How Green Are You?

Posted on May 6, 2015


Lower Manhattan in December 2014. A proposed City Council bill would require thousands of buildings to reduce their lights overnight. <a href="">Related Article</a>

Lower Manhattan in December 2014. A proposed City Council bill would require thousands of buildings to reduce their lights overnight. Related ArticleCredit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Sometimes trying to go green has its trade-offs. To save energy and reduce light pollution, New York City is considering dimming the lights on its iconic night skyline. What trade-offs do you make in your life to try to reduce your environmental footprint?

How green are you?

In “New York Plan to Save Energy May Mean a Dimmer Skyline,” Matt Flegenheimer writes:

The Manhattan skyline — glimmering, grand but not always environmentally efficient — may need to go darker to go green.

Amid a far-reaching push to reduce New York’s environmental footprint, city officials on Wednesday weighed a City Council bill to limit internal and external light use in many commercial buildings when empty at night, a change that could affect some 40,000 structures and rethink the shape, or at least the hue, of what residents see when they look up.

The environmental considerations are clear: reducing potentially wasteful energy use as part of the city’s bid to curb its greenhouse gas emissions. The administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed support for passing a version of the bill, calling light pollution a citywide scourge for migratory birds and sedentary New Yorkers.

The hearing, accordingly, cast a wide net, touching on amphibious mating activity, the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and even the very definition of nighttime. And it hinted at a host of complications in the proposed legislation, among them an exception for buildings found to be “a significant part of the city’s skyline.”

City officials expressed misgivings about playing favorites with cherished destinations, potentially empowering government workers to decide which structures were notable enough to stay lit.

“The mandate to curate, if you will, the skyline of the city of New York is not something the commission does currently,” said Mark Silberman, general counsel for the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The proposal, he added, “does put the commission in a slightly uncomfortable position, perhaps, of choosing between landmarks.”

Councilman Donovan Richards Jr., the bill’s lead sponsor, joked that the change would “add excitement” to the lives of city regulators.

“We’re not looking for excitement,” Mr. Silberman said.

Some critics, including food industry and real estate leaders, worried that reduced lighting could affect safety.

“Security cameras would be useless in the dark, and police officers would no longer peek into darkened stores at night,” said Jay M. Peltz, general counsel for the Food Industry Alliance of New York State.

Administration officials said they shared concerns about maintaining adequate lighting to deter crime, suggesting that they would move to tweak the bill. It was not immediately clear how.

Students: Read the entire article, then tell us …

— How green are you? How have you tried to reduce your environmental footprint?

— Do you turn off the lights when you leave a room? Do you try to reduce, reuse and recycle whenever possible? Do you ever choose to save energy by riding a bike or walking instead of driving?

— Do you wish you could do better? Are there things you try to do but don’t always succeed in doing?Are there trade-offs you have decided to make or not to make?

— Do you think the City Council bill to dim the lights on New York’s skyline is a good idea? Do the benefits outweigh the disadvantages? Why?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment below. Please use only your first name. For privacy policy reasons, we will not publish student comments that include a last name.

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