With two separate blows, New York State has moved to block energy derived from burning fossil fuels.
After a 5-year battle fought by local environmental groups and eventually the State, plans have fallen through to upgrade a facility at the Port of Albany so it could process heavy crude oil from the Canadian tar sands. Massachusetts-based Global Companies has finally walked away from its legal fight to install boilers at the port, which would have been necessary to prepare the crude for rail transport.
Many of the New York City’s most luxurious residential buildings are also conspicuous consumers of energy. While sustainability features are ubiquitous in commercial office space, they are largely absent from the city’s luxury condo market, with developers failing to invest in even the most basic green systems. Continue reading “Your Luxury Condo is an Embarrassing Energy Hog”→
Forecasters at Colorado State University released their “extended range” pre-season hurricane forecast on Thursday, predicting a “slightly more active than normal” season for 2018. The combination of a week La Niña in the Pacific Ocean and warmer than average waters in the Atlantic Ocean mean there is a greater than average chance of major storms hitting the U.S. mainland.
The nation’s largest landlord—the New York City Housing Authority—has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its buildings by 30% over the next 10 years. This is the equivalent to approximately 330,200 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
If this sounds big and complicated, that’s because it is. NYCHA manages nearly 178,000 apartments across 2,547 buildings and throughout 328 developments. All together, the agency houses more than 400,000 New Yorkers.
“As the nation’s largest housing authority and residential landlord, we can have a major impact on curbing the effects of climate change, which affects us all,” NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye said in a statement.
The carbon cuts are part of New York City’s Carbon Challenge—a program started under Bloomberg and continued under de Blasio—which sets an ambitious goal of reducing citywide greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. A number of universities, hospitals, hotels and other commercial tenants have signed on.
The Nuts and Bolts
Most of the carbon cuts will come in the form of retrofits and upgrades to increase energy efficiency. Work is already underway to improve heating, hot water, interior and exterior lighting, and ventilation systems in buildings across the city. NYCHA is also evaluating more substantial building retrofits such as replacing building systems, which could help reduce energy costs and carbon emissions even further.
The big focus will be on getting brighter lighting into homes and more comfortable and reliable heating, Bomee Jung, NYCHA vice president of Energy and Sustainability, told DNAinfo.
Despite the agency’s capital repair deficit of nearly $17 billion, officials remain optimistic about the large-scale upgrades. Most of the funding for the projects is provided by federally-funded Energy Performance Contracts that end up paying for themselves.
For example, a previous $18 million contract funded energy efficient lighting upgrades at 16 developments—the energy savings then subsidized heating plant upgrades at six developments, Jung said.
Could Federal Cuts Derail Progress?
All optimism aside, federal cuts to NYCHA funding could put all of these planned upgrades in peril. Earlier this week, the Trump Administration rolled out the first of several major budget cuts to the authority.
The Wall Street Journalreports that NYCHA will receive $35 million less in federal aid this year, the first of several anticipated cuts that could total $150 million.
Shola Olatoye, the Chair and CEO of NYCHA, says a reduction in funding of that magnitude would “evaporate” the progress made by the housing authority in the past three years.
Here’s one wall Mexico won’t be paying for. The new Empire Stores retail facility, located inside seven century-old storehouses on the Brooklyn waterfront, has invested in a $1-million-dollar, seven-foot-tall portable flood wall to defend against rising waters.
The next time a Sandy-style flooding event is predicted for the region, 29 crates containing wall panels will be trucked to the site from a local warehouse. Workers will build the wall—all 1,100 feet of it—in four to five hours—and if all goes as planned, the retail stores will “ride out the flood like a tasteful island in a surging sea.”
Made by Norwegian company AquaFence, the L-shaped wall panels are made of laminated plywood, stainless steel, and aluminum. Vinyl webs run between the panels to keep water out. The horizontal foot of the panels will face the river, utilizing the weight of the water to secure it in place.
It should be noted that deployable flood walls are not failsafe—according to Andrew Martin, the acting chief of the risk analysis branch in the regional office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, during Sandy, there were a “large number of failures of these types of protection schemes.”
However, when combined with other strategies (placing mechanical equipment on higher floors, elevating ground levels, etc), the barriers can provide an important layer of defense against destructive stormwaters—something we are bound to see more of in coming years.
Our government may still be arguing over the validity of climate change, but it appears business owners and real estate investors have already come to their conclusion.
These days, it’s our most common refrain at NYER staff meetings: in the era of Trump, state and local-level climate policies are more important than ever.
That’s not to say that federal rules and regulations are irrelevant, or that the damage of having a climate denier in the Oval Office will not be “yuuuge“—they’re not, and it will—but for the next four years, the battle for climate progress will be spearheaded by mayors, governors, state legislators, and activists across our country.
“States have always led the way in regards to creating significant U.S action on climate change,” Heather Leibowitz, director of Environment New York, told Grist. “The Trump victory will make state climate change efforts even more important.”
New York Leads The Way
New York is well-positioned to be an East Coast climate change leader—and actually has been for quite some time.
