We will be updating summaries of the sessions over the coming week.


Most public discussion about climate change is about as cheerful as a suicide watch, but this attitude is both factually wrong and strategically self-defeating, says journalist and author Mark Hertsgaard, who has reported on climate change from all over the world for leading outlets including The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Time, The Nation, Mother Jones, Scientific American, NPR and the BBC.  Although one wouldn’t know it from US media coverage, there is actually a great deal that citizens and governments can do–and are already doing, especially at the local level–to fight climate change.  In what Hertsgaard calls “the biggest climate victory you never heard of,” grassroots activists in the South and Midwest have helped to impose a moratorium on new coal-burning power plants, previously the largest source of US greenhouse gas emissions.  In Africa, thousands of the poorest farmers in the world are sequestering carbon even as they boost climate resilience by growing trees amid their fields of sorghum and millet.  Communities like Cortland and Tompkins Counties, with their abundant intellectual and social capital, should be able to achieve at least as much.  Drawing on his latest book, HOT:  Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, Hertsgaard will describe best practices and strategies for “avoiding the unmanageable and managing the unavoidable” of climate change.  As a co-founder of the group Climate Parents, he will suggest that parents (and grandparents) have a special obligation to join the climate fight.  His speech is scheduled for Thursday, April 18, at 7:00 PM at the Hangar Theater, and he is available for local media interviews from April 18 through April 20.


What is Climate Change? Resulting Regional Implications (Larry Klotz)

The scientific community agrees that the climate change we are experiencing now is caused by human activities which release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  Temperatures are expected to rise across New York State by 3 to 5.5o F by the 2050’s with heavy downpours continuing to increase.  What is the basic science behind this climate change?  What are the current and future impacts of climate change?   These and other questions will be considered during this presentation.

Increasing Climate Variability in Upstate New York (Dave Eichorn)

Agriculturally, we are fortunate in Central New York in that generally, we can count on a fairly uniform distribution of precipitation throughout the year.  That, and other kinds of weather we receive appears to be changing in its regularity. A dramatically warming Arctic might be playing an important role in this. In my presentation we will show you why that is so important to us farther south in the mid-latitudes. As the Arctic warms, then winds at high altitudes which control the movement of our storms and masses of warm and cold air change. When they change, so does our weather. We will discuss this and look at objective ways in which it appears our weather is changing as a result of a changing climate.

Adapting Agriculture to the Changing Climate (David Wolfe)

How can those involved in agriculture be prepared to take advantage of opportunities and minimize risks and inequities of climate change impacts?  What technologies, information, and decision tools are needed to guide the responses of farmers, consumers, and policy-makers to help ensure sustainable agriculture systems?  What incentives and information will be necessary for farmers and others in the food industry to contribute to greenhouse gas mitigation? Research and outreach priorities to address these issues will be discussed.


Climate Change and Your Legal Practice

As an attorney practicing locally, what must you know to aid your clients in a world of climate disruption? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Tompkins County have both recently released draft documents that plan for climate change. What insights do these documents give as to how laws and regulations may evolve in response to climate change? How do you advise a client trying to resolve conflicts with insurance companies and claims adjusters in a new era of climate-change-related losses? Attorney Susan Brock and CEO J. David Ferris of The Wood Office insurance agency will give you tools for anticipating and addressing new legal questions in times of evolving regulation. Sponsored by the Tompkins County Bar Association and the Finger Lakes Women’s Bar Association, this program provides qualified attorneys with 1.0 hour of CLE credit. Bring a brown bag lunch!


Protecting Public Health in a Changing Climate

As the climate changes, heat-related illness and death are projected to increase. More intense precipitation and flooding along the coasts and rivers could lead to increased stress and mental health impacts, impaired ability to deliver public health and medical services, increased respiratory diseases such as asthma, and increased outbreaks of gastrointestinal diseases.  Worsening air quality, including more smog, pollens, and molds, could affect cardiovascular and respiratory-related illness. Vector-borne diseases, such as those spread by mosquitoes and ticks may expand, or their distribution patterns may change. Children, outdoor laborers, and athletes may be at greater risk for respiratory diseases than those who spend more time indoors and are less active, and the elderly and those with lower income may be at heightened risk.  What does this mean for public health in Tompkins and Cortland Counties over the next few decades? Medical practitioners Timothy Bael and Doug MacQueen, Cornell faculty member Elaine Wethington, and Cortland County Deputy Director of Public Health MJ Uttech discuss the implications of changing climate for our health.


