ON THE SCENE: Carrying the voice of the Adirondacks across the globe

The Adirondacks are an essential part of not only the world’s lungs, but as an ark that provides a safe harbor for a diversity of species. Just as many in the United States are unaware that New York state is home to a wilderness larger than the state of Vermont, so too many environmentalists worldwide are not aware of this region, but that’s changing.

On one level, the driver of increased awareness of the Adirondacks is climate change and the imperative of finding and supporting as many carbon-capturing assets as possible, of which the Adirondacks are one. Another driver is the advocacy efforts by the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Wild’s Youth Summits on the national and international stage. Increased awareness of the importance of our region is being held up by these two agencies, and their allies, most recently by the council at COP27 and SAMOS Puerto Rico, a meeting of Latino community and government leaders from New York and the Caribbean.

“Increasing the value of the Adirondacks is being recognized across the United States and globally,” said Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council. “The Adirondacks are the largest intact temperate deciduous forest in the world. The importance of the Adirondacks, not only for the seventy to eighty million people who live within a day’s drive but for the entire nation as we combat the crisis of climate change and everything related to it. Climate change is negatively impacting the water, fauna, and wildlife of the Adirondacks, and addressing that challenge requires a global solution.”

In many respects, the council’s ability to convey the importance of the Adirondacks was honed in the early 1990s, when it led the effort to reduce acid rain through federal legislation and regulation. Partnering with New York state’s Department of Environmental Conservation and the Natural Resources Defense Council, they sued the EPA, forcing it to develop the nation’s first Acid Rain Control Program. The outcome of their efforts not only benefited the Adirondacks but habitat throughout the United States.

“The Adirondack Council is the only organization with the environmental focus on the Adirondacks and the capacity, thanks to generous donors, to operate on the local community, national and international level,” said Janeway. “Locally, we ensure that towns get grants for wastewater infrastructure and assist them in becoming climate-smart. At the same time, we are working on the national level with Sen. (Chuck) Schumer on clean air monitoring. These efforts led to our success on acid rain, which we want to replicate on climate change. On the global level, we want to help ensure that the Paris Accords and our commitment to disadvantaged communities are addressed because the Adirondacks can be a part of that global solution.”

The demographics of New York state are changing. Within a few decades, New Yorkers with a Euro-Caucasian heritage will be in the minority. Consequently, the council and the region are very fortunate that New York’s Black, Hispanic, Puerto Rican, and Asian Legislative Caucus chose Lake Placid for their fall meeting this past September. At that time, the council thanked the caucus for their support of the creation of the new Timbuctoo Summer Climate and Careers Institute, which will bring New York City College students to the park to learn about fighting climate change, amongst other initiatives.

“We see the Adirondacks not only as an important resource for the state but the entire country,” said Rocci Aguirre, the council’s deputy director. “We feel it’s significant that the caucus held its first meeting outside Albany in the Adirondacks. It’s equally important for us to send a delegation to Puerto Rico and listen to their concerns, hear about the environmental issues that are front and center for them, and tie the two together. We want to show that the work the council is doing for the Adirondacks is intricately linked to the most important issues downstate, in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.”

While in Puerto Rico, Aguirre and his colleague Kevin Chlad, the council’s director of government relations, had the opportunity to visit their protected parks and discuss the wilderness management and high-use issues they face.

“I learned that there are a lot of universal and shared concerns around climate change,” said Aguirre. “Funding science that supports monitoring conditions that cause acid rain is important for not just us, but globally.”

While Aguirre and Chlad were in the Caribbean, Adirondack Council Forever Adirondacks Director Aaron Mair was attending COP27, held in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt. Mair arrived hoping that the world leaders would address the damage and loss caused by climate change. At COP21, held in Paris, the G-20 nation leaders had pledged over $100 billion a year to support the coastal areas and island nations directly impacted by climate change, countries that did not in any way significantly contribute to the causes of climate change.

The status going into COP27 has been modest investments by G-20 in addressing the coastal regions’ needs as they reduce opportunities for climate migrants to resettle in their countries. Their lack of action has led to increased starvation, spreading infections like the coronavirus, and violence. Simultaneously, the fossil fuel industry grew its investments, doing everything it could to block climate science and language usage that tied climate change to its products.

“A benefit of my being there is building awareness internationally and domestically of the Adirondacks, one of our country’s largest ecosystems and wilderness area preserves,” said Mair. “Very few people were aware that we have this massive asset that is equivalent to one-fifth of New York state and in size to the state of Vermont. When we talk about President Biden’s 30 by 30 set aside, a goal protecting 30% of our nation’s wilderness areas and thirty percent of its oceans, the Adirondacks need to be inventoried as an important part of that equation.”

Wilderness-protected areas are critical as carbon sinks, especially when combined with those in Brazil, Africa, Indonesia, and elsewhere, as they are the most effective means of carbon capture. Consequently, an additional value of Meir’s presence was his ability to start building relationships with the leaders and NGOs of the other protected areas worldwide. A third benefit is Mair raised awareness of the Adirondacks and the need for its protection amongst other NGOs and delegates from the United States and Canada.

“These global ecosystems, which include ours, are very critical,” said Mair. “They are frontline assets doing more than any of the available current carbon capture storage methods being proposed. Even if they were all financed and brought online, they wouldn’t be as effective as the wilderness in just that regard.”

Of equal value is ecosystems like the Adirondacks providing safe harbor for wildlife, something carbon-capture technologies do not directly address.

(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the News for more than 15 years.)

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