By Joanna Blaz
About 800 attendees at last week’s Members’ Day at the UN fell silent as one United Nations Association member from Queens, New York, posed a pointed question: Why are the panelists drinking from plastic water bottles in a city with clean tap water?
This questioning of what we can each do to reduce waste reflected the theme of the “Post-Paris Leadership for Climate Change” discussion, one of five panels at the 8th Annual Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference, held Friday.
Nilda Mesa, director at the New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, said New Yorkers in particular have an obligation to preserve the environment around them.
“As New York City, we have a certain responsibility and people will look to what we’re doing,” she said. Mesa was joined on the panel by Give Me 5 Partnerships Director Austin Schiano, 350.org Co-founder Jamie Henn and UNA-SNY President George Garland, who moderated.
Mesa went on to describe sustainable issues specific to New York City, including solid waste from garbage trucks causing respiratory issues in children. With the city’s 400th anniversary approaching in 10 years, her office stressed measurable goals, including reducing greenhouse emissions and striving for the cleanest air of any large city. (New York is currently at #4.)
“Cities are really where the rubber meets the road,” Mesa said.
Another metropolitan area under the microscope was the namesake of the panel: Paris.
A film directed toward last year’s United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris (otherwise known as COP21) aimed to narrow a global issue down to the individual’s social media accounts. Actor Jack Black’s “#EarthtoParis” video urged viewers to use the hashtag and other social media technology to raise awareness on climate change.
Cities like Paris and New York are huge targets for climate change, but smaller towns are making headlines for their sustainable efforts … and for the ways they are falling behind.
The water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, hit close to home for attendee Dawn Nelson, an environmental scientist and lifelong resident of the state. Nelson admired the panel for offering a holistic, refreshing vision of how to solve sustainability issues around the world. She also stressed the importance of both environmental and social science professions.
“[People ask:] ‘Sociology, what are you going to do with that?’” Nelson’s response? “Save the world.”
Joanna Blaz is a UNA-SNY YP member on the Sustainability and Economic Development Committee. She is a web content editor at Weill Cornell Medicine and previously contributed to the Tampa Bay Times.