessions. One idea that might be pitched to that group would be the use of school buses to help move people out of a dangerous area.
The increased flooding will be the result of increased heat and projections indicate that summer days with highs exceeding 100 degrees will become far more common, and extended periods of heat will also be more frequent. A heat plan is the third priority being recommended. This would include not just identifying people who are most at risk from high temperatures, but also creating more shaded areas on public land to help residents escape the sun’s rays. Hasbrouck Park was identified as a likely tract, because it’s located near the village core and is presently only shaded by large trees growing on two sides. Trees were planted around the new playground after it was built in 2019, but haven’t had the time to grow tall enough to provide much shade yet. Shade structures attached to municipal buildings in other areas should also be considered, as should working with university officials to open air-conditioned doors to distressed residents on very hot days.
In addition to making the community safer for all residents, following through on these recommendations can provide points through the state’s climate-smart communities program, which in turn makes it easier to obtain grants to pursue such projects.