Sarah Crean is a freelance writer and researcher living in New York City. She has been covering local environmental and sustainability issues since 2009, and now writes primarily for the Gotham Gazette. Crean was one of the first reporters in New York who covered the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on the city’s upstate water supply.
Crean previously worked in the industrial development and retention field for 11 years, and served as Executive Director of the Garment Industry Development Corp and Deputy Director of the NY Industrial Retention Network. She is trained as an urban planner, and received a MS in urban planning from Columbia University.
The largest offshore wind farm in the U.S. is now one step closer to being constructed off the Long Island/Rockaway coast. Until recently, a natural gas port had been proposed for the same section of ocean. Surprising many, Governor Cuomo vetoed -and effectively killed- the gas project last month.
Less than a year ago, the Cuomo administration banned high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York as a means to extract natural gas. Similar to the debate on fracking, public opposition to the gas port became part of a larger discussion about New York State’s energy policy and how the state should respond to climate change.
The proposed wind farm is certainly in keeping with the state’s goal of cutting carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. The farm could create enough electricity to power an estimated 245,000 homes. To do that, almost 200 3.6-megawatt wind turbines -yielding as much as 700 MW of energy- will be constructed 13 miles off the Rockaway Peninsula.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is currently in the Area Identification stage of the review, during which the agency selects off-shore areas for environmental analysis and consideration for leasing. That process will be completed by early next year said agency spokeswoman Tracey Moriarty.
In June, BOEM cancelled four public open houses (in Brooklyn, Long Island and New Jersey) in which it planned to share the results of a recently completed “visualization” study for the project. The purpose of the open houses was to get feedback from local residents on specific locations for the wind farm.
Those public meetings won’t be rescheduled, Moriarty told NYER before Thanksgiving, but BOEM will be posting the schematics on its website and welcomes comments and questions from the public. Moriarty could not state exactly when the visualization study will go live, but said it was imminent.
Will the Public Be Weighing In?
There will be other opportunities for the public to comment on the proposed wind farm, Moriarty stated. There are several major stages of review ahead. Moriarty added that the agency was focused on taking all of the various uses for the off-shore area, such as commercial fishing and freight delivery, into consideration.
The wind farm will be located in federal waters, hence BOEM’s management of the process. The state of New York will most likely be purchasing the power. Con Edison, the Long Island Power Authority and the New York Power Authority have formed a public-private partnership to advance the project.
Dayle Zatlin, a spokeswoman for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, told NYER this summer that the state wanted “to be able to talk to the federal government about all the ways that it [the wind farm] will impact New York [e.g., jobs, environment, and visual impacts] before we do public hearings.”
The environmental and political news that confronts us daily from across the globe is daunting. But in the midst of these collective troubles, New York City celebrated a real milestone today: the city has planted over one million new trees, two years ahead of schedule.
The trees were planted as part of MillionTreesNYC, a public-private partnership between the city’s Parks Department and Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project. Since its launch in 2007, MillionTreesNYC has expanded the city’s urban forest by nearly 20 percent, and has become an “unprecedented…urban environmental movement,” says the Mayor’s Office.
MillionTreesNYC received more than $350 million in city funds during the Bloomberg administration, and NYRP contributed an additional $30 million through private funding.
More trees to come!
The de Blasio administration says it will plant an additional 150,000 new trees over the next three years as part of its sustainability and climate resiliency plan, OneNYC.
The city will be planting trees “strategically”—using them to combat heat islands, help with stormwater mitigation, and bolster its new Parks without Borders initiative, which “envisions a seamless public realm that improves access to public space and uses trees to create green pathways and boundaries.”
To celebrate today’s occasion, Mayor de Blasio planted tree number 1,017,634, an American linden, at Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx.
Also present at the celebration was former mayor Michael Bloomberg, who observed, “we planted tree number one just down the road eight years ago and we’ve added one million more thanks to the dedication of so many.”
Fifty-thousand New Yorkers have volunteered with MillionTreesNYC.
“Each new tree planted makes our city a little more beautiful, the air we breathe a little cleaner, and our carbon footprint a little smaller,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “MillionTreesNYC was an important part of our comprehensive sustainability plan, which has led to New Yorkers breathing the cleanest air our city has had in 50 years.”
