The day began with an hour of registration and opportunities for networking. This was followed by a fifteen minute welcome led by Representative of CCE Statewide Energy and Climate Team and Cornell Community and Regional Development Institute (CaRDI) Rod Howe, Director of the Vassar Environmental Studies Program Pinar Batur, and the Dutchess County Commissioner of Planning and Development Kealy Salmon. Keynote speaker of the day, Norm Scott, then gave a talk titled “Renewable Energy as a Key ‘Toward’ Revitalizing and Transforming New York Communities for Sustainability.”
Next in the lineup was a plenary panel on state policy initiatives. Speaker Lindsay Robbins of New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s Cleaner Greener Communities talked about her program, which focuses on regional problems and solutions in New York and strives to create both sustainable and affordable living situations for residents.
Fellow speakers Mark Lowery, Climate Policy Analyst for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, and Paul Beyer, State Director of Smart Growth Planning for the New York Department of State, also emphasized the importance of action on a regional level. Beyer advocated strongly for the Smart Growth Program, which aims to develop vibrant and energy-efficient communities through smart planning. He made several key points, including one concerning the placement of buildings and how this affects a community’s energy output. “An increase in the space between building equals an increase in BMT,” he argued, then went on to claim that regions needed to “fight sprawl” as well as find modes of transportation that provide an alternative to the less energy-efficient automobile.
The panel concluded with a portion for questions, during which Robbins took the microphone again and adamantly stated that these organizations needed to make participation [in environmentally friendly programs] the social norm.The day continued after a fifteen-minute break with two rounds of concurrent workshops and a second panel on multi-jurisdictional/regional initiatives.
The Villard Room was filled with tables set up fro each energy organization in attendance. Different spaces were designated for dialogue with the tabling organizations, observing presentations, food, and networking with others who attended the event. A variety of informative and instructive handouts were available at each exhibition for attendees; topics ranged from “Reducing the Impact of Severe Flooding” to “Agricultural Markets Outlook.” The enthusiasm that each organization expressed in each of their displays was also evident in the room’s atmosphere; the audience actively participated during speeches and panels, and during breaks there was a constant buzz of conversation. While the Villard Room was never entirely filled, turnout from the Vassar Community surprised and impressed those who organized the event.
When one attendee, whose project entailed planning and consulting with municipalities and government agencies with the focus on sustainable energy, was asked about her experiences presenting to the community, she responded enthusiastically, “I think the highlight is that this is happening. I studied this a long time ago in school, and it’s great to see the interdisciplinary work, and the effort.”
“I think it’s good to have environmental conferences focusing on specific things,” said Anna Iovine ‘16. (disclaimer: Iovine serves as a staff reporter for The Miscellany News. She continued, “I think there needs to be more attention paid to the environment on Vassar’s campus.”
Zywia Wojnar, the Interim Program Leader for the Environment and Energy program with the Cooperative Extension Dutchess County, was heavily involved in the planning of the event, which began six months prior to the date. She worked as part of the planning committee, as a member of the state-wide energy and climate program work team, together with Cornell University and other Cornell Cooperative Extension staff.
Wojnar worked on such projects as educating municipal officials about water quality, watershed characteristics, and flood resiliency, providing a variety of GIS educational tools (in conjunction with other projects as well as stand-alone teaching of the subject), educating homeowners about energy efficiency, providing learning opportunities for youth in the County through hands-on programs in the classroom and in the field; and educating teachers about bioenergy so they can convey that knowledge to their students and encourage interest in science, technology, engineering and math.
According to Wojnar, the main goal of the conference was to bring together stakeholders who were concerned about climate change and how the use of energy in our communities might make a difference in the negative effects of climate change.”
She continued, “We also wanted local decision makers, educators, planners, and municipal consultants to share and learn from each other on what could be done to make our communities more resilient, as this relates to climate change (reduce the adverse effects from) and energy needs (reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy generation and use or switch to renewable sources of energy, where feasible, or both).”
Wojnar went on to speak to the importance of collaboration and idea-sharing in the fight against climate change and for conservation. She continued, “We want to hear what others are doing through case studies, and learn from those experiences; understand what initiatives and incentives exist from regional and state leaders, as well as technical experts; and motivate each other to take action and develop partnerships in the community or region to reduce energy use, and develop plans for climate adaptation.”
When asked whether she believed the event was a success, she replied, “Judging by the comments people provided during and after the conference, I think yes. We had a good turnout from various sectors and from diverse communities; people were engaged and stayed to the end of the conference; great questions were asked during the plenary and breakout panels, as well as after each session and during breaks; and connections were made (we provided opportunities for networking).”
Even with the success of this conference, the environmentalists’ struggle persists, and the organizations that took part expressed a need to continue to work toward a cleaner, greener future for the state of New York. Information about the organizations that participated in the event can be found online at www.nyserda.ny.gov and smartgrowth.org.