By Michelle Chen - The Nation, September 24, 2014
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.
At the moment of silence during Sunday’s People’s Climate March, a deep hush washed over Sixth Avenue, symbolizing a growing, worldwide commitment to fighting climate change. Yet the moment also recalled the aftermath of the city’s most recent climate catastrophe, Superstorm Sandy, when Manhattan’s mighty skyline was for several days stunned into an eerie stillness by nature’s ire.
But on Sunday, the city put a more positive spin on the connection between the global environmental struggle and the local disaster of Sandy. Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to make good on his campaign vow to address the underlying climate-change problems Sandy exposed, starting with a retooling of the city’s buildings.
The “One City, Built to Last” plan aims to slash building-based greenhouse gas emissions and boost the economy simultaneously. Overall, the plan promises to bring “$8.5 billion in energy cost-savings over ten years.” The long-term goal is to cut total emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Buildings contribute a large majority of local carbon pollution, and the plan would “cut energy use across all building sectors on average by at least 60 percent from 2005 levels and switch to renewable fuel sources.”
Many of the changes outlined in the 110-page blueprint are basic. In contrast to the sexy tech-driven solutions like electric cars and flashy rooftop photovoltaics, the de Blasio administration and City Council members are focusing on nuts-and-bolts efficiency projects to expand “green collar” job sectors.
The plan would in the immediate term “generate approximately 3,500 new jobs in construction and energy services,” according to Amy Spitalnick, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office. Modest numbers, but the main goal is putting the city’s infrastructure on a greener and more equitable development path.
Matt Ryan, executive director of the advocacy group ALIGN-NY, tells The Nation that the plan reflects a “need to think about dealing with climate change in a way that not only addresses the root causes, such as carbon emissions, but also addresses jobs and economic issues that are related.”
Some of the proposed initiatives include a “retrofit accelerator” program for an estimated 20,000 private buildings, about 40 percent of them public housing or rent stabilized. Public school buildings, firehouses, hospitals, police stations and homeless shelters would get energy-saving retrofits and lighting upgrades, and fixed up with clean technologies. The city would install solar panels “on more than 300 city buildings, generating 100MW of energy over the next decade.” The plan would link green building projects to the broader agenda of controlling housing costs: less energy consumption means lower utility bills, which “will make it easier for people to afford to live in New York City” and “invest in other capital upgrades to improve the quality of our housing stock.”
But the plan doesn’t spell out exactly how the city will push the private sector to invest in efficiency and renewables. The report focuses on voluntary programs, and the administration has for now avoided proposing strict mandates for carbon reductions, relying instead on seeding environmental business incentives (though mandates may be “triggered” later if needed). The administration advocates, for example, providing “green grants” that tie affordable-housing goals with eco-friendly construction, “which would fund efficiency upgrades in exchange for regulatory agreements to preserve affordability.”
Nonetheless, progressive groups are wary of leaving too much of the plan to market forces. Though some landlords may respond to green incentives because it makes business sense, Ryan says, given the ambitious emissions targets, “There is no way we’re going to move fast enough through a voluntary system, to meet the urgency of the climate crisis.”
Some progressive labor advocates fear that the workforce initiatives may not be ambitious enough, either. The Center for an Urban Future (CUF), which has pushed the administration to expand jobs programs for disadvantaged youth, warns that although green jobs could benefit struggling young workers, they need more comprehensive job training and placement services.
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