To learn more and get involved with the city’s greening and stewardship efforts, visit www.nyc.gov, call 311, or check out MillionTreesNYC.
One Million Trees: By the Numbers
Number of Trees Planted by Borough
Bronx – 276,600
Brooklyn – 182,593
Manhattan – 80,016
Queens – 284,755
Staten Island – 173,134
Borough unknown – 2,902
Number of Trees Planted by Type
Street trees: 155,000 (+ 2,020 since planting of the Millionth Tree)
NYC Park trees: 595,000 (+ 15,614 since planting of the Millionth Tree)
Despite major gains, New York City’s air quality remains one of its most pressing environmental and public health challenges. As we reported last year, the City found that an estimated 2,700 “premature” deaths every year can be tied to ozone and fine particulate matter, two leading air pollutants.
On Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio signed legislation requiring the City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to conduct neighborhood air quality surveys with a focus on street level data, and to release the results to the public on an annual basis.
The Determine of Health must now also determine how concentrations of air pollutants vary across the city, and locate the source of such pollutants, with an eye to factors like local traffic and building emissions.
The bill’s chief sponsor is City Council member Corey Johnson of Manhattan, chair of the Council’s Health Committee.
Why good data on air pollution is important
Identifying the actual sources and health impacts of air pollution -by neighborhood- is a formidable challenge but has real potential to save lives.
Air pollution has an especially powerful impact on New York City’s low-income and communities of color. A 2014 study by the state Comptroller found that the Bronx has the highest age-adjusted asthma death rate “by far” among all counties in New York State: 43.5 deaths per million residents in the Bronx, as opposed to the state average of 13.1 deaths per million.
Progress is being made. The City reports that the estimated number of deaths attributable to fine particulate pollution has been dropping– by an impressive twenty-five percent between 2005-07 and 2009-11. Particulate pollution – in the form of small particles and droplets – is emitted by many local sources, including heating fuel, power plants, and motor vehicles.
In the last several years, the City has moved to ban heating fuels that create the most fine particulate pollution when burned. It is also establishing a marine barge and rail network in order to take garbage trucks off the roads. Efforts to address car and truck pollution have often turned contentious. Witness the battles over the East 91st Street Marine Transfer Station or congestion pricing.
Tackling ozone pollution -which contributes to several hundred deaths annually- is even more challenging because it requires local as well as regional action. The pollutants that cause ozone in New York City are emitted locally and come from other states. Ozone is also exacerbated by rising temperatures.
New York City has made “extraordinary progress – air pollution is at the lowest point in the city’s modern history,” Mayor de Blasio stated at a press conference this week. “But…air pollution remains a leading environmental threat to our health – obviously, particularly related to asthma and other respiratory diseases…And we do not believe that we have gone as far as we can go.”
One of the key goals of Mayor de Blasio’s OneNYC plan is that New York City will have the best air quality of any large U.S. city by 2030. Part of accomplishing that objective is obtaining better information about air quality at the neighborhood level, and then alerting the public about what they are actually breathing.
The need for more regular data
The Department of Health measures air quality throughout the year in every community district but the information it releases publicly is sometimes several years old. Data about fine particulate matter pollution on the City’s Environment & Health Data Portal appears to be from 2014, while data on ozone pollution is from 2009-10.
According to the legislation signed by the Mayor this week, Intro. 712-A, the Department of Health will be required to submit a report to the City Council every April with the results of an annual community air quality survey using the most recently available data. The report will also be posted on the Department’s website.
Establishing a reliable, and regularly updated, baseline of information is critical for good public policy and effective dialogue about air quality. Statistics about air pollution are cited repeatedly, for example, as communities battle over issues like where to locate new trash facilities, and which neighborhoods are already overburdened.
The need for more street level data
The legislation also requires the Department of Health to measure air pollution at the street level and to determine how factors like traffic and building emissions impact air quality.
This is a critical point. The Department of Health says that it currently takes air quality measurements at 150 locations throughout New York City each season of the year. When we spoke with the Department last year, they explained that air quality monitors are attached to structures like street lamps, but not necessarily at ground level.
Environmental justice advocates argue that pollution must be measured at the point where emissions are released -and people are breathing- to understand its true impact. In the case of car and truck traffic, the closer to the tailpipe the better.