Twelve years ago, New York was one of seven Northeast States to sign onto the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a market-based program designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI establishes a regional cap on the amount of CO2 pollution that power plants can emit by issuing a limited number of tradable CO2 allowances.
This pioneering program has been extremely successful. Since its launch it has:
Helped cut carbon pollution from power plants by more than 37 percent;
“With this proposal, New York will lower the emissions cap even further and set the precedent for recognizing and taking action against climate change to support the future of communities across the globe,” said Governor Cuomo.
Cuomo has also launched Reforming the Energy Vision, a comprehensive strategy that focuses on clean energy development while also spurring innovation, bringing new investments into the State, and improving consumer choice.
REV includes a slew of tangible, on-the-ground projects, such as:
Cities and local municipalities are also contributing to New York’s climate leadership. Under Mayor de Blasio, New York City has pledged to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050. To reach this goal, the city must eliminate 43 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions: nine million metric tons from power production, seven million metric tons from personal and commercial vehicles, two million metric tons from the disposal of solid waste, and the remaining 25 million metric tons from energy used in buildings.
One of the city’s last remaining salt marshes, a patch of land straddling the Hutchinson River Parkway in the Bronx, could hold secrets about our changing climate—both what has been and what could be.
Four years ago, a team of scientists began taking core samples here—10-foot-long segments extracted from the earth—and analyzing every inch of the dirt for clues about what was happening in the world at the time the sediment was deposited.
They found that the samples contained more than 1,500 years of detailed climate and environmental history.
The soil told of local pollution, indicating the use of municipal refuse incinerators, which peaked in 1937, and offering clues of events farther afield, such as evidence of the aboveground nuclear weapons tests conducted in the 1950s and 1960s.
It even showed a small peak in the concentration of lead during the years of WWI (when there was an increase in production and use) and a decline during the Great Depression.
But most importantly, the core samples showed the tidal flows and sea level rise. The results were startling.
According to the authors of the resulting report, published in the journal The Holocene, the current rate of sea level rise “is the fastest that NYC has experienced for >1500 years.”
The data showed that since 1821, the seas have risen roughly 1.5 feet, and alarmingly, they are expected to rise by the same amount over just the next 40.
These measurements are consistent with other measurements made in the western North Atlantic, and indicate that we are on a dangerous trajectory.
Again, from The New York Times:
More than $25 billion worth of infrastructure will be under direct threat from flooding through the coming decades, scientists believe, including seven hospitals, 183 hazardous waste sites and the homes of nearly 100,000 people.
So, what do these results tell us? Simple: climate change is happening, sea levels are rising, and New York City needs to be doing more to protect our people and our infrastructure. The clock is ticking.
A few weeks ago, a paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that seemed to show a way to reduce climate change skepticism among political conservatives.
Framing messages around “past comparisons”—that is, comparing the damaged environment of today with a more verdant, pure past—increased conservatives’ pro-environmental feelings more than dire warnings about future scenarios.
Could this be the One Weird Trick to finally convince climate deniers to get on board?
I have to admit, I’m skeptical. For one thing, results in a lab are decidedly not the same as taking action in the real world—there are no consequences or compromises. Also, it’s not particularly surprising to me that past-focused materials, showing actual evidence of something happening, are more persuasive than theoretical predictions of what could possibly take place in the future.
But, that’s not to say the idea doesn’t have merit! Indeed, sometimes seeing evidence of change with your very own eyes is absolutely critical, especially when it revolves around something as hard to envision as climate change.
Capturing Change on Film
Over the holidays, while decompressing from family overload with a nightly Netflix binge, I stumbled upon a documentary that, in my opinion, is most moving, most beautiful visualization of climate change I’ve ever seen.
Chasing Ice is a 2012 film that follows National Geographic photographer James Balog as he embarks upon a personal quest to chronicle the planet’s shrinking glaciers. Traveling with a team of young adventurers across some of the world’s most brutal terrain, Balog deploys an array of time-lapse cameras trained on glaciers in Alaska, Montana, Greenland, and Iceland.
The cameras were designed to withstand extreme conditions—think sub-zero temperatures and 150 mph winds—and to snap about 8,000 frames per year. Balog and his team periodically returned to the cameras to retrieve the footage, and after several years, compiled the hundreds of thousands of images into short “films” that literally show glaciers receding in real time, right before your eyes.
The results are incredibly beautiful and undeniably troubling. Years are compressed into seconds as ancient mountains of ice shrink, collapse, and disappear. Chunks of glacier larger than lower Manhattan break apart, crash into the sea, and float away.
It’s truly haunting, and very compelling, which is exactly what Balog was going for. “I want them [viewers] to be fascinated,” he said, “and to viscerally understand that climate change is real, and this is what it looks like.”
I admit that it’s hard to come away from this film feeling particularly optimistic (especially in our current political climate). But, it’s not hard to come away feeling energized and inspired to take some kind of action. And this may actually be where the film falters a little bit—it fails to provide any kind of next step for viewers.
It’s a small criticism for a big film, and one that’s absolutely recommended, for all the climate change activists—and deniers—in your life. You can find Chasing Ice on Netflix or Amazon.