Toward a greener city and world

This Wednesday was an Earth Day with a difference. Our country and world are in the worst economic recession since the Depression, while, at the same time, global warming continues to be the biggest threat to our planet, other than nuclear war. It’s a double whammy of epic proportions.

Which is precisely why “going green” now makes more sense than ever. By increasingly moving toward sustainable, nonpolluting energy, reducing overall energy usage and recycling and reusing resources, we can cut down on carbon emissions and pollution, as well as costs.

A New York Times Magazine article on Sunday, “Why Isn’t the Brain Green?” raised insightful questions about why more people aren’t concerned about global warming and, in turn, leading a green lifestyle to help address the problem. Citing recent studies, the article stated that humans have a limited amount of things they can worry about, and that some worries are more immediate and physical, while others — like climate change — are, for many people, merely analytical.

Ultimately, the article argued, the best way to make sure we as a people go greener is for our communities and government to get involved. While individuals might not recognize or acknowledge the immediate pressing need for recycling, for example, government — based on a collective decision-making process — takes the longer-range view, and seeing that recycling is necessary, legislates it.

Mayor Bloomberg, with his PlaNYC, a far-reaching initiative to make the city both more sustainable and livable by instituting green practices, is a good example of a politician using his office to advance progressive and intelligent ideas on energy and the environment. His ideas to retrofit old buildings, expand mass transit and reduce traffic are all on the right track.

Hybrid taxis and an improved anti-idling law are also helping make our air cleaner to breathe.

Similarly, the revision of the state’s bottle deposit law to include bottled water is an excellent step to cut plastic waste while also generating revenue.

As individuals and as members of local community groups, we all can do our part in making our city more energy efficient and, in the end, a healthier place to live.

Battery Park City has helped lead the way, adopting more stringent green building guidelines long before it was in vogue. The city’s first new green school, P.S./I.S. 276, is now going up in B.P.C. and we were pleased to hear principal Terri Ruyter say this week that she is planning to make hands-on environmental studies a focus of the curriculum.

The World Trade Center buildings that are being constructed will be green. Ultra low sulfur diesel fuel vehicles are being used in the construction.

On a personal level, we can all do better. Composting isn’t hard, and is a great way to cut down on waste. Riding a bike, or just not running air conditioners in an empty apartment are ways to improve the environment. Going to an outdoor Greenmarket is a fun way to shop locally, supporting area farmers while cutting down on the carbon footprint of “food miles.” Recycling old computers and electronics is important, too, since this keeps toxic chemicals from leaching into our ground, water and food chain.

One of the simplest and most effective things one can do to improve the environment is to plant one or more trees on one’s block. Part of the mayor’s PlaNYC, it’s as easy as a mouse click at www.milliontreesnyc.org.

Through a combination of government legislation, community planning and individual actions, we can work to save our world, and make it a better, sustainable one. Small steps can add up to a big difference.