Save the earth by buying a Prius? That seems to be the takeaway message from this year’s Earth Day New York taking place on April 22. Earth Day events in the city will be sponsored by – Who would have guessed? – Toyota.
Perhaps the organizers of Earth Day New York want to find out just how low our expectations could go for what passes as solutions to the imminent ruin of our planet. Perhaps they feel we should be grateful that Earth Day is not being sponsored by an even bigger gas guzzler like Jeep. Let’s take the day, they might tell us, to put aside our worries about the U.S. transportation industry and the fact that it is responsible for a third of the country’s climate changing emissions. And let’s, for the moment, erase from historical record the role of automobile and oil companies in dismantling train and electric cable car systems across the country in the 1930s and 40s—systems that could have led the way to an ecologically sustainable transportation system.
To be fair, Toyota is not the only sponsor of Earth Day New York. There are other corporations as well. Like that savior of the environment, Con Edison. Yes, that same Con Ed that is so beloved among New Yorkers not only for its high bills, but also its complete disregard for the lives of New Yorkers and the safety of our homes.
A recent pipe explosion in East Harlem that killed eight people, and injured almost fifty others, exposed an ailing and ancient piping system currently managed by Con Ed. Fifty eight percent of Con Ed’s pipes were installed before 1960, and “sixty percent are composed of unprotected steel or cast iron, the most leak-prone material,” according to a report cited by Daily Kos. The New York Times reported that “Consolidated Edison, whose pipes supplied the two buildings leveled by the explosion, had the highest rate of leaks in the country among natural gas operators whose networks totaled at least 100 miles.”
In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the the 8-inch Con Edison gas main at the East Harlem site failed a pressure test when tracer gas was pumped into it. That main was installed in 1887. Whatever the outcome of the NTSB investigation, the billions of dollars that it will take to replace old fossil fuel infrastructure will leave us with the same lethal dangers.
Then there’s Con Ed’s preparedness for increasingly frequent “natural” disasters. As author and activist Chris Williams pointed out in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Con Ed refused to “spend the $250 million in investment the company deemed necessary to install submersible switches and move high-voltage transformers above ground level, things that may have prevented the explosion that wiped out electricity in lower Manhattan–even though the company made $1 billion in profit last year.”