More data is needed about the impact of car and truck traffic on New Yorkers. Think about the number of times you (perhaps accompanied by a child or someone in a wheelchair) have waited for a light to change as trucks and cars idle around you.
What exactly are we all breathing?
The City has asked the same question. In 2011, the Department of Health began to look at areas with high traffic intensity in order to understand whether cancer causing pollutants like benzene and formaldehyde were being emitted at higher rates there as compared to low traffic areas. The City found that street level concentrations of benzene and formaldehyde in high traffic areas were significantly higher, by 83% and 45% respectively.
Air Pollution: What exactly will the City be tracking?
“The findings will help guide our work to curb pollution and track our progress towards our ambitious [OneNYC] goal,” the Mayor concluded as he signed this week’s legislation.
Building on its existing community air quality surveys, the Department of Health is now required to:
Measure pollutants at street-level monitoring sites across the city every season of the year. The goal is to ensure that the number of monitoring sites provides adequate information to assess the range of common emissions sources and neighborhood pollutant concentrations;
Determine whether and how concentrations of pollutants vary across the city and the relationship, if any, of such concentrations to local traffic, building emissions and other factors;
Identify the major local sources of pollutants that contribute to local variation in concentrations;
Identify patterns of pollutants by geographic area, by source, and by season or time of year;
Produce maps indicating the varying concentration levels of pollutants across neighborhoods and by pollutant;
Produce an annual report for the public, which will include the findings of completed or ongoing health surveillance and research studies using air quality survey data to estimate population exposure to pollutants.
(The six points above are adapted directly from the legislation signed into law on Wednesday.)
New York State is famous for its fall foliage- the brilliant transformation of leaf color as temperatures grow colder and there are fewer hours of daylight. Now is the time to see this incredible display. Leaf color is peaking throughout the state.
Near peak and some peak foliage is now coloring the Hudson Valley, the state reported last week.
Leaf spotters in Columbia, Dutchess and Orange counties have predicted 70-75 percent color change. In addition to yellow, bright orange and deep red hued leaves, look for colors like “rich gold” and maroon, and “pumpkin, lime and wine,” the state said.
“Rockland County spotters based at Bear Mountain State Park predict 85 percent color change and peak leaves this weekend. Look for bright red, orange and yellow leaves. Also in the county, spotters based in New City expect near peak conditions with 75 percent color change and vibrant colors of purple, orange, red and yellow.”
Westchester County was still seeing minimal change last week.
“Expect around 15 percent color change for the weekend with some bright red and orange leaves scattered among the green,” reported the state.
Fall color is making significant advances on Long Island.
Spotters based in Melville expected 30-40 percent color change with yellow, orange, red and purple leaves of average brilliance last week. Riverhead spotters predicted 25 percent change and bright yellow, orange and purple leaves.
New York City leaves are changing now!
In New York City, spotters based at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx expected 10 percent color change with bright red and yellow leaves beginning to appear.
These chemical processes can be impacted by issues like insufficient water. Tree leaves sometimes change color earlier than usual during drought conditions, scientists note.
During the spring and summer, tree leaves serve as factories where most of the foods necessary for the tree’s growth are manufactured. This food-making process takes place in the leaf, in numerous cells containing chlorophyll, which gives the leaf its green color.
Chlorophyll -an “extraordinary chemical”- absorbs energy from sunlight that is then used to transform carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates, such as sugars and starch.
However, along with green pigment, leaves have yellow to orange [xanthophyll and carotene] pigments which, for example, give the orange color to a carrot. Most of the year these colors are masked by great amounts of green coloring, says SUNY.
“But in the fall, because of changes in the length of daylight and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food-making process. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow to orange colors become visible and give the leaves part of their fall splendor.”
Almost half of the Hudson River is an estuary, a combination of ocean tides and freshwater. The Hudson River Estuary stretches 153 miles, from Troy to New York Harbor. The River itself runs 315 miles, flowing south from Lake Tear of the Clouds in the Adirondacks.
