The Lewisboro Town Board on Monday passed a resolution supporting Westchester County’s Declaration of Climate Emergency, but not without objections from one board member, and subsequently from some members of the public.
The board also heard from Assemblymember Chris Burdick, who paid tribute to two departing board members.
Board member Dan Welsh had been charged by the board with writing the town’s Declaration of Climate Emergency. Board member Tony Gonçalves noted that there was a request from the Westchester County Board of Legislators, urging state and local governments “to adopt and publicize declarations of climate emergency, appropriate to local conditions, and take appropriate action to implement declarations of climate emergency.”
“That’s what we asked Dan to do, and that’s what he has done,” said Supervisor Peter Parsons. He read a half-dozen emails in support of the declaration, calling for dramatic action on the part of the town.
Mr. Welsh gave an introductory presentation about the reasons for the declaration, reiterating that it was inspired and “nudged” by the county and their passage of a similar declaration. In his presentation, he pointed to numerous indications of climate catastrophe and tipping points, including signals of collapse of the Gulf Stream, polar ice melt, increased water vapor in the air, methane released from thawed permafrost, acidification of the oceans and rain forest deforestation.
He also referred to billions of dollars in storm damage from hurricanes such as Sandy and Ida, with the increasing frequency and severity of such storms. Mr. Welsh noted that the risks are disproportionately born by the old, young, health-compromised and economically disadvantaged.
The purposes of the declaration, said Mr. Welsh, were to commit to establish and achieve climate goals consistent with New York state and a recommended maximum 1.5 degrees Celsius global temperature rise; to implement organization and accountability in municipal operations, and assign staff roles; and to communicate renewed encouragement and urgency to the town’s Sustainability Advisory Committee.
The resolution also called attention to the litany of climate issues, stating the modern warming trend is due to human activities, citing research showing that the “unprecedented frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme temperature events” is responsible for over five million excess deaths per year, and that the impact of climate change in the New York area has been approximately $8.1 billion in damages from Hurricane Sandy that are attributable to the impact of climate change according to a study published in Nature.
The resolution also noted that “marginalized and frontline populations in Westchester and worldwide, including people of color, immigrants, indigenous communities, low-income individuals, people with disabilities, outdoor laborers, and the unhoused, especially women and children, are already disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change, and will continue to bear an excess burden as temperatures increase, and disasters worsen.”
As an example of disproportionate impact, the resolution stated that the Groundwork Hudson Valley organization has documented the overlap of so-called heat islands with historically “redlined” neighborhoods of color in Yonkers and “the destruction wrought by climate change also represents an intergenerational transfer of wealth with a moral component which cannot be ignored.” The resolution also referenced the Paris Climate Agreement, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and that over 700 governmental jurisdictions across the world have recently declared or officially acknowledged the existence of a global climate emergency.
Though Mr. Parsons moved to have the board immediately approve the resolution, board member Richard Sklarin objected.
“As I see it, climate change is a fact,” he said, “it’s an objective reality, and as a result it should be completely apolitical.” But, he said, while he was in favor of most of the resolution, he objected to paragraphs five through 10, which include references to the European Union, U.N. Panel on Climate Change and other matters outside of the town. “I think it goes well beyond what we need to do,” he said, and advocated for adopting it without those paragraphs.
Mr. Parsons did not agree, saying that climate change is a worldwide issue. Mr. Sklarin said it should focus on the state of New York and the town. “I’m in the Town of Lewisboro, and I’ve been elected to represent people in the Town of Lewisboro, which is why I’m absolutely fine with the overwhelming majority of the resolution as it is drafted,” said Mr. Sklarin.
“I think that you are really missing the point,” said Mr. Welsh. “This is a global issue; we have exported our problems for decades, centuries now. These people in other places on the globe were the first to suffer the consequences.”
“I think climate change is an apolitical issue,” repeated Mr. Sklarin. “I wish it were apolitical, but it isn’t,” replied Mr. Parsons.
“This was not meant to be political,” said Mr. Welsh.
“Talking about intergenerational transfer of wealth I think kind of makes it political,” countered Mr. Sklarin.
Mr. Welsh was adamant. “This was just an objective fact,” he said. “When you take natural assets that exist here today, and essentially burn the furniture, and then leave this planet for your kids and those assets are gone, that’s an intergenerational transfer of wealth. That’s saying, ‘Hey, we got ours.’ That’s almost the most important line in the whole document. I would never agree to take that out — never. That’s the line.”
Mr. Gonçalves said he supported the language in the resolution. He also favored that it sets goals and charges the sustainability committee with moving forward.
Mr. Parsons called the vote, and all voted in favor except Mr. Sklarin, who objected to the resolution as worded.
In the public comment period that followed, a roughly equal number of people thanked the board for passing the resolution and criticized the board’s action. Some echoed Mr. Sklarin in objecting to what they saw as the unnecessary insertion of political views, while others expressed anger that the board wasn’t more focused on what they saw as local issues.
State Assembly Proclamations
Assemblymember Chris Burdick appeared at the meeting to honor Mr. Parsons and board member Jane Crimmins. He presented each with proclamations from the Assembly of the State of New York.
“I’m here to honor two people whose terms of office end this year and each of whom have done a superb job representing the people of the Town of Lewisboro,” said Mr. Burdick.
Mr. Parsons did not seek reelection; Ms. Crimmins was defeated in a four-way race for two board seats.
Mr. Burdick spoke of how, when he became Town of Bedford supervisor in January 2014, it was Mr. Parsons who took him under his wing and offered “tremendous advice and his wisdom” on how to work with the community and with organizations. “I owe him a personal debt of gratitude for the help that Peter gave to me in learning the ropes,” both as supervisor and since he joined the Assembly in January 2021.
The proclamation noted that since he was first elected supervisor in 2011, Mr. Parsons has “served the town energetically for nine years and during that time managed to restore the fund balance which has brought improved S&P bond ratings, achieved ADA compliance in town facilities, expanded the Lewisboro Library and reinvigorated the town advisory committees.”
It also mentioned Mr. Parsons’ efforts in regional cooperation on environmental issues, as well as other steps taken for environmental sustainability during his tenure, his work to integrate affordable housing into the community, and “his quick-witted management of emergencies from mask mandates and Zoom meetings during COVID-19, to making drinking water, dry ice and power sources available during weather-related outages.”
“I recognize the many valuable contributions of Peter H. Parsons, whose intelligent leadership has laid the groundwork for decades to come,” concluded the proclamation.
Of Ms. Crimmins, Mr. Burdick said he recalled, shortly after her term began, that she was tasked with improving communications between the town and the community. “Jane went right to it and worked at it, so it has succeeded in improving dramatically.”
“Most important,” he said, “I want to commend you for your courage, for the courage of your convictions and your recognition that it’s not going to always please everyone, but that you continued to stand on principle, for which I have tremendous admiration.”
In the proclamation, he cited “her passion for lifting up the voices of the marginalized has been critical in putting Juneteenth on the town calendar and publicly recognizing June 2021 as LGBTQ Pride Month, while her wholehearted support has encouraged many grassroots citizen initiatives, such as the now-successful drive for an accessible playground.”
It concluded by recognizing her “deep-seated sense of social justice” which “has enlarged our sense of community.”
In other business, Mr. Parsons announced that the budget hearing has been switched from Dec. 6 to Dec. 9 due to scheduling conflicts.
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