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  • Writer's picturepwsewell

Moving Forward with Ithaca’s Green New Deal

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

I admit that in regards to climate change, I have been a bit, say... unrealistic. One of the benefits of living in the Finger Lakes is a sense of geographic insulation from the worst of our warming world. We live far from the rising seas, have cooler overall temperatures, and an ample water supply to endure long periods of drought. While I am deeply concerned for folks living in less well-situated areas, I have always felt that our area was well-placed to face the inevitable changes. In his book “How to Prepare for Climate Change”, science writer and CBS correspondent David Pogue argued that some upstate cities constituted ‘Climate havens’ due to their northern climes and proximity to the Great lakes (no, Ithaca was not specifically mentioned). I could not agree more.

But, the realities of an interconnected ecosystem keep interfering with my fantasy that climate change won’t be that bad here. Earlier this year, FEMA declared that climate change is making more of the city more likely to flood more of the time. This is partly due to demography and development choices, but climate change is a clear driver because of the increase in frequency of short, intense rainfall. The city is working on a grant to offset the costs of adaptation, in the form of floodwalls and berms. Yet even if the grant goes through, taxpayers will still be on the hook for $1.2 million dollars.

Fires burning throughout Canada on July 3, 2023

So much for geographic isolation.

Climate change is a global problem and therefore requires a global response. But that response starts at the local level; and Ithaca has placed itself in the vanguard of that response. In 2019, Common Council adopted the Ithaca Green New Deal (IGND) resolution, setting aggressive goals for achieving carbon-neutrality by 2030. While we cannot stop climate change by ourselves, we can be a model for how other cities take on this daunting task.

One of the first steps to achieve carbon neutrality is to focus on renovating existing buildings as 40% of greenhouse gases come from residential and commercial stock. Increasing efficiency and shifting to electrification for heating and cooling in Ithaca’s building stock is the most efficient route towards carbon reduction. More than half of New York State’s current electrical supply already comes from non-carbon sources (hydro and nuclear) and the state is moving to have 70% of supply generated via renewables by 2030. Electrifying our buildings is an essential step on the road to climate mitigation.

Ithaca is doing this by partnering with BlocPower, a Brooklyn-based energy company with expertise in building energy use analysis[1]. Using both private investment and government funding to subsidize the project, BlocPower is beginning the work of electrifying our city.

Which is where you come in.

In order to keep pace with Ithaca's extraordinarily ambitious goals of, well, changing the world, we need to start decarbonizing now. There is currently money in place to subsidize weatherization and electrification; and, BlocPower can help you to navigate that process. If you are just curious about what energy upgrades may be useful for your building, you can get a free assessment here:

It should be emphasized, though, that there are currently incentives from NYSEG which can cover up to 90% of a heating system upgrade in non-residential buildings. If you are affiliated with a non-residential building (church, small business, etc.), now is the time to upgrade as the pool of money for this subsidy is first-come, first-served.

I don’t want to exaggerate our impact here: global warming is one of the most formidable problems our species has ever faced, and one small city in a world of 7.8 billion people is not going to singlehandedly solve the problem. But there must be those who begin the process. In ecological succession, these are called the pioneer species, the first ones to try, to break down barren rock into soil, to turn the inhabitable into nourishment. That analogy works nicely here. If we can show there is a path for decarbonization, it is a fracture in the pessimism which holds back larger players from investing in meaningful climate change solutions. We have the framework to carry this out, we now just need to follow through.

[1] In full disclosure, I currently serve on BlocPower’s Community Advisory Board. I do so in good conscience, and feel that they are an upstanding company that is committed to community improvement and a carbon-free future.

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