This is an important case study to demonstrate that no place is immune to the impacts of climate change. Though Canton is not currently experiencing any immediate dangers, it is exposed and vulnerable to climate change as a rural, economically challenged area. However, living in a small town can have its benefits because people know each other and information spreads quickly. Canton has already demonstrated its resilience in the way that people responded to the ice storm in 1998, which gives hope that the community will bond together once again, this time to face climate change.

Canton, NY


Canton was first established as an agricultural community that relied on the Grasse River for its lumber industry and later became known for its grist mills (Waterfront Advisory Committee, 2018). Modern day Canton is no longer quite so focused on agriculture because of the number of jobs offered by the county seat government, health care industry, and the two colleges located in the town, but agriculture still contributes significantly to the economy (Office of the New York State Comptroller, 2017).

Map of the North Country (

Climate Change Hazards

An aerial view of the Grasse River (

Hazards that will affect New York State:

  • 1.5-3.0 degree Fahrenheit increase from pre-industrial levels expected by 2020s
  • Heat waves expected to increase 
  • Extreme cold events may still occur in the North Country as a result of changes in the polar vortex (NYSERDA, 2011; WMO, 2019)
  • Changes will affect the Adirondacks in terms of snowfall and species range (Jenkins, 2010)

Hazards that will affect Canton:

Increasing Temperatures

  • Corn, soybean and wheat yields will increase up until mid-century, then decrease significantly (Davis, 2017; IPCC, 2014).
  • Apple yields will decrease as winter chill times decrease (NYCCSC, n.d.).
  • Livestock are susceptible to heat stress, which could cost dairy farmers $110 million (NYCCSC, n.d.).
  • Pests like ticks and the emerald ash borer will be harder to eradicate (Hetzler, 2017; USFS, 2014)


Precipitation Changes

  • Springs will be wetter, whereas summers will be hotter and drier, potentially affecting crops (NYSERDA, 2011)
  • Flooding of the Grasse and St. Lawrence Rivers might be more common (Waterfront Advisory Committee, 2018)
  • Wetlands will be affected by potential flooding and drought, which could lead to loss of ecosystem services (Waterfront Advisory Committee, 2018)
  • Snowfall will decrease, affecting recreation opportunities in Canton and the surrounding area (Jenkins, 2010)

Extreme Weather

  • Rainstorms are likely to be heavier (NYSERDA, 2011)
  • Ice storms might be more regular as winter temperatures increase overall but cold fronts still pass through (WMO, 2019)
  • Power systems may be affected in terms of electricity demand and fuel supply (USGCRP, 2018)


Exposure and Vulnerability


Since it is a rural area, Canton is very much exposed to these hazards, and the town is vulnerable because it is economically disadvantaged, geographically isolated, and reliant on agriculture. 13.6 percent of the population of St. Lawrence County is considered food insecure and 19.1 percent of Canton’s population lives below the poverty line (Sullivan-Catlin, et al., 2014). This will affect human health, as outlined below. Effects of temperature rises and precipitation changes will potentially ravage a region that is already food insecure and whose economy is very much dependent on agriculture. Since the region is so spread out, communication is increasingly important. Canton already experienced a major ice storm in 1998 that caused major power outages, and is likely to experience more storms of this magnitude in the future (NCPR, 2008; USGCRP, 2018).

Footbridge at SUNY Canton (Photo: Stephanie Muldrew)


Human Health

  • Increasing temperatures are especially likely to hurt both the elderly and those who may not have access to an air conditioner because they cannot afford the air conditioner or the extra electricity needed to run the air conditioner (USGCRP, 2018)
  • Because the town is so spread out and there is no access to public transportation, it is also harder to seek medical attention for issues that might result from climate change, such as heat stroke
  • Groundwater is also a source of concern, since the public water supply comes from the groundwater supply located at Waterman Hill (Waterfront Advisory Committee, 2018). As both temperatures and droughts increase, Canton will require more water and the resource will be depleted faster because groundwater takes a long time to recharge (USGCRP, 2018).

Local Perspectives

  • Beekeeper Mark Berninghausen points out that spring is increasingly harder to predict (Berninghausen, 2017)
  • Maple producer Gavin MacKellar agrees, noting that sugar maple tapping is occurring earlier each year and may affect quantity of sap (MacKellar, 2019)

Ice Storm of 1998

  • 5 days of freezing rain combined with cold temperatures resulted in thick layer of ice
  • 10,000 utility poles came down along with even more trees, resulting in major power outages 
  • Travel was restricted due to blocked roadways and slippery conditions, making it difficult to access resources like generators and food (NCPR, 2008)

Photo: John Ferguson (


  • National Guard stepped in to help
  • Community came together to provide emergency relief
  • Potsdam developed a Microgrid plan as a result
  • Attitude and skillset of community resulted in greater resilience (Resilience, 2018)

Adaptation & Resilience


Canton is addressing climate change through multiple different organizations and projects, as explained below.


