New York State's Climate Plan Contrasts with California's

Six years ago the New Yorker magazine caused rather a stir with an article in which writer David Owen described how he and his wife had moved to a utopian green community where they got by living in just 700 square feet, with no dishwasher , garbage disposal or car, and a monthly electric bill that came to about one dollar. That utopian community was Manhattan.

Yesterday New York State issued an interim greenhouse gas reduction plan, its (outgoing) governor David Paterson having pledged last year to put the state on a path such that its emissions would be 80 percent lower in 2050 than in 1990. That's a weaker goal than California's, which targets 2020, a timeframe in which leaders can be held accountable for their results. The philosophy and approach behind New York's plan also is strikingly different from California's. Yet the two states also have two big things in common: Relatively low per capita energy consumption and emissions, because of their highly urbanized "green" lifestyles, and populaces and political leaderships that are firmly dedicated to combating global warming.

At some risk of oversimplification, it can be said that California's commitment is tightly bound up with its self-perception as a high-tech state that stands to benefit in the long run from driving development of energy-saving, carbon-reducing technologies, while New York is more focused on helping avoid the local ill effects to be expected from climate change.

Those effects, as spelled out in a fact sheet that accompanied release of the interim report, could include a temperature rise by 2080 of 5 to 7.5 degrees Fahrenheit, heavier rainfall and flooding, more frequent and severe heat waves, and a rise in the level of coastal waters and the Hudson River estuary of 12-55 inches.

The report puts the emphasis squarely on improving the efficiency of buildings, which account for about 40 percent of the state's emissions, and transportation, where New York has been a pioneer in electrifying public transport, notably buses. It also calls for adopting a more aggressive renewable portfolio standard, to encourage lower-carbon generation, and for "expansion" of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which envisions a regions carbon trading system. It characterizes its proposals for buildings and transport as "no regrets" options--that is, policies that would make good sense even in the absence of climate change.

The problem with the plans being made by New York, obviously, is that the state can't do it alone. Avoiding the ill effects of climate change depends on everybody all over the world doing their part. So, while California and New York, Britain, Germany and Denmark all make good-faith efforts to reduce their emissions, all will be naught unless they somehow persuade the other big emitters to make equivalent efforts.

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