“The estuary feels the ocean’s tidal pulse all the way to Troy. Push a stick into the beach at the water’s edge, or note the water’s height on a piling or rock. Check back in 20 minutes. Is the water level the same? The estuary usually has two high and two low tides in twenty-four hours…
The estuary’s productivity is ecologically and economically valuable to much of the Atlantic Coast; key commercial and recreational species like striped bass, bluefish, and blue crab depend on nursery habitat here. Bald eagles, herons, waterfowl, and other birds feed from the river’s bounty. Tidal marshes, mudflats, and other significant habitats in and along the estuary support a great diversity of life.”
Much Healthier but Still Vulnerable
After decades of hard work by citizens groups and government agencies, the Hudson River is one of the healthiest estuaries on the Atlantic Coast. Nonetheless, it is still threatened by multiple pollution sources -ranging from raw sewage releases to accidental oil releases from power plants. Check out our recent article on the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which sits on the banks of the estuary.
The progression of climate change will also impact the estuary and the wildlife it supports.
To that end, the state DEC has just announced the release of $770,000 in funding for communities in the Hudson River Estuary. The funding will help these communities design and plan projects that will improve water quality, increase flood resiliency, and conserve natural resources throughout the estuary.
For example, the city of Kingston is to receive $22,000 so it can develop a natural resources inventory that will “identify areas to protect, including water resources, habitats, wildlife and natural areas important for climate resilience.”
Funding for the projects comes from the NYS Environmental Protection Fund, a “pay-as-you-go” source of capital funding which is replenished by proceeds from the Real Estate Transfer Tax, along with other state revenue streams, like the Bottle Bill.
The 18 projects that will receive funding are part of the Hudson River Estuary Action Agenda, which is being implemented over a five year period by the DEC, in partnership with other state agencies and the federal government.
The Action Agenda has six goals for the estuary:
Climate Resilient communities;
A vital estuarine ecosystem;
Conservation of fish, wildlife, and habitats;
Preservation of the river’s natural scenery; and
Enhanced opportunities for education, river access, recreation and inspiration.
Support at the community level is critical to the success of the Action Agenda, says the state.
Dedicated citizens, along with local municipalities, non-profit groups, academic and scientific institutions, businesses, trade organizations, conservation groups, and landowners are key partners in the effort to keep the estuary healthy for generations to come.
Take a look at the projects that will receive funding………..
Hudson River Shoreline Flooding Plans
City of Kingston, $49,684 to convene a Sea Level Rise Implementation Learning Group to collaborate on implementing key actions of the Flooding Task Forces in the village of Piermont, village of Catskill, city of Kingston and the town of Stony Point.
Village of Catskill, $25,500 for a Hudson River Shoreline Flooding Plan including an analysis of potential changes to the village’s local zoning code to address resiliency issues.
The Nature Conservancy, $50,000 to continue a project to assist local communities to participate in the Hudson River Comprehensive Restoration Plan (HRCRP) process in the Hudson River Restoration Study Area from the Troy dam to the Piermont Marsh.
Flood Adaptation Planning for Water and WasteWater Infrastructure
Village of Catskill, $42,500 to complete a Risk and Engineering Review of the village of Catskill Wastewater System, and to implement recommendations from “Resilient Catskill Report of the Catskill Waterfront Resilience Task Force.”
Green Infrastructure Planning
Albany Water Board (City of Albany Department of Water and Sewer), $50,000 for an Albany Pool Communities Feasibility Assessment for a Green Infrastructure Banking System. This project will create a tool box of options that one or more communities can rely on to encourage and promote the development of green infrastructure.
City of Yonkers, $50,000 to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the storm water system and green infrastructure strategies to reduce the burden on the system.
Siena College, $25,277 complete a green infrastructure planning report for the Patroon Creek Watershed.
Watershed Stewardship Planning
Orange County Water Authority, $50,081 to develop a watershed management plan for the Monhagen Brook Watershed.
Riverkeeper, $49,999, to update two watershed management plans for the Wallkill River and the Rondout Creek.
Bard College, $44,779 to support the development of a science-based community stewardship Saw Kill Watershed Community Group focused on the management of the SawKill Watershed.
Hudson Valley Regional Council, $50,000 to develop regionally applicable educational materials, guidance documents and fact sheets about the legal, regulatory and policy issues pertaining to drinking water source protection, stormwater management, the maintenance and restoration of streams and riparian buffer protection and restoration.
