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Could New York City Cut Emissions 90% By 2050? 215

Posted by samzenpus
from the not-likely dept.
First time accepted submitter jscheib writes "According to Will Oremus in Slate, a report released today finds that 'New York City could slash its emissions by a whopping 90 percent by 2050 without any radical new technologies, without cutting back on creature comforts, and maybe even without breaking its budget.' The key elements are insulating buildings to cut energy needs, converting to (mostly) electric equipment, and then using carbon-free electricity to supply the small amount of energy still needed. Oremus notes that including energy savings would reduce the net price tag to something more like $20 billion."
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Could New York City Cut Emissions 90% By 2050?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:37AM (#42906639)

    In Detroit. The population's gone from 1M to 800k in twenty years, and energy consumption has plummeted. New York can emulate this success just by continuing it's current direction.

    • by jklovanc (1603149) on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:08AM (#42906867)

      According to this article [dteenergy.com] Detroit power consumption has dropped by 10% in eleven years. I would not call that plummeting..

      • by mug funky (910186)

        seems to match population decline pretty closely then.

      • I would. Dropping 10% of the entire US consumption would have a significant world impact on Pollution. Unfortunately it would also drive the price of oil down which would increase consumption in the 3rd world.

    • Considering that New York's "current direction" of population growth is +0.85% a year [wikipedia.org], probably not.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by BlueStrat (756137)

      In Detroit. The population's gone from 1M to 800k in twenty years, and energy consumption has plummeted. New York can emulate this success just by continuing it's current direction.

      Yup. I live a little over an hour away from Detroit (thank goodness!).

      Want to see what over 40 years of total Liberal/Progressive Democrat and labor union control (Detroit was actually the centerpiece of the Democrat Progressive "Model Cities" program...Google it) looks like?

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hhJ_49leBw [youtube.com]

      That was a couple years ago. It's worse now, and no indications anything will change for the better. It's also the place to go to kill someone, as around 60%-70% of homicides in Detroit go unsol

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Z00L00K (682162)

      There are many steps that can be taken to improve energy efficiency.

      New York is located close to the Atlantic ocean and that's one decent heatsink, so by pumping out excess heat in the summer into the ocean would be more efficient in two steps - less heat put out in the city, and the temperature difference when doing heat pumping will be lower which can result in lower costs. The disadvantage here is that a lot of pipes needs to be laid down for central cooling in addition to central heating.

      Buildings thems

      • by azalin (67640)

        Another energy saver is bicycle lanes. But that may be tougher to introduce in a city like New York.

        In New York it's more like a designated suicide zone.

      • by kenh (9056) on Friday February 15, 2013 @09:01AM (#42908917) Homepage Journal

        New York is located close to the Atlantic ocean and that's one decent heatsink, so by pumping out excess heat in the summer into the ocean would be more efficient in two steps - less heat put out in the city, and the temperature difference when doing heat pumping will be lower which can result in lower costs. The disadvantage here is that a lot of pipes needs to be laid down for central cooling in addition to central heating.

        Of course, pumping all that heat into the Atlantic ocean won't have any climatic or ecological implications, right?

        • by cornjones (33009)

          That was my first thought as well but, on second thought, you are dumping this heat into the environment anyway. is there a important difference between polluting the air vs the sea?

      • by Type44Q (1233630)

        New York is located close to the Atlantic ocean and that's one decent heatsink...

        Ha! By 2050, New York will be under the Atlantic Ocean and the only emissions will be from methane gas bubbles burping to the surface from the remains of landfills beneath the seabed...! :p

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Of course new technologies will make it possible to reduce emissions, possibly even by 100%, but anyone claiming to plan these things 37 years into the future is full of it. Read some Ray Kurzweil [wikipedia.org] books to get some perspective - maybe he's too optimistic, and then again maybe he isn't. By that time we could definitely have StarTrams [wikipedia.org], asteroid mining, SBSP [wikipedia.org], space nuclear, space antimatter, who knows...

    Central planners have a long history of screwing things up...

    --libman

    • by Namarrgon (105036)

      What new technologies are needed? Thermal insulation has proved highly effective, and many people report up to 90% reductions in energy use & emissions.

