In mid-April, NYC mayor Bill De Blasio released OneNYC, a plan to decrease income inequality while also decreasing emissions. Specifics of the plan include goals like retrofitting all buildings to comply with energy efficiency standards, installing 100 MW of solar on public buildings, and updating public transportation and infrastructure.
And you know what? I think it’s a great effort and a necessary step in the right direction.
(But it’s just a step.)
These two maps, showing the increase in employment in each neighborhood compared to the percentage of people in poverty, were particularly striking, and demonstrate the need for economic reform in NYC. Images from the full OneNYC report.
According to a November 2012 report from the World Bank, if emissions continue at current levels without plans for mitigation, current projections and scenarios indicate that there will be warming in excess of 4°C by 2100. This level of warming corresponds to a concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere of 800 parts per million (800 ppm). At this concentration, there will be a 30% increase in ocean acidity compared to pre-industrial conditions, extreme precipitation events will increase by 20%, and the general climate change trend will be along of the lines of wetter regions becoming wetter while drier regions get drier.
Projections and scenarios that take into account emissions reductions promises and goals made in 2009 indicate that there will still be warming of more than 3°C by 2100.
From the World Bank’s November 2012 report, “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided”
What OneNYC seems to recognize is that an increase in energy consumption (and namely, consumption of fossil fuels) isn’t necessary to create a robust economy. According to recent data from the U.S. Department of Energy, energy consumption in the U.S. is expected to grow just 0.3% from now until 2040, though the economy is projected to grow 2.4% in that same time.
This information counters the old belief that increased fossil fuel consumption is necessary for increased economic activity and growth. Instead, providing incentives to invest in alternative energy can both foster innovation (which die-hard believers in “The Free Market” seem to hold up as its crowning glory) and decrease emissions.
There is still the worry that the initial emissions investment to put this plan in place will not be offset by whatever is saved in the future. Consider all of the resources that must go into building the solar panels, retrofitting the buildings, and building additional subway lines. Unless one can guarantee that all of the materials brought in are made using renewable energy and recycled materials, then the initial resource investment must be extremely large. Will in be worth it to put the plan in place?
I would love to see these numbers. I would love to know if the initial investment is worth it, because I think that the plan to decrease both emissions and the income gap in New York City is a noble one.
I want to see my neighborhood thrive and not have to increase emissions to do it.
But this plan doesn’t seem to be well publicized. Though the description of the research undertaken to compile the plan included meeting with community leaders in the different neighborhoods and receiving survey data from thousands of residents, I feel like I found out about it surprisingly late.
Though I understand that the announcement came at a time in which the death of Freddie Gray and the resulting protests against police brutality took the nation’s attention (except for CNN), the only way that I found out about the plan is because of an environmental news blog that I follow. AM New York, Manhattan’s highest circulation newspaper, barely mentioned the plan in one story about the city’s subway plans, and AM New York is a newspaper that focuses on just New York City news. (The Baltimore protests were barely mentioned until the rally in Union Square on April 29th.)
Environmental issues need to be at the head of political discussion. How else will we be able to hold our policymakers accountable for the promises and goals they set? How else will we be able to influence what those promises and goals should be?