For us New Yorkers, recent hurricane seasons and this year’s wildfires have been an unfortunate wake up call. It’s no secret that the effects of climate change are here in NYC.

Our city has made progress on its sustainability goals, but there’s still work to be done. Though your individual actions may seem relatively small, your personal decisions to help the planet — like going solar, for example — have a huge impact on your community and on the city as a whole.

The view from Brooklyn SolarWorks’ roof during the 2023 wildfires.

What is Climate Change?

Climate change refers to the shifts in Earth’s long-term weather patterns caused by human activities and natural processes. The Earth’s temperature is rising, thanks to the excessive release of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and various industrial activities. 

This leads to a whole bunch of problems like melting ice caps, rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and disrupted ecosystems. It’s a serious issue that affects us all, especially coastal city dwellers like New Yorkers.

How is Climate Change Affecting NYC?

Scenes from across the city were unforgettable: waterfalls in subway stations, cars abandoned on major expressways, food delivery workers wading through waist-deep water.

In late 2021, Hurricanes Elsa, Henri, and Ida all brought loss and destruction to New York City. Hurricanes Henri and Ida brought record-breaking rainfall almost back-to-back, causing historic flooding and storm surge throughout the boroughs. 

Some may believe that the effects of climate change are still far off. But the reality is – climate change has been affecting our city already in a variety of ways.

Cars abandoned on the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx following a night of heavy wind and rain from Hurricane Ida. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Cars abandoned on the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx following a night of heavy wind and rain from Hurricane Ida. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Severe Weather

Experts have long predicted increased frequency and severity of natural disasters as a consequence of human-induced climate change. That’s exactly what we’re seeing now in NYC. Simply put, warmer air holds more moisture than cool air and therefore produces greater amounts of rainfall and storm surge. 

Unfortunately, not all areas in the city have the infrastructure to handle such great amounts of storm surge.  This means that certain areas will experience these severe weather events much differently than others. Much of 4th Avenue – right up the street from our office in Gowanus – was totally flooded. It goes without saying: if climate change goes unchecked, we can only expect these weather conditions in our city to get worse in the near future.

Sea Level Rise and Costal Flooding

The picturesque waterfronts and charming coastal neighborhoods that make NYC so alluring are also the areas most susceptible to the effects of sea level rise and coastal flooding. Homeowners residing in low-lying regions are particularly vulnerable, facing the looming threat of property damage and even displacement. As sea levels continue to rise due to the warming planet, the risk of flooding during storms and high tides becomes more pronounced. The consequences are far-reaching, encompassing erosion, infrastructure damage, and heightened insurance costs that can strain homeowners’ finances.

Heatwaves and Health Risks

Scientists are also concerned with the Heat Island Effect when it comes to climate change in NYC. As greenhouse gasses get trapped in the atmosphere and warm the planet, densely-populated areas covered in asphalt and concrete will experience much hotter temperatures than less populated areas with more plant life and bodies of water nearby.

The city’s signature heatwaves not only test the limits of its residents’ tolerance for high temperatures but also pose severe health risks, especially to vulnerable groups such as the elderly and individuals with pre-existing medical conditions. These heat waves can lead to heat-related illnesses and hospitalizations.

The intensified demand for energy to cool homes during heat waves places an additional strain on the already stressed electrical grid. This heightened energy consumption not only results in higher utility bills for homeowners but also contributes to the overall challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Increased Energy Costs

Climate change brings about more frequent and severe weather events, including extreme heat and cold snaps. 

As temperatures fluctuate, the need for energy to regulate indoor climate increases, putting upward pressure on energy costs. Homeowners find themselves grappling with the reality of higher energy bills as they strive to maintain a comfortable living environment amidst changing weather conditions. This not only impacts household budgets but also contributes to the broader sustainability challenges facing the city.

Average residential electric bills in NYC for 2020-2022. Credit: Con Edison

Changes in Pests and Diseases

Climate change’s impact extends beyond the physical environment and into the realm of public health. Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns can lead to shifts in the distribution and behavior of pests and diseases. NYC homeowners might find themselves facing heightened infestations of pests like mosquitoes and ticks, which can carry diseases and pose health risks to residents. 

The changing disease patterns and the potential for outbreaks can strain healthcare systems and require enhanced disease monitoring and prevention efforts.

Property Insurance and Value

As the climate crisis unfolds, properties situated in areas vulnerable to its impacts face a twofold challenge: decreased value and higher insurance costs. 

Homeowners in such locations may experience a decline in their property’s value over time, reflecting the perceived risks associated with climate change-related impacts. Insurance companies, in turn, may reassess the risks they cover, potentially leading to higher premiums or even difficulty in obtaining coverage. 

This situation creates a complex dynamic where homeowners not only contend with the immediate physical impacts of climate change but also the long-term financial consequences.

How is NYC Responding to the Effects of Climate Change?

In August of 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that based on current trends, the global temperature will increase or exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius over just the next 20 years. Unless there are immediate, large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will be beyond our reach.

But we’ve known this for a while: this year’s IPCC report was an update on a report from 2018, which identified 1.5 degrees Celsius as the critical threshold for limiting global warming. And as a result of this initial report, the City released its plan for tackling climate change.

