As 2011 comes to an end, many of us probably have eco-friendly ideas that we'd like to implement during the coming year. By looking back at some of the most intriguing Green Living issues of 2011, we can determine what we're already doing in our everyday lives that helps to make the world a healthier place. Whether that's installing solar panels, joining a farm share program or simply cutting down on unncessary purchases, we can all make small changes that, collectively, can create important change.
Wherever you are on the green living spectrum, hopefully the following top 10 issues of 2011 will help you plan well for the new year!
In June, I wrote about how the Great Recession could have helped us to live more simply. I suggested simple ways to reduce one's consumption, from forgoing air conditioning and disposable water bottles to canceling one's cable TV and avoiding buying paper products.
After Tropical Storm Irene swept through the Hudson Valley in September, some of our region's farmers experienced massive losses to their land and crops. In this article, I discussed the importance of supporting local farms and offered ways to financially help farmers in Goshen, Fishkill and New Paltz get back on their feet.
In March, the Community Synagogue of Rye's Green Team announced that it was starting Rye's first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Partnering with Stoneledge Farm in Greene County, the CSA worked to create a mutually beneficial relationship between CSA members and the farm by providing an up front investment for a bounty of produce delivered to Rye throughout the summer.
Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino signed into law in May legislation that extended a sales tax exemption on solar panels. On a $25,000 system, the county's incentive reduced the final cost, before other write-offs and tax breaks, by about $1,800. Other tax incentives for solar energy investment included a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority of up to $5,000. On the federal level, a renewable energy grant of 30 percent of the costs was available if construction on the project began by December 31, 2011.
Every March, advocates of environmental stewardship celebrate energy conservation efforts by turning off lights for one hour. Earth Hour, launched in 2007, unites hundreds of millions of people around the world. International landmarks, such as the Empire State Building, the Sydney Opera House and the Eiffel Tower also participated in Earth Hour.
In February, Westchester County announced changes to its recycling policies that would start four months later. The county said it would begin recycling plastics numbered 3 through 7, but would not include plastic bags, which are labeled 2, or Styrofoam.
The New York State League of Conservation Voters Education Fund in July issued gave the state legislature a "B" for progress on environmental issues. While some issues on the group's radar stalled in committee, the legislature passed bills such as Power NY and Complete Streets.
In late October, I wrote a column about how the Occupy Wall Street protests could inspire like-minded people to make changes in their everyday lives to even the economic playing field. I suggested trying to reduce the amount of industrial food one eats, boycotting the "too big to fail" banks such as Bank of America and Citigroup and thoughtfully choosing how one spends disposable income.
The Rye Sustainability Committee in August was working to pass a city-wide plastic bag ban. While it took a lot of time and effort, the committee was successful this month when the City Council unanimously passed the measure, making Rye the first municipality in Westchester County to do so. Rye has joined other municipalities that have passed similar measures, such as Westport, CT, Nantucket, MA, Portland, OR and Long Beach, CA.
The number 1 Green Living issue of 2011 was hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking. The controversial method of natural gas drilling continues to be hotly debated in New York. When I wrote about this issue last April, a morotorium on hydrofracking in New York was nearing its end while Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was calling on the federal government to conduct a full review on the dangers of hydrofracking.
According to a public records review by the New York Times, the oil and gas industry spent $3.2 million on lobbying New York State government since 2010.
Environmentalists are concerned that hydrofracking will threaten New York's land and water resources, while advocates of drilling maintain that the process carries more benefit for job creation and economic stimulus than the dangers associated with it. Governor Andrew Cuomo has maintained, much to the chagrin of environmental groups, that the state could benefit financially from hydrofracking if adequate safeguards are maintained to protect communities and the environment.
Early next year, Cuomo is expected to give the final verdict on whether or not hydrofracking will begin in New York.