Leaders in New Paltz now have an updated inventory of greenhouse gas emissions in the community. To reach a local goal of cutting those emissions 80% by 2050 will require getting nearly everyone out of gas-powered cars, because that’s where the vast majority of the pollutants are generated.
All told, 124,900 metric tons of carbon dioxide or equivalents were produced in New Paltz during the baseline year of 2017. That’s 8.9 metric tons per person, which is lower than the county average of about 11 metric tons per person. Of that amount, more than 110,000 metric tons came from transportation.
During last week’s board meeting, Supervisor Neil Bettez and Mayor Tim Rogers accepted the accuracy of the figures compiled by members of the community’s Climate-Smart Task Force, which were the result of a considerable amount of work. The first version of this inventory wasn’t complete enough for state regulators to award credit toward the Silver Certification as a “Climate-Smart Community,” largely because there was no clear way to meet the standards at all. A community inventory must include business uses, and those data are tricky to obtain due to privacy and proprietary issues. Task force member Joe Londa developed a methodology where there was none before, and got it done. This state program uses financial incentives to get New Yorkers to do their part in the global effort to stave off human extinction.
What’s frustrating for Rogers and Bettez is that this inventory has to account for all the greenhouse gases produced inside the Town line, and that includes the Thruway. The New Paltz share of American car culture included 53,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2017 alone. The increased number of electric charging stations in Town is bound to help, but Rogers said that state law blocking the resale of electricity — at a Stewart’s, for example — is a big impediment to the adoption of electric vehicles.
The resolution adopted by the Village Board accepted the inventory, and included a commitment to update it every five years. Since it took awhile to get the baseline in good order, work on that update will begin soon. It’s expected to capture the impact of the conversion to heat pumps in many public and private buildings, including the new Village firehouse and Town justice center. There are plans in the works to build solar farms on lands that must otherwise be left undisturbed, such as the Town landfill, and Village water treatment plant. All street lights in New Paltz have been swapped out for LEDs since the baseline inventory, too. The loop bus could become a free for all, with a simplified Main Street route, and the UCAT bus could be replaced with an electric version in the near future, which could also help bring those numbers closer to the eventual goal. Town Council members may adopt the same resolution next week.
All that work doesn’t amount to much, in the grand scheme of things. Building heating accounts for less than 8,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, and while it’s important to switch off of fossil fuels to resist this existential threat, the impact of cars and trucks simply dwarfs that number. That sobering fact was one that Bettez carefully drew out in a line of questioning of the task force members. Bettez believes that it’s critical to lobby for more state support, such as Rogers’ idea about reselling electricity.
Londa said that this is a problem that must be addressed from the top down, but also from the bottom up. If legislators don’t act because they believe it can all be done locally, or if each individual decides that it’s just too hard to do anything and that lawmakers should be wholly responsible for addressing climate change, then the efforts are probably going to fail. Every individual has to take responsibility for doing anything possible with the tools available, from world leaders down the line. “The goals are not meant to be easy,” Londa said. “We’re trying to change the world. This is supposed to be difficult.”