Westchester County Launches Collaborative Global Warming Action Plan

The Westchester County Global Warming Task Force was formed by County Executive Spano to produce a countywide action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote sustainable development in Westchester through short-term and long-term actions. “If every county in the country was committed to start taking steps we could collectively make a difference,” Spano said. On Tuesday, February 26, 2008, Westchester County unveiled its Global Warming Action Plan, the product of this collaborative effort that has lasted more than a year. Manhattanville College, a member institution of the Environmental Consortium, hosted this landmark one day event.

Participation in the task force was broad. Initially, 34 individuals representing government, business, education, and the environmental community were appointed by County Executive Spano to serve on the task force.

Among the appointees was Michelle Land, the director of the Environmental Consortium, who served on the Education Sector committee to represent higher education. The number of participants grew to over 100 with associate members joining the effort. Fellow Consortium members, Michael Priano (Professor of Biology for Westchester Community College) and Lindsay Randall (Environmental Sustainability Coordinator for Purchase College) were involved in drafting of the final County action plan.

Sector and Subject teams worked on creating recommendations in the following categories: energy, transportation, land use, recycling, and water resources. Co-chaired by the President of Manhattanville College, Richard Berman, the Education Sector worked on action plans that involved all aspects of an institution or school district, including curriculum integration, green building, landscape, and transportation. A comprehensive higher education supplement will be made available through the County’s Action Plan, which goes beyond recommendations that affect just the campus, including ideas for community involvement within the institution as well as outside the institution.

Education is critical to helping solve the environmental problems that we are currently facing, and will face in the foreseeable future. Education begins early in life, as Professor Priano stresses, “without K-12 environmental education, colleges can do little to affect change in behavior established in earlier life. The reverse is also true. College students need to recognize how issues of climate change and sustainability are not merely environmental concerns and that their individual actions do matter. Such sophistication requires a foundation built in youth.” Higher education plays a pivotal role in providing the arena for individuals to grow, and a venue for education that goes beyond the college years. According to Lindsay Randall, “college is one of the places where people develop and nurture their own personal values. If students are attending a university that values the environment and maintaining a low impact, then those students are more likely to develop those same values and take them with them for the rest of their lives.”

On the February 26th launch date, a series of panel discussions, Best Practices for Sustainable Development, revealed the action steps that can be taken throughout Westchester, at all levels. Panels discussed the recommendations for local governments, secondary and higher education institutions, businesses and households. The Higher Education panel was moderated by Michelle Land and panelists included NJHEPS executive director, John Cusack; Polytechnic Westchester Campus Associate Provost and Dean, Andres Fortino; SUNY Purchase Sustainability Coordinator, Lindsay Randall; and Westchester Community College Director of Physical Plant, Kevin Garvey. The panels were followed by break-out sessions which delivered more specific ideas and tools that can be used to help make Westchester an example of positive action for a healthier planet.

The County’s work on global warming has extended beyond Westchester. On June 18, 2007, Congressman John Hall attended a full membership meeting of the Westchester County Global Warming Task Force at which he listened to the progress of each sector, responded to their presentations and then participated in an open discussion with the members. In a June 15, 2007 press release, the County Executive said, “Our hope is that once he [Congressman Hall] learns more about our efforts, he will want to bring that information to his Washington colleagues and help us promote Westchester as a model for other communities.” In addition, in 2007, Westchester County joined the ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability USA, to which the County Executive Andy Spano has recently been appointed to serve on its Board of Directors as the Northeast Region representative. The mission of the ICLEI is “to improve the global environment through local action,” and is working to address the issue of climate change through its flagship campaign, Cities for Climate Protection® (CCP). The County Executive will be joining other international leaders representing various regions around the world.

Global warming and climate change have become the focusing issues that have changed, and will change, the way individuals, business, and institutions operate and go about their daily lives. It is important that the issues not fade away, but continue to stay sharp in the public’s minds. Westchester County is doing its part by providing an online resources center and comprehensive action plan that everyone in the county – and outside the county – can refer to for information, tips, and guidance on how to positively contribute to what is said to be one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time.

Westchester County is doing its part by providing an online resources center and comprehensive action plan that everyone in the county – and outside the county – can refer to for information, tips, and guidance on how to positively contribute to what is said to be one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time.

For more information on the County’s Global Warming Action Plan, visit: www.westchestergov.com/globalwarming

For more information about climate change, and helpful links, visit the resource page of the Consortium’s 5th annual conference, Climate Change: Science, Culture and the Regional Response.