Low-income waterfront communities, particularly those of color such as The South Bronx, Red Hook, and the Brooklyn Navy Yards, are disproportionately at risk during threats of climate change than other communities according to a report released yesterday by the Environmental Justice Alliance.
“Even though climate change will affect everyone, its impacts will not be evenly distributed,” said Eddie Bautista, executive director for NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, a network that links grassroots organizations from low-income neighborhoods and communities of color to create environmental justice.
“Our communities live at the nexus of so many inequities, all climate change does is add even more intense disproportionality in terms of our burdens,” said Bautista.
The report outlines the shortcomings of Mayor de Blasio’s OneNYC Plan just before a scheduled update, which will be released by the Mayor’s office on Earth Day.
The NYC-EJA created recommendations on how the OneNYC Plan can assure the safety of residents that live in Significant Maritime and Industrial Areas, or SMIAS for short. These are communities that have become the concentrated hosts of the city’s infrastructure, such as waste transfer stations, power plants and industrial facilities, and climate-based damage to that infrastructure could mean disastrous consequences to those who live in these areas.
“We have the heaviest clusters of the city’s toxic chemical uses and heavy infrastructure all cited in waterfront neighborhoods in the path of storm surges,” said Bautista. “Not only do you have storm surges to worry about and flooding but dislodging of chemicals and the potential for communities to be exposed to toxic stews in the event of severe weather.”
The report also highlights the range of climate change impacts that are to be expected. Beyond incremental storms and rising sea levels, the increasing temperatures are also a concern for the NYC-EJA.
“Heat kills more people than storm surges or hurricanes every year,” said Bautista. “We’re expecting the average summer day to increase anywhere from 4 to 6 degrees, the number of heat waves are expected to either triple or quadruple. There’s no strategy to deal with that in the OneNYC Plan.”
Bautista says the rising temperatures are markedly problematic in low-income neighborhoods like Brownsville, where communities lack enough trees to keep the asphalt cool or have residents that cannot afford air-conditioners.
The report also sites that there are vast vulnerabilities in industrial neighborhoods that have regional implications. One example, Bautista says, is that most of New York City’s food goes through the Hunt’s Point Distribution Center, which is an SMIA. Over 60% of New York City’s produce, fish, and meat comes through the center.
“The mayor’s office has confirmed, that had Sandy landed when it was high tide for Long Island Sound – either 12 hours before or after when it actually landed – that means a storm surge would have wiped out the food supply for the entire city and no one knows how long.”
Community outreach programs, like El Puente in South Williamsburg, are taking the NYC-EJAs recommendations of creating community-based planning and preparedness.
“These major weather events made us realize how unprepared we were and still are,” said Ana Traverso-Krejcarek, Green Jobs-Green New York Program Associate at El Puente. “We have to start from scratch. There has not been enough awareness or information on the community level.”
A big part of that is educating mothers in the predominately Latino community on environmental justice and how they can protect their families by providing classes and services in Spanish. Through these programs, El Puente addresses not only concerns for climate-based infrastructure, but for the potentially hazardous risks that come with living in one of Brooklyn’s most toxic neighborhoods, the home to companies like RADIAC, which stores radioactive materials just one block away from the East River.
“For years we’ve been fighting to get RADIAC to close, but it’s privately owned,” said Traverso-Krejcarek. “If the water level rose, say from a hurricane, we don’t know the impact of radioactive material being spread through the community. It’s right here. The latino population that lives in the neighborhood still knows about it, but the huge new influx of residents don’t.”
Angela Terrero, 36, is one such resident that remembers the early days of fighting for RADIAC to close. Now a mother of two who brings her children to El Puente for after-school activities, she fears that the decade long battle will not come to a close quickly enough.
“If the wind had been blowing the other way,” said Terrero. “It would have been us and not the Lower East Side who received most of the impact.”
As the climate march comes to a close, some of those who finished early try and get a picture. Photo Credit: Raz Robinson
by Raz Robinson
A swath of midtown was completely shut down as participants in yesterday’s Peoples Climate March came together for a block party of sorts in Midtown, hours after the march.
The march itself, which was over 400,000 strong, came to a close between 33rd street and 11th avenue, but for the next five blocks marchers and activists who were unable to make it to the march in the morning, joined in an act of solidarity. They told the stories of the communities struggling with the effects of climate change.
Ray West, 63, from Shoreline Wash, and Carmen Gilmore, 46, of Bellingham, Wash. both traveled together as representatives of their 350.org chapters the environmental organization whose aim is to build a global movement for climate solutions and organized the march.
The pair felt that Washington had been hit extremely hard by the consequences of climate change.
“One of the big issues in Washington State is the ocean acidification,” said Gilmore of man made chemical changes that are adding more carbon dioxide into the ocean.“It affects a lot of the wildlife out there, it effects a lot of the things that all of the salmon and orcas feed on.”