    • by Sockatume (732728) on Friday February 15, 2013 @04:52AM (#42907675)

      Someone's going to have to help me out here:

      "anyone claiming to plan these things 37 years into the future is full of it", "Read some Ray Kurzweil books to get some perspective"

      Ray Kurzweil, the futurist who predicts a technological singularity in 2045? But I'm not supposed to trust people who claim to be able to predict outcomes decades in the future?

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:47AM (#42906717) Journal
    Cutting CO2 mainly depends on technology (or cutting the standard of living, which most people don't want to do), aimed at two areas:

    1) Non-emitting cars. Electric cars look more viable every day; it's not inconceivable that most people could be driving them by by 2050.
    2) Power generation. Whether it comes from coal sequestration or my preferred solution, nuclear [slashdot.org] fusion [imgur.com], cutting CO2 relies on improvements in power generation technology.
    • by balsy2001 (941953)
      1) In large metropolitan areas going all electric cars is very realistic in a few decades. The average trip is likely very very short and therefore very amenable to all electric cars. In rural areas it will take probably take longer and be more difficult because the average trip length is much longer (and the farm equipment may never convert, but if that is the only thing burning fossil fuel it probably wouldn't matter). I wouldn't be surprised if there is an order of magnitude difference or more in the
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "Large" metropolitan areas...

        I live in Melbourne, Australia and commute an hour to and from work. This is normal. This is a city of only 3. something million. A city 5 times ours I'm sure has longer commute times.

        Where do you pull this idea that trips are short?

        • by GumphMaster (772693) on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:36AM (#42907039)

          By "large" balsy2001 seems to mean "large, densely packed population". NY City is very densely packed and that is definitely an aid to trip distance and time reduction. Unfortunately for both the US and Australia large is almost always synonymous with sprawling when it comes to cities. Coupled with "transport infrastructure" being a euphemism for "bare minimum road network for private vehicles" there's little hope that mass public transport can come to the rescue.

        • How much of that time is idling in traffic? Electric cars should have a very low draw when idle. It's not so much the duration of your trip that matters but the distance. If you're driving an hour to and from work at the speed limit, then you're not within Melbourne's city limits, you're coming in from the suburbs.

          • How much of that time is idling in traffic? Electric cars should have a very low draw when idle. It's not so much the duration of your trip that matters but the distance. If you're driving an hour to and from work at the speed limit, then you're not within Melbourne's city limits, you're coming in from the suburbs.

            Stop and go eats batteries, having to constantly accelerate to get back up to speed is much more draining than crusing. Crowded cities devour batteries. Distance matters but traffic matters more, an hour in stop and go traffic will wipe your charge and refilling a battery is still not as simple as filling a tank.

            • by balsy2001 (941953)
              It depends on the situation but I don't I don't think an hour in stop and go traffic will deplete the batteries of even current generation electric cars (see http://auto.howstuffworks.com/can-electric-cars-survive-major-traffic-jams.htm [howstuffworks.com]). The Nissan leaf normally has a 100 mile radius, under ideal conditions that wouldn't have covered the round trip commute for my last job, 56 miles (I lived out west in the mountains and there was no traffic). The link states that stop and go traffic on a cold day reduced
        • by c0lo (1497653)

          "Large" metropolitan areas...

          I live in Melbourne, Australia and commute an hour to and from work. This is normal. This is a city of only 3. something million. A city 5 times ours I'm sure has longer commute times.

          Where do you pull this idea that trips are short?

          3 millions if you think of "The Greater Melbourne" (that is including the suburbs) - which means a "city" radius of about 50 km.
          However, if you refer to "the City of Melbourne" (aka CBD; let's take the inner suburbs as well = max 10 km radius), I fail to see how commuting to/from work takes an hour each way.

          • Current figures (greater melbourne, wikipedia) have more than 4miliion.

            Your definition of the city of Melbourne extending only to 10 km is moot as a fair number of people commute each day along suburban train lines, a number of which in the E/SE extend beyond 35km from the CBD. And not just workers heading into the city - Try studying at La Trobe or Monash unis by a combination of bus, tram or train and see how long one's cross-town journey takes...

            By car, there are peak hour traffic jams - despite succesiv

        • by thegarbz (1787294)

          Hard to compare. Melbourne has what I consider a somewhat average public transport system, a 10km trip could be an hour long commute by either public transport or peak hour traffic. Melbourne while it's a big city is not very dense at all. A large portion of the population lives in suburban houses typical of most Australian cities. Apartment living isn't quite as widespread in Australian living.

