Is NYC’s Plan to Reduce Carbon Emissions 80% by 2050 Enough?

On the eve of the People’s Climate March, the de Blasio administration released a detailed plan to reduce New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2050. The city has already reduced its GHG levels by 19 percent, but this next round of emissions cuts, warned the Mayor, would be far more difficult.

The reason? Three-quarters of the city’s emissions come from powering its buildings. Slashing energy use across the five boroughs, and moving toward zero reliance on fossil fuels, must now be the goal, says the City.

We argued that the Mayor’s plan was historic, both because it envisions a New York City some day powered 100 percent by renewable energy, and also, because it ties energy efficiency and clean energy to a social goal– the maintenance of affordable housing.

While the de Blasio plan was hailed by many environmental groups, there are clearly others who believe that the climate crisis is already so urgent that the City must move more aggressively now.

One of them is Eric, a New York City native, who we met at the People’s Climate March. “We need to tell the truth,” Eric argued, that an 80 percent reduction of 2005 levels is simply “not adequate.”

 

 

We asked Eric if it was “realistic” to expect that New York City could cut emissions faster in the next thirty-six years. He drew a sharp distinction between what is realistic in the word of politics, and what is required in the real world, a world in which we will all have to survive.

“We need to draw down huge amounts of pollution that’s in the atmosphere already,” Eric pointed out.

“We have the technology to do what we need to do but we have to ask for what we actually want now. We’ve been asking for these same targets for decades, and we know they’re no longer accurate. A realistic strategy is one that has the possibility of working in the real world and of solving the problem in reality,” he continued.

“If our strategy only has the possibility of succeeding politically, but still won’t solve the ecological problem, that is an unrealistic strategy. We have to start from the science- what the science demands. The politics could potentially adjust, but physics does not adjust to politics. So we have to ask for what’s necessary,” Eric concluded.

What Do You Think?

How do you view the climate crisis, and what New York City should do?

Do you think that the City’s 80 percent goal falls short of what is actually necessary to avert the worst effects of climate change?

How aggressive should local government be in compelling building owners -and tenants- to cut energy use and switch to renewable sources of energy?

What will be most effective in pushing New York City in the right direction? Government regulation, or incentives? Or a combination of both?

We want to hear what you think about these important and complex questions. Please take a moment to comment, and we will report on your responses.

 

Howie Hawkins & Green Party Challenge to Cuomo: We Need a “Green New Deal”

The New York State Governor’s race has already provided some interesting surprises. Despite his enormous financial and political resources, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s campaign has been upstaged by candidates to the left and right, especially Zephyr Teachout, who performed far better than expected in the democratic primary, winning 35 percent of the vote.

And in an election year that has been dominated by environmental issues like fracking, the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Sandy, and what to do about climate change, the Green Party candidate for Governor, Howie Hawkins, is resolutely carrying his message across the state.

The Green Party has historical roots in the environmental crises of the 1970s. It first attracted global attention after Green Party candidates were elected to the German parliament in the early 1980s.

Hawkins is proposing that New York State switch entirely to renewable sources of energy by 2030. A conversion of this scope would not only create jobs, Hawkins says, it would also make energy more affordable.

Hawkins also argues that the state’s public sector can be rebuilt without raising taxes on the vast majority of New Yorkers. This includes New York’s lead environmental agency, the Department of Environmental Conservation, which has lost hundreds of staff members in the last four years.

Investing in renewable energy and environmental protection is part of what the Greens call a “Green New Deal” program.

The New York Greens are also calling on the state Comptroller to “immediately” freeze any new investments in fossil fuels and “divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuels.” They say the state needs to “make a concerted effort to fully invest in clean tech, green energy production, retrofitting and infrastructure, which helps the environment, people and the economy.”

Howie Hawkins ran for Governor in 2010, earning 60,000 votes. NYER caught up with Mr. Hawkins, who unloads trucks for the United Parcel Service and is a member of the Teamsters union, at the People’s Climate March.

LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW

 

 

NYER: What do you think the goal of this march should be, in concrete terms? What do you think needs to happen?

HH: Well, I think this march is nominally aimed at the UN, but I think it’s more aimed at ourselves. To show that we’re big, we’re strong.

We’ve got petro-states, we’ve got governments bought by the oil and gas industry, they’re not going to do it. But what we can do right here in New York — we’re running on a program of 100% clean energy by 2030.

NYER: How do we get there? How do we get to 100% clean energy?

HH: The technology is commercially available. We have a study saying it’s technically and economically feasible. You gotta have a policy and you’ve got to plan it out. You gotta do things like [energy] tariffs, carbon taxes to make the market encourage that.

