Dave Conover is Program Coordinator at Sustainable Hudson Valley. He grew up in the Catskills and has spent much of his career working on environmental issues as an educator and program developer.
Climate change is resulting in obvious changes to our very own ecosystem. Dave connects the dots and offers us a hopeful path for the future. But the time to act is now.
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Welcome to Katz cast, a biweekly podcast delivering interviews, arts, culture and history from New York's Catskill Mountains. This week, an interview with Dave Conover Program Coordinator at sustainable Hudson Valley, which is working to accelerate progress on climate change by acting as a catalyst to scale up the Clean Energy marketplace and resilience planning for communities by working with citizen groups, elected officials, businesses, agencies and other nonprofits, sh V is helping to foster creative and innovative local solutions to address climate change. Dave Canova grew up in the Catskills and has spent much of his career working on environmental issues as an educator and program developer. He's a graduate of SUNY College of environmental science and forestry, and also Antioch University New England. He's the former education director and Interim Executive Director at Hudson River sloop Clearwater, and often teaches as an adjunct instructor at Marist College's School of Science. His background as an educator and teacher has brought him into contact with literally 1000s of students throughout the Hudson Valley, ranging from elementary school to college, as well as fellow educators and lifelong learners. He's developed teacher trainings and initiated a plastic pollution education program with Clearwater. We met along the banks of the Hudson River at the a soapless Meadows preserve in Ulster Park, where Dave Conover has a deep and personal connection. Well, soapless Meadows is not just a park for me, it's was actually my home for about 14 years. There used to be a an Environmental Center here was a small house that got converted into a classroom, that Hudson River sloop, Clearwater where I used to work with do on land education programs, so the house needed to have a caretaker. So I, I managed to get that gig, which was great. So I lived at the site, and I also brand the education programs for Clearwater, we hosted many hundreds of schoolchildren over the years, doing Hudson River education programs, it's a very special place for me, as Dave would go on to explain the fate of that house would be tied, like many things to worldwide climate change. Climate is certainly the most important environmental issue that we're confronting today. Because it it touches base on on everything else really. It's not like other issues aren't important. It's just that climate is always in the background, and it's pushing its way forward. I always knew about Vice President Al Gore's kind of famous presentation that he did after the movie Inconvenient Truth A number of years ago. And that kind of sparked an organization called the Climate Reality project, where it was designed to really teach people on how to present Al Gore's slideshow. So these training programs really have been going on for some time, and based in individual cities around the country, and even around the world, I think. But once COVID-19 really got going, they had cancelled all those training programs. So they did one online, and it had over 10,000 participants. So it was about nine days worth of training a great way to network with folks all around the world. You know, I've been talking about it for many years, but a lot of folks who haven't been teaching climate change, you know, this is their first time. So they were really getting an understanding on behalf conversations with folks. One of the aspects of the program, which I appreciated was they asked everybody to create their own personal climate story as a way to reach out to folks. So I was challenged to do that myself. And you know, here it is surface meadows. There is no little house here anymore. And the reason there's a little house here anymore is because of something folks in the Catskills remember quite well something called Hurricane Irene. It was about nine years ago, right about now, right about this time of year around late August. Many Americans are still at serious risk of power outages and flooding, which could get worse in the coming days as rivers swell past their banks. So I want people to understand that this is not over. response and recovery efforts will be an ongoing operation. And I urge Americans in affected areas to continue to listen for the guidance and direction of their state and local officials just devastated the Catskills with vast amounts of rain I think over a foot of rain in some places. And the Hudson is connected to the Catskills through the watershed. So after devastating the towns and the Catskills all that water rushed into the Hudson River and was really heavy muddy water and it flooded this whole area around a surplus Meadows including the little house. Living and flooded the house. The one the waters finally receded. Everything was mud. There was mud everywhere. And I knew this was like Catskills mud, really. So I was, you know, very upset about all this. And I was hoping we'd find a way to keep the house alive and be able to still do programs here and be able to still live here for myself, but scenic cuts in which which own the house and they manage the park, you know, they they really were understood that this was no longer sustainable. So they made the decision to dismantle the house, and create a more resilient Park area here. As much as I resisted that decision. In my heart, what happened The following year, we had Hurricane Sandy, all of us have been focused on one of the worst storms in our lifetimes. And we're all and we're humbled by nature's destructive power. We mourn the loss of so many people. Our hearts go out to those who've lost their loved ones, we pledge to help those whose lives have been turned upside down. Now, that was kind of a different experience. The experience was more of a storm surge experience in New York City. But the Hudson River is an extension of the ocean. So we're only a few feet above sea level right here. So that big storm surge that slammed into New York Harbor and that area caused a huge flooding here, just in a different way than Irene did. So my climate story really involved How I lost My house, like Molly's place of residence anyway. And it also reminded me of how the Hudson River is connected to the larger ocean. The ocean is getting warmer. I mean, we know that and the Hudson River is getting warmer and warmer ocean is basically fuel for stronger storms. And that's pretty well established. So climate change is an accelerator in many ways. It's just presses everything forward and makes it harder to adjust after a big storm or even a wildfires that we're seeing out in California, the devastating fires that ravaged Australia last year. These things are not just isolated incidents. I mean, they're part of this package of problems that happen when you when you just turn up the temperature on the planet. What happens on one side of the world has wide reaching effects, some of which come back like a boomerang. A trip to Greenland punctuated this worldwide interconnectedness. We were contacted by a group of folks from Greenland, who operated a children's home for teenagers. And they wanted to come sailing on the Clearwater. So by some miracle, we were able to schedule all this and have