For over a decade, Mayor Mike Bloomberg has dominated the green scene in New York City, helping to transform one of America’s largest urban areas into one of the top sustainable cities in the world. With his tenure as the city’s top executive soon at end, however, questions remain about who will take the lead to ensure New York’s green future.
While incoming mayor Bill de Blasio has yet to lay out his green plans for his time as mayor, looking beyond the headlines, it is clear that a number of ordinary New Yorkers are working hard to make New York City and the world a greener place. Here are three unsung environmental heroes who are dedicating their lives to sustainable causes.
Russell Unger, CEO of the Urban Green Council
Russell Unger is the CEO of the Urban Green Council, a non-profit dedicated to encouraging green buildings. A former advisor on sustainability issues to then-City Council speaker Gifford Miller and past assistant director to the Mayor’s Office on Contract Services, Unger uses his city building code know-how to help advocate for more green buildings and structures throughout all of the city’s five boroughs.
A committed environmentalist and Brooklyn resident, Unger is also quick to advise all New Yorkers that they can do their part by making small changes like switching out light bulbs and stopping up leaks in their our own homes. He also hopes businesses will stop wasting energy. “You know how retailers keep their doors wide open to the sidewalk, blasting the a.c. out?,” Unger said, “I hate that so much.”
Cynthia Rosenzweig, Climatologist
A pioneer in the study of climate change and agriculture, Dr. Rosenzweig is on the forefront of combatting climate change in New York City and currently co-chairs the New York City Panel on Climate Change – a group of scientists and other experts convened by current mayor Mike Bloomberg to advise him on climate change adaptation and help New York City prepare for a safer future.
Dedicated to help protect cities and develop sustainable infrastructure that can help the world’s urban centers adapt to changing weather patterns and conditions, Dr. Rosenzweig also co-chairs to Urban Climate Change Research Network and edits an academic journal that encourages academic scholarship on urban preparedness and climate change mitigation.
Martha Ferger and the Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition
The residents of the tiny Finger Lakes town of Dryden, New York may be unlikely New York City eco-heroes. Yet, when a small group of residents decided to stand up against fracking in New York, they were not only protecting their own water, but also the New York City’s fresh water supply.
Martha Ferger, a retired biochemist in her late 80s, is helping to lead the fight to stand up against the fracking industry and call for a ban to stop fracking in her town. Undeterred by opposition even among her neighbors, Ferger and fellow coalition members are getting the word out about fracking’s long-term impact, not only for their own small town, but all of New York.
Sometimes, the conversations, which pit environmental and economic interests head-to-head, can get heated. “Sometimes now, when I pass a house where I talked to someone about fracking, I find myself wishing I had some excuse to knock on the door again,” she said, admitting her unease about inevitable confrontations, “Just to get better acquainted.”
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Tamar Auber is a freelance writer whose work can be found on Examiner.com.