          To put some numbers to this claim:
          Melbourne population density: ~4000 people/sq mi
          New York City population density

        • Melbourne population density 4,058.5/sq mi

          NYC population density 27,532 sq/mi

    • by azalin (67640)
      you seem to have forgotten:
      3) Conserving energy. By insulating houses and replacing ineffective systems it is relatively easy to save a lot of energy (and thereby CO2) without a negative impact on the standard of living. Actually good insulation improves living standards more often than not.
      The problem here is that stuff like this needs investments (which pay off after a few years though). Rental houses will need some encouragement to do this, because the owner (the one paying for insulation) does not (d
    • by dywolf (2673597)

      for a large city like new york another possible energy source is its own waste. and i dont just mean the barges of garbage. I mean the sewage from the largely ancient system under their streets, many parts of which is are no longer mapped or maintained (lost records), that dump into the river/bay. i know its not practical at this point to compeltely update/upgrade underground public works in an old old city like New York. but if they could trap as much sewage as possible, and turn and use it in a biofuel po

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      Actually there are massive savings to be made by making buildings more efficient. The Empire State Building massively cut its energy usage as part of a renovation that paid for itself in under five years.

      There was a Japanese office building on the TV that had smart blinds which adjusted the angle of the slats during the day to reflect as much light as possible into the rooms. It also had LED lights that adjusted themselves automatically do that light levels throughout remained constant, supplemented by sunl

  • As a lifelong rural inhabitant, I've always been amazed, whenever I've visited NYC, at just how energy-inefficient many of the buildings are. Single-pane windows, little insulation, baseboard heaters, drafty weatherstripping, the works. I've been there when it's been blazingly hot, and again when it's been bitterly cold, and in both cases the standard solution seems to be to just crank the environmental controls to max. When you split wood in the summer for heat in the winter you quickly develop a respect f

    • by balsy2001 (941953)
      It may have to do with the age of the buildings. For example, energy efficient windows are not a large incremental cost for new construction, but is a fairly decent expenditure on older construction. The cost payback for windows is typically very long in single family homes (I don't know about condos etc.). I know insulation in a single family home is very easy to install and has a good pay back rate (again I don't know about doing it for condos etc.). Weather stripping and sealing are cheap and easy to
    • When you split wood in the summer for heat in the winter you quickly develop a respect for how quickly those little inefficiencies add up, and you do something about them.

      And believe me, that respect increases when you find out that you did not split enough wood in summer and have to grab your axe and do some chopping in the freezing cold, as I found out last week. Ok, I wouldn't have had to, since I got oil heating to, but given the relative cost of oil and wood, I very much prefer to run the oil burner at a minimum. Also, a huge-ass tiled stove in the living room simply rocks.

  • 38% energy savings (Score:5, Informative)

    by Namarrgon (105036) on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:38AM (#42907047) Homepage

    That's what they achieved when they retrofitted [rmi.org] the Empire State Building. Paid for itself in only 3 years, and now delivers $4.4M savings annually.

    Insulation, smart energy controls etc do cost money, but the energy savings can more than pay [rmi.org] for it over the life of the building. Better designs can save up to 69% of energy costs. And there's a lot of ripple-effect savings too, by reducing emissions and freeing up capital.

    Of course, getting completely off coal, oil & gas will eventually cut emissions to zero, but there's a more immediate & guaranteed payoff simply by improving efficiencies.

    • by balsy2001 (941953)
      Another advantage of becoming more efficient is you need fewer new generating facilities to break the cycle and get to ~0 emissions.
    • by jklovanc (1603149)

      38% is the low hanging fruit. To take an existing building to higher inefficiencies gets exponentially harder and there may be a point that it is impossible to improve upon and still have the building functional. Sure new buildings can have very high inefficiencies but it will take a very long time to rebuild NY City.

    • Sealing a building's envelope might pay for itself if you look only at energy cost, but it's NOT necessarily consequence-free. Just ask anybody who owns a home built before 1970, superinsulated sometime later, and would now end up classified as an EPA biohazard zone due to mold if someone were ever to do an official test with legal consequences inside. Or anybody who owns a house built in the 1980s or 1990s that gets its roof or exterior damaged by a hurricane or tornado, ends up with water infiltration, an

  • Nuclear has a very low carbon footprint.

