Together Again Finding Sustainable Solutions

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Tompkins Weekly      6-8-22

By Eric Banford

The Ithaca Festival’s theme this year was “together again,” very appropriate after a two-year break due to the pandemic. The weather was perfect, the parade and music and vendors and crowds blending into a glorious weekend of celebration. We used the occasion to talk with folks about sustainability and social justice and how the theme related to their vision of our future.

Often the onus of “doing something” about climate change is placed on individual’s actions. If we just recycled more, used less, switched to electric vehicles and ate organic, then everything would just magically get better. This distracts from the real systemic issues that plague the way we live our lives.

Transportation, housing, our food system, health care — our overarching culture does not support living simple, sustainable lives. So, what can we change together?

We asked festival-goers the following: How can we work together within our community to bring about sustainable ecological and social justice changes?

Linda Wyatt of Ithaca at first chuckled “That is a big question!,” which made us all laugh. And then she replied.

The “Free CAT” float. Photo provided.

“We need to look at communities, what are the different communities and how can they connect to each other,” she said. “We currently have these fragmented communities, and bringing them together in a real way is what’s going to make things better. As long as it’s us vs them, nothing will get better.”

Pam and Greg Wooster of Danby were walking through DeWitt Park after the parade when we stopped them to chat.

“ReUse Center is certainly a good example of what the community has come together to do, and I’m certainly a super user there,” Greg said. “Also buy-ins on solar and geothermal. We bought solar with the Danby group, and that already has paid for itself. We’re looking into geothermal now, and cooperative group buy-ins are the way to go.”

We then saw the Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America group with their “Free CAT” float from the parade cruising through the park, so we caught up with them for a quick chat.

“We believe that climate change is caused by systemic capitalism and that the way to address it is through systemic change like making the TCAT buses free and expanded so that folks don’t have to drive,” Aurora Rojer shared. “It will help TCAT riders, who are disproportionately working class. So, it will help the working class and will help get cars off the road, which will be great for everyone in Tompkins County and the planet.”

The USS ReUse float. Photo provided.

We also bumped into Diane Cohen, co-founder of The Finger Lakes ReUse Center (FLRC), as they chatted around their recycle float.

“Kind of the spirit of what we put together for the parade, which was a collaboration between FLRC and the Community School of Music and Arts (CSMA), celebrating art and the materials that are often found materials to make art,” Cohen said. “Thinking through collaborative wins, how can we work together to solve a problem? Who might have aligned goals? That’s been a fun part of FLRC for me. Robin Tropper-Herbel (the executive director of CSMA) and I were commenting as we were holding the banner what a joy this was to put together.”

Later, in the cool of the evening, we ran into Lusca Robinson, a recent Cornell University computer science graduate, skateboarding on The Commons.

“The first step in answering this question is defining what people are considering ‘our’ and ‘community’ is,” they said. “Selfish division between identities has left the most vulnerable out in the cold and exalted those that systemically have more power because of the body they were born into. Equity not equality. We need to give resources to those that are disenfranchised by the system so that they are on level economic playing fields.”

They continued.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know of any solutions that would solve our global problem of pollution in time to combat climate change without crumbling multiple supply chains and causing the markets to crash,” Robinson said. “More than 70% of emissions are caused by Fortune 500 companies. Even if all of us individuals stopped creating any type of pollution today, we are still on track to the world burning.”

Robinson also agreed with the DSA’s message about TCAT.

“Shifting my scope back down to just all of the inhabitants of Ithaca, I advocate for expanding the TCAT routes so it’s more accessible to those that are currently out of its network,” they said. “Public transportation can save people money while cutting down on car emissions. This way, there is less demand in the market for cars, which then translates to less need for natural gases to be fracked and mined to power these vehicles.”

Robinson said that the fare spent on increased bus rides would then “increase TCAT’s ability to make larger expenditures in the future, which would then allow them to eventually get electric powered buses, which would then cut down on the majority of emissions within the city.”

As recently deceased author and activist bell hooks is quoted as saying, “Rarely, if ever, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion.” The Ithaca festival is a local act of communion, an event that annually brings healing to our community: together again.

Speaking of community solutions, we want to share about the upcoming ReUse Summit coming to Ithaca June 16 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Cinemapolis, 120 E. Green St. The goals of this event are to convene community leaders from across New York state, feature innovative and inspirational models of reuse, highlight the many benefits that reuse generates for communities, and explore the challenges and opportunities to expanding reuse across New York.

This free, full-day summit will include presentations by several of New York state’s reuse leaders, discussions on how to develop new reuse initiatives in the state and optional tours of the two Finger Lakes ReUse locations: CR0WD’s 2022 exhibition, Historic Ithaca and Significant Elements and others featured on the Reuse Trail of Tompkins County.

Register here:

Signs of Sustainability appears in the second and fourth editions of each month in Tompkins Weekly.

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