NYC’s Climate Plan

We’re proud to say New York City has one of the boldest climate goals in the world: it’s committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

If this goal seems ambitious, that’s because it is. An analysis of the plan determined that it will require bold, immediate changes to our city’s policies, infrastructure, and ways of life. But it’s not impossible. This plan depends on large-scale adoption of electric heating and vehicles, low-carbon fuels, and — you guessed it — clean energy sources like wind and solar.

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NYC is making progress toward its sustainability and carbon neutrality goals. Credit

The City has already made progress and continues expanding its initiatives to meet this goal. In 2019, the City Council passed the Climate Mobilization Act, aimed at reducing emissions from large buildings in NYC. Mayor DeBlasio recently announced a residential energy efficiency program called ElectrifyNYC, and an expansion of the Carbon Challenge. Governor Hochul also announced plans to bring wind, solar, and hydropower generated Upstate to NYC.

Sustainable Buildings

At the heart of NYC’s commitment to sustainability lies the Climate Mobilization Act, a groundbreaking legislative package designed to reduce the city’s carbon emissions. At the center of this act are Local Laws 97, 92, and 94, which collectively target a significant reduction in building-related emissions.

Local Law 97 mandates carbon emissions reductions for buildings larger than 25,000 square feet, holding them accountable for the environmental impact of their energy consumption. On the other hand, Local Laws 92 and 94 require a solar photovoltaic system, green roof, or a combination of both, on newly constructed roofs.

Combination Solar and Green Roof created in Brooklyn, New York by Highview Creations and Brooklyn SolarWorks.

Climate Resilience and Adaptation

Recognizing the urgent need to adapt to the changing climate, NYC has embarked on a journey to enhance its climate resiliency. The city’s comprehensive approach includes strategies to mitigate the impacts of sea-level rise, extreme weather events, and flooding. NYC’s forward-looking initiatives, such as the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project, Brooklyn Greenway, and Wastewater Resiliency Plan, aim to create adaptable communities that are better equipped to withstand climate shocks and stresses.

What Can Individuals Do to Make an Impact?

If the climate crisis feels overwhelming to you, you’re not alone. For many of us, it feels like any steps we take toward sustainability have a minimal impact on the world. It’s true that governments and large corporations hold the most wide-reaching power in this crisis, we want you to know that your personal decisions matter too. 

Sustainability and the Ripple Effect

Your individual decision to purchase an electric vehicle, eat less meat, or switch to clean energy may seem relatively small. But sustainable lifestyle changes have a ripple effect. That means that your decision to go solar, for example, can play a part in motivating your family, friends, and neighbors to do the same. 

We’ve heard from many of our customers that going solar also made them reconsider their waste production and daily commutes. This increased awareness deepens citizens’ sense of identity as climate advocates.

A landmarked neighborhood in NYC with rooftop solar systems.
Your decision to go solar can have a ripple effect on your community.

Transition to Renewable Energy

If you’re a homeowner in NYC, making the switch to solar is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint and make a positive impact on your community. Clean energy, and solar in particular, has many benefits. Not only does it reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuels, it’s also incredibly cost-effective: solar is currently the cheapest form of electricity in history, and the cost of renewables continues to fall.

We believe it’s important that solar is accessible for all New Yorkers. That’s why our mission is to make solar possible for the flat roofs and the historic homes unique to NYC.

graphic showing the average environmental offset of Brooklyn SolarWorks customers

Improve Energy Efficiency

In a city of towering skyscrapers and historic brownstones, home energy consumption also plays a significant role in greenhouse gas emissions. From rooftop solar installations to energy-efficient HVAC systems, residents are embracing the different ways to create a more energy-efficient home. Cutting-edge technologies like heat pumps are also being adopted to provide both heating and cooling in an energy-efficient manner, while smart home systems allow for optimized energy use.

Sustainable Transportation

In a bustling metropolis like NYC, transportation plays a pivotal role in daily life. The city’s commitment to sustainability is evident in its efforts to promote alternatives to conventional gasoline-powered vehicles. Public transit options, biking infrastructure, and electric vehicles (EVs) are at the forefront of these initiatives.

NYC’s robust public transit network offers residents and visitors efficient options for getting around while reducing the carbon footprint. The city’s growing network of bike lanes and bike-sharing programs encourages eco-friendly commuting. Additionally, the adoption of electric vehicles contributes to reducing emissions and air pollution. As the city continues to invest in sustainable transportation, the vision of a cleaner and more accessible urban mobility system comes into focus.

Minimize Waste Reduction

Waste reduction is a critical aspect of NYC’s sustainable transition. One of the standout strategies in this domain is composting. By diverting organic waste from landfills and incinerators, the city aims to minimize its environmental impact.

For residents keen on participating in this movement, NYC offers access to curbside composting, smart compost bins, and compost drop-off locations. Composting not only reduces waste but also enriches the soil, creating a positive feedback loop that benefits both the environment and local communities.

Take Action on Climate Change with Solar Energy

We don’t need to tell you that it’s time to take action against climate change. One of the best ways to make an impact in NYC is to make the switch to clean energy. Though it may seem like your individual decisions are insignificant, we’re here to tell you that they matter. Your household’s decision to go solar brings NYC one step further in the climate change fight. And it inspires members of your community to do the same. 

Mitigating the effects of climate change will take large-scale, collective action…so why not start now?

Schedule your free consultation with us to learn how solar can become a reality for your NYC home.