Archive for the ‘population’ Category

can nyc be an exemplary eco city?

October 21, 2008

That was the question posed last night at the Open Center, in a lecture of the same name. The panelists approached sustainability from both an individual and governmental perspective.

Rohit Aggarwala
Director of the Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability in NYC

According to Rohit, PlaNYC started out as an economic plan. But with population projected to reach 9.1 million residents by 2030 (it’s currently over 8 million), it became clear that the focus needed to be on sustainability.

One consideration led to another: if you think about land use patterns, especially with regard to housing, you can’t ignore transportation infrastructure; when you consider transportation, air quality becomes a factor; a contributor to poor air quality is the city’s current energy resources — yet another layer; and those energy resources also pollute our waterways, so there’s water quality to think about.

Its population growth makes New York City unique among old American cities. There was no model to follow. So the mayor’s office turned to other cities around the world. For example, London was the model for congestion pricing, which is up for reconsideration. Or as one NYTimes reporter put it, Governor Paterson is “rescuing the controversial program from the brink of death.”

Read the full PlaNYC report.

Starre Vartan
One of the original green bloggers (eco chick), author of The Eco Chick Guide to Life: How to Be Fabulously Green, and managing editor for the Greenopia guide

Starre offered up 7 of her top 10 ways to live sustainably in NYC (her time was cut short).

In general, she says to consider what you do most in your daily life, and then figure out how you can make changes to reduce your impact.

[NB. I’ve paraphrased a bit]

1. Food. Support farmer’s markets and local food, as our food miles add a considerable heft to our carbon footprint.

2. Goods. Buy local. There are many great designers of furniture, clothing, and other goods right here in NYC. When you consider a simple article of clothing like a t-shirt, think about all that went into it. The cotton, grown with chemical fertilizers and treated with pesticides is grown in one country. Then it’s shipped to another place to be dyed. Then the fabric is sent somewhere else to be sewn together. The tags may be sewn on in an entirely different place. The carbon footprint of a t-shirt is astronomical! (Read about the perfect t-shirt ever made [!])

3. Transport. Keep using public transportation. Bike if you’ve got one. There are bike advocate groups you can join or support (like Recycle a Bicycle). Limit cab rides or share with a friend (or try a service like Ride Amigos).

4. Toxins. Get them out of your life. One of the simplest, easiest, and least expensive ways to do this is to swap your cleaning supplies. Toxic chemicals from cleaning products pollute our waterways and our bodies. Waste treatment facilities only filter out bio-organisms, so those cleaning biproducts are mixing together in our water. Another way to eliminate toxins is changing your beauty products.

5. Energy. Switch to clean energy through services like ConEdison Solutions, which offer wind and hydroelectric power that feeds into the grid (which unless you’re off the grid, and you’d know if you were, you’re hooked up to). It may cost a little more per month, but what you’re paying for is clean air and health. It’s really the one place you should spend a little more to help save our health and the planet.

6. Junk mail. Sign up for services that stop junk mail, like GreenDimes or DMAChoice (I know it works, ’cause I’ve used it!).

7. Office. Green your workplace. Some motivated employees may already be volunteering to help reduce the carbon footprint of their office. But many businesses still have along way to go to achieve eco-friendly status. Implement recycling, start a campaign to eliminate paper cup use (bring your own!), encourage printing on both sides. These steps will make the office more sustainable and help the bottom line!

Visit Eco chick for more green living tips.

Janna Olson
Sustainability consultant and NYC market manager & researcher at Greenopia

I was excited to see Janna there, as I’m currently taking a class with her (which I’ll write about soon). She had some technical difficulties (her Mac couldn’t communicate with the overhead projector), but Janna raised some really compelling points — many of them directed at Rohit Aggarwala.

One of the concepts Janna discussed was distributed energy generation, specifically solar empowerment zones — a term coined by City Councilmember and Infrastructure Task Force co-chair Daniel Garodnick [OnEarth]. Essentially, buildings in areas of the city that have been identified as suitable for photovoltaic solar panel installation (“low-density areas that have buildings with large rooftops to create a synergy for an entire neighborhood to become solar-powered,” according to Garodnick) would be given incentive to invest in solar. This method makes solar more cost-effective through sharing of maintenance responsibility, tax incentives, and the potential for a consolidated connection to the grid within the zone.

Janna also talked about the usefulness and importance of the Greenopia guide. While helping consumers living in cities like New York find green businesses, the guide helps green businesses — some of which might have a limited marketing budget — get the attention they deserve. She also stressed that living green should not be a chore, it can and should be a fun endeavor.

Read an interview with Janna [alldaybuffet].

Sign up for an upcoming eco event at the Open Center:

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint, and Still Have a Great Life

with Colin Beavan (No Impact Man) and Janna Olson
Friday, January 16 2009, 7:00pm – 10:00pm

climate change hits the poor hardest

October 15, 2008

FACT: Some 262 million people were affected by climate disasters annually from 2000 to 2004, over 98% of them in the developing world. [UNDP]

Climate change is a moral, ethical, and socio-economic issue.

