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We must do more to avert climate catastrophe

The United Nations stated that the world must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030 or civilization will be devastated. 2030 is only 7 years away. The UN declaration is in line with New York’s goals and thus the state’s climate goals set the floor – not the ceiling – for action. Missing those goals ignores climate science and puts New York on a trajectory that could lead to unnecessary deaths, human suffering, and staggering costs from flooding, storms, and heatwaves.

New York law requires that the state meet the goals set by the world’s experts. The blueprint to meet these goals was laid out in last month’s Climate Action Council report.

It’s not surprising that the report is now targeted by the fossil fuel industry and its allies – who have so far blocked meaningful climate action. For decades, the oil industry knew of the dangers of burning fossil fuels – oil, coal, and gas – yet deliberately lied to the public. They were so successful that now the world is facing an existential threat.

New York’s plan is now under attack by the same industry. Their most recent effort to undermine the state’s climate plan is to divert our attention to the bogus charge that the government is going to take away gas stoves!

Of course, no one will lose their gas stoves. The state’s climate plan says that new buildings constructed later this decade will have to be powered by electricity, not fossil fuels, including gas. It also states that New York will prohibit the sale of new, gas-powered appliances during the next decade, like it will do for the sale of new cars. All of this makes sense, since New York, the nation, and the world, must kick our fossil fuel energy addiction. And it makes sense since the top two sources of greenhouse gas emissions are buildings and transportation.

The plan also covers not-so-obvious issues, like the way the state should handle solid wastes – garbage. According to the plan, solid waste generates about 12% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, including gases emitted by landfills, through the burning of waste, and from wastewater treatment. Most of these emissions represent the long-term decay of organic materials buried in landfills, which will continue to emit methane at a significant rate for more than 30 years. This is serious because methane is 84 times more damaging as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

The state’s climate plan recommends that in order “To reduce emissions to achieve the required 2030 GHG emission reductions, significant increased diversion from landfills as well as emissions monitoring and leak reduction will be needed. A circular economy approach to materials management is understood and employed.”

The plan calls for the enactment of legislation to curb the generation of waste by reducing and recycling the waste generated by New Yorkers. Specifically, the plan calls for expanding the state’s bottle deposit law to additional beverage containers.

That call has broad-based public support. In a poll released last week, 71 percent of New Yorkers support expanding the state’s bottle deposit program to include all types of beverage containers, with just 23 percent opposed. The release of the poll amplified a call from 150 community, civic, and environmental organizations to Governor Hochul to modernize the state’s bottle deposit law as part of her upcoming Executive Budget.

The poll, conducted by Siena Research Institute, found that New Yorkers support the program as a whole. A majority of respondents stated that the Bottle Bill had reduced litter in the state. Additionally, the poll found that the majority of New Yorkers support raising the bottle deposit placed on beverage containers from a nickel to a dime. The nickel deposit has been in place for 40 years.

The state’s Bottle Law has been the most successful litter reduction and recycling program in New York history. When the law kicked in 40 years ago in 1983, beverage containers were found everywhere, now the overwhelming majority of such containers are redeemed under the program. But many beverages – most notably non-carbonated sports drinks – didn’t exist four decades ago and are not covered by the law today. And the nickel deposit was put in place 40 years ago – that 1983 nickel when adjusted for inflation is worth 15 cents today.

There is a lot to be done to overhaul our economy and lifestyle in order to avert the looming catastrophic consequences of global warming. Ignoring efforts by the fossil fuel industry and their allies to undermine changes, and insisting on science-based solutions, are the only ways society can forestall the effects of a rapidly heating planet.

In 20 years when we are talking to a new generation about what we did to attack the problem of climate change, what will we say? That we protected gas stoves or took aggressive, science-based steps to slash greenhouse gas emissions? How we act today will determine the answer to that question.

Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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