Thursday, June 5, 2008
Catherine Wilson, Bureau Chief
What Sacrifices Are Our Leaders Making
To Alleviate the Crises In Our Midst?
Part 1 of a Series
Tip O’Neill, the Speaker of the House in Congress from 1977 to 1987, famously said “All politics is local”. O’Neill was wrong. The issues
of our local communities these days are global issues – the environment, the energy crisis, food shortages, and economic declines. We now realize that the actions of one individual or community affect other individuals and communities.
Our problems are also often interrelated: oil shortages led to the use of corn for ethanol which led to global food shortages. Wasteful economic acts, such as the misuse of energy, have contributed to our environmental crisis. The crises we face, from dangerous weather patterns, to economic struggles, are shared, and caused by people throughout the world. Environmental scientists have devised programs to calculate the impact of our daily activities upon our planet – this impact is referred to as our “carbon footprint”. Every time we drive, turn on a light, wash clothes, or cook food, we leave an energy/environmental footprint.
But depending on the car we drive and the distance, the amount and type of lights we use, the volume of clothes to be washed, and the
method of cooking our meals, the footprint we leave on our planet can vary widely. Therefore, is it reasonable to ask that those who have left the greatest carbon footprints all along now be those who make the greatest sacrifices?
A major source of the causes of our environmental, energy, economic, and even food crises can be found locally – in the actions of our
corporations and leaders. The behavior of our business and government leaders has contributed more to global warming and economic
disparities than the daily activities of average local citizens.
The “Climate Crisis” website (http://www.climatecrisis.org/), Vice-President Al Gore’s site, has a calculator for individuals to determine their
annual energy/environmental impact. According to their scientists, the average individual’s use of energy impacting our environment
is 7.5 tons per year. e following activities/household would produce the same average energy impact:
• Four individuals per household
• 12,000 miles driven per year, minivan ownership
• $300 – 400 per month electricity/ heat
• No plane Flights taken
The above activities represent those of many Westchester middle class families. The good news is that their activities are not causing greater harm on our planet than those of their average middle-class neighbors.
Many local residents impact our energy and our environment even far less – for those who drive compact cars, rather than minivans, their energy use falls below average to 6 tons per year. Those who drive small, manual transmission vehicles have even a smaller impact on our
environment – less than 5 tons of energy use per year. But compare that to those local residents who are essentially “environmental terrorists”, cruising around town in a be-hemoth Cadillac Escalade or Land Rover: their energy use is in excess of 10 tons per year, or twice the annual consumption of their environmentally-conscious neighbors.
Therefore, the conservation efforts by local responsible citizens are essentially erased by their Hummer/McMansion neighbors. The same environmental calculations can be applied to the impact of plane travel on our energy resources. Most local Westchester residents cannot afford to travel by plane on a regular basis so their environmental impact from this type of travel is minimal.
But what of corporate executives, local entertainment individuals, and government leaders who fly regularly? Environmental scientists have determined that one of the greatest negative impacts on our climate is the use of airplanes for “short hauls” – i.e. trips of 500 miles or less.
These short flights require the same energy for take-offs and landings as long-haul flights. Plus many shorthaul flights utilize smaller aircraft,
thereby carrying fewer passengers causing a greater per capita energy impact.
Despite this negative environmental impact, area executives regularly take short haul flights, instead of the train, to Washington D.C. and Boston. Worse, many corporate executives and entertainment personnel eschew commercial flights altogether in favor of private jets creating an even greater negative per capita impact on our environment. Westchester County Airport owes its existence to short-haul and medium-length commercial and corporate flights. Executive Flightways operates out of the Westchester County airport. It advertises a variety of corporate jets in its fleet, from a King Air B200 that can carry only 6 to 7 passengers, to a Gulfstream IV that can carry 14 passengers.
Compare that to a commercial long-haul flight on an AirBus 350 aircraft that can carry 350 passengers. Gulfstream would need 25 of their jets to fly the same amount of executives. Executives who also arrive at the airport via limousines, often traveling solo, in stark contrast to the carpool/public transportation methods employed by local residents who fly coach.
So, given our energy/environmental crises, why aren’t our local executives now flying commercial and taking the bus to the airport? It’s not just corporate executives who are guilty of such excesses. According to a May 25, 2008 entry in the “Westchester Real Estate Blog”, Beyonce Knowles and Jay-Z, two rock/rap singers, are moving to Scarsdale. The blog gushes that their house is “15,000 square feet, new construction and on about 2 acres of property”, as if this is a good thing. The average Westchester middle-class home is less than 2,000 square feet, houses approximately four people and a variety of pets, is old construction with average amenities, and sits on less than a half-acre of land. Compare that to Beyonce and Jay-Z who are buying a house that will use at least seven times more energy to run for half the amount of people. Plus, chances are this house comes with a pool, a hot tub, a Jacuzzi, a sauna, a theater room, several ovens and oversized
refrigerators and freezers, and a host of other extravagant amenities that will consume more than their fair share of our costly energy resources, their energy estimate of seven times greater than average could actually be far higher.
Given that Beyonce and Jay-Z are only two people, shouldn’t they be moving into a home that is half the size of an average family home?
Not one seven times greater? And given that they will now be consuming at least seven times the energy, if not more, to operate this extravagant home (one of probably several that they own), what sacrifices will they be making elsewhere to atone for their excessive depletion of our energy resources? Or do they expect their neighbors to conserve for them so that they may continue to live extravagantly?
