Taking a Bite out of NYC’s Carbon Emissions

From shopping at Greenmarkets to eating less meat, New Yorkers can reduce their carbon footprint three times a day by making more sustainable food choices—a fact many agriculture groups hope Bill de Blasio will champion during his term as mayor.

Up to 13 percent of all household carbon emissions can be traced back to what we eat and how it’s grown, packed, and shipped. With 8.3 million permanent residents and 52 million tourists visiting annually, New York City requires a lot of food—yet most of it is grown in other states (or even other countries), using pesticides and carbon-intensive growing methods.

Creating sustainable food policies and increasing local food purchasing could not only reduce the city’s carbon footprint, but also support our health, our economy, and our environment.

Putting Things in Context

Food policy is not a new issue for New York City. During the 12 years that Michael Bloomberg served as mayor, his administration maintained a serious focus on public health, working to increase access to fresh, nutritious food for all New Yorkers.

And on a state level, the Food Metrics Bill passed by Governor Andrew Cuomo this past December will ideally lay the groundwork for increased purchasing of local food by state agencies.

But many involved in agriculture and environmental efforts in the city feel Bloomberg missed a critical opportunity to highlight the connection between agriculture and carbon emissions.

For example, the first edition of the landmark PlaNYC was all but silent on the issue of food. The second edition, released in 2011, did introduce food as a “cross-cutting issue,” but devoted only two of the plan’s 98 pages to food, with no concrete policy steps. By comparison, Chicago’s regional plan has an entire chapter devoted to food systems.

Taking Stock

Now that Bill de Blasio has taken office, many are scrambling to understand how his administration will approach these same issues.

While he has not yet tipped his hand with regards to climate change or food policy specifics, there is reason for optimism.

In July of 2009, then-city councilmember Bill de Blasio sponsored the first ever resolution linking food and climate change, “A Resolution to Reduce NYC’s Climate ‘Foodprint.’” In it, de Blasio called for the implementation of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s report “Food in the Public Interest,” a lengthy series of recommendations to increase the availability of locally grown food in New York City.

De Blasio also encouraged the establishment of “FoodprintNYC,” a citywide initiative that would include “climate-friendly food policies and programs, financial and technical support, a public awareness campaign regarding the city’s food consumption and production patterns and greater access to local, fresh, healthy food.”

Specifically, the resolution called for:

  • An analysis of New York City’s foodshed;
  • An expansion of local and/or organic food distribution centers, both wholesale and retail;
  • Increased support for community gardens and urban farming initiatives; and
  • Local food procurement goals of 20% for city-run institutions within 10 years.

Sadly, while Foodprint garnered a respectable number of co-sponsors and a lot of grassroots support, the full council never actually voted on it. Many suspect de Blasio became distracted by his own campaign for public advocate. Others argued that the resolution process was not the best approach for Foodprint in the first place: resolutions are nonbinding and often only express a legislature’s intent.

The Next Four Years

We have yet to see how food and climate priorities will shape de Blasio’s administration, and attempts to reach his office for comment have so far been unsuccessful.

But there is at least some hope that Foodprint remains a guide for future policy work. For one thing, de Blasio participated in the first-ever Mayoral Candidate Forum on the Future of Food in NYC this past July, and did not shy away from making the connection between food, sustainability, and climate change.

And, as the new mayor of a city built on a collection of islands with 520 miles of coastline, one hopes that preparing for and fighting against climate change will become a central tenant of his sustainability platform.

De Blasio’s previous support of Foodprint—and the coalition built around it—proves that he and other New York City policy-makers are aware of the critical connection between food and climate change. Whether he and his administration will take action around these issues remains to be seen.

Environmental Groups Await de Blasio’s First Steps

In his inaugural address, Bill de Blasio spoke of his commitment to building on Mayor Bloomberg’s substantial efforts to safeguard New York City’s environmental and public health.

But where will he start? How exactly will de Blasio approach PlaNYC, Mayor Bloomberg’s far-reaching and multi-year sustainability plan for the city? And how does de Blasio plan to protect New York City residents from the mounting effects of climate change and other environmental challenges, such as air and water pollution?

Another question is what de Blasio really thinks about the city’s increasing dependence on natural gas, and pending gas infrastructure projects like the Rockaway pipeline and a liquid natural gas port off the New York coast.

In a post on New York League of Conservation Voters’ blog, Dan Hendrick, the League’s vice president for external affairs laid out the first steps he believes the new mayor will need to take.

“Key personnel appointments” will set the tone, Hendrick said.

An “important office that environmentalists are watching” is the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, Hendrick added. “The agency oversees the city’s water supply and sewers, and plays a key role in protecting water quality in the New York Harbor. As of now, Commissioner Carter Strickland, who was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg, remains on the job,” he stated.

And how will the new mayor approach planning for New York City’s future in the era of climate change, rising sea levels and more extreme weather?

Hendrick notes the importance of who is appointed Director of the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability . “This office helps set broad sustainability policies and helps city leaders monitor progress of environmental initiatives,” he said.

“The Director of Resiliency — who heads the city’s efforts to prepare for a changing climate — will be in this office as well,” he added.

What about the ongoing battle to make New York City’s streets more livable for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers? The new mayor has appointed a successor to Janette Sadik-Khan, who attracted so much attention for her installation of bike lanes and new traffic patterns throughout the five boroughs.

Earlier this week, Mayor de Blasio named Polly Trottenberg as Transportation Commissioner. Hendrick reports that Trottenberg is a “veteran” policy maker, who is currently the Under Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation. He adds that, “her resume includes stints with the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Sen. Chuck Schumer.”

And will de Blasio continue the striking advances made by Bloomberg and the City Council in terms of mandating organic waste recycling and converting waste into energy?

Hendrick says that Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty will stay in place for now. “But the broader direction of De Blasio’s solid waste program has yet to take shape,” he points out. “Solid waste was an issue that came up during the campaign, and this agency plays a key role in the city’s recycling efforts.”

Hendrick thinks the first real test of the mayor’s environmental priorities will be the city budget.

“Later this month or early next month, the de Blasio administration will start making its policy trajectory clear when the mayor releases his first budget proposal. It will show the mayor’s funding priorities for city agencies and initiatives and will give an early look at where sustainability ranks among the new mayor’s priorities,” concluded Hendrick.

Powering The City

Perhaps one of the most contentious issues in the environmental community regarding sustainability is the question of how the city should power itself.

Owen Crowley, of Sane Energy, wrote on the organization’s blog recently that “activists organized to attend two forums that were part of Mayor-elect Bill De Blasio’s ‘open conversation about the future of New York City’.”

One session at the Transition Tent looked at “Sustainable, Healthy and Resilient Construction,” specifically energy use for buildings. Making the city’s building stock more energy efficient has been a priority for the Bloomberg administration and the City Council.

Another session discussed “The Future of Food Policy in the Post-Bloomberg Era”.

Crowley noted, “people do not have enough information about their options; that people who make energy decisions are not necessarily the people who consume energy…There was a strong call [at the sessions] for leadership, to steer New York City towards a course of true sustainability.”

“The engagement level was high,” wrote Crowley.

Crowley argued that there was an economic development rationale for moving immediately to a focus on renewables. “Retrofitting buildings and infrastructure for sustainable energy would employ carpenters, plumbers, electricians and pipe fitters for decades,” he wrote.

And he asserted that, “New York City has the power to be influential across the Northeast, not merely within its borders.” Crowley said that there were calls by environmental activists at the Transition Tent “for New York and other cities to force a recalibration of State agencies and commissions, including the Public Service Commission”, which regulates power rates and utility service.

Crowley and Sane Energy maintain that the proposed off-shore LNG port, the Rockaway and Spectra pipelines, and related gas infrastructure threaten public health, including New York State’s upstate food shed.

“We encouraged people to call the 800 numbers on food packages and ask company reps if fracking is happening where their product is grown or produced. Our friends from the Brooklyn Food Coalition spoke from the panel, and hundreds of the new Food not Fracking postcards were handed out,” Crowley said.

Crowley concluded, “clearly, a sentiment is widespread—it’s time for a change, and what has been missing is the leader. The challenge has been set for De Blasio—let’s see if he has the mettle to take it up.”

Other environmental organizations, like the New York League of Conservation Voters and the Environmental Defense Fund, which received funding from Bloomberg’s private foundation to examine ways to carry out hydraulic fracturing safely, have not advocated   that New York City reject natural gas outright as an ongoing energy source.

In the meantime, the city waits for the new mayor to show his environmental cards.

Tell Mayor-elect de Blasio the Environmental Issues You Care About

What are the environmental issues that the City should be focusing on RIGHT NOW? Planning for future storm surges? Transitioning to more sustainable forms of energy? Cleaning up polluted waterways? Finding ways to cool the city down as our summers get hotter?

Media outlet Gotham Gazette wants to find out what New Yorkers have to say to Bill de Blasio. Which issue should he tackle first and hardest?

Let Gotham Gazette know what you think the new Mayor’s environmental priorities should be before the inauguration on Jan. 1 — and they’ll make sure he gets the message.

Where Does Mayor-elect de Blasio Stand on Preparing NYC for Climate Change?

In an article posted recently on InsideClimate News, journalist Maria Galluci asks a key question: how does Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio plan to build on the extensive foundation of climate resiliency policies created by outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York City Council?

Galluci writes:

New York last week was one of 33 cities worldwide selected to participate in the first round of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Network. The initiative grants cities undetermined portions of a $100 million pot of money for hiring a “chief resilience officer” and developing long-term resiliency plans to assess and tackle risks they face from climate and other disasters.

New York is ahead of the curve on both issues. It already has a director of resiliency in the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, as well as a comprehensive strategy in its Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR)—a $19.5 billion plan unveiled in June in response to Superstorm Sandy. The plan includes 257 initiatives spread across the city, about one-quarter of which could be completed before Bloomberg leaves office.

The Rockefeller support could help New York implement the rest of the plan and cement the city’s reputation for being at the forefront of climate action.

But all that is essentially up to Mayor-elect de Blasio, and it remains uncertain whether his administration will keep climate change at the top of the agenda. The keys to Bloomberg’s success in developing a comprehensive climate strategy included his constant, outspoken support for global warming action and his administration’s nonstop consultation with the city’s top scientists, experts and environmental organizations.

[Read more at InsideClimate News]

The Guardian Says Climate Change is Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio’s “Biggest Challenge”

In his November 7th article published on the Guardian’s “Environment Network”, Ben Adler writes,

[I]f he [de Blasio] really wants to help all New Yorkers thrive, he’ll get as serious about climate change as he is about economic inequality. Reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions and preparing its neighborhoods for storms and rising seas is a moral obligation for a self-described progressive, no less so than housing the city’s homeless, enhancing its social mobility, or welcoming its undocumented immigrants…

[Read more at The Guardian]