A Climate-Conscious Future for Hastings


Seamus Pugh

Recent Sawmill River Flooding in September 2021.

Aynsley Zamore and Mia Christie

The Hastings Climate Declaration was written to capture Hastings’ climate actions and targets. It was passed on November 9th, 2021, and signed by ​​Trustee Mary Lambert, Trustee Georgia Lopez, Trustee Thomas Drake, Trustee Morgen Fleisig, and Mayor Nicola Armacost.

Trustee Fleisig compared the local climate change situation to “boiling a frog, where a live frog won’t notice it is being cooked alive if the heat is raised slowly.” 

If it is not addressed, climate change will continue to get worse and worse, Fleisig argues, and eventually, when the pinnacle of disaster is reached, nothing can be done to fix it. Luckily, as a town, Hastings is doing its part to make a difference, and this is where the Hastings Climate Emergency Declaration comes into play. 

From the beginning of her time in office, Mayor Armacost has made climate change a priority. Her firm belief is that even starting small, at the village level, can have a huge impact, and that is what brought about the creation of the Declaration: “If we want to achieve all of these global goals, we have to start right here at home… It doesn’t matter how tiny the municipality is. We’re the ones who, added together, will allow the United States to reach those goals.” 

Her interest led her to the Climate Smart and Clean Energy Communities, a New York State program which provide a framework for municipalities, like Hastings, to follow. From here, she got involved with several climate-focused groups such as Ickly, Neous, Climate Mayors, Convenient Mayors, and We Are Still In. We Are Still In is made up of a group of mayors who have pledged to meet the Paris Agreement Emission Reduction Targets, even after the United States pulled out in 2017 (It rejoined last year). Once the village pledged, “We are still in,” it is now a matter of how to take action and “move the dial,” to eventually “make things better for [our] generation and generations to come,” said Mayor Armacost.

A partnership with one of the other groups, Ickly, soon developed, and the group convinced Hastings to sign a Climate Emergency Declaration, showing the success of such declarations in other towns.

From a scientific perspective, acknowledging the existence of a climate crisis on a local level as well as a national level is completely necessary, so fortunately, this document serves as an outline of concrete steps Hastings is taking to address climate change.

When discussing whether to join the numerous other municipalities signing onto various Climate Emergency Declarations, officials in Hastings were understandably hesitant at first. In a world where the constant stream of news about catastrophic events, ranging from raging wildfires to alarming increases in sea levels no longer even raise eyebrows, there was a fear that people have become desensitized to the terrifying effects of climate change. 

“I do have a problem with the [over]use of the word ‘emergency,’” said Trustee Fleisg,  “I think once you use it, people then become a little bit numb to the concept, but the fact is we are in a climate emergency.” He continued to emphasize the issue of getting people to become aware of what’s going on around them—“on a day-to-day basis, most people don’t think about it.” 

The Hastings Climate Declaration, which has not received much attention at Hastings High School, is less of a “law” and more of a way to show that Hastings is still in the fight against climate change. Before signing onto the Declaration, Hastings was already moving forward with steps to help the environment. The plan “simply outlines this progress,” said Trustee Fleisig. He also mentioned how even before the Declaration, Hastings had already been “doing a ton of things to try and curb emissions like improving the electrification of cars, focusing on reworking our emergency management plan so that it actually deals with the fact that the climate is changing so it’s not just the historically typical emergencies that we have to deal with, but emergencies that are dynamic in nature and are becoming more and more grave.” 

Trustee Fleisig also mentioned that Hastings is already dealing with “dynamic emergencies.” The town is experiencing colder winters and warmer summers, and natural disasters are also destroying properties and wreaking havoc. The town is located between two rivers: the Hudson and the Sawmill. The Hudson River’s water levels will eventually rise and encroach upon properties. More immediately, there are issues with the Sawmill River flooding. Hastings faced this challenge recently when the Sawmill became a surprisingly strong river back in early September 2021. Hastings has experienced flooding firsthand, notably during storms such as Hurricane Ida and Sandy. Devastating floods swept across properties and into the basements of many residents. Map A, provided by Floodfactor.com, displays the homes in the village that are prone to different levels of flooding.