Pete Seeger even join us for the trip. And it was amazing. It was great. They knew who Pete Seeger was they sang Pete Seeger songs in their native Greenlandic language, it was it was terrific. They had such a great time that they even came back the following year to do it again. And and I kind of kind of talked my way into doing a trip over to Greenland myself, and and they said, Well, yeah, sure, come on over, you know, we'd love to have you, if you can figure out how to get to where we are. Like, you're welcome to stay there. So. So I did, I figured it out. And I kind of tagged along with a group of Dutch artists who are going to be doing a climate change awareness project, in the very community where these kids who had sailed with us were from, and this is like, over 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. But the climate story, part of that that intrigued me so much was the fact that of course, Greenland is melting right now. I mean, it's melting much faster than people had originally thought that it would. And any sea level rise that results from a melting Greenland it's going to be impacted here eventually in the Hudson Valley in the Hudson River in particular, because we're an estuary here and this part of the Hudson is an estuary, it rises and falls with the tides. communities who live along its shore course depend on the Hudson River as its tourism is a is a very important element of the economy here. And also communities get their water supply from the Hudson as well like Poughkeepsie, for instance. So a surging ocean from sea level rise is going to have dramatic impact not just on the infrastructure here, but on habitat and water supply and all those sorts of things. So the story of how pollution mainly from the industrialized world is impacting areas far away and affecting the traditional life of Greenland citizens who are seeing they're shifting baseline right there. They're used to what Greenland is supposed to be in the winter time, and that's now changing and it's changing very rapidly shifting baseline is concept we can relate to right here in the Catskills my experience living in the Catskills is, I think, probably different from somebody who was growing up in the Catskills today when I was growing up in the Catskills and this is what we're talking like 1970s here, right? When I walked around out in the woods or in the fields, I never thought twice about ticks, I never had picked up a tick any any time that I can recall growing up. You can't do that today, obviously, ticks are a major menace. They're a public health hazard. And this idea of shifting baseline is, is we have this expectation of what growing up in the Catskills is should be like and, and obviously, it's going to change over time. I mean, somebody who, you know, grew up in the Catskills, maybe in the 1930s is going to have a different experience than I had in the 1970s, of course, but the concerns are is that as climate changes, it's going to accelerate the the pressure and the changes that are happening all across the board. Because climate change really changes the rules for everything, all the ecosystems, and it's going to make things much easier for species like ticks, or other invasive type species, whether they're plants or pass to get a foothold, and dramatically change the ecosystem, probably in a way that we don't want. The deer tick is not an invasive species, it's native to North America, but its ability to establish itself further north has increased because, well, it's not as cold as it used to be. Right and, and so ticks can shift their ranges further north. And there's new species of ticks that have arrived in the Hudson Valley over the last few years, too. So those are all just added things that we're going to have to cope with as we're dealing with how to how to adjust the climate. We know the problem. And knowing the problem is maybe just 10% of the issue, really the other 90% has to do with being able to figure out how to address the problem and actually doing it actually implementing it. There's a strong link between being exposed to air pollution and your vulnerability to being severely ill from COVID-19. And people who are living in environmental justice communities are often folks who are being exposed to air pollution at a much higher level. So they're more vulnerable, addressing climate issues can really help on a lot of different levels. And we're really trying to emphasize to folks that these technologies are not newfangled, they're not niche, they are really mainstream. And there's an effort right now in New York State to essentially electrify our economy and decarbonize it. So instead of thinking about getting energy from burning things, we're thinking more about generating electricity through things like solar, and wind and using high energy efficient products, like heat pumps, and things like that to heat our homes. So we're promoting that idea. It's a marketplace initiative, we're trying to connect folks to opportunities that area contractors are offering to install heat pumps, and also people can do community solar energy, that'll give you a discount on your electric bill. And, and you're also helping to reduce again, your carbon footprint. New York State is on board with this, they're trying to make this part of our economic future by having goals such as 85% reduction of greenhouse gases by 2050 and 100%. Carbon free electricity by 2040 and 70%. Renewable Energy by 2030. So sustainable Hudson Valley working with communities like marble town to create 100% renewable energy plan, we're doing things like that. This is a way to help make a difference. It's important to take individual efforts, it's important to take efforts in your life, not because that individual effort is going to be the turning point and and changing the dynamic here. But what it does is it it's you're sending yourself a message when you start to do a compost in your in your house and take that kind of food waste out of the waste stream. That's a little bit of a help to help reduce the waste stream and reduce carbon. Maybe you want to plant their pollinator garden in your in your backyard. That's another thing or rain garden or rain barrels to help capture runoff that sort of thing. Is that individual thing going to change the way of the world? Not necessarily No. But it changes you. And it's a model for maybe your neighbors. And then of course, there's the bigger picture because we need government leadership, right? We need folks to be involved on whatever level they're comfortable being involved. And so, so obviously voting is important and just making your concerns known to the elected leadership. We love this area. We love the Hudson Valley. I love the Catskills I love the Hudson River. And, you know I want this place to be the kind of place that folks are want to come to and enjoy. For hundreds of years, we have this window of opportunity still to make a difference. To learn more, follow sustainable Hudson Valley and check sustain hv.org for dates of upcoming webinars. Thanks to our sponsors the sustainable Hudson Valley and the 52 mile Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway following New York State Route 28. Through the heart of the central Catskills for maps, itineraries and links to area restaurants, shops and accommodations. Visit scenic catskills.com cats cast is a production of silver Hello audio. Please don't forget to subscribe, and we'll see you again in two weeks. I'm Brett Barry. Thanks for listening.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai