What if the answer really is blowing in the wind?

We, the people of the Earth, are poisoning our planet. It happens so incrementally, many of us may not take note.

Like the frog in a gradually heated pot of water, we don’t jump out; we may just boil to death.

While our federal government is turning a blind eye to environmental problems, municipalities and states are stepping up to make a difference.

How many of us are aware of the dramatic decline of flying insects here in North America as well as around the world? Maybe, if you’re my age, you notice that, when you are driving on a summer day, you don’t have to stop and clean your windshield like you did 50 years ago.

A study, published this past April in “Biological Conservation,” presents a comprehensive review of 73 historical reports of insect declines from across the globe and finds that over 40 percent of insect species are threatened with extinction. This, in turn, affects the entire food chain.

“In 2017,” the authors, Francisco Sánchez-Bayo and Kris A. G. Wyckhuys, report, “a 27-year long population monitoring study revealed a shocking 76% decline in flying insect biomass at several of Germany’s protected areas … A more recent study in rainforests of Puerto Rico has reported biomass losses between 98% and 78% for ground-foraging and canopy-dwelling anthropods over a 36-year period.”

The authors conclude, “As insects comprise about two-thirds of all terrestrial species on Earth, the above trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting life forms on our planet.”

Dragonflies, bees, butterflies, and moths are disappearing because their habitats are being destroyed with development, intensive farming, pesticides, and climate change.

For years in this space, we’ve advocated for individuals to plant native species that help insects, for farmers and homeowners alike to avoid insecticides, and for landowners to donate conservation easements that would preserve natural corridors.

We’re pleased that Albany County this spring has adopted a resolution requiring the county to plant native nectar and host plants along county roads, on the rail trail, and in county parks. The policy will cause pesticides to be reviewed and the worst ones to be phased out. Lists are to be published of plants that host butterfly and moth eggs, and that feed insects that require pollen and nectar.

This can serve as a beacon for other municipalities and the state to follow.

At the same time, while our federal government continues to renege on the Paris Agreement, to which all the nations of the Earth had agreed, individual states and municipalities are making a difference in slowing the climate change mankind has wrought.

How can we not notice the dramatic hurricanes, tornadoes, and droughts that are hurting people around the world?

My husband and I bought solar panels and strung up a clothesline after my sister sent us this thought from environmentalist Bill McKibben: “If we all used clotheslines, we could save 30 million tons of coal a year, or shut down 15 nuclear power plants. And you don’t have to wait to start. Yours could be up by this afternoon. To be specific, buy 50 feet of clothesline and a $3 bag of clothespins and become a solar energy pioneer.”

But we’re not naive enough to believe the world can be saved one clothesline or one solar panel at a time. Citizens need leadership to make changes that can feel difficult but are needed to preserve the Earth for future generations.

New York State is among a handful of states with ambitious green-energy goals. And more legislation is waiting to be passed. The Climate and Community Protection Act, introduced by Senator Todd Kaminsky and Assemblyman Steve Englebright, would require, by 2050, a 100-percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, transitioning to economy-wide renewable energy. Thirty years is a short time for a huge change.

But desperate times call for desperate measures. We have about 11 years before the current rising levels of greenhouse gases will produce an irreversible climate catastrophe, according to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The State Assembly for several years has backed this bill and now a Democrat-controlled State Senate is willing to do the same, going beyond what the governor has backed. One sticking point is that the act would direct 40 percent of all state energy investments to benefit disadvantaged communities. As our country faces an ever-widening chasm between rich and poor, this act is wise to create a group that would identify communities disproportionately affected by climate change and see that they get their fair share.

In the meantime — if this act doesn’t pass by the close of the legislative session — no municipality is too small to take on the challenge of helping to save our Earth. We’ve reported as each of the villages and towns we cover — from the Helderberg Hilltowns, to the suburban towns of Guilderland and New Scotland — have taken advantage of state programs to both conserve energy and implement renewable energy strategies.

But towns and villages could do more. We heard recently from one of our Rensselaerville readers, Jeannett Rice: “Are local town boards and planning boards thinking about renewable energy requirements such as solar, wind, geothermal, conservation for newly proposed projects?” she asked. “There have been many stories in The AE debating projects. Where is the call from local leadership to address energy needs for such development and the devastating impacts of climate change? Change must happen on the local level if we are going to curb carbon emissions and leave our children a sustainable, habitable world.”

A week later, Rice wrote us a follow-up email: “I notice in this week’s issue of The AE ... that the grassroots citizens’ group, Guilderland Coalition for Responsible Growth, is concerned about a proposed project’s size and height. All of that will not matter in the light of eternity if we do not quickly transition off fossil fuels: solar, wind, geothermal and energy conservation. All science-based reports indicate we are running out of time to do so. Our children, instead of facing a climate crisis, will be facing a catastrophic climate event.”

California will be the first state in the country to require solar panels on new homes; the requirement takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020, building on the 9 percent of single-family homes in California that currently have solar panels. California’s goal is to transition to a fully renewable energy grid, with no fossil fuels, by 2045.

The California Energy Commission estimates the upfront cost of building a home with solar panels could increase by as much as $10,000; but, at the same time, savings in energy costs are expected to average $19,000 over 30 years.

Municipalities can act independently of states in requiring renewable energy. When it comes to zoning, New York is a home-rule state, meaning the towns we cover could pass requirements on renewable energy.

The Sierra Club is tracking cities, counties, and states across the United States that have made a 100-percent commitment to be powered entirely by renewable energy.

So far, the Sierra Club reports, over 90 cities, more than 10 counties, and two states, have adopted 100-percent clean-energy goals. Six cities have already hit their target: Aspen, Colorado; Burlington, Vermont; Georgetown, Texas; Greensburg, Kansas; Rock Port, Missouri; and Kodiak Island, Alaska.

The program makes a series of recommendations including this important one: Ensure Justice, Equity, Affordability, and Access: A commitment should include measures that prioritize equity affordability, and access for all members of the community, prioritizing low income communities, environmental justice communities, and communities burdened by the fossil fuel industry.

These six cities — from Burlington with its renewable electricity to Rock Port with its wind power — show that it can be done, that all of a community’s energy can come from clean, non-polluting, and renewable sources.

It takes planning and resolve. Let’s get to work — before it’s too late.

More Editorials

  • While we wait for our government to help bridge the growing chasm between the rich and poor, we, as individuals, can make a difference. If you have enough food to eat, donate to your local food pantry. 

  • For decades, at the start of a new year, we’ve always gotten a thrill covering what many may consider routine — the swearing in of new leaders for the towns we cover and the appointments that follow, an annual and reassuring ritual in a democracy.

  • While we wait for our government to help bridge the growing chasm between the rich and poor, we, as individuals, can make a difference. If you have enough food to eat, donate to your local food pantry. 

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