A review of “Climate Change in the Adirondacks – The Path to Sustainability”, by Jerry Jenkins, published in 2010 by Cornell University Press.

Jerry Jenkins, author of the amazingly comprehensive “The Adirondack Atlas,” has, once again, compiled a far reaching and enduring compendium not only of where the Adirondacks is headed under the duress of climate change, but, more importantly, what we can and must do if we hope to be able to mitigate at least some of these changes and preserve at least some of the intrinsic ecological, economic, and aesthetic value inherent in this cherished island of temperate forest.

Mr. Jenkins is not overly optimistic about the future but he firmly believes that if we all made a concerted effort we might at least preserve enough of what we have to ensure the Adirondacks continue as a valued source of clean water and wildlife habitat, while simultaneously supporting an energy efficient, rural life style which utilizes a sustainable source of carbon-neutral heat and power. However, as he documents, even under the most optimistic scenario the ecology of this region may well change sufficiently over the next 200 years to cause the loss of most winter sports opportunities, our sugar maples, and many other of our characteristic flora and fauna.

But, as he shows, such losses cannot compare with what could happen if we humans make little or no effort to reduce our carbon footprint and to live sustainably. For example, he foresees having the weather in the Adirondacks in 2200 become like that of Alabama in 2010 should we abandon all efforts to change our ways. A significant portion of this book is therefore devoted to offering concrete suggestions as to what we can do, as individuals and families, to both put the brakes on climate change and to adapt ourselves to those changes, both economic and environmental, that are likely to occur in spite of our efforts.

This book is chock-full of interesting and clearly presented data. For example, there is information on the uptake of carbon by forests, on the release of carbon by different fuels per unit of energy obtained, and the relative carbon emissions caused by the production of $1,000 worth of various goods and services. There’s a section on fuel efficient hybrids and all-electric vehicles and an equally important section on how to improve the energy efficiency of one’s home (as Mr. Jenkins has done for himself). Apparently an energy efficient house that burns only local wood for heat (as Mr. Jenkins’ house does, for example) requires somewhere between 11 and 79 acres of forest to sequester the carbon released by the burned wood (depending on the type and age of the forest). But that only neutralizes the carbon released from the wood used for heat and does not neutralize the carbon released through cooking and transportation.

When Jerry Jenkins wrote this book he was well aware that our Nation’s political and economic leaders were pulling away from any commitment to mitigate climate change. Now, since its publication, there has arisen in the United States even more resistance to a change in the way we conduct our lives and even more effort to misinform our citizens about impact of continuing our present reliance on fossil fuels. More recently, because of the unforeseen efforts of many Middle Eastern people to gain more independence and control over their lives, the cost of fossil fuels is rising (as Jerry Jenkins anticipated it would sooner or later). It was Mr. Jenkins’ supposition that a rise in fuel prices (no matter what the cause) would spur more folks to take seriously the need to make their lives more energy efficient and turn to more fuel-efficient and carbon-neutral methods of transportation and home heating. Perversely, and in direct opposition to such efforts, the continuing economic depression and the loss of cheap oil is being used by our plutocracy and their followers as an excuse to abandon any further effort to preserve our environment and to irresponsibly engage in seeking natural gas and oil in our Nation’s ecologically valuable preserves and forests. Even some of our local political leaders, apparently blind to the long term dangers of living unsustainably, would prefer to see more clearing than preserving of our forests.

I only wish I could be as optimistic as Mr. Jenkins is.

– Wes Dingman

A resident of Chestertown, Wes Dingman is a retired medical doctor who also spent 15 years doing basic biomedical research.. He likes to hike, camp, canoe, ski and snowshoe in the Park. He is also active in the local theater group and is on the Johnsburg library foundation.