“THE SUSTAINABLE CITY”

The sustainable city. A new book discusses how it works. It’s not just about preserving nature, it’s about transitioning New York into green economies.  Is that even possible? The answer ahead with author Steve Cohen.

Aired on March 9, 2018.

TRANSCRIPT

> LIVING SUSTAINABLY IS NOT JUST ABOUT PRESERVING NATURE OR KEEPING IT PRISTINE, SINCE IN FACT TODAY THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE ON THE PLANET LIVE IN URBAN AREAS.

SO IF WE ARE TO LEARN HOW TO LIVE SUSTAINABLY IN ORDER TO -- MANY PLACES ARE ALREADY INVESTING IN THE INFRASTRUCTURE OF THE FUTURE, INCLUDING ARE YOU YOU -- RENEWABLE ENERGY AND MODERN MASS TRANSIT.

THE PROFESSOR AT COLUMBIA'S EARTH INSTITUTE, HE PROVIDES A BROAD OVERVIEW OF THE SYSTEMS OF THE 21st CENTURY.

AND POINTS TO WAYS BY WHICH EVEN MORE PROGRESS CAN BE MADE.

PROFESSOR COHEN JOINS US NOW.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US ON 'METROFOCUS.'

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

FIRST OF ALL, PROFESSOR, WHAT IS A SUSTAINABLE CITY, HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE IT OR DEFINE IT.

I FOCUS ON PHYSICAL ISSUES.

SO IT'S A CITY THAT USES AS MUCH RENEWABLE ENERGY AS POSSIBLE, IS ENERGY EFFICIENT, REUSES MATERIAL, RECYCLES AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, REUSES AS MUCH WASTE AS POSSIBLE, HANDLESS ITS WASTE EFFECTIVELY AND HAS THE LEAST IMPACT ON THE SURROUNDING ENVIRONMENT.

PROFESSOR, AS YOU KNOW, THERE ARE MANY AMERICANS WHO ASSOCIATE SUSTAINABILITY WITH A NEED TO SACRIFICE THE COMFORTS AND THE EFFICIENCY THAT THEY'RE USED TO, ARE THOSE AMERICANS RIGHT IN THINKING THAT SUSTAINABILITY MEANS SACRIFICING THE COMFORTS WE HAVE BECOME USED TO?

I THINK IT'S JUST THE OPPOSITE.

AND ALSO THAT'S A LOSING STRATEGY.

ENVIRONMENTALISTS ARE SAYING THE WAY YOU HAVE TO DEAL WITH THIS IS TO SIT ALONE IN THE DARK WITH A CANDLE.

NOBODY WANTS TO DO THAT.

NOBODY WANTS TO GIVE UP THEIR COMFORTS.

THAT'S PART OF THE QUESTION, HOW DO WE DELIVER THOSE COMFORTS WITH THE LEAST POSSIBLE AFFECT ON THE ENVIRONMENT.

PEOPLE WANT SUVS, LET'S MAKE THEM EFFICIENT SUVS THAT ARE BASED ON RENEWABLE ENERGY.

I THINK IN GENERAL, WHAT YOU NEED TO DO IS HAVE PEOPLE LIVE THE KIND OF LIFESTYLE THEY WANT BUT WITH LESS CONSUMPTION.

WHAT ROLE DOES POLITICS PLAY IN BUILDING SUSTAINABLE CITIES?

WE HAVE BEEN AN ANTI-GOVERNMENT ERA SINCE RONALD REAGAN'S PRESIDENCY IN THE '80s.

YOU NEED MONEY FOR MASS TRANSIT.

LOOK WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THIS CITY TO MASS TRANSIT SYSTEMS.

YOU NEED TO MODERNIZE THE ELECTRIC GRID.

BETTER SEWAGE SYSTEMS, NEW YORK CITY IS FAR CLEANER TODAY THAN IT WAS IN 1960s AND '70s, WE USED TO BURN GARBAGE IN APARTMENT INCINERATORS, WE USED TO DUMP GARBAGE INTO THE WATER WAYS.

IF NEW YORK CITY OR ANY OTHER CITY HAS THE WILL TO BECOME SUSTAINABLE, CAN THEY DO IT WITHOUT THE SUPPORT WITH THE STATE GOVERNMENT OR THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT?

IT WOULD BE BETTER IF WE HAD A FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.

NEW YORK BUILT THE EERIE CANAL WITHOUT FEDERAL MONEY, WE BUILT OUR WATER SYSTEM ON OUR OWN.

THE ELECTRICAL GRID WAS PRIVATELY-FUNDED.

THE MASS TRANSIT SYSTEM ORIGINALLY WAS PRIVATE.

WE CAN DO IT.

WE HAVE THE RESOURCES, PEOPLE JUST HAVE TO DECIDE THAT THEY'RE WILLING TO INVEST IN THE FUTURE.

WHAT'S AT STAKE?

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES IF WE DON'T DEVELOP THE WILL TO CREATE OR TO FURTHER DEVELOP SUSTAINABILITY?

I THINK THAT THE CONSEQUENCES ARE EVENTUALLY PAYING THE PRICE OF A POISONED PLANET.

I MEAN I WAS IN THE EPA, THE SUPERFUND PROJECT IN 1980, AND SINCE THAT TIME WE HAVE SPENT HALF A TRILLION DOLLARS CLEANING UP THE TOXIC WASTE WE DUMPED FROM THE 1920s TO THE 1980s, IT'S PAY ME NOW OR PAY ME LATER.

FOR EVERY DOLLAR YOU SPEND CLEANING UP THE AIR, YOU GET $15 BACK IN BENEFITS.

SO THERE IS A GREAT DEAL AT STAKE.

BUT I'M OPTIMISTIC WE'RE GOING TO GET THERE.

WHY?

PART OF IT IS YOUNG PEOPLE.

AND WE'RE SEEING THE BEGINNING OF THE SHARING ECONOMY.

WHEN I WAS YOUNG, YOU WANTED TO OWN A CAR SO YOU SHOULD SHOW IT OFF TO YOUR FRIENDS.

NOW MILLENNIAL'S JUST WANT TO EXPERIENCE THE CAR.

NOW THEY'RE FEELING THAT WAY ABOUT CLOTHING, PEOPLE RENT THEIR PARTY CLOTHES AND DON'T KEEP THEM IN THEIR CLOSET.

THERE'S A LOT OF THIS ACTIVITY GOING ON, THE IDEA THAT POSSESSION IS DIFFERENT FROM CONSUMPTION, YOU CAN USE IT AND YOU CAN PASS IT ALONG.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

WNET

© WNET All Rights Reserved.

825 Eighth Avenue

New York, NY 10019