By Michael Shank

Film series raises awareness about threats to our health and our Hudson Valley home

One year ago, I moved to Peekskill to have more nature in my life. While my professional path has kept me in the city, my preferred setting is where the air is cleaner, the hills are greener, and stars are shinier.

Planting a home in Peekskill, I’m now trying to strike a balance. The historic Hudson Highlands, winding Hudson River, beautiful and boundless parks, wild animals, and starry sky help hugely. Peekskill has natural capital that feels particularly precious to country-born city workers like me and we should do everything in our power to protect it.

If we want Peekskill to stay pretty — not only for our children and children’s children but also for the economic development that’s planned for this town — we must be vigilant. We are witnessing the hottest years on record and the highest concentrations on record of carbon in the air, which is adversely impacting marine life in the Hudson River and wildlife in Bear Mountain, Harriman and Depew parks. We’re also seeing a misguided recommitment to non-renewable energy that dirties the air and damages our health.

Spectra Energy’s high-pressure pipeline expansion, for example, would move fracked gas for foreign export, and could release toxic particles that cause asthma and cancer, among other illnesses. The pipeline also places our region’s security in a precarious position because its proximity to the Indian Point nuclear power plant makes for a volatile, combustible situation.

Entergy’s nuclear power plant is in constant disrepair, operating without renewed federal licenses, warming the river and killing billions of fish, eggs and larvae, and experiencing myriad radioactive leaks, structural failures and systemwide outages. Meanwhile, its neighbor, Wheelabrator, is busy burning waste, versus recycling it, releasing particulates into Peekskill’s air that don’t belong in anyone’s lungs.

Instead of doubling down on dirty and dangerous energy sources, we should be ramping up the riches awaiting us with solar and wind power and other renewables. Other neighboring locales get it, putting solar panels on city properties and reaping the natural wealth that free sun and wind provide. And they’re smartly joining the “Sustainable Westchester” movement. Peekskill should, too.

Cleaner energy isn’t the only urgent agenda, however. Consider clean water. Neighboring Newburgh is about to become New York state’s “Flint, Michigan,” with a toxic-laden Lake Washington water supply (filled with Perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS), which the U.S. Department of Defense is potentially culpable for contaminating, according to New York’s Department of Conservation. We can’t let that happen to us and must guard Peekskill’s watersheds and fix our aging infrastructure.

Nor can we let the waters of the Hudson River be polluted by an unscrupulous oil industry, which wants to anchor oil barges along our river towns and significantly ramp up train trafficking of crude oil, putting our recovering river at immediate risk of a devastating spill, accident and attack. We’ve come too far in cleaning up this river, thanks to the tireless work of the Hudson Riverkeeper, to let industry spoil it and set back progress for decades. Imagine coming down to the local waterfront park and looking out on a poisoned, oil-filled river.

Concerned Peekskill residents, myself included, are hosting a film series to raise awareness about the real threats to our health and our Hudson Valley home. Climate change is happening here and now, and, consequently, this changes everything. We are racing extinction and the merchants of doubt who sowed skepticism when tobacco proved deadly are attempting the same with climate science. This is what our films address, they’re free, and they’re screening on third Thursdays this fall at Westchester Community College’s Peekskill campus, 27 N Division Street in Peekskill. The film series features:

Sept. 15: “This Changes Everything”
Oct. 20: “Racing Extinction”
Nov. 17: “Merchants of Doubt”

Films are free and start at 7 p.m., followed by Q&A. For more information, email Join us.

The writer, a member of the lohud Board of Contributors, teaches at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs.