Beneath us, above us and all around us, New Yorkers are living the reality of the climate crisis.
“We saw the floodways, the flooding in the subway from the storms just last week," Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said in an interview last month. "We’ve seen the fact that the sky is hazy from forest fires that are 3,000 miles away. And these things are going to happen more frequently and more intensely, if we don’t take action."
What You Need To Know
- Flooded subways, hazy skies are some recent examples of extreme weather's impact
- Green-collar jobs, solar panels, electric vehicles take investment, but not acting is more costly
- Experts say the NYC communities bearing the brunt of pollution should be prioritized in solutions
Tighe says the next mayor -- and other incoming elected leaders -- must seize the opportunity to put resiliency against climate change at the center of plans to rebuild after the pandemic.
Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, says such investment must prioritize lower-income areas bearing the brunt of pollution, such as the South Bronx and central Brooklyn.
“Our hope and expectation is that by centering climate justice, you’re also not just reducing emissions in the most overburdened communities, but also affording these communities that greatest economic development opportunities,” Bautista said.
Combating climate change requires deep upfront investment, but the long-term hazards are much more costly.
Extreme heat, for example, is projected to kill thousands more vulnerable New Yorkers in coming decades.
The benefits, on the other hand, are many.
So-called green-collar jobs for blue-collar New Yorkers simultaneously revive the economy post-COVID, ensure the city’s environmental sustainability and boost vulnerable communities.
Comptroller candidate Brad Lander has spotlighted the intersection of climate change and inequity.
“If we’re going to have subway stations that don’t flood in a flash flood, then then there’s real work to do," Lander said. "That’s construction work; we’re going to have to hire people to do it. If we want 25,000 new rooftop solar arrays installed by Public Solar NYC, then we’re going to have to hire New York City-based companies to do it and they’re going to create new jobs. That’s what a just transition has to look like.”
Expanded solar power use, combined with more offshore wind power, decreases dependency on fossil fuels.
Improved mass transit, helped by funding from congestion pricing, and more electric vehicles, including in the city fleet, do the same by cutting down on gas-powered cars.
Waste reduction, including citywide composting, also limits greenhouse gas emissions.
The city’s buildings are the biggest culprit.
Experts say landmark 2019 City Council legislation mandating emissions reduction must be enforced and used as a blueprint.
“The Climate Mobilization Act is targeting private buildings that are 25,000-square-feet and above," Bautista said. "But clearly, the city has its responsibility to lead by example. And if in fact, if we are not building solar on all the school buildings in New York City, we’re leaving behind a lot of rooftop space.”
Then, with Hurricane Sandy as a clear example of how devastating storm surges can be, a key priority is protecting the city’s ample coastline, including with seawalls or marshland.
“I always say water always wins. The water will always win,” Tighe said.
Green space also creates a buffer.
And while Manhattan’s West Side and other wealthier parts of the city have such parks, funding their creation in underserved communities -- as with other efforts to mitigate climate change -- will help in more ways than one.
“We know it’s good for our mental health, it’s good for absorbing storm water, it’s good absorbing pollution," Tighe said. "And importantly, it’s good for reducing the temperature in neighborhoods often that don’t have enough access to air conditioning.”