[Hawkins noted later that the lead author of this analysis, Mark Jacobson, has released a subsequent study explaining how all 50 states could switch to 100% renewable energy by 2050.]

We’ve gotta have a public energy system — not rely on companies motivated by private profit who make more money when they sell more electricity or fuel. So you operate as a public utility at cost for public benefit, rather than for private profit.

That’s your infrastructure. Then you create a lot of business opportunities for small businesses and cooperatives to install distributed energy, because you’ve got a smart grid when you build it out. You’ve got micro-wind, solar panels, every building is a mini-power plant.

Look, the wind blows, the sun shines, the earth is heated by the sun and the core. That’s energy we just need to harvest. It’s all around us and it’s clean.

So, that’s how you do it. You’ve gotta have a commitment. It’s a no-brainer.

The problem is we’ve got a governor who’s allowing fracking waste into the state, he’s building out the infrastructure for natural gas. His draft energy plan says we’re going to switch from coal-fired to gas-fired for electric generation.

“Let’s centralize”: The IOU’s, investor-owned utilities, like it and so do the companies that build that, but it’s not good for the people in terms of cost, for clean air, for protecting the climate.

[Hawkins is referring here to the Cuomo administration’s proposal to update how New York’s electric grid operates via the REV initiative. These changes, Hawkins argued later, could potentially “centralize” who controls the grid, making it harder for local communities, homes, and businesses to generate energy on site. The fundamental question, Hawkins said, is whether publicly-owned utilities should be operating on a profit-basis.]

Also, going 100% clean energy in the next 15 years is a full-employment program. Four and a half million jobs in construction and manufacturing. Middle income jobs.

So, that’s what we need to do. So I say, let’s march. Let’s let people know this is a planetary crisis we have to address. And then New York can set the example for the nation and the world.

Workers at the Long Island Solar Farm (LISF) -- currently the largest solar photovoltaic power plant in the Eastern United States.
Workers at the Long Island Solar Farm (LISF) — currently the largest solar photovoltaic power plant in the Eastern United States. Photo credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory.

NYER: Have you spoken with business owners who see this from your perspective? Do you think there is interest in the business community in going in this direction?

HH: Yea! Look, they talk about the business climate in this state. There are three things I would do to lower costs above the bottom line — not after, when they pay their taxes.

First thing is clean energy. That gets us to half the cost for electricity in the decade 2020-2030 then if we stick with fossil and nuclear fuel. So that’s a reduction.

The other two are: single-payer health care. Takes that off their company budget, it’s taken care of more efficiently. Administrative efficiency.

And the third thing is restore the progressive tax we had in the 1970s. Share the revenues, pay for the state mandates, and you can lower your local property taxes. Property taxes are the highest in the nation. Our electric rates are the highest in the lower 48. And our health care costs, like everywhere in this damn country, are too high.

So that’s three ways to improve the business climate. So I talk to businesses about that.

And there are lots of opportunities in clean energy. I used to do it. I was a building contractor. I was in a worker co-op that did solar and wind installations and energy audits and energy efficiency from 1978 to 1984. We were doing green jobs before the phrase was coined. I was involved in the anti-nuclear movement. We knew, these clean energies all around us were the way to go.

NYER: What do you think should happen with Indian Point?

HH: We should shut it down as fast as possible. All the nukes should be phased out as rapidly as possible. Phased out as the renewables come on. The argument is always “Oh what are you going to do about baseload?” Solar thermal, geo-thermal, there are answers to that.

NYER: The funding for the state Department of Environmental Conservation has been either static or cut many times, they’ve lost hundreds of staff people. Would you re-build that Department?

HH: Absolutely. Bringing it back to the environmental racism, environmental justice issue: we’ve got all these toxic sites, lead, old industrial plant facilities in neighborhoods like Ramon’s [Ramon Jimenez, Green Party candidate for state Attorney General] in the South Bronx; the south side of Syracuse where I live. We’ve got Superfund sites where there’s no super funds.

The DEC is behind schedule. They can’t do what they’re responsible for now because they’ve been gutted in this austerity. We’ve lost 400,000 public sector workers in New York since the Great Recession. Most of those [jobs] are local, including 40,000 in the school system.

We’ve got to bring those people back to work, including in the DEC, so they can fulfill their responsibilities. That’s a jobs program, as well as a community service program. The idea that the way to get the economy going is to destroy the public sector is nuts. You’ve got to raise demand in the economy.

