New Yorkers know that BYOB doesn’t just mean “Bring your own bottle” anymore, but now “Bring your own bag” as well. In March of 2020, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation banned single-use plastic bags from businesses.
New York City’s large size and skyscrapers can cause detrimental effects to the environment. The New York City Comptroller reports that most of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions come from its buildings alone, based on the energy they require and release. Witnessing clear results of climate change — such as the lack of white this past winter — raises valid concerns such as, “What exactly is NYC doing to combat climate change?”
Mayor Eric Adams assures us that “New York City has already taken major steps to become more sustainable, resilient and equitable.” Alongside the plastic bag ban, as of November 2021, food service establishments are no longer allowed to provide plastic straws. While this was a further effort by the city to reduce the use of single-use plastics, it did start an uproar because many people felt as if paper straws were not suitable for comfortable drinking.
Furthermore, Environmental Science Professor Christine Ramadhin referenced NYC’s The High Line when speaking of sustainable development in her ENSCI 99: A Practical Guide to Environmental Choices class. The High Line, located on Manhattan’s West Side is a public park built on an historic freight train line, saving it from demolition. It serves as an environmentally friendly transition from one of NYC’s busiest commercial districts to a landscape filled with greenery.
Additionally, NYC has worked to put building rooftops to sustainable use by creating ideas of “green” roofs. This refers to the addition of gardens and solar panels on rooftops. Both the High Line and these green rooftops help tackle the extreme rainfall issue by absorbing and managing stormwater, and green roofs even continue on to lower electricity consumption in the warmer months by providing cooler temperatures and increasing air circulation.
When speaking to the student body about sustainability related changes they’ve picked up on, Rashad L, a third-year Computer Science Student pointed out he noticed new lights being installed around our very own Queens College campus.
“The changes to the lights are great since it helps conserve energy during the times when the building isn’t too full. I noticed the lights in the study rooms were motion activated so if you accidentally left them on, they would turn off after a certain amount of time,” Rashad said. President Frank Wu endorsed this statement by saying these high-efficiency light bulbs were one of many forms of conservative infrastructure being implemented across campus.
Just this innovation is resulting in energy saving equivalent to the amount that is consumed by 6-7 average American households, per modified campus building. This is one of the many projects campus is undergoing in creating an environmentally friendly environment.
All of these improvements fall under Local Law 64 of 2017, which is a collaboration between environmental justice advocates, academics, public health experts and NYC to create a comprehensive citywide environmental justice plan, as enforced by the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice. This law was passed when upon assessment, officials realized that the climate change issues in NYC were only accelerating and it is crucial that there are steps taken to prevent further damage.
However, some believe that these individual efforts, including the aforementioned, are not enough to handle such a large-scale issue. For example, Daniel Jackson, a third-year Computer Science major, says, “These are small steps to stopping climate change. We are not the problem, big corporations are. We can do all we want, it won’t stop anything unless the higher ups make some big changes.” This claim is worth consideration, since it is possible the overwhelming amount of greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere by factories and power plants are hindering our progress.
As students of an NYC public college, we are fortunate to learn in a place that values global issues. In April of 2021, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that four CUNY colleges, amongst them Queens College, are entitled to a share of $455 million for energy conservation upgrades. This funding allowed our campus to advance and prosper in terms of sustainability, reducing our carbon footprint, as an institution, greatly.