One town’s action plan addressing climate change and other environmental issues began nearly a decade ago in a community event at the high school on a wintry Saturday morning. The “Bedford Environmental Summit” was called by the town’s garden club and its energy advisory panel. One thousand people showed up.
The latest step in moving the town environmental action plan along is the Bedford 2020 Climate Action Summit scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018 at Fox Lane High School in Bedford, NY. Even for people who can't attend this event, the innovative eco-group has provided lots of useful information on its Facebook page and website.
The civic group’s mission “is to lead, organize and promote a community wide effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020 and to create a sustainable community that conserves its natural resources,” the local environmental organization states on its website, which features a cornucopia of community activities information and organizing tips.
The Bedford 2020 Coalition has plugged into and in some cases energized a network of like minded organizations in Westchester County and elsewhere in the Hudson Valley region. Notable residents of the New York City exurban commuter town have included Donald Trump and a movie marque-ful of famous actors and actresses. Organizers of the environmental action group, however, are “over 90 community volunteers, many of whom are professionals and experts with deep experience and credentials in our action areas.”
One of the most useful items on the Bedford 2020 website is a “Summit in a Box,” which provides an online manual for creating a community environmental action plan.
“Global warming and environmental issues are the central challenge of our times. The goal of the Bedford Environmental Summit (BES) was to find a way to educate our community about the most pressing environmental issues of the day, to create a ‘community of advocates’ who would take actions to solve these problems on a local level,” the executive summary for the manual states. “We believe that the BES is a worthy model for any community or organization whose goal is to encourage grass roots, local actions to mitigate the challenges presented by greenhouse gas emissions and diminishing natural resources.”
The first step in Bedford was holding the community event at the high school in January 2009, which drew 1000 people in a town of 17,000 residents. More than 240 volunteers, including 88 students, organized the event, which offered 85 speakers presenting key information on 28 topics. In the hallways, 78 Expo tables with information on environmental issues and organizations were set up and a locavore breakfast and lunch were provided, the organizing manual noted.
The community summit led to creation of the nonprofit Bedford 2020 Coalition, “whose mandate is to implement over 70 projects recommended in BEAP’s Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020; the creation of a ‘sustainable school district’ and many individual and collaborative projects emanating from the networking that occurred at the Summit,” the manual summary continued.
“The key elements to the success of the BES were an effective public/private partnership in co-sponsoring the event; a comprehensive and appealing program of lectures, workshops and Expo exhibits that provided multiple points of entry for individuals in the community to get engaged; extensive community involvement in the form of local organizations who were enlisted as ‘partners’ to assist in the planning and implementation of the Summit; and the focus by Summit organizers on ‘what happens next’ to motivate participants to think beyond the day of the Summit.”
What happened next were volunteer-organized programs to involve residents in energy conservation and installing solar panels on homes and businesses, composting food waste, reducing use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on lawns, boosting recycling of plastic, metal, glass and paper products, switching to a hybrid or electric car, and participating in Meatless Mondays to help reduce the amount of fossil fuel that goes into feeding and transporting beef cattle for hamburgers, chili con carne and steaks. Restaurants throughout town signed on as partners.
Local actions over the next several years helped create a county-wide network that by 2017 enlisted Westchester County and 20 town governments in Sustainable Westchester, “a consortium of local governments that facilitates green initiatives like Solarize Westchester, Community Choice Aggregation and the Municipal Solar Buyers Group.” A New York state program enables municipalities to choose getting 100 per cent of their electricity from solar, wind and hydro and “save money by negotiating bulk pricing for their supply.” The Town of Bedford is one of the municipalities participating in the state program.
“Bedford 2020 harnesses the power of community and drives action. This year, we have inspired thousands of people to reduce waste, increase efficiency, take on big green solutions and address climate change,” the group’s leaders stated in an October 2017 progress report. “Together we are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting natural resources in Bedford and beyond.”
In an addendum to the progress report, the elected town supervisor, Chris Burdick, states: “We are proud that our Town has pledged a commitment to the Paris Climate Accord goals, with Bedford 2020 leading the way.”
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