Op-Ed | We must reduce fossil fuels and go electric to keep New Yorkers safe and healthy

air pollution
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We have a historic opportunity now to ensure that buildings in The Bronx and across New York State are keeping New Yorkers healthy, safe, and employed — while reducing the emission of greenhouse gasses at the root of our global climate crisis.

Governor Kathy Hochul has an unprecedented set of proposals in her state budget to create two million decarbonized homes, electrify one thousand schools, ban fossil fuel hookups in future new construction and allocate over $4 billion dollars in electrification and decarbonization work.

Buildings with fossil fueled heating systems like oil and natural gas are the largest source of emissions in New York State. According to Stanford University even the methane that just leaks from gas-burning stoves inside U.S. homes has a climate impact comparable to about 500,000 gasoline-powered cars. Studies have found that children living in homes with gas stoves are up to 42% more likely to develop asthma and that air pollution from buildings leads to nearly 2,000 premature deaths each year across New York State.  The Bronx has been plagued by much higher than average asthma hospitalization rates for many years.  Going all-electric is an important part of the solution.

Electrification eliminates fossil fuel burning and allows for solar & wind generation to expand their importance within a larger electric system for consumption.  Furthermore, the extraction and transport of fossil fuels via mines, oil and gas pipelines, and oil tankers & freight trains all increase the risks of massive ecosystem destruction and loss of livelihood for hardworking people everywhere.  In the current case of Ukraine, pipelines from Russia are no doubt one factor.  Electricity can be produced and stored anywhere with clean technologies and is not likely to ever cause destruction or war.

The Governor’s ambitious plan will help make The Bronx healthier by reducing asthma and other conditions related to burning fossil fuels, while creating many new job opportunities to make the conversions a reality.  Addressing this challenge boldly will save lives and create jobs in communities historically left out past economic booms.

According to NYSERDA, energy efficiency investments for buildings created 121,000 new jobs for New Yorkers in 2020 alone.

Electrification is the most effective, least-cost way for New York to achieve its climate targets and directly improve the lives of tenants.  We know this because it’s already working around the world.  In Japan, 90% of homes are equipped with electric heat pump HVAC systems. More than 60% of Norwegian homes, where it gets colder for longer than it does in New York, use air-source heat pumps as their primary heat source.  

The climate, health, and our economy are all part of the equality we seek and need as a society. This is a time for changes, and these are policy choices that make it happen!

Majora Carter is a Real Estate Developer;  Editor & Senior Producer, GROUNDTRUTH, Groundswell; and Member, New York Green Bank Advisory Board.

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