Trustee Fleisig noted that the issue of Neonic Pesticides, which cause directional issues for insects, is also being spread by floods. As Fleisig said, “the Climate Emergency is actually also related to the extinction emergency: It’s not just affecting human life, it’s affecting all species.”

The direct relationship between the number of natural disasters and floods is a reality that our town, which is surrounded by water, will inevitably face. Fleisig said that we need to “improve infrastructure that takes into account all environmental issues” so that we not only become stronger, but more resilient. Ultimately, the Hasting’s Climate Emergency Declaration is what best addresses this issue, as well as builds off of it to create a more effective impact. 

Hastings is very small, a little less than three square miles, so how can a place this size be impactful within the large issue of climate change?

Fleisig admited, “No matter how many electric cars we get in the village, no matter how much you recycle, it’s still going to get warmer: This is something that at this point–and this is not to say that you as individuals should not take action–is bigger than individual action now.”

This is why the Hastings Emergency Climate Declaration is important—it is an example for larger governments to follow. Mayor Armacost described Hastings’ role as a model for other communities: “We’re the highest-ranking Clean Energy and Climate Smart Community in New York State… The way it works with Climate Smart Communities is that you have to submit actions which are viewable in a public portal by all the other municipalities in New York State. So they can see what we’ve done, and they can copy it. And in fact, if they copy it that’s brilliant for us. We don’t care about plagiarism. We really, really want them to copy us. Because the more of us that do these actions that address climate change the better… If we can do it, they should be able to do it.” 

By creating the document, Hastings is recognizing that the town is responsible for fixing human-caused climate change. Despite our small size, we are accountable for our actions, and will follow actual steps to fix them. Trustee Fleisig mentioned that this resolution is a sign to other municipalities and layers of government above us that this issue is important to the town, and something should be done about it on a grander scale. There’s an existing domino effect within the country, if not the world, where smaller communities and municipalities begin speaking up, and larger governments and places will listen and follow along. After all, Hastings initially was inspired by declarations made in other towns.

As seen throughout the world, greenhouse gas emissions are the most considerable contributor to global warming. After creating the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, the Governor of New York agreed to “reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and no less than 85 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels.” As specified, this large goal will ultimately create complete zero-emission electricity by 2040 and carbon neutrality by 2050. 

While the ambition and drive of the Governor is extremely necessary, these goals will require all municipalities around the state to do their part and take action separately. Hastings took initiative and joined with another group called Race To Zero, which included mayors around the world that pledged their commitment to a fair-share, science-based target of reduction. For Hastings, this reduction is about 62.8%. As mentioned in the declaration, Hastings is addressing this ever-present issue through tracking a greenhouse gas inventory that will ultimately help to create emission reduction targets. 

Race To Zero persuaded the Mayor to join their group initiative by providing exact emission numbers and predictions for future emissions. Using scientific data and factual information, they were able to calculate the town’s emissions and found what they would have to lower this amount to by 2030 in order to fully achieve the reduction goal. This number does not take into account what Hastings has already done to achieve clean energy, which includes passing the New York Stretch Code and Community Choice Aggregation, as well as promoting and using electric cars. 

Climate change is an overarching issue that is shared across the globe. It’s easy to overwhelm ourselves with the negative statistics and devastating outcomes created by scientists and social media users. However, by simply looking at how Hastings has both been influenced by, and is influencing other municipalities, there is a clear feeling of hope that emerges. The document specifically specifies that “that the Mayor and Board of Trustees of Village of Hastings-on-Hudson declares a climate emergency and urges sister municipalities to do the same.” This achievable, accurate, and science-based resolution ultimately suggests that all two-square-miles of Hastings are willing to take actions, so what’s stopping other governments from doing this too?