West said there is no doubt that the planet is warming.
“The science is out there,” said West. “There’s no doubt about the science that shows us mankind is making a warmer planet, this generation has to stop it.”
Coming from the opposite end of the country Kyle Gibson, 28, Maine of the Beehive Collective, which looks to attack climate change not just with their words, but also with their art.
“It started out as an all women’s stone cut mosaic collective originally,” said Gibson. “Originally they were doing pictures of endangered species, but then started making work about complicated political issues to try and synthesize it into a visual that people could understand.”
The collective had a series of tarps set up on the sidewalk that visualized the history of our planets climate. Visual graphics were used by the group to explain political issues and connect them to economic and ecological problems.
In recent years Machias, Maine, the town the group is based out of, has been devastated by the effects of climate change. They lost their once thriving timber and fishing industry. The collective looks to tell the story of their town to as many people as possible.
“The economy there is deep in the bust end of the boom bust cycle,” said Gibson. “It was a thriving place at one time with a much bigger population because of the timber industry and the fishing industry, but all that’s gone now.”
What left in the town is an aging population with less ability to revitalize the community, as most of the younger people have went elsewhere to find work.
As the gathering came to a close, some of the marchers shared their stories with each other.
Mak Ska Higa, 70, from Black River Falls, Wis., came as a member of an anti-fracking group based out of Madison, Wis. As a Native American, his opposition to fracking comes as a result of a more spiritual connection to the land.
“Most non-natives think of trees as board,” said Higa. “We think of trees as being part of our relation to our fathers and their fathers, our great grandfathers.”
A member of the Ho-Chunk-Wakajexi clan, better known as the Winnebago Tribe has a history of fighting said Higa. His family was one of the families to survive the colonization of the United States.
“Like my family did, we have to keep fighting for a place to live on this planet,” said Higa. “I owe my existence to my ancestors, because they fought. Maybe one day people will owe their existence to us.”
by Stacey Kilpatrick
Dubbed “the largest climate march in history,” more than 400,000 people marched for climate change awareness today, beginning on 86th Street in Central Park and ending on 34th Street near Penn Station.
Protesters of the People’s Climate March wanted their voices heard. They shouted, chanted, screamed, marched, danced and held up signs voicing their opinions. Some read: “Angry Pacifist.” “No to dirty energy! Stop the climate crisis!” “Climate change is a health crisis.” “Our power.” “Keep the oil in the ground.” “Our home flooded in Irene & Sandy.” “We can build the future.” “Respect your mother earth.”
Amy Sholtis, 47, a biology teacher at Plattsburgh High School in Plattsburgh, N.Y., said time has run out. She is worried about our sinking cities.
“We don’t have time because Miami is sinking, New Orleans is sinking, we’re going to have more storms and we’re not prepared,” Sholtis said. “We have no policy and it’s going to cost more money in the long run to ignore this and not to mention all the other problems that go with this climate change.”
Sholtis is also worried about last winter’s “polar vortex” in which many parts of the country felt bitterly cold temperatures that hadn’t been seen for decades and that the government doesn’t have a plan.
“People sometimes don’t put together the fact that we had a bad winter because of climate change, that there’s a drought out west and there’s climate change,” she said. “I think it would help if our government would acknowledge it and then we’d start having a climate policy.”
Video by Thom Friend
Today’s march was held two days prior to when President Obama and other world leaders are slated to attend a Climate Summit at the United Nations hosted by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The meeting is supposed to bring attention to climate changes, including a new global climate treaty that will be finalized in Paris in 2015.
But 2015 is a long ways away for the people who were demanding change on the streets today.
“What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
“Now!” shouted a large group of Rutgers University students marching near Columbus Circle.
Atid Kimelman, 23, a field organizer with the Energy Action Coalition from Millburn, N.J., also wants action now, especially action taken by government leaders.
“We need our leaders to take action and no longer just use words,” said Kimelman. “The time has passed for words and we want to see an end to the All-of-the-Above energy policy in this country and a move towards 100% renewable energy.”
Lidy Nacpil, 54, from the Philippines, also marched in hope that leaders will hear the pounding of footsteps on the pavement. She said she feels that the Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change.
“We are now experiencing increasing numbers and magnitudes of super-typhoons and it is taking thousands of lives and destroying millions of homes,” Nacpil said. “This is a very urgent issue for us.”
Nacpil added that she wishes people everywhere build movements to address the climate crisis to compel world leaders to fulfill their obligations to citizens. One immediate act that she hopes the government will take is to stop the further expansion of the fossil fuel industry.
Katie Robbins, 33, Executive Director at the Physicians for a National Health Program New York Metro Chapter (PNHP-NY Metro), said that she, too, wants to send a strong message to the UN that they need to move.