Stream Restoration and Resiliency Planning
Ulster County, $47,000 to develop a comprehensive culvert assessment that includes a GIS/modeling analysis and a field assessment and prioritization report for the county.
Town of New Castle, $50,000 to produce the information needed to undertake removal of the Upper Minkel Pond Dam and restore the natural stream channel and surrounding wetland.
Hudson River Shoreline Stabilization Plans
Village of Hastings-on-Hudson, $41,650 to implement a Hudson River Shoreline Stabilization Plan to address ongoing erosion issues at a site on the outer bend of the Hudson River.
New York Restoration Project, $50,000 to develop a shoreline plan to guide the ongoing reclamation work at Sherman Creek Park.
Natural Resources Inventory and Planning
City of Kingston, $22,000 to develop a natural resources inventory that will identify areas to protect, including water resources, habitats, wildlife and natural areas important for climate resilience.
Town of Rochester, $50,000 to assist the Towns of Rochester and Wawarsing to connect ecological and recreational assets for an open space plan.
Town of New Lebanon, $21,520 to develop a Natural Resources Conservation Plan with information from the New Lebanon Comprehensive Plan, Open Space Inventory and Estuary Program Habitat Summary.
Mayor de Blasio announced today that he will be pushing for the divestment of the city’s pension funds from investments in coal. The Mayor has also proposed that New York City’s public sector pension funds, worth over $160 billion, develop a long-term strategy relative to all fossil fuels in order to “further reduce contributions to climate change while protecting retirees.”
“New York City is a global leader when it comes to taking on climate change and reducing our environmental footprint. It’s time that our investments catch up – and divestment from coal is where we must start,” said the Mayor in a statement.
Noting that the Mayor’s announcement came the day after a White House summit on how to expand offshore wind power projects, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith Enck stated that, “every level of government has a vital role to play to reduce carbon pollution that threatens our children’s future.”
The city’s five pension funds’ assets total over $160 billion. This includes at least $33 million of exposure to thermal coal alone in the public markets, reports the Mayor’s Office.
Perhaps the pension funds will eventually consider investing in the Long Island – New York City Offshore Wind Project, which has been described as the largest potential offshore wind project in the U.S. If executed, almost 200 3.6-megawatt wind turbines would be constructed 13 miles off the Rockaway Peninsula. The project is currently working its way through a multi-year federal review process.
Making the case that divesting from fossil fuels is smart financially
The de Blasio administration says it will meet with the city’s five primary pension boards over the coming months to “examine the specific impact and optimal reallocation of these assets [currently invested in fossil fuels].”
The city’s five primary pension funds are administered on behalf of public school teachers and other Board of Education employees, police and fire department personnel, along with employees from other city agencies.
According to the Mayor’s Office, an initial analysis has found that divestment from coal “poses little risk to pension fund returns, especially given the federal EPA’s new clean power plant rules and increased regulatory limitations on emissions, which help reduce the attractiveness of thermal coal as an investment.”
John Adler, who directs the Mayor’s Office of Pensions and Investments, argues that investing in coal at this juncture is risky. There is an urgent need, Adler says, to “address the risks that climate change poses to the long-term performance of the pension funds that protect the futures of our over 700,000 beneficiaries.”
Striving towards an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
“Divesting from coal reflects both our emissions reduction and clean air goals,” said Nilda Mesa, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, in a statement. “Ozone that drifts to NYC from coal-powered plants is a major source of smog, which affects our most vulnerable populations… We should be investing in energy sources that lower greenhouse gas emissions, as well as make our air cleaner.”
The de Blasio administration says it also plans to “dramatically” increase the use of renewable energy in New York, including a new initiative to power 100 percent of city government operations from renewable sources.
Referring to the twin goals of reducing carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050 and moving towards renewables, the Mayor noted that, “we’re going to need every city asset helping us achieve them.”
One year ago this week, as many as 400,000 people marched through the streets of Manhattan demanding action on climate change. Organizers say the People’s Climate March was the largest mass action on climate change to date.
And in just a few weeks, on November 30th, the U.N. Paris Climate Summit will commence with the goal of creating “a universal, legally binding agreement that will enable us to combat climate change effectively and boost the transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies and economies.”
