Building Climate Resilience One Community at a Time

This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.

Carrie Lang, C+S ’18

In the face of rising tides, severe weather and habitat degradation, 236 communities across New York are trying to figure out what it means to be climate smart. These local governments are working to build resilience against projected climate change impacts and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, setting an example for forward-thinking communities around the world.

The New York State Climate Smart Communities program is a framework to help municipalities mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate. Cities, towns or counties first take a pledge to recognize and address the threats of climate change. Then, they work towards completing various actions laid out in the framework, such as recycling programs or efficiency upgrades in government buildings. Completed actions earn communities points, and they can work up towards achieving bronze, silver and gold classifications. The gold classification is being developed to align with New York’s overall emissions reduction and adaptation goals.

Since the introduction of the program in 2009, communities that are home to nearly 7 million have registered. Of the 236 communities, 15 are certified bronze and three are certified silver. With over 1,600 municipal governments in the state, there is still a long way to go for certification, but the program has seen increased participation with the release of an online portal this year.

Registered and Certified Climate Smart Communities (Source:

The communities already registered have begun to take a holistic approach to tackling climate change. Certification actions span a wide range of topics, from building bicycling infrastructure to restoring floodplains to producing a heat emergency plan, a process which encourages communities to think about the ways that climate change will impact different aspects of residents’ daily lives.

There are over 100 actions that communities can complete to earn points. And the program is still evolving. During my internship at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, I have had the opportunity to help draft content for two proposed actions to add to the certification framework.

This experience showed me that it is no small feat for communities to become certified. However, the hard work that they put in definitely pays off in the long run, with benefits manifesting themselves in various ways.

Decreasing energy consumption and waste provide significant cost savings. Enhancing climate resilience protects the community against future risk. The certification process also stimulates the green economy, provides opportunities for recreation, and promotes healthy, livable communities.

Many actions themselves have co-benefits. The town of Mamaroneck converted two garbage trucks to run on used vegetable oil from local restaurants. The fuel savings returned the investment in less than a year, and the avoided emissions have enhanced local air quality. Ulster County implemented a rain garden that helps capture stormwater off 1,000 square feet of roof space and provides a habitat for local wildlife.

Because of the clear benefits, I hope that this program continues to add participants and gain public awareness. Right now, many New Yorkers don’t even know that they live in a Climate Smart Community. Expanding awareness can help residents learn why climate resilience is important and increase public involvement. Communicating the benefits is crucial in helping individuals come on board with the concept of clean growth.

While it’s easy to feel hopeless at times in the face of climate change, it’s encouraging to learn that numerous communities recognize the challenge and are willing to take action. From hamlets to large counties, every step counts.

And as events like Superstorm Sandy have shown, climate resiliency is something to take seriously. Adapting to changing conditions, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate future negative effects, helps create proactive and sustainable communities.

Ultimately, acting climate smart is really the wise choice.

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