Schneiderman Makes an Environmental Minyan

“When I checked last week, I was at eight,” said the man with a microphone, regarding the crowd seriously. “It’s not easy to get down that last six. It’s gonna be hard.”

He wasn’t talking about his weight loss project. That was Paul Reale, an engineer turned climate activist, talking about the tons of carbon he emits every year—the average American gives off around 20, when the target for world sustainability is around two.

His audience was sympathetic: several hundred grave Upper West Siders assembled in the cavernous B’Nai Jeshurun Synagogue, tucked off Broadway on 88th St., for a talk and panel on climate initiatives organized by the office of State Senator Eric Schneiderman, Community Board 7, and the Environmental Advocates of New York.

The program claims that Reale was “personally trained” by global warming guru Al Gore to present on his movie An Inconvenient Truth, which he did in abbreviated fashion for the already climate-literate crowd. Two years, one Oscar, and several failed cap-and-trade bills after its release, the presentation—now with new photos of crumbling ice shelves!—still draws sharp intakes of breath.

But the evening program wasn’t designed to tell people too much they didn’t know. Rather, it was to fire up a green-conscious base to pass environmental legislation that has been stalled on the floor of a Republican-controlled state senate. The halo from last Tuesday’s election still hung in the air.

“This ‘yes we can’ attitude that has taken over the country is absolutely critical,” said Schneiderman. The 31st-district senator has sponsored a bill to dedicate the $200 million expected from the sale of greenhouse gas allowances under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which goes into effect Dec. 17, as well as one already passed by the Assembly that would require the state reduce carbon emissions from all sources by 80 percent in 2050.

But, he warned, a blue Senate doesn’t necessarily clear skies for climate bills.

“The infrastructure of the opposition is much stronger,” Schneiderman warned. “They have the machinery of propaganda, the think-tanks, the financing, to oppose us.”

On the panel, several activists shilled for their own initiatives. Chris Neidl, from the solar energy company Solar One, wants the state to build 2,000 megawatts of solar capacity by 2018, which would constitute five percent of the state’s supply. (Texas, the nation’s largest wind producer, currently has more than 6,000 megawatts).

Peter Goldwasser, of the group Transportation Alternatives, called for mandatory bike access to all commercial buildings in the city, to cut down on the 70,000 bikes that are stolen every year.

B’nai Jeshurun’s Environmental Action Hevra is supporting both initiatives. The group’s three co-chairs were an imposing bunch as they stood around this reporter at the end of the evening to answer questions. The synagogue is the only one in the country, they claimed, to employ two full-time staff for social justice outreach, and that this level of environmental commitment is “unusual.”

The audience clapped appreciatively when co-chair Carol Schiffman-Durham told them that BJ had been the first synagogue to have solar-powered internal lights, and had measured an 18 percent improvement in its congregation’s environmental behavior as a result of its efforts. But they, like Schneiderman, know the opposition hasn’t disappeared.

“It’s definitely going to come from all of the lobbyists who have been the problem all along,” Schiffman-Durham said.

“They’re the people who profit from not making a change,” co-chair Elizabeth Weiss added. “If they want to make money, there’s plenty of money to be made.”

Schneiderman Makes an Environmental Minyan