As the largest city in the United States, New York City will have a significant impact on global environmental issues - whether for good or bad. With climate change at the forefront of public consciousness, NYC is considering the impact its day-to-day activities have on the environment. Why? For starters, buildings alone emit nearly 67% of New York City’s climate change emissions.1 That’s over half of the city’s emissions from a single source.
New York faces additional environmental challenges such as the impact of city traffic on rising global temperatures, high levels of chemicals in state drinking water, flood management hurdles, and methane emissions from food waste. Government agencies and officials are actively addressing some of NYC’s environmental issues, but without the public taking a stance, the solutions may be overlooked or ignored.
Environmental Issues in New York City
Issue 1: Sustainable Energy
The New York Times published an article describing an ambitious plan to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.2 This plan is a big step in the city’s efforts to be an advocate for the Earth’s health. While actions such as implementing hydroelectric dams have allowed New York to produce some of its electricity from carbon-free sources, the problem is far from solved. Wind turbines and solar panels are still being installed to continue efforts towards being a sustainable city.
Issue 2: Transportation
In NYC, buildings could almost be considered the “easy part” in the fight for a cleaner Earth. Transportation makes up for approximately one-third of New York’s overall emissions.3 While New York already has a low car ownership rate thanks to efficient public transportation methods, New York’s infamous traffic patterns prove car culture is still alive and well in the city. The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability states that 83% of emissions from transportation come from private vehicles.4 In response, the city is encouraging the purchase of electric vehicles by making electric vehicle fast-charging stations easily accessible throughout NYC.
Issue 3: Water Quality
PFOA and PFOS are chemicals commonly found in everyday items like fast food wrappers, cosmetics, nonstick cookware, and more. But, did you know it’s also in New York’s drinking water? While New York is moving toward regulations that would lower the concentration of chemicals found in the water, it’s not entirely removing the threat. As a result, millions of New Yorkers will remain vulnerable to the harmful effects of these chemicals. The public is being encouraged to write Commissioner Zucker and demand the PFOA and PFOS standard for drinking water be brought down to the lowest possible level of two parts per trillion.5
Issue 4: Food Waste
The Mayor’s office reports that New York City sends approximately 1.3 million tons of food waste to the landfill every year.6 Furthermore, degrading food waste produces a harmful greenhouse gas called methane. Tossing food in a landfill not only harms the environment but takes away the opportunity to harness compost as another clean energy source. Restaurants are the primary culprit of food waste, and the Mayor has issued a challenge to them to encourage organic material recycling. Individuals can do their part by composting in their homes and supporting restaurants that taking their role in sustainability seriously.
It’s evident that NYC’s environmental issues need attention, and New York is taking great strides to give it that attention. But, change can’t happen without the public’s support. If you’re a concerned New Yorker looking to give your attention to the environment, consider partnering with organizations in the city who have the same goal such as City Parks Foundation, Earth Day Network, New York Restoration Project, The Trust for Public Land, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Transportation Alternatives. Explore environmental volunteer opportunities in NYC to help New Yorkers protect their community and planet.
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