UPDATE 10/31/12: the Agriculture and Sustainability meeting, originally scheduled for Thursday, November 1, has been postponed to Tuesday, November 13.
At 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 13, at a meeting of the Legislative Committee on Agriculture and Sustainability at the Government Center in Monticello, NY, Sullivan County’s Office of Sustainability will be fighting for its life. At issue is funding that will decide whether the county can move forward and break ground as a leader and full participant in the green growth industries and lifestyles of the 21st century, or be left in the economic backwaters of an outmoded and increasingly desperate way of life.
Admittedly, the idea of allocating county funds to anything but today’s bills is particularly tough during a period of major financial crisis such as that we currently face, with double-digit tax increases in prospect. Some might argue that matters such as climate change and sustainability are too distant and abstract to worry about in the midst of such an emergency. But even stipulating that premise for the sake of argument*, that way of thinking misses the point.
The plain truth is that the only way you can extract yourself from a deficit on any long-term, ongoing basis is to make your economy grow, and economies are made to grow by bold investment, not by nickel-and-dime cheeseparing. Businesses grow by investing money in new directions, new lines and new means of production. That’s not to say that improvements in efficiency and elimination of waste are not important. But any company that is trying to survive purely by cutting expenses is clearly on its way out the door. The same applies to government.
The steps the county, its communities, businesses and households can take to attain sustainability are all part and parcel of the most vibrant economic trends in the nation—indeed, on the planet—today. Technologies, energy sources, products and services that are part of renewable cycles are what’s up-and-coming around the globe. These practices also, by definition, reduce expenditures in the long run, because they are all about the efficient use of resources. If we fail to connect with such trends, that financial emergency we’re all so worried about is likely to become permanent.
So we must invest somewhere in order to extract ourselves from the current budget bind, and it looks like the place to put our money is the economic trend of the future: green. And maybe that’s also the answer to another question I’ve heard bandied about a lot recently, that of branding. How can we brand Sullivan County to appeal to businesses, tourists, entrepreneurs, homeowners? How about green?
Brand us as not only a rural retreat, but a rural retreat committed to maintaining its open spaces, recycling its resources, generating local energy, constructing zero-energy buildings, making innovations in energy-efficient, low-emission transportation. Brand us as the little engine that could, an area that started out poor and disadvantaged but nevertheless showed others the way in creating a viable way of life that respects and nourishes natural cycles. Do that, and we will have an identity that will be immensely attractive to tourists, second-home purchasers and entrepreneurs from nearby metropolitan areas. And that, in turn, will allow us to incubate business, attract business and create jobs.
It is this opportunity, as well as a commitment to good environmental stewardship that was opened up when the legislature passed the Sullivan County’s Green Vision Statement and the Climate Smart Communities Pledge. It is this opportunity that the development and implementation of the Sullivan County Climate Action Plan (CAP), with which the CAP Advisory Committee is tasked, should be all about.
To take advantage of it, actions will be required at the county level, at the town level, and by businesses and consumers, and it is the business of the CAP advisory panel to enlist the help and participation of all these sectors and facilitate their actions. But seed money is required, among other things to fund a technical support staff to help the volunteer members of the panel, and that’s what Sullivan County lawmakers are being asked for on November 1.
Some of the projects for which funding is being requested will start to generate savings almost immediately, like energy management for county buildings and facilities. Others will take more time, like the collection and analysis of energy use data from Sullivan County towns needed as a basis for developing plans to increase efficiency. But all aim in the same direction: helping us to grow out of the deficit. I hope Sullivan County legislators have the vision to see it as such, and to help the county take its next step toward a better future.
*I am deliberately avoiding here the argument as to whether climate change itself is an emergency—the most dire one we face. I believe it is, and have argued about it elsewhere. But I don’t think anyone has to agree with that belief in order to understand the advisability of investing in this area.