HAGUE — Queensbury Town Supervisor John Strough was struck by the lack of elected officials at Saturday’s climate change conference.
Organized by North Country Climate Reality, a group based out of SUNY Plattsburgh in Queensbury, the conference focused on how climate change is affecting the Adirondacks. But of the approximately 60 people participating Saturday, most were already passionate about the issue and what to do about it, and there were only a few lawmakers there.
During a final panel discussion, which was dominated by Glens Falls and Warren County officials, people in the room wondered how to communicate the impact of climate change and get people to care who weren’t in the room that day. They felt a particular urgency, partially stemming from a United Nations report released earlier this month that says the world has about 12 years to keep global warming from reaching a degree that could cause catastrophic events like mass migrations, die-offs of crops and more intense and frequent storms.
“How many municipal elected officials are here?” Strough asked. “They are the ones who should be here. If they are the ones going to enact change in the next 13 years, they should be here.”
Strough specifically used the women’s rights movement as a concerning historical precedent for how long it can take for people to change their views. He pointed out that women gathered in Seneca Falls in 1848 for the Women’s Rights Convention. It took more than seven decades from then to gain the right to vote.
“Now it’s 98 years since then, and ladies, everything is just fine and hunky-dory, right?” he said. “That’s what worries me, is you have people out there denying climate change, or at least denying the human contribution of climate change, and those are the people we have to get to.”
Panelists and audience members discussed how they sometimes feel compelled not to use the word “climate change,” as they feel it’s become synonymous with being liberal.
Mark Lowery, a climate policy analyst for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said he’s been told by those in the communications departments to not use the words “climate change.”
“That’s giving into the Donald Trump analysis,” he said. “... I think we’re setting ourselves up for failure by letting those people win.”
Climate change can’t be addressed without talking about the ultimate causes, he continued.
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Michael Hoffmann, executive director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, said he doesn’t hesitate to use the term climate change, but encouraged people to “know your audience.”
“You don’t want to lose that link,” he said. “You have to be patient. I think it’s also just important to listen to what the other person has to say.”
One of the big hang-ups Hoffman and others get from those who don’t believe climate change is caused by humans is that people think climate change is natural and happens just like the weather. They also confuse weather with climate. Weather deals with atmospheric conditions happening in a short period of time. Climate is a much larger picture, looking at weather patterns over years, decades and beyond.
Hoffmann said thinking big picture and long-term can be difficult for people because there’s a “psychological distance.”
Hoffmann often uses food to communicate about climate change, convincing people that some of their favorite dishes could be at risk. He takes menus, even the conference’s menu for Saturday, and goes through the items line by line, listing what might not be around much longer.
Olives, for example, are threatened because the chill they need in California is threatened by warming temperatures. Milk production is threatened because hot cows don’t produce as much milk. Grains often suffer in extreme temperatures. So do grapes used for wine. Rice is in trouble because of sea level rise.
Another way to help communicate climate change, some officials suggested, is by talking dollars and cents and work load.
Installing a new culvert that can withstand larger storms decreases the amount of maintenance needed by highway departments, said Jim Lieberum, manager of the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.
Linda Fusco, who had the idea to hold a conference specifically focusing on the Adirondacks, said she was pleased with how the event turned out. She said the group will be planning another similar conference focused on schools and educators. A date has not yet been set.
For more information, visit northcountryclimate.org.