By Mira Ciganek
New York City has a secret. Hidden by skyscrapers and subway cars, this concrete jungle has become one of the most climate-
New York leads the country in walkability and car-free residences. It ranks in the top five U.S. cities with the most Energy Star Certified buildings, the Environmental Protection Agency’s seal of approval. And the state as a whole boasts a low ecological impact based on the demand for natural resources and available space.
In April, Mayor Eric Adams rolled out PlaNYC: Getting Sustainability Done, the fifth in a series of wide ranging campaigns focused on reducing food waste, transitioning to clean energy sources for homes and cars and ensuring that climate policies also benefit the neediest New Yorkers.
PlaNYC was originally launched by Mayor Bloomberg in 2007. During his tenure as mayor, Bloomberg passed legislation on everything from retrofitting buildings to enacting a bike share program commonly known as Citi Bike. Over the course of about 15 years, the city saw a 13 percent drop in carbon emissions and made a name for itself as one of the most sustainable cities in the nation.
Beyond New York City, public policy is a key to reducing the energy emissions of everything from high rise buildings to power plants. That’s because the lion’s share of the world’s carbon emissions can be traced to the activities of 100 companies.
Indeed, despite its best environmental efforts, New York continues to face a Herculean task in minimizing the effects of climate change. Rising sea levels and tidal flooding continue to threaten the city’s increasingly vulnerable coastlines.
So, what more can New Yorkers do to reduce the threat of climate change? Dollars and Sense compiled recent data and sat down with local climate experts to try to answer that question.
Participate in Local Politics
From voting to signing petitions to calling your representatives, staying active in local politics is especially crucial to combating climate change. As much as the average resident can accomplish, legislation can help to update infrastructure, ensure environmental protections and reach long term solutions. “I can change my light bulbs, but I can’t change the power source that Con-Ed delivers,” Bluestone said.
Volunteering with environmental and political organizations is one of the best ways individuals can participate in climate activism. This can look different for everyone. Whether it’s raising money by running a 5K or carving out time each week to call your local representatives, there are a variety of volunteer opportunities across each borough.
“There are ways for everybody to participate regardless of how much time or energy or money they have,” Mimi Bluestone, the founder of 350 Brooklyn, said. 350 Brooklyn, an offshoot of the national organization 350.org, has been a community staple for nearly a decade. They send members to Washington on a regular basis to lobby against climate change.
Make Educated Donations
For those who don’t have the time to volunteer, making smart donations is another effective way to take action against climate change. Based on your interests and your budget, there are a variety of New York based nonprofits to choose from.
NY Renews collaborates with hundreds of environmental associations ranging from faith-based groups to grassroots campaigns. They advocate for low-income communities affected by climate change and aid in job creation in the clean energy industry. Sunrise NYC is an offshoot of the national Sunrise Movement. It caters to a younger audience fighting for the Green New Deal. NYC Environmental Justice Alliance focuses on underserved neighborhoods and communities of color in their fight against climate change. It has been pursuing environmental justice since 1991.
Reduce and Reuse Before You Recycle
Recycling has become one of the most common misconceptions surrounding sustainability. “There’s a minuscule percentage of plastics that actually can be recycled,” said Bluestone. Instead, she recommends opting for reusable alternatives to single use items like takeout containers and water bottles.
New York City’s “Skip the Stuff” bill was announced last year in support of reducing plastic waste from disposable restaurant packaging. It is one of several new initiatives like the city’s composting program and the option to transition to solar energy. Yes, it’s possible, even as a renter.
Look for Alternative Modes of Transportation
Climate scientist Dr. Chuixiang Yi is a strong proponent of further reducing car travel in New York City. Walking, biking and public transportation are greener alternatives as they improve fuel efficiency, road congestion and community mobility. “If New York were to just become a bicycle city, that would be wonderful,” said Yi.
Even switching to electric vehicles, when buying a car or booking an Uber, can make a difference. Electric vehicles are more energy efficient and cost considerably less to operate per mile.
Spread the Word
As simple as it sounds, educating yourself and others on climate change is extremely important. This could mean sharing reputable information on social media, attending events, reading books and more.
By the mere fact of living in New York City, we are able to maintain a relative level of environmental consciousness and activism. It is built into our daily lives, from reusable options at every store to easily accessible public transportation to climate-
“Talk to everybody you know about climate change,” Bluestone said. “The more we talk about it, the more it’s out in the open, the more people will want to take action about it.”