TUPPER LAKE -- The 6.5 million-acre Adirondack Park forest is a big sink for carbon dioxide.

The green wilderness inhales tons of it.

If you could hear it breathe, it would make a giant sucking sound, according to climatologist Dr. Barry Rock of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space, who spoke at the recent Adirondack Research Consortium Climate Change conference.

If a single acre of forest removes 6 tons of CO2 in a year, by some estimates, then Adirondack forests remove almost 40 million tons of the major greenhouse gas every year.

That is about the same amount of CO2 produced by every home and industry in a country the size of Ireland or, as recent studies estimated, all of New York City, which generates 1 percent of total greenhouse-gas emissions in the U.S.

But the park does more than suck up the city's bad air.

It exists as a working model for science looking to help guide policy makers, according to Dr. Chris Bernabo, director of the Center for Science Solutions, who also gave a presentation at the event.

UNMEASURED BENEFITS

Potential impacts of climate change could forever alter the way the forest is viewed by society. While large tracts of forest are not valued in tons of CO2 consumed, Bernabo says they should be.

To protect them against escalating climate change, policy makers will have to be able to use science. And science will have to mean something more useful than data sets.

"Here we are raising the fire alarm about climate change. Well, are we going to help society solve this?" Bernabo asked his colleagues.

"Scientific information is often not packaged in a way decision makers can use. Science is about facts. Decision making is about values; policy is about deadlines and crisis."

AN ADIRONDACK MODEL

The Adirondack Park's land-use permit process is often a battleground between interpretation of law and preservation of land.

Lessons learned here are helping define sustainability.

Dan Spada, a member of the consortium and wetlands scientist at the Adirondack Park Agency, acknowledged the Adirondack disconnect between scientists and landowners.

"We don't run in the same crowd," he said. "We don't speak the same language. And there is a strong distrust of the unknown."

But opening lines of communication is critical to any sustainable future, he said.

To do that, the Adirondack Research Consortium elicited a "raw list" of issues from Adirondack policy makers looking to address climate change with long-term sustainability legislation inside the blue line.

The list is 10 pages long.

It provides science with a set of priorities for what researchers need to find out first, Spada said, if they're going to help "solve this."

Questions include: Why is the cost of energy in the park higher than elsewhere? What are options for renewable energy resources in the park? What is the state of public transportation in the park? How can we have low-cost housing that stays low-cost housing? What types of development can make communities sustainable? What is the limit of acceptable change on the forest preserve?

Spada said the Adirondack Research Consortium, with access to more than a dozen research institutions and universities around and inside the park, will begin to sort the questions and seek answers that work for local and regional policy-makers.

The process, he said, is key.

"Facts don't speak for themselves, they're neutral," Bernabo said. "We have to help translate their significance in context."

kdedam@pressrepublican.com

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