If you are thinking green, New York is hardly the name that will come to your mind. Quite to the contrary, you may associate the Big Apple with more unsavory concepts like congestion, soot and pollution. However, be prepared to question your stereotypes, as New York is well on its way to becoming one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world.
To begin with, its carbon emissions are less than 33% of the national per capita average. Furthermore, the city is on course to achieving its target of reducing greenhouse emissions by 30% by 2017, as compared to the 2005 baseline. A 12% reduction has already been achieved, according to Mayor Bloomberg.
A host of factors and initiatives have contributed to the city’s growing list of environmental achievements. While at one level 500,000 new trees have already been planted in the city as part of the MillionTreesNYC drive, on the other hand, 250,000 low-watt traffic and street lights have been installed in the city. The city has also undertaken initiatives that have reduced its methane emissions by a remarkable 15 percent, as well as its deadly soot emissions.
The main culprits for soot emissions in New York City are its older buildings, which still burn heavy heating oils. There are an estimated 10,000 buildings which burn this cheap and polluting oil, and they are responsible for nearly all the city’s soot. Mayor Bloomberg has a plan in place to phase out these deadly heating oils completely by 2030, and replace them with cleaner natural gas. Such a step is likely to reduce the city’s soot emissions by as much as 85% and save 1,500 lives every year.
Apart from consistent support from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which helped formulate this phase-out plan, the city has also benefited from the fall in the prices of natural gas. While this will make the transition process cheaper, the cost is still a formidable concern. The city will need to shell out roughly $36 million in federal funds to help the owners of small buildings make the switch from heating oils to natural gas. 200 public schools in the city will also be making this expensive, yet environmentally healthy, structural change.
The benefits of these green initiatives – expensive though they may be – are far-reaching. The rate of mortality and respiratory diseases will come down amongst the city’s population, and the prospect of better health will be an invitation to more people to move into New York City’s interiors. While a packed city is not everyone’s cup of tea, from a carbon emissions point of view it is ideal, as commuting and traveling distances shorten, and more people resort to walking and biking. Already, the rate of emissions from vehicles in New York City is significantly lower than the national average.
NYC is also set to become a global role model at a time when more than 50% of the world’s population already lives in cities. Environmental experts have already pointed out that the future of environmental sustainability largely depends on the green awareness of the world’s cities, as that’s where most of the world’s people and polluting sources are.