in a report that will be released on Thursday, the nonprofit Urban Green Council makes the case that the country’s largest population centers needn’t rely on a federal breakthrough. Specifically, the 51-page report, titled “90 by 50,” finds that New York City could slash its emissions by a whopping 90 percent by 2050 without any radical new technologies, without cutting back on creature comforts, and maybe even without breaking its budget.
That’s a far more aggressive target than even the city’s own relatively ambitious goal of reducing emissions by 30 percent by 2030. How is it possible? The strategy has plenty of familiar components—electrifying the transit system, converting to renewable power sources. But it all hinges on one seemingly mundane yet surprisingly potent move: retrofitting almost every building in the city to keep the heat in during the winter and out during the summer. In a nod to Rudy Giuliani, Bill Bratton, and James Q. Wilson, I’ll call it the “triple-pane windows theory” of greenhouse-gas reduction.
The report takes as its starting point this foundational statistic: 75 percent of the readily measured carbon emissions in New York City come from buildings. That makes it very different from the nation as a whole, where agriculture and transportation are among the biggest culprits. At first glance, this looks like an obstacle: Inefficient buildings are much harder to replace than inefficient cars. And New York is already one of the country’s greenest cities per capita, which would seem to make a 90 percent cut more difficult than it would be elsewhe