New Volunteer Program: Climate Stewards

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Tompkins Weekly 2-24-21

By Margaret Royall

This March, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (CCE-Tompkins) will begin recruiting for the Climate Stewards volunteer training program. Application materials will be available in March on the CCE-Tompkins website at

Climate Stewards builds upon the successful models of CCE’s existing Master Gardener and Master Composter volunteer programs. In each of these models, individuals who volunteer are trained in the details of specific subject matter and, in turn, share their knowledge with the community by leading workshops and discussion groups, sharing materials and information at community events and other creative outreach efforts of their choosing.

Climate Stewards will have the additional opportunity to use what they have learned to help drive change in our local government.

This is a fantastic opportunity for community members who have the time and the passion but aren’t sure where to start. Not only will the course explain the fundamental, research-based science of climate change in an accessible way, but trainees will learn how to communicate with community leaders and members about climate change.

The 12-week Climate Stewards course will provide training on research-based climate change science, climate impacts, mitigation, adaptation, working with local governments and effective communication. Trainees will learn what is already taking place in Tompkins County to combat climate change and how they can help our municipalities implement even more changes.

For each of the first 10 weeks, trainees will complete a module with a slide presentation, outside readings and videos, group activities and work toward final action projects. These lessons will provide a foundation on climate science, how communities are adapting and becoming more resilient and how you can help make a difference.

The last few weeks, trainees will put their newfound skills into action with the completion and presentation of individual or group action projects that will be the first steps in making a difference in our communities.

CCE currently supports projects, such as Get Your GreenBack Tompkins, as well as information campaigns, like those for solar energy and electric cars, that encourage reduced fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions.

By emulating the tried-and-true models of the Master Composter and Master Gardener volunteer programs, the Climate Stewards volunteer program aims to have a strong impact on reducing Tompkins County’s contributions to climate change and how we as a community will react to a changing environment.

Each year, CCE specialists across the state manage more than 50,000 volunteers for various programs and services. These volunteers extend the education offered by paid staff and are able to reach hundreds of thousands of additional New York residents through their service.

Creating a volunteer corps of Climate Stewards is the logical next step to build on this framework and expand the awareness and actions to abate climate change.

Why is this so important? The New York State Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act of 2019 has set a target of an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To get there, every community will have to contribute to lowering its emissions while also preparing for the impacts of climate change.

The Climate Stewards Program will introduce volunteers to Climate Smart Communities (CSC). CSC is a multistate agency effort led by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that outlines concrete actions for communities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, adapt for a changing climate and become more resilient in the face of new environmental challenges.

Climate Stewards volunteers can use the CSC action lists to determine what municipalities have already done or what opportunities there are to take action.

To date, only 319 New York state communities have made a commitment to act by registering as CSCs. Even though the CSC program provides information for each action, many communities haven’t signed on or made much progress to reduce emissions. Research has shown that a key barrier to local climate action is lack of resources (staff, supplies and training).

Climate Stewards will be trained and empowered with practical skills to help fill these gaps, tackle issues and inspire change in their own communities. Not only will they help their communities, but they will also make a direct and measurable difference to help mitigate the impacts of global climate change.

Together we can adapt for a future when extreme weather events, including floods and, paradoxically, droughts, are more common, causing disruption to our food systems. We must become more resilient, ensuring that the neediest among us are not only not left behind but given the tools and assistance necessary to excel.

The Climate Stewards program alone cannot address these critical issues, but it can be part of the overall solution. We need you to help us make this program part of Tompkins County’s successful approach to combating climate change.

To sign up for the training or find out more about Climate Stewards, see our website at or email Margaret Royall at

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