Freak Storms, De Blasio, and the Food-Climate Issue in NYC

Typhoon Haiyan and the increasing occurrence of other extreme weather phenomena in recent years are evidence of the impact human activity has on the climate [see IPCC report]. This underscores the dire need for collective global action to slow and even reverse climate change. Incidentally, delegates from around the world are meeting in Warsaw this week for COP19, the main UN climate change conference of 2013; the destructiveness of Haiyan underscores the importance of these talks.

But if past climate talks are any indicator of the progress we can expect out of Warsaw, then prepare to be underwhelmed. One problem with these talks is that nations tend to be unwilling to compromise their economic growth (or the business interests of their companies) for climate mitigation, even though climate change will put an immense strain on future economic activity and cost more to mitigate down the road. In other words, nations are willing to pursue short-term gains, even if it means jeoporizing the well-being of their future economy and the future world in general.

These meetings are nonetheless vitally important and should continue regardless of their previous inertia; climate change is a global issue, and thus needs to be addressed at the international level in order to encourage climate-friendly policies at the national level. But local and regional climate policies also offer a great potential for progress and are often not given the fair attention they deserve.

Cities in particular have great potential to help mitigate climate change because their populations tend to be more receptive to progressive environmental policy and because, when implemented, such policies affect relatively large populations. [see Grist’s list of 15 Green Cities]

In terms of New York City, the recent election of Bill De Blasio as Mayor has many environmentalists excited because of De Blasio’s progressive environmental record in public office (as City Councilmember and Public Advocate) and because of the many issues related to sustainability that he integrated into his mayoral campaign platform.

In 2009, Councilmember De Blasio sponsored a resolution on New York City’s ‘Foodprint,’ citing the link between livestock and climate change and calling on the city to adopt climate-friendly food policies such as increased consumption of regional/local food and decreased consumption of animal-based foods that have such a heavy climate impact. While there have been no developments on the resolution since it was referred to the Committee on Community Development in mid-2009, it says a lot that New York City’s Mayor Elect led this effort with the support of the outgoing Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and many other City Councilmembers.

For those of us who are concerned about the very heavy impact that livestock production has on the climate – creating a quantity of emissions greater than that of all transportation combined – the election of De Blasio offers an exciting opportunity to lobby the city to create greener food policies and to raise awareness of the role food has in climate change. As a hub of culture, finance, and world governance, New York City has the opportunity to make an impact not only through changing the consumption habits of its 8.3 million residents, but also through serving as an example for other cities around the world.

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