In the tiny village in New York’s Hudson Valley where I reside, there are 1,135 people. The Village of Kinderhook is just one municipality out of the 16,411 self-governing communities across the U.S. with less than 10,000 residents.
Like other small municipalities, the structure of government is straightforward: a mayor, four trustees, a code-enforcement officer, a village clerk, a deputy village clerk, a department of public works, planning and zoning boards, and a historic preservation commission. In 2014, New York State rolled out a Climate Smart Communities initiative to assist large and small communities in pursuing actions to minimize the risks of climate change, reduce greenhouse gases, and commit to building a resilient, low-emission future.
To the surprise of many residents, the village’s elected officials decided that, unlike some other nearby communities at the time, it was important for the village to participate in the state’s initiative. A small group of concerned and determined Kinderhook residents stepped up. They formed a volunteer task force that would help the village contribute to the state’s ambitious goals.
To date, Kinderhook counts itself as one of 285 New York State communities to have adopted the Climate Smart Communities pledge. Those communities represent more than 8.3 million people – or 43 percent of the state’s population.
Adopting a Climate Crisis Resolution
At the village’s February 2020 board meeting, following discussions about nuts-and-bolts issues like snow removal, stop signs, and building-code violations, Kinderhook’s elected officials went a step further. They adopted a Climate Crisis Resolution.
Knowing all five of the individuals who took this vote, I imagine that they probably didn’t see their “yes” votes as a moment of personal courage. But I saw the vote in a different light. At this critical juncture, when the environmental policies of the federal government are being driven backwards in the most dangerous and destructive manner, five elected officials—with differing viewpoints on local issues and varying political affiliations—stepped up and voted unanimously and yes, courageously, to adopt a symbolic declaration acknowledging the global climate emergency. Residents in attendance raised no objections. The moment seemed almost offhand– like a foregone conclusion. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
If one were to look back at the arc of the four-decade-long struggle for consensus on the reality of the cause-and-effect relationship between carbon emissions and global climate change, nothing in this struggle for the future has been—or still is—a foregone conclusion. In some quarters, even acknowledging the problem is still a difficult political and philosophical road to travel.
The Village of Kinderhook is only the fourth governing body in New York State (New York City, the Town of Saugerties, and Ulster County) and the seventy-eighth governing body in the U.S. to have officially passed a declaration of climate emergency. The reality is that only eight percent of Americans live in a community that has affirmed the seriousness of the climate task we’re facing.
If it is true that recognizing a problem is the first step in solving it, then the record of the world beyond our borders is more reassuring than the current record of where Americans land on the issue of climate change. Across the globe, more than 1,300 governing bodies in 25 countries—representing 809 million people—have declared a climate emergency and dedicated themselves and their governments to climate mobilization and driving down emissions to protect humanity and the natural world. The Village of Kinderhook should take pride in being counted among them.
Village of Kinderhook’s 2020 Climate Crisis Resolution
Whereas, climate change poses a real and increasing threat to our community and our way of life.
Whereas, adoption of the New York State Climate Smart Communities Pledge included a commitment to engage in an ongoing process of climate action.
Whereas, the ability to access potential funding and other resources for rapid mobilization to mitigate climate change can result in economic, environmental, and social benefit to our community.
We therefore hereby declare that a state of climate emergency exists.
[Image: Governing bodies, worldwide, that have declared a Climate Emergency. Searchable image at https://www.theclimatemobilization.org/world-map]