Natural Allies: Working with Nature to Combat Climate Change

August 26, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has brought massive challenges to our city, upending economic stability and ways of life for Brooklynites and all New Yorkers. The protest movements demand we pay attention to structural racism and other inequities in our culture. In these six pandemic months the climate crisis has not abated, and it is urgent that we see the connections between issues of personal health, climate change, and social justice. “Nature-based solutions” and “green infrastructure” are crucial in addressing the climate crisis, especially in the urban environment. 

Climate justice and community health and resilience

Nature-based solutions improve community health and create jobs
Low-income communities and communities of color, hit hardest by the pandemic, also face a disproportionate risk of heat-related illness and higher rates of respiratory disease caused by poor air quality.  “Environmental justice communities are on the frontlines of climate change,” says NYC-Environmental Justice Alliance (NYC-EJA) research analyst Jalisa Gilmore. To achieve climate justice, says Gilmore, “we need to follow the leadership of those on the ground doing work in their communities.” This includes planting and maintaining street trees, rain gardens and other nature-based infrastructure, all of which can improve neighborhood health and drive job creation.

Take Action
Volunteer with and support the partner organizations of NYC-EJA

Care for urban nature and get advice from NYC Parks here: Caring for Street Trees and Greenstreets.

Get involved with the Street Tree Stewardship program at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which ”empowers everyday New Yorkers to correctly care for their trees.” The garden has other “community greening programs” as well.

For more examples of local initiatives, see the 2020 NYC-EJA Climate Justice Agenda.

Resources
Medium, (Green) infrastructure today, for resilience tomorrow

National Geographic, How ‘nature deprived’ neighborhoods impact the health of people of color

Just Nature NYC Partnership, How a healthy and equitable urban forest can help communities thrive

NYC-Environmental Justice Alliance, NYC-EJA Climate Justice Agenda

NRDC, Climate Change and Health: Extreme Heat

Composting

Giving back to the land restores climate and community
A healthy urban ecosystem uplifts the people and places responsible for managing waste, and demonstrates the power of a regenerative green economy in healing the land and the community. BK ROT is NYC’s first bike-powered, fossil fuel-free food waste hauling and composting service, staffed by young people of color who haul organic waste from small businesses and transform it into high-quality compost. “Composting, sharing ancestral stories, and sharing land-based work all support the land’s ability to withstand climate effects and mitigate emissions,” says BK ROT’s Ceci Pineda. Pineda adds that composting and regenerative agriculture “are rooted in Black Indigenous and Brown ancestral practices” that strengthen the connections between one another and “heal our communities and the earth.”

Take Action
Check to see whether BK ROT serves your Brooklyn neighborhood. If not, BK ROT accepts organics form composting at their Bushwick location on Sundays between 12 and 3 pm. Their website also features a model of vermicomposting.

Support the Save Our Compost coalition, which is working to preserve and expand composting for NYC residents, and has up-to-date info on places that are currently accepting compost.


Resources
Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Easy Compost

Leah Penniman, Farming While Black

Via Campesina, Small Scale Sustainable Farmers Are Cooling Down the Earth

Green roofs and green buildings

Green roofs improve quality of life, reduce buildings’ environmental impact, and boost property values
By “greening” a city’s built environment using green infrastructure (green roofs, living wall gardens), the local environment is improved in ways that benefit not only building owners and occupants, but also the local ecology and all city residents.  Some of the most important benefits include storm water management, reducing the urban heat index, improving air quality, fostering wildlife diversity and conservation, reducing greenhouse gases and promoting urban agriculture.

Take Action
Support Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez’s bill to create a federally funded Public School Green Rooftop Program. The bill, H.R. 7693, has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.

Ask your landlord or co-op/condo board what they are doing to improve their building’s energy efficiency. Are they making the most of their rooftop’s potential?  Do they know that  20+ states (including NY) offer 100% financing for building energy efficiency upgrades with no money down?

Resources
Dickson Despommier, The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century.

Paul Hawken (editor), Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

Vicki Sando, What Is a Green Roof? (children’s book)

Living Architecture Monitor, COVID 19 and the Rise of Green Roof Top Classrooms?

Terrapin Bright Green, The Economics of Biophilia: Why Designing with Nature in Mind Makes Financial Sense

Built for Health: Biophilia (podcast)

Seeds and the City (podcast, episode on green roofs)

The Urbanstrong Blog

Clean, protected coastlines

We need to ban offshore drilling, reduce single-use plastic, stop new offshore fossil fuel infrastructure, and invest in nature-based coastal infrastructure
350Brooklyn, NYC Chapter-Surfrider Foundation, and their allies led the successful campaign to stop the $1 billion Williams pipeline that would have carried fracked gas under the waters off Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. But much more is needed to clean our waterways and protect our coastlines. “Eight years after Superstorm Sandy, New Yorkers are still waiting for needed investments in coastal protection and shoreline resiliency construction,” reports NYC-EJA in its 2020 Climate Justice Agenda.

Take Action

Urge the federal government to  pass the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, which would have a huge impact in NYC and beyond.

Tell Congress to protect our coastlines from new offshore drilling.

Support NYC Chapter-Surfrider Foundation’s Respect Rockaway and Respect Jamaica Bay campaign through the Solo Beach Cleanup Initiative.

Resources
HuffPost, This Fisherman Wants Us to Use the Oceans to Fight Climate Change

Pages 50-51 of 2020 NYC-EJA Climate Justice Agenda

Surfrider Foundation’s 2019 Clean Water Report

Press release from 350.org, New York State Denies Williams Fracked Gas Pipeline: A People Powered Victory

More resources

On nature and climate

On the bigger climate picture

  • Benton, M. J. (2008). The History of Life A Very Short Introduction.
  • Brannen, P. (2018). The ends of the world: volcanic apocalypses, lethal oceans and our quest to understand Earths past mass extinctions.
  • Goodell, J. (2017). The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World.
  • Klein, N. (2015). This Changes Everything: capitalism vs. the Climate.
  • Kimmerer, R. W. (2014). Braiding Sweetgrass. Milkweed.
  • Kolbert, E. (2014). The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.
  • Purdy, J. (2015). After nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene.
  • Schlottmann, C and J. Sebo (2019): Food, Animals and the Environment.
  • Stine, J. K. & Kress, W. J. (2017). Living in the Anthropocene: Earth in the Age of Humans.
  • Taylor, D. Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility.
  • Taylor, D. (2016). Rise of the American Conservation Movement.
  • West, P. (2016). Dispossession and the environment Rhetoric and Inequality in Papua New Guinea.
  • Volk, T. (2008). CO rising: The world’s greatest environmental challenge.