NY Climate Solutions Summit

The Harley School was proud to be the host location for the first NY Climate Solutions Summit all day on Saturday, October 28th. Harley partnered with Rochester’s People Climate Coalition, Mothers Out Front, Citizen’s Climate Lobby of Rochester, ACE NY, NOFA-NY and other regional organizations to sponsor this important and educational event. Over 200 people attended the climate summit!

The day opened with breakfast and a tabling session in the Main Gallery. Harley’s Dining Hall staff and maintenance crew were integral in providing outstanding food, equipment, and hospitality all day long. Compost and recycling bins where everywhere and reusable dishes were provided to reduce waste. Childcare was also provided, in order to make the event more convenient and accessible, which was ably handled by Tammy Roberts. Several Harley and RYCL (Rochester Youth Climate Leaders) students volunteered throughout the day and were able to attend several of the workshop sessions.

The formal program began in the Theater with Aaron Mair, former president of the Sierra Club, giving the keynote address. His main theme was that “To win on climate, New York must go big!”  He emphasized that environmental and political movements are dependent on people, and people are dependent on a healthy working democracy. Attention must be given to those people who are making policies. Mair also cautioned that we must not lose the human impact when we are working to address the carbon impact.



The second half of the opening session was a panel discussion with Bill Nowak (NY- GEO), Amanda Lefton (Nature Conservancy), Anne Reynolds (ACE NY), and Chris Carrick (CNY RPDB). They responded to questions from the moderator as well as impromptu questions from the audience. They touched on many of the areas which would be discussed in greater detail at the morning case study break out sessions.


The formal case study breakout sessions were held back to back for the rest of the morning in classrooms adjacent to the main Gallery and upper school hallways. The topics being discussed were: Wind Energy with Susan Campbell of Mothers Out Front, Marguerite Wells of Invenergy, and Cat Mosely of Apex Clean Energy; Solar Energy with Susan Spencer of ROCSPOT, Jonathan Comstock of Solar Tompkins, and Adam Flint of Southern Tier Solar Works; Energy Efficiency with Brian Paterson of PUSH Buffalo, Gay Nicholson or Sustainable Tompkins, and Scott Oliver of Pathstone; Environmental Justice with Dorian Hall of PLEX Neighborhood Association, Joe Heath who is General Council to the Onondaga Nation, and Eleanor Stein of Rocky Mountain Institute eLab; Land Use with Tonya Noel Stevens of Cause N’FX, Elizabeth Henderson of NOFA-NY, and Elizabeth Murphy from the City of Rochester; and Transportation with Kat Fisher of the Sierra Club, Heather O’Donnell of PRCC, and Melissa Chanthalangsy of Rochester EV Accelerator. All sessions had presentations, but then broke into small group problem-solving discussions.

After a long working morning, people were ready for a great meal. Luckily, that is what they received! The Harley Dining Hall staff worked tirelessly and creatively to prepare a full salad bar with wraps and special salads which were all vegan in order to support the diet choices and sustainability efforts of the day. The other part of the lunch meal was catered by the local restaurant Fusion 4 which specializes in African, Caribbean, and Soul food. People appreciated the commitment to both sustainability and diversity in the delicious vegan food choices and patronage of a locally-owned family business. During lunch, the audience was addressed by esteemed elder Oren R. Lyons, Jr., a Native American Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. Lyons has been an advocate of indigenous rights and environmental justice for over forty years. He spoke on “Indigenous Views on Climate Change: Business as Usual is Over.”

The afternoon breakout sessions were held back in the classrooms and covered the following topics:

  • Social Sustainability: Intersectionality and Response for Climate Change  — Kris Walker
  • Campaign Planning & Coalition Building 101 — Renee Vogelsang, David Alicea, and Dominic Frongillo
  • Engaging Across Political Ideology — Linda Pratt
  • Understanding How Our Electricity System Works — Doug Kelley
  • Making NYSERDA Work For You — Jason Kulaszewski
  • Community Choice Aggregation: Sample Programs in Development — Ben Frevert and Betta Broad
  • The Opportunities and Challenges of Creating and Anti-Racist Environmental Justice Movement — Kathy Castania and Ricardo Adams
  • Recruit, Train, and Sustain: Building Grassroots Volunteer Leadership — Lisa Marshall and Neely Kelley
  • Raising the Business Voice for Climate Solutions — Bob Rossi, Rob Levine, and Suzanne Hunt
  • The New York Energy Democracy Alliance: Making REV R.E.A.L. — Adam Flint
  • Lobbying for Climate Action — Sarah Mittiga
  • Participating in a NYS Public Service Commission Proceeding — Richard Berkley

The day closed with another plenary session, this time in the Dining Hall with some chocolate chip cookies to reward people for making it through the day! The final two speakers were Karen Edelstein and Sandra Steingraber. Karen demonstrated the interactive maps available to follow the landscape of clean energy in New York, showing various intersecting overlays of congressional district, population, solar/wind energy, electric vehicles and more.

Sandra Steingraber is an American biologist, author, and cancer survivor. Steingraber writes and lectures on the environmental factors that contribute to reproductive health problems and environmental links to cancer, and has recently been featured in a documentary entitled “Unfracked” which follows her efforts to get fracking banned from New York State. Her story and delivery were inspiring and compelling as they related to everyone being in the “same boat”. What happens in Pennsylvania directly impacts our lives in New York in terms of air quality, industry choices, and more. Steingraber cited the recent scientific study that shows 9 million people die each year from pollution (primarily fossil fuel combustion byproducts) and warned of the carcinogenic byproducts of the petrochemical industry (cracking to get ethylene).  However, she concluded with a call to action and compared the environmental movement to determined and tireless characters from stories like Prince Igor in “The Firebird” and “The Brave Little Parrot”. Working together to combat the “harmless aspect of the familiar” to improve our world is essential and attainable.

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