“I’m so excited that we have so many groups coming together,” said Robbins, a Manhattan resident. “Over 1,000 groups have endorsed and so many people are really standing up to say, the fancy [rhetoric] is over, we need real action now.”
In addition to marching with the PNHP-NY Metro, Robbins was also with the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), attempting to highlight the connection between climate change and people’s health. Robbins said that heat-related illnesses, asthma, and extreme weather, such as what Hurricane Sandy brought, can bring on stress-related illness and health issues.
Robbins is also eight months pregnant with her first child.
“[I’m] thinking a lot about the kind of world that she’ll be growing up in and we need serious climate action now so this world is safe and healthy for children,” she said. “This isn’t just about polar bears. This is about our health and our lives and so in order to make sure that we keep thriving here on our planet we need to find action now.
It was a quaint idea for a big city event: a Manhattan bake sale to raise money for the Obama campaign. But Massimo LoBuglio, one of four Brooklyn-born LoBuglio brothers who opened the Little Cupcake Bakeshop in 2005, had a sophisticated agenda in mind. Since the environmentalist had gone out of his way to create a carbon neutral company, his event was designed to raise money and consciousness about climate change.
LoBuglio teamed up with philanthropist Arden Wohl for the grassroots Cupcakes for Obama fundraiser on October 23rd at the Prince Street Café. At the event, LoBuglio used the carbon neutral cupcakes, packaged in biodegradable containers, as a sweet and approachable way of telling the dark and intimidating story of climate change and its effect on the economy, food prices, jobs and international trade and start a community conversation. A tall order for a little dessert.
“There were a lot of high-profile events going around the city, we wanted to make something more accessible,” explained LoBuglio. The suggested donation for their event was $50 and the owners also donated the sales of all cupcakes bought that night.
At 7 p.m. the café’s doors opened and LoBuglio and Wohl welcomed sixty of New York’s environmentally conscious citizens. From an outsider’s view you would not know that Little Cupcake is the only carbon-neutral café in Manhattan. The retro-chic interior design with a neon red and blue clock, glass chandeliers and red and black-checkered floor blend with the vintage-American feel of stores like Magnolia Bakery and stylishness of Sprinkles or Baked by Melissa.
LoBuglio, wearing canary yellow hipster glasses and festive green and white hourglass pattern button-up sweater over black jeans, greeted guests as they walked through the café’s French doors. Wohl, who arrived fashionably late, bought her brand of star power to the event. She remained a vortex of black hair and black tulle for the night, attracting clouds of patrons to discuss Romney, saving the EPA, voting and cupcakes.
LoBuglio designed both Little Cupcake Bakeshops, one in NoLita and the other in Brooklyn, to operate as carbon neutral. ‘Carbon neutral’ means emitting no greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) or nitrous oxide (N20) into the atmosphere or buying offset credits for any greenhouse gases that can’t be mitigated. Chalked on to a white blackboard behind the dessert display, LoBuglio had outlined the owners’ green business practice.
Both cafés buy wind power through ConEdison Solutions, use local and/or organic ingredients in their desserts and coffee and fitted the café with high efficiency lighting, insulation and water aeration. The result is a green business with tasty cupcakes, killer coffee and an electric bill slashed by two thirds.
LoBuglio and Wohl decided to raise money for Obama due to his track record on auto efficiency standards, green jobs and investment in renewable energy. “President Obama is the stronger candidate between the two to address global warming,” said Wohl. “When he took office in 2008, he promised a new chapter in US climate action, and he needs eight years to finish what he started.”
LoBuglio expressed concern about what might happen to environmental policies if the GOP wins the White House.
“I fear what the Romney presidency will look like. Some people in the Republican Party want to pretty much gut the EPA,” said LoBuglio. “Obama presents the best answer at the moment. At least with him we get to keep the progress America’s made in the past 40 years.”
LoBuglio explained that many of his green initiatives actually double as good business practice, since the company saves an estimated $20,000 a year in energy costs. From this perspective LoBuglio argues that his green ventures are actually consistent with the Republican ideology that the private sector can fix society’s problems.
But back in 2005 when LoBuglio and his three brothers opened their flagship store in conservative Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, not everyone had a frosting-pink outlook on the eco-conscious venture.
“At the time the perception was ‘you’re crazy, you’re talking about green Republicans. They’re not going to buy cupcakes and you’re going to go out of business’,” said LoBuglio. But the Bay Ridge Republicans did buy cupcakes, brownies, pies and lattes. “People were like ‘we get it: clean air, clean water, less pollution, a small business doing the right thing,” recalled LoBuglio.
The concept of environmentalist Republicans might sound like unicorns, but a recent poll by the Pew Research Center found 48% of Republicans believe in climate change (compared to 85% of Democrats.) The green café and carbon-neutral desserts were so successful that the brothers opened their second store in NoLIta in 2010, where they hosted this year’s fundraiser.
