In this week's newsletter: The biggest environmental stories of the past 10 years, art and activism with Solar One and SVA, why it's so hard for NYC to recycle and much more!
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The Biggest Environmental Stories of the Past Ten Years

Since 2010, a lot has changed in the environmental movement. Some of that change has been fueled by positive developments like technological improvements and policy updates, while some has been fueled by negative effects of the changing climate, like storms and accidents. Here's a roundup of the biggest environmental stories of the past ten years, as compiled by Inhabitat.com.

To start off, climate change went mainstream, and young people got involved in a big way. While a few climate deniers still fill high-ranking political posts, climate change is much more widely accepted as fact — rather than something to “believe in” — than it was in 2010. According to the TED blog, only four TED Talks specifically on climate change were posted in 2010 and 2011, although speakers mentioned the phenomenon. By 2015, TED said, people had shifted to seeing climate change as happening now, rather than in the far-off future, thanks to debates about whether or not places like the island nation of Kiribati were already sinking.

Meanwhile, youth got a lot more organized. Worldwide movements like Extinction Rebellion use massive, nonviolent protests to urge politicians to slow the warming. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg rose to international prominence, taking politicians to task about ignoring climate change and even being named Time Magazine’s person of the year in 2019.

The decade also saw the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, bigger, and more destructive and more frequent storms in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Animals are disappearing faster than ever, and species loss currently stands at between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate, which is the rate Earth would lose species if humans didn’t exist. 

Deforestation reached an all-time high, as fires raged across the Amazon rain forest, with more than 70,000 fires burning in Brazil and Bolivia during the August 2019 peak. Ocean plastic levels increased, but so did plastic pollution awareness: One of the trendiest accessories for teenage girls this year was a reusable water bottle.

Finally, the change in Chinese policy regarding buying foreign plastics is wreaking havoc with our national recycling efforts, including here in NYC. Read more about that in the story below.

Art & Activism: Storytelling for the Climate Crisis

The Division of Continuing Education at School of Visual Arts is partnering with environmental non-profit Solar One to implement a college-level course for NYC public high school students. Students will learn about the science behind climate change and explore storytelling, voice-over and animation. Working with SVA faculty, students will team up to produce animated videos that will be presented at the SVA Theatre on Monday, September 21, 2020 to kick off climate week.

NYC Public High School Students 14-18 years of age are invited to apply. Accepted students will receive a $200 stipend, lunch and a MetroCard for travel expenses. Additionally, students will earn three college credits and a letter grade for the successful completion of this program.

Apply today! Application deadline is February 29.
Apply at sva.edu/climate or call (877) 242-7200 or email ce@sva.edu.

Why Is It So Hard for NYC to Recycle?

New York is in the midst of a campaign to rebrand itself as a sustainable city, and in some ways, we've made incredible strides, lowering building emissions, relying on public transportation more than ever and beginning the retooling of our energy infrastructure to accommodate ever-increasing capacity for solar and wind power, in particular. We've phased out the dirtiest heating oil and are preparing to phase in congestion pricing in the busiest parts of Manhattan. By most measures, we're making a lot of progress.

But not when it comes to recycling.

Despite our good intentions, NYC recycles only 18% of residential trash and 25% of commercial trash. With better sorting and recovering methods, we could get those numbers up to 68% at home and 75% at work. So what's the problem? This story from the NY Times website elucidates seven reasons why we don't recycle as well as we should:

1. The new curbside composting plan is behind schedule. Funding issues have slowed the rollout of the program throughout the city. Part of the problem is that, unlike glass, aluminum and paper, compost, while incredibly useful, costs more to collect and process that it can be sold for.

2. Public housing complexes lack recycling centers. Separating garbage became required for residents in 1989. But by 2015, just 15 percent of New York City Housing Authority complexes had recycling bins, according to Politico.

Public housing residents in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn threatened a lawsuit against the city that year for failing to provide recycling bins, and the city promised to put some outside all complexes within a year. But many apartments are a long walk from those bins — which in privately-owned buildings are usually located on each floor — and New York’s nearly 400,000 public housing residents recycle less than 2 percent of their household waste.

3. Politically, we're leery of enforcing mandates. Cities with better recycling rates tend to have tougher mandates and enforcement than in New York. In some European cities, for instance, residents must pay for every bag of trash and recyclables collected, providing incentives not just to sort garbage, but to buy less and reuse more.

4. Businesses sort recycling, but garbage crews mix it back in. On a recent ride with a garbage workers’ union official, who tailed the privately owned trucks that pick up trash from businesses, a NY Times reporter saw several crews take sorted garbage from outside businesses — tied stacks of cardboard, bags of cans and bottles — and dump it into the maws of their trucks with regular garbage.

5. Markets are bullish on recycled materials. The smaller the resale value of recycled materials, the fewer materials stay out of the landfill. China stopped buying American recyclables a few years ago, but since NYC processes a lot of its paper recycling locally, the impact of that policy change has been a bit lighter on us than on other cities that lack local recycling facilities.

6. Construction material recycling is not required by law. Only about half of all construction materials get saved from the landfill. Working on a project with leftover materials? Donate them to BIGReuse or Materials for the Arts!

7. New Yorkers are the original lovers of consumerism and convenience. Having everything at your doorstep, waiting to be delivered in a bag, box or envelope at any hour of the day or night, is one of the things that makes living in NYC unique. But it also makes it very easy to use way more packaging than necessary! Mindful consumption helps reduce our garbage footprint, so please think before you buy!
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Solar One Events

We currently have no upcoming events scheduled. See you in the Spring!

Upcoming Events

2/5
Ecological City: Art & Climate Solutions—Panel & Planning Meeting
Loisaida Inc, 710 East Ninth Street bet Aves C & D, Manhattan, 6:30-8pm, free

2/6
BQX Workshop: Downtown Brooklyn
Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon Street bet Court St & Boerum Pl, Brooklyn, 6:30-8:30pm, free
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