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The season of hope

December 11, 2013

I want to share some early Christmas gifts in the form of hopeful news on the sustainability front.

First is the growing awareness of the living wage issue. More and more people are realizing that poverty wages destabilize the whole economy. This insidious practice forces hardworking people onto welfare and externalizes the social and economic damage to the American taxpayers who subsidize it—the portrait of an economy cannibalizing itself. The Economic Policy Institute has published research demonstrating that by phasing in a minimum-wage increase to $10.10 over the next 18 months we would increase GDP by roughly $32.6 billion and foster the creation of approximately 140,000 net new jobs. Nearly a century ago, Henry Ford realized he should pay his workers enough to enable them to purchase the cars they were building. He might not have used the term “sustainability,” but his enlightened self-interest sustained his business and helped build a vibrant economy.

Closer to home, I am happy that the Climate Smart Communities (CSC) program is gaining momentum throughout New York State. Forty-nine communities in the Mid-Hudson Region (in the counties of Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester) have signed the CSC Pledge and are devising specific strategies to lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in their government operations and across their communities.

We will achieve our climate-smart goals by reducing our use of fossil fuels (to mitigate the causes of climate change) and by adapting to minimize the effects of climate change through energy efficiency, renewable energy and improved planning. These efforts will yield significant cost savings for local taxpayers by reducing energy costs at the town and county level, and will help businesses and homeowners reduce costs as well. We will also create opportunities for green-energy job growth and, by improving our infrastructure and addressing emergency planning and public health issues related to climate change, we will increase the resiliency of our communities and enhance the safety and well-being of all county residents.

Sullivan County, where I live, is making impressive progress on its commitment to reducing GHG in county operations and adopting an aggressive approach to energy efficiency and the development of renewable energy resources at county properties. The vehicle for organizing this effort is the county’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), an endeavor I am proud to be a part of through the work of Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development and numerous county staff.