Regional Climate Impacts on Ecosystems, Agriculture, and Human Communities

In the opening plenary session, researchers from Cornell University zero in on climate change at the regional and local level.  Art DeGaetano, lead author of the most comprehensive statewide report on climate change in the U.S., will explore the expected impacts in our home area – where our vulnerabilities are, what risks we face, and also, what possible opportunities we will have compared to the rest of the nation.  David Wolfe will talk about agriculture, ecosystems and potential impacts on our most important economic sectors, including farming, wine, and tourism.  Shorna Allred works closely with municipalities and town boards to plan for the future.  She will discuss the human social, political, and psychological processes that enhance our ability to respond to climate change and encourage an open and informed exchange of ideas.  David Kay will cover the implications of climate change for community planning in New York State, and particularly how this is likely to increase the stakes related to efforts to plan regionally in a   state where “home rule” is the rule. There will be time for Q & A following short presentations, moderated by author Mark Hertsgaard.


Insurable Risks in a Changing Climate

The United States and the world have been inundated with natural disasters in the last decade resulting in billions of dollars of losses for the insurance industry. All signs point to not only a continuation of this trend, but the potential for significant increases in events and losses.  This workshop will examine how the impact of climate change on the insurance industry will also impact the cost, coverage, and availability of insurance for the business community.

Clean Energy Cluster: Business Opportunities Brought by Climate Change

Our local clean energy businesses may seem small in number, but their impact on our local economy will continue to expand as efforts to address climate change accelerate in coming years.  In this session, entrepreneurs leading a wide spectrum of local energy firms will share their stories and their vision for this critically important sector.  This impressive group of business leaders is taking responsibility for retrofitting our leaky buildings,  installing large and small renewable power supplies, and manufacturing their own energy-related inventions.  Everyone concerned with keeping our local economy resilient and diverse should be aware of the growing opportunities and multi-faceted roles the clean energy sector will play as climate change intensifies.

Green Buildings, Resilient Infrastructure, & Climate Smart Design

As climate change intensifies and budgets tighten, governments, institutions, and businesses must make investments in buildings, transportation, and pubic infrastructure that both reduce fossil carbon emissions and safeguard against an array of anticipated climate impacts. Our communities can no longer be served by “business as usual” design standards. Instead we must consider extreme weather risks, energy flows, mobility options, and population shifts when development projects are proposed. This panel of green building professionals will share local examples of how cutting edge design can reduce emissions, enhance resilience to climate impacts, and protect vulnerable populations while greatly improving quality of life.

Building a Resilient Local and Regional Food System

We need food daily, but climate change will complicate getting it. In an age of cheap oil and water, a national food system evolved that requires massive transportation efforts and very extensive petrochemical inputs to large-scale industrialized operations. These long, centralized food supply chains are also vulnerable to disruptions from weather emergencies and public health threats from microbial contaminants. This session will offer brief overviews of four ways in which the local and regional infrastructure for food distribution is being rebuilt, boosting economies in depressed rural, urban and village places as it grows.  A Finger Lakes Fresh food hub in Groton, a commissary kitchen and community meeting space at GreenStar in Ithaca, an Around the Corner Farmshare program in Binghamton, and a new and improved policy for determining dairy prices to farmers at the USDA all hold great promise for making both our regional economy and our food security robust. Working together, we also create more food justice.


Talking About Climate Using the Tools of Media Literacy

Many Americans report being confused about climate change because of mainstream media coverage that gives the impression that there is still significant debate about the existence or cause of global warming. Climate activists express great frustration over this persistent distortion of the facts. But, perhaps media coverage itself can be used as a teaching tool in our personal conversations to encourage other citizens to take action on climate. In this session, we will use examples from media literacy courses on climate change to explore ways to engage others in a useful dialogue about climate via shared analysis of the thoroughness, perspectives, and financial interests behind the media’s coverage of climate topics. Inviting others to take an active role in examining the climate “debate” might be one way to reduce confusion and lack of engagement.

Community Resilience: Developing an Inclusive and Regenerative Strategy

Responding to acute climate disturbance can become an opportunity for recreating our region as a thriving and resilient living system. Resilient organizations and communities are able to harness disturbance and conflict in the service of creative growth. In order to do this, they embrace the unique social and cultural strengths of all their members and work with the abundant, regenerative capacities of the natural systems they are imbedded in. This requires cultivating a level of alertness, interdependence and skill-sharing that generates well-distributed abilities at all levels: interpersonal, organizational, cultural, economic and political. A resilient response to climate change will also depend on building up human and natural reserves for the sake of preparedness, through low or no-waste modes of operation; dismantling structural forms of oppression that keep people diminished and disconnected; filling in resource gaps in some sectors through partnering with groups in others; and nimbly adapting through highly participatory processes. The panelists represent 4 important foundations of a resilient culture and economy: assessing and optimizing local capacity at a systems level; building broad participation in food production; creating vibrant and diverse models of a sharing economy; and building an electronic infrastructure for deeply interdependent networks. The session will explore the challenge of how these building blocks can serve and be served by all sectors in our community, including those who often see themselves as marginalized.

