Earth Day in Croton 1970: Then and Now

By: Patty L. Buchanan

As a life-long resident of Croton-on-Hudson, I recall with quaint amusement Croton’s first Earth Day celebration 50 years ago. Residents of the community were invited to gather at the Municipal Building. We were asked not to come in fossil fueled vehicles; instead we were encouraged to use our imaginations and arrive by alternative transportation. I was 8 years old. Together with my BFF at the time, I arrived at the municipal building in a wheelbarrow.

Thinking back to that Spring day in 1970, I am struck that even though many people knew the harms posed by massive CO2 emissions, we nevertheless doubled down by increasing emissions, filling our atmosphere to perilous levels. Yet, there are reasons to believe that we will change. How is it possible that over the past 50 years, collectively, we have ratcheted up the harm to the earth’s natural systems that sustain life, and yet now we are on the cusp of making necessary far-reaching changes that could restore the earth’s life support systems?

Despite public education campaigns warning of the harms of pollution, over the past 50 years global economies were built to grow by extracting and burning carbon-based fossil fuels that we know as gas, oil and coal. We have increased carbon emissions from about 15.7 billion tons per year in 1970 to our current assault of 38 billion tons per year. Here in Croton, the average person emits 20 tons of CO2 a year. As a community, we emit about 700 tons per day! Because CO2stays in the atmosphere for decades, this unrelenting global discharge has caused the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to increase from 325 parts per million in 1970 to 416 parts per million today.

The massive accumulation of these gases in the atmosphere causes global warming, which in turn disrupts the earth’s delicate climate and ecosystems. Even knowing all this, the reliance on fossil fuels has been irresistible. Over the past 50 years the use of energy systems that release CO2have fueled development around the world, improving the lives of billions of people.  But this trajectory is unsustainable. We have been warned by the world’s leading scientists that if we are to avoid irreparable catastrophic harm, we must drastically reduce these emissions by making “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Fortunately, just when we need it the most, we have reached a technological crossover where continued fossil fuel emissions are not necessary for economic development and our comforts. And, in most circumstances, systems that run on renewable energy are less expensive than those that use fossil fuels.

The opportunities to live carbon emission-free lives are greater than ever before. Unlike in 1970, renewable electricity sources are now the default for all village residents through Croton’s Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program. With the support of Croton100’s work on Operation Thunderbolt, a similar offering may soon come to the Town of Cortlandt that will also benefit the remainder of residents of zip code 10520 who live outside the Village of Croton. We recently learned through Croton100’s Operation Data Digger that since 2013, 1,800 kW dc of solar power have been installed on homes and businesses throughout our community. Soon there will be solar panels on the school district’s bus depot, and perhaps someday soon those panels will help to charge electric school buses. 

My husband and I live in a carbon-neutral home where our electricity is generated by renewable energy, both by our own solar panels and because we have enrolled in a clean electricity programElectric air source heat pumps that run on renewable energy, rather than a fossil fuel burning furnace, warm our home in winter and cool our house in summer. Our primary transportation is electric vehicles (EVs). The developments in technology make electric vehicles 3X more efficient than gas combustible engines, which lose about 60% of their energy as heat. There are now more than 40 electric car models to choose from that qualify for NYSERDA’s Clean Energy Rebate and there are over 100 EVs registered in zip code 10520.  Croton100 is partnering with Sustainable Westchester to help accelerate the adoption of these advances by Croton residents who would like to transition to heat pumps, clean transportation, zero waste living, solar programs for renters and homeowners who cannot install solar panels on their homes, and more. Technology innovations since the first Earth Day in 1970 allow us to enhance our lives through the earth’s wind, solar and hydro bounties in ways that were not possible back then.

Carbon emission calculating wizards in Croton have even developed a unique Carbon Tracking tool—in 21st Century form and parlance—an “app,” that walks users through their own carbon footprint, illustrates their impacts relative to their community’s zip code average, and guides them in ways to achieve carbon emission step-downs. Anyone can access this Carbon Tracker App that is available on Croton100’s website.  Croton100 urges you to honor the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by using this App to assess your own carbon emissions. Once you understand your baseline emissions, with step-down guidance from the App, you can make a plan to cut your CO2 emissions by 5% each year over the next 20 years to help achieve the global goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2040. There has never been a better time for you to open your mind to technological advances and consider integrating available opportunities to reduce carbon emissions into your own life. And you can help the environment while saving money and improving our collective health.

So what does Earth Day look like for me in 2020 when the ban on social gatherings due to the Coronavirus prohibits an event at the municipal building? Well, I left my wheelbarrow at home, but still made a trip to the Municipal Building with my current BFF. Here we are below: Me and my husband Chandu charging our EV at the Croton Municipal Building Charging Station!

Photo credit: Susan Sammon

Happy Earth Day to all, and especially Croton Energy Group, that was founded on Earth Day 2011 (to them, I add “Happy B’Earth Day 😀🎂!”).

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