    One of the things they mention in there is insulation. It's a bit hard to insulate big glass windows, which new york has a lot of. Yes you can double pane them and even (very expensively) vacuum the middle but they still transfer heat pretty well.

    Unless of course you got rid of those windows, but they said without removing any creature comforts. I don't know about anybody else, but sunlight fits into my definition of a creature comfort.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      There's assorted plastic films which can be applied to the glass which will save more energy than double-paning. It's not worth it to build evacuated windows, though some are filled with Nitrogen.

      • Nitrogen. That is just air really. Strangely, Nitrogen is cheaper than dried air. Got to be dry else you get condensation on the inside of the glass.
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Nitrogen. That is just air really. Strangely, Nitrogen is cheaper than dried air. Got to be dry else you get condensation on the inside of the glass.

          Amusingly, it is also significantly more insulative than air, even though so much of air is nitrogen.

    • The can be converted to capturing heat with passive or photo voltaic solar. The thin film technology is on the way.

      And for less than the price of the next wall street driven financial crash.

  • Replace the windows! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by water-vole (1183257) on Friday February 15, 2013 @04:07AM (#42907493)

    I stayed at a really fancy hotel in NYC, where enormous amounts of money had been spent on interior decoration. But the windows were single glass windows which let through a lot of cold and noise. You cannot buy such bad windows in many European countries. Why do they not install proper triple-glass windows? I have not seen any building in NY with proper windows. Do they not sell them in the US?

    • by Simulant (528590) on Friday February 15, 2013 @08:22AM (#42908669) Journal
      My house is full of single pane, leaky windows. I'd love to replace the windows but a) the mortgage is still underwater b) I could only afford to replace 1 or 2 per year, and c) my neighborhood association would complain that I'm lowering the value of their property in our "Historical Neighborhood". (yes, seriously)

      I'd love some of those German multipane windows that open two ways....they are awesome, but I'd have to import them and my neighbors would throw a fit.

      Yes, I was a naive first time home buyer.... Never again.
      • by cute-boy (62961) on Friday February 15, 2013 @08:34AM (#42908733) Journal

        With double or triple glazing you wouldn't hear your neighbours whining so much?

      • by gsnedders (928327)

        Can you not get windows that look identical to your current ones, but are triple-gazed? In the UK you're allowed to do that, even with listed properties.

      • by dywolf (2673597)

        Screw the HOA. IANAL, and we just bought our first house (like you said, naive first time, learned a lot...never again shall i be fooled).
        But seriously, scrwe the HOA. IMO they dont get to dictate that my house should suck and waste money just because they are worried about thier values. father had trouble with HOA's growing up too. Similar thing, we had a bigger lot on the circle than most, due the shape of the surrounding lots, etc etc. Fther decided to put up a shed. Not just a prefab home depot thing, n

      • This is why some rather simple fixes to the mortgage system, which could have been done as part of fixing the financial crisis, would allow people to borrow money for reducing energy retrofit. Instead Obama was busy being a Republicans and the Republicans were busy being crazy. Then we get to the libertarians, who were, and statistically speaking are, still in denial about climate change. It isn't that price signals could not be used to fix the problem, it is that the people who were, and are, profiting fro
      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        In the UK we have a scheme where you can borrow the money to make improvements like installing triple glazing and pay it back over a very long time (say 20 years) through your energy bills. Since the improvements save more money than the monthly cost of the subsidized loan your bill actually goes down, and your home gets more pleasant to live in.

        A green policy that improves quality of life. The only problem is that it is too socialist for some countries.

    • by kenh (9056)

      It obviously wasn't cost-effective to do the replacement. You can buy anything in NYC, but remember, much of NYC is heated by steam thrown off as a by-product of other industries. Did your "really fancy" hotel have steam heat?

      There are massive steam pipes that warm much of Manhattan [coned.com].

    • by jbeaupre (752124)

      Every kind of window imaginable is available. But the rule of thumb to use when it comes to understanding energy efficiency building codes in the US is the owner usually gets to decided the cost/benefit ratio and buy accordingly.

