Crew Commentary

Addressing Our Climate Crisis at the Grass Roots

Jon Biemer


Editor’s Note: Jon Biemer gives us a real life example of what can happen at the local level when climate activists, municipal administrators and just plain folks cooperate and collaborate to tackle our climate crisis.


Pat Wartinger is a retired teacher and grandmother and a whirlwind of sustainability. The point here is not so much that you can be like Pat, as you can follow the path to greater impact that Pat demonstrates so beautifully.


Henrietta, where Pat lives, is a suburb of Rochester, New York. There Pat, gathered a few environmental activists together to promote hands-on environmental projects. In 2019, they called themselves Color Henrietta Green, adapting the idea from Color Brighton (New York) Green. Among other activities, they facilitated Rotary Club service projects and invited Healthy Yards Monroe to give presentations at the library – “You can become part of Homegrown National Park!” Modest but energizing efforts.


After a couple years of hands-on sustainable experience, Color Henrietta Green created a template and tool box to color any community or school green. At least three other cities in Monroe County adopted the idea: Color Pittsford Green, Color Fairport Green, and Color Penfield Green. I count 156,000 residents in one county (Monroe) thus far embracing the Color Green concept. (That is, Brighten, 37,000 + Henrietta, 47,000 + Pittsford, 30,000 + Fairport 5,000 + Penfield, 37,000.) Notice the momentum.



Add to this mix a friendly city manager, Steve Schultz, and a cooperative town council. In 2021 the Henrietta Sustainability Committee was formed. Among other things, one person focuses on trails, another on native plants, and another on solar. Projects include LED lighting for 800 street lamps that will pay for themselves in three years. More recently the town adopted an alternative New York building code that emphasizes energy efficiency. Pat says, “We invite the town to Sustainability Committee meetings to help the city implement these things.” The activists and the town admins have joined forces!


The state of New York has a Certified Climate Smart Communities program. Henrietta populated its lengthy application with projects Pat and her peers have been working on. These include a heat pump for the town library and facilitating solar energy collection on sub-prime farm land. With its bronze certification, Henrietta joins 130 other certified communities. As of early 2024, four hundred more communities are registered with pledges to take sustainable action. Now we have coupled local action with a broader movement.


It is no surprise that Pat Wartinger is Henrietta’s representative in certifying more communities. “A first coffee meeting. A second coffee meeting. A third coffee meeting. Most towns don’t have the time or the money. So we do that.”


How about it folks? Care to color your town green? Pat is an active crew member on Spaceship Earth.


This story is adapted from Jon Biemer’s upcoming book, Our Journey to Sustainability: How Everyday Heroes Make a Difference. Jon is registered in California as a professional Mechanical Engineer. In 2021 he published Our Environmental Handprints: Recover the Land, Reclaim the Future. Both books are available from on-line booksellers.