We’ve been here less than a week, seen the sights, witnessed the attractions and partaken in adventures. New York is a city of… something. Something tangible, but inexplicable. When we first arrived we were amazed at the lack of sound, but on Tuesday morning we were hit by a wall of it. Areas are full to the brink with tourists, others are local hangouts, and some are just abandoned. A walk just down one street can take you from tourist central, past the centre of capitalism, through the historic neighbourhoods of minorities, down the road from the epitome of consumerism, via a mid-city haven to a direct comparison of the beginning, suburbs of repression and indigence. This city is a semi-coordinated mess, a place that seems like it could only survive in theory, in movies, and in ideology, yet somehow it works. It has carved out a niche of its own and flourished in its capabilities.
As we’ve traversed the city, we’ve noticed a couple of things about its environmental impact.
The city is green, greener than Auckland, and greener than the centre of Wellington. It is likely the fact that the city understands that it is not in an area of vibrant rural life and “100% purity”, which causes it to chase every little option in greenery. Avenues, parks, rooftop gardens… the city has embraced a pure green that fits in perfectly with the amalgamation of architecture and contradicts the sombreness of the population.
But for all the work the city has done on the trees, the rivers have lost their glow. The turbid brown masses of the waterways are an embarrassment, one that is said to hold no good fishing stocks, and many dare not for the ones that are there as the pollution has caused great visible and unseen changes.
The blocks are a mess, the days we walk past neighbourhoods on rubbish days is terrifying for the future. Not only are there piles of bags a metre and a half high, but there are couches, tables, chairs, all capable of reuse, thrown to the street for disposal.
But we can almost see why there is so much trash. Whenever, wherever we shop, we are given plastic bags without thought. When we ask for none, the looks we are given highlight a disparity of thought. Everything is packaged, sold in their cute, clean pieces of future trash. The deaths of too many seabirds and turtles blow around the streets in the breeze and are pushed into the gutters by street cleaners.
In New York, 70% of the carbon emissions come from buildings and air-con. This is in vast difference to most cities where the highest out-putters are the traffic and transportation. But this massive carbon usage is in detriment to everywhere, and few groups are focusing on the transition to more efficient or environmentally friendly systems.
An ocean, historically free of plastic, is now riddled with the waste, visible in bottles and bags that floated by on our whale-watching tour. A tour in which we did not see whales, even though their migration patterns had moved closer to shore due to the oceanic effects of climate changes on currents and food sources.
The city is a vibrant look into the future of the planet. A future filled with people packed like sardines in a subway carriage. A future where people focus on the visible beauty of nature but not the hidden effects. A future that merges languages and cultures yet misses the casual human connections in eye contact and communication.
How far do we push climate action, just so that people can tick off that they saved the world, that they stopped the world from getting worse. When will we realise that we have forgotten what the world has been like, when the land was untouched and untainted, when the label of “100% Pure” was actually true. We have slowly adjusted our perceptions over time, and in a few generations, they will look back on our time now in the wonder and amazement as we look back at the 19th century and the serenity and beauty of then. We have lowered the bar in the public perception, so when must the world stop and listen to the truth in the land, not the mumblings of society, then truly take a stand in their horror of the change that has occurred.
This is just a section of my thoughts over the last while, other topics being Trump, the Paris Agreement & the future of climate action; the interactions between countries, cities, companies and organisations; MPAs and whether the way they hold global interest is taking away from more important stuff; Antonio Guterrez's speech on UN and global climate action; and a couple of other things that I'm sure I'm pushing out of my mind right now :)
All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not reflect those of the Institute.