This week in New York City, climate change is taking center stage.
2.) On Thursday, two events are happening in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza (East 47th Street and 1st Avenue in Manhattan, across the street from the U.N.) in anticipation of the Pope’s visit.
Light the Way multifaith gathering at 4:30pm: Participants from many spiritual traditions will join in a “festival” of song and prayer in support of Pope Francis’ message on the urgency of addressing climate change and poverty.
Under One Sky rally at 6pm: Rally of religious and civil society groups and others to shine a light on climate change, poverty and inequality, and support the U.N.’s sustainable development goals.
According to organizers, “the night before world leaders meet in New York to announce the new Global Goals intended to tackle the most urgent issues of our time – poverty, inequality and climate change – we’ll be coming together to ensure they feel the pressure of all of us demanding these goals translate into reality.
And we won’t be alone. People will be coming together in over 100 countries to demonstrate their shared vision for a better future – from Australia to India, South Africa to Brazil – millions will take action around the world.”
3.) Climate Week events series, organized by the Climate Group, an international non-profit whose goal is a “prosperous, low carbon future.”
The Climate Group says they are working with corporate and government partners to achieve a “clean revolution: the rapid scale-up of low carbon energy and technology.” The way to achieve this clean revolution, they say, is to “develop climate finance mechanisms, business models which promote innovation, and supportive policy frameworks.”
4.) Climate Crisis and Community workshop on Sunday
350 NYC has organized a workshop series this Sunday to discuss the Paris climate talks and the broader climate change movement, and how best to push for a “renewable energy revolution.”
The workshop is at 1:30pm at Goddard Riverside Community Center, 593 Columbus Avenue, Manhattan.
Says 350 NYC, “In November and December, there will be actions and demonstrations around the world to drive home the message that the world needs to get off of fossil fuels now. This weekend, hundreds of local climate action groups like 350 NYC are holding workshops and teach-ins to start getting ready.”
Almost 2,000 gallons of transformer oil, which recently leaked from an underground Con-Edison cable pipe in Yonkers, may have ended up in the Bronx River.
The oil leak was discovered a week ago, and originated at the intersection of Mile Square Road and Lincoln Avenue in Yonkers, roughly three blocks west of the Bronx River. According to the Bronx River Alliance, the contents of the ruptured cable pipe flowed into the river through an outfall pipe.
Con-Edison says it is still quantifying how much oil was actually released into the river.
It is also unclear whether the cable pipe contained other contaminants in addition to oil. News reports have referred to both oil and dielectric fluid. Con-Edison told NYER that the pipe only contained mineral oil, a type of dielectric fluid, which served as a coolant for its underground cable network.
On Sunday, at least one oil sheen was clearly visible in the North Bronx section of the river, several miles downstream from Yonkers. I was not even aware the spill had taken place but saw the sheen while walking alongside the river in Bronx River Park. By coincidence, a New York City Parks Department employee called out to me soon after that, asking if I had seen any oil in the river.
The amount of oil released into the river has not yet been confirmed, Con-Ed spokesman Sidney Alvarez told NYER. The size of the leak from the pipe itself was approximately 1900 gallons, he said. The Bronx River Alliance asserts a higher number, 2,200 gallons.
The oil “does not pose a risk to the river” and does not contain PCB’s, Alvarez stated.
I contacted the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to confirm this information, and am awaiting their response. The City’s Parks Department, which manages Bronx River Park, is referring all media questions about the spill to the state DEC.
Con-Edison was also unable to confirm to what extent the spill has been cleaned up. But booming locations in most areas of the Bronx River have been removed based on approval from the DEC, Alvarez said.
Booms are temporary floating barriers which contain a spill and help to concentrate oil in thicker surface layers so that skimmers or other collection methods can be used more effectively.
Booming and skimming locations are still being maintained at the oil’s entry point into the Bronx River in Yonkers, and at the southern-most point of the New York Botanical Garden at East Fordham Road, Alvarez noted.
A recovering river- with many challenges ahead
One thing that struck me as I walked along the river this past Sunday was how low it is. I walked much of the length of Bronx River Park, between 210th and 231st streets.