Government Initiatives


  • St. Lawrence County has a Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and includes suggestions based on the New York State Climate Action Interim Report on adaptation strategies (St. Lawrence County Planning Office, 2011)
  • Canton's Sustainability Action Plan states that Canton plans to become a Climate Smart Community (Village of Canton, 2018)

Canton's Goals (From Canton's Climate Smart Communities Pledge)

  1. Pledge to be a Climate Smart Community
  2. Set goals, inventory emissions, plan for climate action.
  3. Decrease community energy use.
  4. Increase community use of renewable energy.
  5. Realize benefits of recycling and other climate-smart solid waste management practices.
  6. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions through use of climate-smart land-use tools.
  7. Enhance community resilience and prepare for the effects of climate change.
  8. Support development of a green innovation economy.
  9. Inform and inspire the public.
  10. Commit to an evolving process of climate action (2016)

NYSERDA Designation as a Clean Energy Community

Canton took four specific steps towards cleaner energy practices that resulted in this award:

  • Canton’s Town and Village Sustainability Committee launched a highly successful Solarize campaign, resulting in close to 40 residential installations of solar panels
  • The Village and Town Boards passed resolutions to become a Climate Smart Community; progress is being made toward certification
  • The Village adopted New York State’s Unified Solar Permit, streamlining local approval processes for solar projects
  • Code enforcement and other municipal officers completed training on best practices in energy code enforcement (North Country Now, 2018)

NYSERDA also awarded Canton a Clean Energy Communities grant worth $100,000 (North Country Now, 2018).

(Heidenreich, 2019)

Solar Energy in St. Lawrence County

Participation in Community Solar NY makes it more affordable for residents to install solar in their homes, which would reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions (North Country Now, 2017). This would in turn increase self sufficiency and therefore resiliency.

Interest has been expressed in constructing a solar farm on top of the old Canton landfill through a contract with Apex Solar Power, though plans have not yet come to fruition (Narro, 2018). 

In 2019, Canton also agreed to lease land to Tesla to build a solar farm, which is expected to save the town $2 million over 20 years (North Country Now, 2019). 

St. Lawrence University Entrance (

SUNY Canton Entrance (

College Efforts

  • St. Lawrence has a Climate Action Plan, an Energy Master Plan, and plans to achieve climate neutrality by 2040 (Data and Reports)
  • Work plans are scheduled for every 2-5 years to assess progress (Climate Action Plan, 2014)
  • SUNY Canton has a Sustainability Plan and an Energy Plan  (SUNY Canton, 2011 and 2017)
  • Neither school currently has an adaptation plan

Climate Awareness

  • Climate Action Vigils are now held on the first Friday of every month in downtown Canton in order to inspire political action (Mende, 2019)
  • The four colleges located in Canton and Potsdam take turns hosting an annual Sustainability Day to spread awareness ("SUNY Potsdam," 2019)
  • In 2019, the first Green Living Fair was held in Canton to encourage community members to take more individual action to live more sustainably. At this fair, Canton highlighted its efforts to increase solar power, reduce food waste through a composting program, reduce energy usage by replacing wastewater treatment plant blowers, and build more bicycle friendly streets (Heidenreich, 2019)

Main St. in Canton (



Looking Forward


Canton has made great strides towards mitigation, but the town needs a more cohesive approach to climate change adaptation. Adaptation plans for the town, as well as SUNY Canton and St. Lawrence University, would be a great place to start. Canton would also benefit from more collaboration with Potsdam, which already has plans in place for a microgrid that includes hydropower (Kenmore, 2017). Canton has many resources relative to other parts of the country and therefore effects might not be severe right away, but preparation is still important. As is evident in the response to the 1998 ice storm, current mitigation efforts, and the strong sense of community, Canton is already demonstrating its capacity for resilience.

About the Author

Stephanie Muldrew, an Environmental and Global Studies double major, graduated from St. Lawrence in 2019. This webpage was created for Jon Rosales’ Adaptation to Climate Change class. Stephanie chose to focus on Canton for this project because it connected well with the research she carried out on food insecurity in St. Lawrence County and she was able to investigate this topic further as an intern at Nature Up North. After spending four years in the area, she considers Canton to be her second home.

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Images Cited

Title Image:

Flickr Images taken by Decaseconds