The Guardian posed this question to the Pace University Law School, Environmental Department. We asked what sacrifices we should expect from our local leaders, corporations, executives, and the “rich and famous” to atone for their excessive lifestyles which have disproportionably contributed to our current crises.
Jaime Van Nostrand, the Executive Director of the Pace Energy and Climate Center, asked his students and staff to prepare a list of questions
for The Guardian to pose to our local business, community, government, and entertainment leaders on this topic. Pace recommended the following overall goals for local organizations:
1. Recognize sustainability at the highest levels of the organization, such as by appointment of an officer in charge of sustainability;incorporating sustainability as an integral part of major corporate actions and procurement policies; tracking of corporation’s CO2 emissions or carbon footprint with identified goals for CO2 reductions over time.
2. Consider feasibility of on-site generation, such as Combined Heat & Power (CHP) or cogeneration, solar, geothermal heating and cooling. Considering sustainability in all corporate buildings; obtaining energy audits of existing facilities and implementing recommended energy conservation measures; requiring LEED-certified construction for all new corporate buildings; capturing and re-using rainwater; installing “green” rooftops.
3. Adopt a corporate philosophy encouraging recycling; establishing collection points throughout corporate facilities for collecting paper, cans, bottles, plastics for recycling; avoid unnecessary waste by eliminating use of disposable cups, plates and silverware in cafeteria facilities; use of food composting practices for turning food waste into landscaping compost for use on corporate campuses.
The Pace Students and staff also developed the following specific list of questions for our local leaders regarding the energy/environmental
1. Switching fleet to hybrid cars including cars for all executives? [Implementing phase-in of lower-emission cars into fleet, including compressed natural gas (CNG)-powered vehicles and electric cars]
2. Substituting public transportation where possible – no car rentals for business trips in urban areas and mandating the use of public transportation, prohibiting limousines for airport trips, mandating carpooling for business events? Reimbursements for business travel limited to the cost of the bus/train travel?
3. Using energy efficient equipment, light bulbs? [Including use of compact fluorescent bulbs]
4. Reducing energy use – 70 degrees for air conditioners, 66 degrees for heating, reducing number of lights used? Using motion-sensitive
lighting systems that turn lights off in unused rooms and hallways; turning off computers and monitors after hours
5. Installing parking racks for bicycles and scooters? Subsidizing use of mass transit by employees to discourage use of personal cars for commuting; implementing vanpool programs for employees; facilitating voluntary use of carpooling by employees
6. Prohibiting using air travel for short hops (Boston, D.C.) and mandating using trains, buses instead?
7. Minimizing overseas conventions/business meetings and considering whether meeting objectives could be accomplished by using video-conferencing or teleconferencing? Minimize golf meetings, especially golf trips to Arizona, Bermuda, Hawaii, and other locales only reachable by plane? Focus golf outings to only courses using sustainable/pesticide-free lawn treatments. Eliminate use of golf carts that require fuel.
8. Instituting sustainable, chemical-free practices in landscaping and maintenance of all corporate property.
9. Using only chemical free cleaners in offices, restrooms?
10. Using chemical free paper products made from recycled materials – including copier/fax paper, toilet paper?
11. Using automatic shut-off valves for water in restroom sinks, toilets, etc?
12. Minimize the use of corporate jets, and use only when cost effective (considering environmental costs) or necessary due
to unavailability of commercial flights?
13. Prohibit the use of perfumed products and wearing of perfumes/colognes in offices? (to alleviate breathing difficulties of asthma victims allergic to perfumes – increase in asthma victims due to weather/environmental changes)
14. Using remanufactured products to reduce/eliminate packaging?
15. Purchasing in bulk packages, and from local producers?
16. Minimizing use of mailings, brochures, flyers if electronic distribution of information can be used; minimizing use of paper by setting printers for 2-sided copies as default?
The Pace Students and staff also developed the following specific list of questions regarding the local economy and food issues:
1. Revamp T&E policies to stimulate local economy by purchasing NYS wines/beers for events and dinners?
2. Ditto – for beef entrees? No steak/beef/hamburgers may be ordered at business meals/events; not served in cafeterias? (to reduce methane gases and in recognition of carbon footprint associated with livestock production)
3. Purchase food from NYS farmers to reduce carbon footprints?
4. Eliminate the sale of bottled water/ canned sodas in cafeterias and replace with water fountains, etc. (if accompanied with the use of non-disposable cups)?
5. Eliminated the sale of one-serve packages in cafeterias? [Oneserve packages could be eliminated during hours when cafeteria is in operation, determine feasibility to eliminate one-serving packaging in after-hours vending machines]
6. Purchase only organicallygrown produce? (to eliminate chemicals in the environment) [May be cost considerations involved, and must also consider the carbon footprint associated with transporting organic produce over long distances; should be locally grown produce]
The Guardian has already presented these questions to the Westchester County Board of Legislators as to how our local government is
leading the fight on these issues. In upcoming weeks The Guardian will be approaching local corporations (Pepsi, IBM, etc.), businesses
(stores, restaurants), developers (Trump, Cappelli, etc.), and leaders (local representatives, courts, etc.), including entertainment figures and
sports teams; with these questions and asking them what sacrifices they are making to alleviate our problems.
The Guardian is asking our readers to become involved. What steps are your businesses/communities/organizations taking? What should our neighbors do? What other questions should we pose to our leaders? What sacrifices should we expect them to make on our behalf?
Next week: the County Board of Legislator’s response
Our thanks to the following students and staff members of the Pace University Energy and Climate Center: Alison Reynolds, Christopher
Riti, Ethan Spaner, Kavitha Mukund, Nathan Markey, Jamie Van Nostrand