Chautauqua Climate Change Initiative Fall 2021 Update
Welcome to the first quarterly update of the Chautauqua Climate Change Initiative. It was a busy summer of getting to know the amazing Chautauqua community. I’m so grateful for the enthusiastic support that you and others have expressed for the things we will do together to build a sustainable Chautauqua and advance understanding and action on climate.
I plan to update interested stakeholders by email four times per year. I am also making space for our community to collaborate, share and learn together throughout the year. To that end, I’d like to invite you to join the new Sustainable Chautauqua group on Facebook, a space to: (1) Get updates on climate related news, programs, and events, (2) Share ideas about how together we can advance a more sustainable Chautauqua, (3) Create and participate in volunteer activities, and (4) Build and grow connections to sustainability-minded Chautauquans. To join, go to: https://www.facebook.com/groups/sustainablechq. I respect that not everyone is on Facebook nor wants to be. If you would like another way to engage with the initiative, please let me know your communication preferences.
Following the summer season, I worked with my colleagues on creating a framework for the climate change initiative and building out near term priorities. The framework consists of three components: (1) Programs, (2) Lake, and (3) Operations. These are the “what” we do. The “how” we do it is through education, stewardship, and the pursuit of justice. With Chautauqua’s commitment to IDEA (inclusivity, diversity, equity, and accessibility), it’s particularly important that we strive to have our work advance toward greater justice for those who are most adversely impacted by climate change.
Here’s a graphic that ties it all together…
Now on to the updates…
Fall 2021 Updates
Chautauqua is preparing for a busy 2022 season. We have terrific opportunities to highlight environmental and climate themes throughout all nine weeks of programming, and especially during Week Two, The Wild: Reconnecting with Our Natural World; Week Six, After Dark: The World of Nighttime; and Week Seven, More than Shelter: Redefining the American Home. We have some exciting speakers lined up, including Sally Jewell, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior, CEO of REI, Inc. and accomplished mountain climber; author, naturalist and activist Terry Tempest Williams; and Robin Wall Kimmerer, a mother, scientist, decorated professor, enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and author of Braiding Sweetgrass, an official 2022 CLSC book selection!
One of the things I love best about Chautauqua is how we explore important topics not only through books and lectures, but also through an amazing diversity of performing and visual arts. Those of us who attended last season’s Climate Emergency: Feedback Loops at Chautauqua Cinema saw how powerful the arts can be in moving us to care about climate change. Next season we have an exciting opportunity to explore climate change themes through music with a performance of Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen for string septet organized by Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra double bassist Caitlyn Kamminga, who is also coordinator of the International Teaching Artists Climate Collective. This performance opens the Chautauqua Chamber Music Resident Artist Series and is a part of our week, The Wild. The follow-on conversation between Caitlyn and I will explore the concepts of metamorphosis and transformation in music, as in thematic transformation and in science, as in caterpillar to butterfly, and in energy, as the earth warms or cools it changes.
We are teeing up additional climate programming for the 2022 season, including a climate lecture at the Chautauqua Women’s Club on July 5; A climate salon during Week Seven focused on “Turning Angst into Joy” through positive actions; a “star party” and other fun programs during Week Six in collaboration with the Chautauqua Property Owners Association highlighting the beauty of our dark night skies and the work being done to achieve International Dark-Sky Association certification; youth citizen science programming throughout the season; and collaborations with the many volunteer organizations both on the grounds and in the region who are focused on climate, the environment, and sustainability.
We are working to build on the ideas explored through last season’s wonderful week and class on empathy, examining how empathy can be an effective frame to grow understanding of and support for action to address climate change. We are developing a program that will take place live in Chautauqua’s Washington, DC location and made available online through CHQ Assembly. We are targeting the spring of 2022 for this possible program, stay tuned for more info!
We have an exciting CHQ Travels trip to Iceland in July! Among other adventures, we will examine the effects of climate change firsthand during a glacier walk and tour one of Iceland’s geothermal power plants, see an innovative carbon capture project, and learn how the country runs almost entirely on renewable energy. Those of you who read 2021 CHQ lecturer Elizabeth Kolbert’s book Under a White Sky will recall her account of a visit to the carbon capture project. The trip is limited to 25 participants, so please register your interest soon if you’d like to join: https://chq.org/groups/chautauqua-travels/iceland/.
Finally, near and dear to my heart, we are planning a “Green Fondo” bike weekend for September 16-18, 2022 in collaboration with Climate Ride, a national nonprofit that organizes life-changing charitable biking, running, and hiking events around the world to raise awareness and support sustainability, active transportation, and environmental causes. Modeled after Climate Ride’s successful California Green Fondo, the Chautauqua Green Fondo weekend will feature fun bike rides for people of all abilities, great food, drink and music, and evening programs with interesting speakers focused on various climate change topics. The event will also be a fundraiser for Chautauqua and other organizations working to advance sustainability. Please indicate your interest here: Chautauqua Green Fondo.
We were fortunate to have avoided serious water quality issues this past season at Chautauqua, which some attribute in part to lake levels being consistently high due to abundant rain. But that same rain also brought us into unchartered waters, with docks literally floating away for the only time in memory. We know that with climate change we are experiencing more frequent and intense rainstorms, and so we must account for this ‘new normal’ as we advance lake restoration and build long term climate resilience. (For more on the increasing problem of wildly fluctuating water levels in the Great Lakes, see this article from Scientific American. The economic costs of adapting everything from docks to shipping is taking a serious toll on local economies, as documented in this report from the Environmental Law and Policy Center).
