Addressing Climate Change at the Local Level
“The amount of rain you’ve seen these past few months, that isn’t normal,” Ravena Pernanand ’21 declared. She and her co-researchers, Rachel Pike ’21 and Abigail Roller ’21, would know —they’ve spent the past couple months learning about local climate patterns, analyzing local climate projections, and promoting climate justice. They know that climate change is here, now, and already affecting us. And, after working with towns like New Hartford and Kirkland, they know that people’s attitude toward climate change is changing as well.
Major: Environmental studies
Hometown: Norwalk, Conn.
High School: Brien McMahon High School
As part of a Levitt Center group project directed by Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Aaron Strong, Pernanand, Pike, and Roller have spent most of their summer working with local townships on climate change issues and researching why communities decide to take action on climate change and what might then impede climate action. Their efforts have focused on helping the Town of New Hartford produce a climate change risk assessment, which includes temperature and precipitation projections for the town, detailing how bad climate risks like flooding and heatwaves will be.
Major: Environmental Studies
Hometown: Schenectady, N.Y.
High School: Schenectady High School
This is all done in an effort to encourage policies or programs that officials might implement to make the community more resilient to climate change impacts. The climate risk assessment is one step in New Hartford becoming a Climate Smart Community (CSC), a New York State program which certifies that the town is climate-aware and working toward energy independence. Roller said, “One thing we found . . . that can really help communities in their Climate Smart Community designations is having outside help from an academic institution or contractors because most towns don’t have town officials whose job it is to make these climate risk assessments.”
Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.
High School: The Archer School for Girls
Still, the group did not want to create a risk assessment using the best available climate models, drop it off with the New Hartford Climate Smart Task Force, and call their work done. The trio felt that to best support and involve the board’s Climate Smart Task Force, they should conduct a participatory planning meeting with town officials about their climate concerns to produce a risk assessment more relevant to the town’s specific needs.
Pernanand said, “We just took their concerns and broke them down into sections, so we have agriculture, flooding, public health, and things like that. They all go into the assessment and we try to provide as much information as possible to [help New Hartford] adapt in the future.”
The group also interviewed councilpersons, town planners, and public works officials of other neighboring towns and villages about general barriers and facilitators to tackling climate change. These interviews, (together with a detailed statistical analysis of all New York’s Climate Smart Communities), Pike said, will go toward an academic paper that would offer insight into how climate action can be furthered or obstructed in small communities like those in Central New York.
More than assessing climate model outputs, putting data into Excel sheets, and interviewing town officials one-on-one, Pernanand, Pike, and Roller have also been talking to various community members, traveling to town meetings and even gave a presentation about climate change to the Clinton Middle School.
The group feels like they are doing important, necessary community work focused on the climate crisis, and they ultimately hope that others feel empowered to do the same. “I want people to know that as much as we are very skilled, qualified people, I feel like anyone could get their hands dirty in some of this stuff,” Pike said.
From witnessing a task force with minimal climate experience strive to solve their local climate crisis to the trio’s own work, the group knows that anyone can help fight climate change. Even more, the project has helped show Pernanand, Pike, and Roller that climate justice is something they can stay involved with long after this hot, rainy summer.