The first Earth Day was celebrated 51 years ago and marked the beginning of the modern-day environmental movement. Great strides have been made since then in raising public awareness and demand for clean air standards and access to safe water. And now the moment to take another great stride forward has come.
The Biden administration's $2 trillion infrastructure plan is one of the most ambitious federal efforts ever to tackle climate change. The UFT is part of a coalition of unions in New York City, including Service Employees International Union 32BJ, District Council 37 and the Building Trades Council, that is working together as part of Climate Jobs NY to make sure that some of these federal funds are used to make our city's schools clean and green.
The Carbon-Free Schools campaign is pushing for the installation of solar panels on every New York City public building. It would make the oil furnace obsolete and reduce the carbon footprint of every school. The panels would also make every school its own power plant, producing cheaper and cleaner energy. We envision schools being able to reinvest the cost-savings from solar power into building maintenance and classroom instruction.
The city and the state share these renewable energy goals, but progress has been slow. A New York City school doesn't get outfitted for solar power unless the School Construction Authority is already in the building to fix a leaky roof. Forty schools have solar panels and another 200 school buildings are on deck to receive them as part of building updates, but the new federal dollars could make solar panels a reality in all 1,750 school buildings.
Such an achievement would be the best way to honor Earth Day every day of the year.