MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Joe Montuori could have easily sailed off into the sunset after retiring from a 28-year career teaching high school social studies. He certainly earned it.
But the Mahopac resident couldn’t stop thinking about a problem that relentlessly nagged him, so he plunged headlong into a new chapter in his life: forming a grassroots organization that would combat climate change at a local level.
On Saturday, Feb. 8, that dream became a reality last month when dozens of Mahopac residents and their neighbors from other Putnam County towns, packed the community room at the Mahopac Public Library to get a fledgling organization, known as Sustainable Putnam, off the ground.
It all started two years ago for Montuori when he attended a conference on global warming called Project Drawdown. It made him wonder why his high school students had never raised the issue of climate change in any of the classes he taught.
He soon discovered why.
“In short, these young adults are so frustrated with ‘climate deniers,’ so overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem, so convinced that the existential climate crisis is irreversible, that they are completely paralyzed with fear,” he said. “That conversation is one reason I decided to do something about it here in our community.”
Montuori soon led a few discussions on climate change at a local church, a temple, and a couple of areal libraries, where he explained Project Drawdown, a collection of the 100 top solutions to not merely slowing down, but actually reversing global warming.
He also spoke at Putnam County Legislature meetings, to encourage the adoption of the Climate Smart Community pledge, a New York State program to help towns and counties prepare for climate change.
Soon Sustainable Putnam began to take hold as a Facebook group, before eventually morphing into the Feb. 8 meeting at the library.
Montuori explained in a letter to Mahopac News that Sustainable Putnam will work to inform, educate, and advise residents, business people, and local officials of opportunities to decrease our carbon footprint while adapting and reinvigorating the local economy for the climate-change reality that we face.
“We’ll work together to mitigate our contributions to global warming, even as we protect the most vulnerable of our neighbors from climate change’s worst impacts,” he stated. “The problem can seem overwhelming and the stakes couldn’t be higher. But the good news is that we have the solutions. They’re available today and right in front of us. Increasing energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, local and organic food production, closing the loop on waste through composting and recycling, and much more. And in the long run, these solutions will not only save money, but will grow our local economy, and develop more secure communities.”
During the assembly at the library, Peter Elder, a longtime climate-change activist who emceed the meeting, had each attendee introduce themselves and explain why they were there. The responses were wide-ranging.
“I am in this to see it work on the county level,” said Dwight Arthur of Mahopac. “We’ve had three major victories with the county legislature this past year—symbolic victories. My hope is that with our support and persistence and follow-through, we can go beyond symbolic victories and make something really happen.”
Baila Lemonick, also a Mahopac resident and a facilitator for Putnam Progressives, said, “I’m here to support anything we can do to make the county, the state and especially the country a lot better, a lot safer and a lot more moral.”
But Montuori said the purpose of Sustainable Putnam is more than just stopping global warming.
“While we certainly want to reverse global warming, that’s essential, there is also resilience projects—projects that are going to get us ready,” he told the group. “I remember when [Tropical Storm] Sandy hit, we lost power for days on end. I remember standing in the rain waiting for dry ice to arrive. [The process] was kind of sloppy—let’s get the dry ice from NYSEG and drop it off at the roller rink in Mahopac. There were 200 people standing in the rain—kids, older folks—waiting for the dry ice. It just shouldn’t be happening that way. We should be ready. So, resilience. We need to get ready; we need to be prepared.”
Montuori said partnering with government entities was the key to making Sustainable Putnam successful.
“It can’t be just us trying to coax this organization or that government agency,” he said. “We need to put pressure on the county level and on town levels to get things done. And I’m pretty adamant we need to be nonpartisan about this. It really isn’t a partisan issue; it’s survival.
“We need hope, and we need to be positive about this because ultimately the changes that we make, and reversing global warming is going to make our society better,” he continued. “It’s not about slapping solar panels on roofs; it’s about taking care of each other.”
Later, Montuori and Elder had the attendees break into smaller groups, each discussing a specific aspect of the climate change issue that Sustainable Putnam would focus on over the next several months.
In a handout, Montuori laid out several steps and guidelines to get the groups started:
What we do
• Educate and advise residents and public officials about the options for re-developing our homes, hamlets, towns and county on an equitable, just, and economically and environmentally sustainable basis
• Tackle programs and projects that aim to reverse global warming through a rapid reduction in individual and collective carbon footprints.
• Focus efforts on developing preparedness and resilience projects and strategies relating to the current and future effects of climate change, for residents across the economic spectrum.
• Establish partnerships with like-minded NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and government agencies to implement many of the above programs and projects, in accordance with the principles of Project Drawdown and the triple bottom line.
How we do it
• Consistently act as a dedicated steward of the environment for this and future generations, nurture and establish social equity among all residents, and promote a sustainable local economy in harmony with these social and ecological goals