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Climate change activists gather at Paul's Bakery in Upper Jay on Saturday. Photo: Chris Morris, courtesy Adirondack Daily Enterprise
Climate change activists gather at Paul's Bakery in Upper Jay on Saturday. Photo: Chris Morris, courtesy Adirondack Daily Enterprise

A personal connection to climate change

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Nearly 40 people gathered at Paul Johnson's home in Upper Jay on Saturday to draw attention to the ways climate change has affected peoples' lives.

The event, called Connect the Dots, was part of Climate Impacts Day, which featured hundreds of similar gatherings worldwide. It was organized by local members of the international climate action organization 350.org, started by former Adirondack writer Bill McKibben. Chris Morris was there and has this report.

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Chris Morris
Tri-Lakes Correspondent

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Paul Johnson owns Paul’s Bakery on state Route 9N in Upper Jay. Behind the business are his home and a big chunk of beautiful Adirondack property. It was all heavily damaged when Tropical Storm Irene tore through last August.

“When the storm struck, we – my mother who is quite elderly and I – did not leave, because we have never had a drop of water in the house,” Johnson said. “In the basement of the barn, we had water twice in all the years that we’ve lived here. From the Torrance family to the present day, about 150 years, no water in the house whatsoever. So we thought we were fine.”

But like many homeowners in Jay and Keene, Johnson was far from fine. Floodwaters from the East Branch of the AuSable River rose dramatically before he could get his mother into the car to escape.

“The water started coming in the house,” Johnson said. “So we put water and food and flashlights, etc., up to the second floor, and just went up to the second floor and rode out the whole storm.”

Irene devastated Johnson’s bakery, as well as a barn on his property that he rented out to local merchants. The storm also damaged a unique iris garden on his property that was built by his grandmother.

The flooding caused by Irene was a rare weather event. That’s why these activists gathered here: to connect the dots between extreme weather and climate change.

Bob Andrews of Keene Valley helped pull the rally together.

“The notion there is that there’s lots of points around the world where we see evidence of really unusual weather – weather that makes for flooding in some places and wildfires in other places,” he said. “But we don’t necessarily always connect the dots of what that means. Is this really related to climate change? And there’s still a certain amount of climate skepticism. Is this just unusual weather? Or is this climate change and its affects?”

Mona Dubay of Jay attended the rally and was among many people who carried big cardboard signs bearing a single black dot. She says she wants more people to think about global climate change.

“It’s right here in everybody’s neighborhoods,” Dubay said. “We definitely had a huge showing last Aug. 28 when Tropical Storm Irene made its appearance here in our area, and we’re still dealing with the cleanup from that. People’s lives have been changed forever. This is just the beginning, I’m afraid.”

The event also attracted some younger activists like Maria Goulet, a teenager from Jay.

“I really feel like, as a young person, I need to be aware and kind of do something about it,” she said. “I really would like to focus on getting information out.”

Local politicians like Keene Supervisor Bill Ferebee and Jay Supervisor Randy Douglas also attended the event.

Douglas says climate change and global warming can be tricky territory for a politician. But he also says it’s hard to ignore that something is happening.

“I’m not so sure what it is,” Douglas said. “Something triggered Hurricane Irene to hover over us for that time frame and cause all this drastic damage. I’m not on one side of the aisle in this or the other; I’m glad to be part of it to learn more and hear some of the research other people have done.”

Putting the topic of climate change aside, Douglas says he’s happy to see people from his community getting together to do something positive. He says he’s inspired by people like Paul Johnson, who plans to stay despite the possibility of future flooding.

Johnson says he’s not staying out of defiance of climate change or potential natural disaster, but because he has a deep connection to his home.

“I have a lot of tactile memories associated with the property, with the place,” he said. “I’m not digging my heels in in the sense of, ‘I’m going to be defiant and stand up against Mother Nature.’ I’m digging my heels in the sense that I’ve had such a wonderful life here, and when I want to leave here, I want it to be just as wonderful. I don’t want to say, ‘It was wonderful until I had a very horrible thing happen,’ and that’s the memory I leave with.”

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