Because the North Bronx section of the river is so low -as many freshwater rivers in the Northeast currently are- it was easier to see the trash and debris that have been dumped there over the years.
While the Bronx River no longer experiences large-scale industrial dumping as it did in the past, there are other pollution sources. Four combined sewer “outflow points” release untreated sewage and stormwater directly into the river when rainfall overwhelms area sewer mains and sewage treatment plants.
New York State has required the City to develop a long-term plan to reduce CSO releases into the Bronx River and other local waterbodies. The City reported last year that it had invested $26 million in order to reduce CSO releases into the Bronx River from over a billion gallons a year to a still daunting 592 million gallons annually.
Community organizations, local elected officials, scientific institutions and city agencies have collaborated on a wide variety of projects to bring the river back to good health, such as salt marsh restoration and the re-introduction of oysters.
A New York State firefighting crew is returning home after battling a 37,000+ acre wildfire in Northern California for the last two weeks. The 20-member crew, made up of state Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers, employees and volunteers, assisted in the containment of the Mad River Complex wildfires.
In late July, lightning ignited the Mad River Complex fires in California’s Six Rivers National Forest, 360 miles north of San Francisco. Local news reports said the fires -which consumed over 37,000 acres- had been fully contained by the end of last week.
As of September 2nd, more than 8 million acres have burned in U.S. wildfires in 2015, reports the Washington Post. The volume of acres burned this year is on track to be the worst in the nation’s recorded history. It is important to note, however, that 5 million acres burned in Alaska alone this year.
California Governor Jerry Brown has drawn a direct line between the state’s 4-year drought, which has exacerbated wildfires there, and climate change.
Firefighters in six Western states – California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Utah – were contending with a total of 35 large wildfires on Wednesday, September 9th, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho.
2015 is unfolding as planet earth’s hottest year on record as U.N. climate treaty negotiations are set to start in Paris this December. The New York City area has just experienced its third warmest August since local record keeping began.
In response, climate activists are convening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this Thursday night to propose a roadmap for New York’s (and this country’s) complete transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy.
Now is the time to “turn off the flow of carbon. The engineers are telling us that we are ready to turn on the abundant flow of sun and wind,” the event’s organizer, 350NYC.org, states.
The majority of greenhouse gases which drive climate change, such as carbon dioxide, come from burning fossil fuels to produce energy, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Deforestation, industrial processes, and some agricultural practices also emit gases into the atmosphere, they note.
“In data released Thursday, NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] measured July at 1.46°F above the 20th century July average. Because July is also climatologically the warmest month of any year, this was also the warmest month the globe has seen since 1880, topping the previous record-holder, July 1998, by 0.14°F.
For the year-to-date, 2015 is 1.53°F above the 20th century average, and 0.16°F ahead of 2010, which had the previous warmest January through July.”
Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.4°F over the past century, and is projected to rise another 2 to 11.5°F over the next hundred years, says the EPA. “Small changes in the average temperature of the planet can translate to large and potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather.”
What’s the goal for this year’s climate negotiations?
The goal is to keep average global temperatures from climbing 3.6°F higher than the 20th century average.
“The aim is to reach, for the first time,” says COP21, “a universal, legally binding agreement that will enable us to combat climate change effectively and boost the transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies and economies.”
While there is ongoing debate about whether remaining below a 3.6°F increase is even realistic, scientists say that a temperature rise of that magnitude would lead to “drastic changes,” such as significant ice sheet loss in Greenland and Antarctica.
Mitigation and adaptation
Indeed, the ice sheet in Greenland -the second largest glacial ice mass on Earth- is already experiencing a “significant” shrinkage in thickness…”contributing to sea level rise.” The freshwater stored in the Greenland ice sheet has a sea level equivalent of 24 feet (7.4 meters).
Permanent melting of the ice sheet would not only dramatically increase sea level, but also likely alter ocean circulation patterns and the global climate, say scientists.
For that reason, says COP21, the agreement hammered out in Paris must focus equally on mitigation (the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming) and adaptation to the climate change already underway.
The complexity of such a global negotiation is only rivaled by what is at stake.
“These efforts must take into account the needs and capacities of each country,” says COP21. “The agreement will enter into force in 2020 and will need to be sustainable to enable long-term change.”