      Codes are set at a state and local level, so some are better than others. Which makes sense. Heating and cooling requirements in Hawaii are negligible compared to Minnesota or Arizona. Climates and microclimates mean that even two towns next to each other may have radically diff

  • Investments (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Neil Boekend (1854906) on Friday February 15, 2013 @04:19AM (#42907541)
    Everybody sensible already knows you can, but people are afraid of investments. Of course insulation pays back quite soon but people are afraid of investments.
    The only ones who can really help are banks. They could lower mortgages on well insulated houses. 1% is a big incentive.
    • by kenh (9056)

      Why would banks slash their profits on mortgages to facilitate your vision of better insulation for buildings?

      Why aren't lowered operating costs motivation enough?

      • Because the people who are paying the operating costs aren't the ones building the buildings. Banks wouldn't have to slash their mortgage profits, instead interest rates for non-green buildings would be higher, thus shifting the burden back on to the people who made. This is Pigou "taxing bads."
        • by swillden (191260)

          Banks wouldn't have to slash their mortgage profits, instead interest rates for non-green buildings would be higher

          Unless the higher rates were forced by regulations, this would never happen. The banks charging higher rates for mortgages on less-efficient buildings would be immediately undercut by other banks, and buyers would go where the rates are lowest. Mortgage lending is an extremely competitive industry.

          For that matter, even if higher rates were forced by regulations, the system would have to be watched very closely because banks would benefit from selling the higher-rate mortgages, so competition would push th

        • by swillden (191260)

          Oops, forgot something in my response.

          Because the people who are paying the operating costs aren't the ones building the buildings.

          Like hell they aren't. The people who pay the operating costs are the ones who buy the buildings, and if you think operating costs aren't a factor when people evaluate a property purchase, especially a commercial property purchase, you have no idea what you're talking about.

    • by swillden (191260)

      Everybody sensible already knows you can, but people are afraid of investments. Of course insulation pays back quite soon but people are afraid of investments.

      Nonsense.

      People aren't afraid of investments. Business, to a first approximation, is nothing but investment: "How should I employ my available resources to generate the best return?".

      If the expected rate of return on an investment in insulation is better than the return obtainable by putting the same money elsewhere, then businesses will install insulation. If they don't, it's usually because it's not the best return they can get.

      The example of the Empire State building isn't a good one, because the i

  • What, exactly, is the zero carbon source of electricity that could power NYC?

    As I read the criteria "creature comforts" I take that to mean there would still be buses and taxis, presumably running on electricity (ignoring for the moment that cabs run 24x7 and have no real window for battery charging), heating and air conditioning would keep everyone warm or cool, and that Times Square would not go dark, the stock market will still be run out of NYC, etc.

  • Only 10% of the city will be above sea-level by then.

  • by Guspaz (556486)

    If a headline asks a question, the answer is no.

  • ...the answer is no. Not that it isn't technically possible. It almost certainly is, but the collective will required for such a change, and to no small degree the collective will of those that oppose such a change, makes it virtually impossible.
  • Anyone going into NYC for a day is impressed with their subway system. It is affordable and there is a stop on almost every corner.

    If "they" could find a way to reduce the remaining need for automobiles and trucks their pollution levels would drop like a rock.

  • Much less and more efficient transportation.
    More efficient living situation.

    Steward Brand, one of the early environmentalists and Silicon Valley technologists, wrote an interesting book [amazon.com] on this.

    One can still make more improvements.
  • I founded an award-winning startup a couple years ago whose software tells you what your potential energy savings are, using only your street address and zipcode as inputs, so I've been tracking developments like this closely. What the experts call "sealing the envelope of the building," or thoroughly insulating the structure, does give you the biggest bang for the buck (although the ROI for triple-paned windows, as the article suggests, just isn't there). But that's not terribly sexy because once the ins

  • The key, says the Urban Green Councilâ€(TM)s executive director, Russell Unger, is that the city must begin to view buildings as infrastructure, like roads and sewers, rather than simply as private property.

    I tend to see them as private property-- because they are. As much as I support green energy, I oppose increasing government power. I find the use of government to impose regulation on the people when not in the interest of defending the rights and safety of others to be immoral.

"Irrationality is the square root of all evil" -- Douglas Hofstadter

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