West Side Group Hopes to Put the Squeeze on Carbon

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The Upper West Side is about to get a whole lot greener. The Carbon Squeeze, a new advocacy group formed by several prominent Upper West Side residents, is promoting the community's reduction of its carbon footprint through a series of events and a challenge in which residents can compete against one another to reduce their environmental impact.

The first in the series of events was held Feb. 27, where residents listened to environmentalist Paul Reale from the Climate Reality Project. Reale, one of the Carbon Squeeze founders, unveiled the Carbon Squeeze Challenge, whereby residents receive points for doing various environmentally conscious tasks, like buying green power or planting trees. The Carbon Squeeze will run a leader board on its website where the most energy-conscious Upper West Side residents will be represented.

"Lots of people say, 'I've got to live greener,' but then we just hand out a bunch of leaflets and say goodbye," said Reale. "The answer is not just a one-hit-wonder event. It's to get people coming back time and time again."

During his presentation in the Jewish Community Center on Amsterdam Ave., Reale highlighted some of the grim effects of carbon emissions and global warming, including intense weather patterns and dangerous droughts. Dozens of Upper West Side residents joined elected officials like Councilwoman Gale Brewer to discuss those and localized issues such as hydrofracking.

After the meeting ended, Community Board 7 member and one of Carbon Squeeze's founders, Mel Wymore, declared the challenge officially open.

"We need to hold each other responsible as a community and then challenge other communities to take responsibility," said Wymore. "Then we can start a revolution."

The Carbon Squeeze advocacy group began as a conversation between various members of the Upper West Side community. The group began meeting once a week to discuss ways to get people thinking about their environmental impact. Wymore said that they decided on a game because people need incentives and triggers to change behavior.

The incentives come in the form of squeeze points. Points do not just have to be earned by making bigger decisions like switching to green energy, they can be earned just by attending events, reading books on the Carbon Squeeze book list or writing a letter to a legislator.

"We have to wake people up to climate change," said Martha Cameron, a Brooklyn resident at the event who wanted to implement a similar program in her own community. "I have seven grandchildren and they are all going to have to live through this."

The first step is for interested residents to calculate their carbon footprint at carbonsqueeze.org. Then players can begin racking up points. As of now, the contest is only local, but The Carbon Squeeze founders want to eventually include other parts of Manhattan. The next competition could be a challenge between the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side, or the movement could expand to other cities, said Wymore.

Both Wymore and Reale emphasized that they want to make an actual, measurable difference with this program. The next event will occur April 6 and will feature speaker Colin Beavan, the "No Impact Man." Each event will be themed to focus on a particular area of environmental impact, like food or transportation.

"This is all about you," said Reale at the end of the event. "This doesn't end tonight; it starts tonight."

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