As she lined up her playlist at the event, DJ Erika Spring said, “I really appreciate people who are having these kinds of fundraisers, not only to raise money, but to talk about what’s important to the community of New Yorkers and Americans.”
At 10 p.m. the fundraiser had wound down and the Little Cupcake staff politely ushered the crowd out into the night on Prince Street. The Obama supporters could grab one last carbon-neutral cupcake with the words ‘Carbon Neutral’ written in forest green icing on the top. With the countdown to Election Day in full swing, there was only one thing to do: let them eat cake.
An affirmation of LoBuglio’s efforts came on November 1st, a week after the fundraiser. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg’s communication team commissioned a cake from LoBuglio as a pick-me-up for the Mayor and his office. LoBuglio fashioned a cake with the words “Thank-You Mr. Mayor for #SurvivingSandy” iced on the top. Later that day Bloomberg, whom remained independent throughout this and the 2008 election, endorsed President Obama. Bloomberg cited Obama as the candidate better suited to address the issue of climate change, which Bloomberg blames, in part, for the destructive forces of Hurricane Sandy.
Nima Gombu Sherpa lives on top of the world. Rolbaling, his village, is tucked away in the folds of the Himalayan Mountains that cascade through northern Nepal.
But he fears his home is disappearing.
“I have been climbing for many years, but every year something changes,” Sherpa said. “There is less and less snow, and you see the ice melting.”
Sherpa’s life revolves around the snow-capped peak of Mt. Everest. He makes his living guiding climbers to its frozen summit, and he has reached its peak 15 times since 1993. The whiteness that surrounds him is his means of survival — his village depends on melting glaciers for water.
Sherpa and more than 100 Nepalese environmentalists, ambassadors and mountaineers concerned about the effect climate change is having on the Himalayas, rallied in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near the United Nations, yesterday, hoping to draw the attention of 140 world leaders and diplomats gathered for a meeting of the UN’s General Assembly. Chanting in both English and Nepali, the crowd’s message was simple: Save the Himalayas.
“The Himalayas are one of the treasures of the world,” said Siddhartha Bajracharya, executive officer of Nepal’s National Trust for Nature Conservation. “They are our soul.”
Ang Chhiring, who coordinated the rally, said he has seen firsthand the impact climate change has had on the mountain range. In 2003, Chhiring, a general assignment reporter with the Kantipur Daily newspaper in Nepal, became the first journalist from South Asia to summit Mt. Everest.
“The Himalayas are snowy mountains, but the snow is melting, the glaciers are disappearing and the rivers are drying up,” he said.
Chhiring said he organized the rally to raise awareness and to pull Nepal back into a global discussion that he believes has lost focus.
“We have to get our voices out,” Chhiring said. “Our lives depend on the Himalayas.”
Stretching through Southeast Asia, the mountain range is home to the world’s highest peaks, making it a topographical hot spot for climbers and geographers. It is also the sole supply of water for 1.3 billion people.
Bajracharya explained that increased rainfall and flooding is already disrupting patterns in agriculture, the area’s main source of income. He fears the worst changes are yet to come.
“Nepal is one of the least carbon-emitting countries, and yet 15,000 glaciers are melting,” Bajracharya said. “Glacier lakes are enlarging and are in danger of bursting. If they burst, thousands of tons of water will flood. Our regular supply of water will disappear. It will impact all people.”
A.C. Sherpa, another climber, grew up admiring the whiteness of the Himalayas. Born in the tiny northeast Nepali village of Tapting, he moved to Seattle, Wash., when he was 14. After he returned to Nepal last May, Sherpa broke a world record by climbing Mt. Everest in 42 days. It was a bittersweet moment, he said.
“It’s very different,” he said. “When I was 12 years old, I went to the base camp of Mt. Everest and it was full of snow. Now there’s nothing. It’s like a burned-out hill, just a rocky mountain.”
A.C. Sherpa said he does not plan on attempting Everest again. Instead, he chose to focus on protecting the mountains he loves.
“I’m not only thinking about myself as a climber,” he said. “I’m thinking about future generations.”
Dressed in a “Save the Himalayas” t-shirt worn over a black suit, acclaimed mountaineer Appa Sherpa shook hands with rally-goers after speaking at the UN Tuesday morning about the impact of climate change in Nepal. Appa Sherpa holds the record for reaching the summit of Mt. Everest more than any other person — he’s made it 20 times. He is now a UN ambassador for the Southeast Asian Regional Council.
“This is an issue that affects not just our nation, but the entire world,” he said. “It needs to be addressed.”
Chhiring said the next step is to continue spreading his message to a global audience. He plans to organize similar events in other countries in the coming year.
“People need to listen to why we are here,” he said.