Thanks to support from Chautauqua’s Board of Trustees and ongoing efforts to raise philanthropic dollars for lake restoration, we are hiring a manager who will be dedicated full time to advancing science-based solutions that drive restoration and resilience. The position has attracted many high-quality candidates, and we hope to announce an appointment soon. The Chautauqua Lake Project Manager will work primarily with me and with John Shedd, and will be our interface with NGO and governmental stakeholders involved in lake restoration, with our education and grounds staff who are focused on the lake, and with our science partners, including the Jefferson Project, which this summer received $1 million of funding from Chautauqua Institution and Chautauqua County.
The Jefferson Project launched two research boats this summer which have been monitoring water quality and hydrodynamics in the north and south basins. Known as “vertical profilers,” these highly advanced floating supercomputers are delivering reams of data that will help Chautauqua and our partners home in on the most effective strategies for driving science-based restoration. For more information on this research and early results, click here.
Another exciting development in the works is a deepening of our engagement with the State University of New York at Fredonia biology and environmental sciences programs. Already an important partner in our lake restoration work, SUNY Fredonia is poised to help us even more, for example in advancing (along with Jefferson Project and other partners) a comprehensive lake and watershed science strategy, deploying undergraduate and graduate students to focus on Chautauqua Lake research projects, and helping develop science-based youth programming for both summer visitors and local school partners. We’re still working out the details, so stay tuned for further updates.
Finally, we are exploring with lake partners the possibility of a gathering in the Spring of 2022 focused on updating the public and stakeholders about the current state of lake science and conservation efforts. This gathering would build on the successful Chautauqua Lake Conference held on the grounds in the Spring of 2019.
One of the best surprises for me when I arrived at Chautauqua this summer is how much the Institution, homeowners, and volunteer organizations have already done to advance a sustainable Chautauqua. From rain gardens, bioswales, and permeable pavers to clean energy and waste reduction to LEED certified buildings and private homes, this community is clearly “walking the talk” when it comes to climate change. Thanks to the great work of the Institution’s Campus Planning and Operations, Golf Club, Bird, Tree and Garden Club, Property Owners Association, denomination houses, innkeepers and individual home owners, we have a solid foundation to build from.
So how do we keep moving in the right direction? A key step for governments, businesses and institutions alike is to create a climate action plan with an ambitious but achievable carbon reduction target. The target that drives climate action plans for more than 130 countries, roughly half of U.S. states, many global corporations as well as thousands of institutions of higher learning and NGOs, is known as “net-zero carbon.” Globally, net-zero carbon is what scientists say is needed within the next decade to keep global warming to no more than 1.5 °C and safeguard a livable climate. It is achieved through a combination of reducing and offsetting greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming.
To achieve net-zero carbon requires a focus on everything from energy, materials, and transportation choices to buildings, grounds, and waste management. The plan starts with a comprehensive inventory of GHG emissions and builds toward specific actions to reduce those emissions over time. Plans should be inclusive and collaborative, both engaging and benefiting our neighbors on the grounds and in the surrounding communities. The true measure of our climate leadership should be how far beyond the gates we are able to facilitate actions that positively impact the lives of others.
Finding the right model for a Chautauqua climate action plan is an interesting challenge because we are so unique in the world. But with the expert advice of some longtime Chautauquans, we’re focusing on a climate action framework used by institutions of higher learning. With a ‘campus’ (the grounds), arts, faith, recreation, and education programming (our ‘curriculum’), a large ‘student body’ (our patrons and seasonal visitors), and as a key economic driver of a the surrounding community (the ‘town’ to our ‘gown’), we are more like a college/university than perhaps any other type of institution.
There is a wealth of resources that help colleges and universities develop and execute effective climate action plans. This summer I met with an official at Second Nature, the premiere climate action network for colleges and universities across the U.S. While Chautauqua ultimately might not qualify for membership in the network, due to the small detail that we are not actually a university, Second Nature’s vast library of resources is open source and available for our use.
Ultimately, we will rely on lots of collaborative partnerships to achieve our climate goals. One of the most exciting new partnerships we are developing is with SUNY’s University at Buffalo, which along with other neighboring institutions of higher education (SUNY Fredonia and Jamestown Community College) is a member of the Second Nature Climate Leadership Network. In October, John Shedd, Matt Ewalt, and I met with UB’s Chief Sustainability Officer, director of the School of Architecture and Planning, and Associate Vice President for University Facilities to discuss how they might help Chautauqua advance our climate action plan. It was impressive to see UB’s award-winning sustainable GROW Home and the vast arrays of solar panels on campus and dream about bringing some of UB’s clean energy and sustainability expertise to Chautauqua.
Choosing the right model for Chautauqua’s climate action plan and setting the right targets will take time and careful deliberation. We hope to announce our plan prior to the start of the 2022 season.
Thank you for being part of the Chautauqua climate community. I’m so grateful for your engagement, which is critical to our success. Please feel free to reach out anytime with ideas or questions. Enjoy the Fall and upcoming holiday season!
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