The wealthiest nations, those who are the most responsible for the increased output of greenhouse gases, will be the least affected by climate change. They will also be the most equipped to deal with the consequences.

In stark contrast, those that are the most impoverished have the smallest carbon footprint and are the most affected by climate change. Alone, they do not have the resources to face the dire consequences of climate change.

The impact of climate change on the developing world was the focus of a recent exhibit and campaign “One Planet, One Chance” created by Zago, based on the Human Development Report 2007/2008 from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The following are excerpts from the exhibit publication, comprehensive on its own, but only a taste of what you’ll find in the full report.

Examples of the contrasts between
the haves and have-nots

In many countries, poverty is intimately related to repeated exposure to climate risks. For people whose livelihoods depend on agriculture, variable and uncertain rainfall is a potent source of vulnerability. Across the world, the lives of the poor are punctuated by the risks and vulnerabilities that come with an uncertain climate. Climate change will gradually ratchet up these risks and vulnerabilities, putting pressure on already over-stretched coping strategies and magnifying inequalities based on gender and other markers for disadvantage.

Who are some of the people affected?


It is hard to overstate the implications for human development. Climate change impacts will be superimposed on a country marked by high levels of vulnerability, including poor nutrition and among the world’s most intense HIV/AIDS crisis: almost one million people are living with the disease. Poverty is endemic. Two in every three Malawians live below the national poverty line. The country ranks 164 out of the 177 countries measured in the HDI. Life expectancy has fallen to about 46 years.

Climate change threatens to reinforce the already powerful cycles of deprivation created by drought and flood. Incremental risks will be superimposed upon a society marked by deep vulnerabilities. In a ‘normal’ year, two-thirds of households are unable to produce enough maize to cover household needs. Declining soil fertility, associated with limited access to fertilizer, credit and other inputs, has reduced maize production from 2.0 tonnes per hectare to 0.8 tonnes over the past two decades. Productivity losses linked to reduced rainfall will make a bad situation far worse.

Hurricane Katrina victims
The hurricane impacted the lives of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world’s richest nation. Pre-Katrina child poverty rates in New Orleans were among the highest in the United States, with one in three living below the poverty line. Health provision was limited, with some 750,000 people lacking insurance coverage. Hurricane Katrina selected its victims overwhelmingly from the most disadvantaged areas of the city. Poorer districts dominated by black communities bore the brunt. Flood damage interacted with deep racial inequalities (poverty rates among blacks three times higher than for whites). An estimated 75 percent of the population living in flooded neighbourhoods was black. The Lower Ninth Ward and the Desire/Florida communities, two of the poorest and most vulnerable in the city, were both totally devastated by Katrina.

Future generations will pass harsh judgement on a generation that looked at the evidence on climate change, understood the consequences and then continued on a path that consigned millions of the world’s most vulnerable people to poverty and exposed future generations to the risk of ecological disaster. If we value the well-being of our children and grandchildren, even small risks of catastrophic events merit a precautionary approach.

What can be done?

Climate change mitigation is about transforming the way that we produce and use energy. It is about living within the bounds of ecological sustainability. The starting point: putting a price on carbon emissions. Changed incentive structures are a vital condition for an accelerated transition to low carbon growth. In an optimal scenario, the carbon price would be global. This is politically unrealistic in the short-run because the world lacks the required governance system. The more realistic option is for rich countries to develop carbon pricing structures. As these structures evolve, developing countries could be integrated over time as institutional conditions allow.

If we are to succeed in tackling climate change we have to start by setting out the ground rules. Any international strategy has to be built on the foundations of fairness, social justice and equity. These are not abstract ideas. They are guides to action.

The importance of early and concerted action. The carbon budget is best understood as the global maximum amount of CO2 emissions that can be produced, and therefore absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere and ecosystems, in order to avoid dangerous climate change. Briefly summarized, the 21st Century budget amounts to 1,456 Gt CO2, or around 14.5 Gt CO2 on a simple annual average basis. Current emissions are running at twice this level.

We only have one planet — and we need a one-planet solution for climate change. That solution cannot come at the expense of the world’s poorest countries and poorest people. Developed countries have to demonstrate that they are serious by cutting their emissions. After all, they have the financial and the technological resources needed to act.

Read the rest of the exhibit brochure.

Read the summary or the full report.

The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment

October 9, 2008

Nature Conservancy Event

Books @ Butler Showcases
The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment

Wednesday, October 22, 2008
6:00 – 8:00pm
The Cosmopolitan Club, NYC


Paul Ehrlich helped ignite the modern environmental movement with The Population Bomb in 1968. Now, four decades after he first ignited debate and action around the globe, author and scientist Paul R. Ehrlich is back with a new book, The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment.

In The Dominant Animal, Paul along with his wife, Anne H. Ehrlich, a prize-winning scientist herself, take a new look at our future on the planet as evidence mounts that the population bomb may have gone off. It is a powerful examination of how the humans today are creating the world of humans of tomorrow—and what it will take for our civilization to survive.

The lecture is free, but donations are suggested. Reservations are recommended. More details here.