Read remarks by Elan Shapiro and Eldred Harris of Building Bridges.

Read remarks by Jon Bosak of TC Local.


Climate Justice, Climate Grief

Addressing climate justice and coping with climate grief. How are these two topics interlinked? We have set in motion perhaps the largest and longest-lasting episode of injustice — intergenerational, international, interclass, interspecies injustice — as those who had the least to do with climate disruption will face the biggest harm. Many climate activists struggle with profound grief over this trajectory. What do our spiritual and ethical traditions offer to help us resist the paralysis of grief and be effective in activating the principles and values of justice in our response to climate change?

Engaging on Energy

Feeling frustrated about motivating your friends and family to reduce their fossil fuel consumption? Are you met with blank stares when you suggest that your brother trade his SUV for a bicycle? Join this panel of experienced communicators for a candid discussion of the challenges, barriers, and opportunities associated with moving people to action on climate change. The panelists will share insights from their work with cooperative, team-based approaches, the power of relationships and real social networks, engaging marginalized populations, and other messages, frames and approaches that have led to action. You won’t find any magic bullets here, but expect an open and lively discussion between the panelists and audience about how to effectively about talk energy and climate.


Climate Smart Money bets on Efficiency First

Local governments are finding that the fastest way to get smart on climate is to invest in conservation and efficiency measures.  We’ll hear four different stories from upstate NY where public facilities have received an energy makeover that has taxpayers smiling.  Dan Raymer, Chief Operator for the Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Facility, will discuss how the innovative financing mechanism called performance contracting is enabling completion of critical energy efficiency upgrades at Ithaca’s inter-municipal wastewater treatment facility. Brian Beasley, Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds for the City of Elmira, will discuss Elmira’s experience in conducting a city-wide upgrade of streetlights to energy-saving LED, saving the city thousands of taxpayer dollars. Bob Lotkowictz, Director of Municipal Operations for the Village of Skaneateles, will discuss how Skaneateles achieved LEED Gold certification for its reconstruction of the village’s old fire house, as well as other government energy efficiency efforts and innovative community outreach.  Frank Tallarino, Commissioner of Public Works for the City of Rome, will discuss how Rome used performance contracting to upgrade its facilities for energy efficiency, saving the city thousands of dollars with minimal upfront investment.  Dominic Frongillo, Deputy Town Supervisor for the Town of Caroline, will moderate the session.

Climate Smart: Renewable Energy for Local Governments

Local government has an important role to play in the transition to renewable and low-carbon energy supplies.  By investing in a variety of renewable energy sources, municipalities can be an inspiration to local businesses and residents by showcasing these new power systems.  Even more importantly, government leaders have a responsibility to reduce risk and expense for local taxpayers by making sure that critical public infrastructure is able to function cost effectively over the long run and stay in operation when grid power is interrupted.  This session will share stories from towns and counties about a variety of renewable energy projects.

Climate Ready: Preparing for Extreme Weather Events

Most upstate residents would anticipate that more frequent and extreme flooding is one of the major climate impacts predicted for our region.  But we will also face more intense and frequent episodes of drought, heat waves, ice storms, and wind damage.  Local governments need to identify vulnerable populations and critical infrastructure and develop plans for reducing risk, increasing resiliency, and improving response to extreme weather.  This session will explore programs to improve household preparedness and resiliency, and efforts by local governments to reduce risk through investments in green infrastructure and standards for “climate ready” development that reduce risk and vulnerability.

Climate Showcase Communities: Opportunities for Local Government

How can neighborhoods be created or in-filled to increase density, enhance resilience, cut energy use by up to 90%, grow much of their own food, and develop a caring community while enjoying an exceptionally high quality of life? How can local government wean itself from fossil fuels and lead residents in the transition to clean energy? Two of our nation’s fifty Climate Showcase Communities are located in Central NY. With cutting edge combinations of smart land use, on-site energy production, and residential and commercial energy efficiency, they provide real-world solutions to energy and climate challenges faced by local governments. In this session, attendees will learn how to develop neighborhoods and communities that dramatically reduce energy use, resource consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously providing a very high quality of life; understand the concepts behind model zoning and energy codes, assess marketing strategies that could allow this model to be widely employed in a community; and learn about a wide-range of activities local governments can take to create resilient and low-carbon neighborhoods.