We still- the Democrats and Republicans [inaudible] supply side, tax cuts for the rich, trickle down economics. The rich have got so much money, they have nowhere to invest to build new, productive assets and hire people to provide more business services because working people don’t have the demand.

We just got the Federal Reserve study out this week. The median income in this country is down 12 percent. $6,400 the median income has dropped -I think- since the Recession. So, we want a wage-led, bottom-up economic development program. That will create demand, then businesses will invest the money they’ve got, then hire people, and we’ll be back to work.

NYER: Do you think the public sector can be re-built without raising taxes on the entire state?

HH: If you go back to the 1970’s tax structure, we would cut taxes for 95% of us and we’d still raise $30 billion more in revenues, which is 20 percent more than the current state budget. The [New York] State budget is $140 billion so it’s more than 20 percent.

With that- that’s a more progressive income tax. Fourteen brackets like we used to have, instead of six. [The] bottom bracket was half what it is now. It was 2 percent back then, it’s 4 percent now. The top bracket was over 15 [percent], now it’s 8, going down to 6.85.

And then we’ve got the stock transfer tax- 12 to 16 billion dollars a year. That’s the only tax in the world that I know of that we collect and give right back. I mean what’s the point. It’s pennies per share per trade so it’s not a burden. Wall Street’s not moving to New Jersey because of that tax. That tax was instituted in 1906.

And then we’ve got $7 billion in corporate welfare.

That’s $8 billion more from the progressive income tax, $7 billion more from cutting corporate welfare, and about $15 [billion] for the stock transfer tax. Thirty billion dollars.

So, we’re not raising taxes, we’re making the burden more progressive. We’re actually lowering it for most people. And– still funding the public sector.

***

We are also inviting the other candidates for New York State Governor, Rob Astorino and Andrew Cuomo, to speak with NYER.

“Let’s Be Bold”: what one Jersey City resident says about climate change

As the United Nations Summit on Climate Change moves forward, NY Environment Report is highlighting the voices of the over 400,000 demonstrators who walked the streets of Manhattan Sunday to demand action.

Every demonstrator -young or old, man or woman- has a unique perspective on the issue; all are linked by a sense of deep urgency. Yesterday, we featured the thoughts of Michael Turi, a “citizen activist” from Long Island, who argued that local action on climate change can be the basis for a long-term global solution.

Today, we listen to Steven Jones, a new resident of Jersey City, who told us, “the first step is…global awareness and consciousness. We have to start a movement..[and have] conservations at home, with our family, with our friends, anybody we have any type of civic interaction with. That’s what has to start first.”

 

 

“We have to do this to push the legislators, the corporations, and everybody else to…affect change and policy,” Jones continued. “I look at this [the People’s Climate March] as the first step of a group of people that are conscious and aware coming together to stimulate that impetus for change in the future.”

“To be is to do,” observed Jones. “I believe there is hope because we always have a chance to do– to impact change…When I stop believing in hope is the day I don’t want to get up and live anymore.”

“New York City is bold. It went through 9/11. Let’s be bold and impact the world, and force climate change to be a real initiative so it will be in the forefront of our minds at all times going forward. Because it will affect us in the future,” he concluded.

What We Heard from Long Island Climate Activists on Sunday: Start Local

In the wake of Sunday’s landmark Climate March, the United Nations has begun deliberations that are supposed to lead to a new set of carbon emissions limits next year. How can the voices from Sunday’s march penetrate the halls of the U.N.?

The hundreds of grassroots, community-based organizations who marched say they are paving the way for global climate action by creating a broad base of support at the local level.

Michael Turi of Nassau County People’s Climate spoke with NY Environment Report about the impact of climate change on the Southern Shore of Long Island, and the group’s hopes for the U.N. climate summit. Turi described the group as “citizen activists” who “care about the environment and [are] showing it with their feet.”

 

 

What’s the Long Island grassroots strategy for obtaining meaningful action on climate change, we asked Turi. “There needs to be enough of a message [from Sunday’s march] so they [political leaders] can go back and get the buy-in of the people who they represent,” he answered.

“And those people will tell their leaders: this is important to us; this is what matters; this is real. It’s affecting everybody and it’s already started and it’s only going to get worse and more expensive, and we need to spend the time dealing with it now to prevent what could happen later.”

This philosophy of building pressure from below applies to political leaders across the globe, said Turi. He added that the cumulative power of environmental action at the local level should not be under-estimated.

“We’re participating in something larger than ourselves today but it’s important to act where you are,” Turi stressed.

“There are environmental issues locally in every community that need to be addressed including as pertains to climate change…We care about climate change in Nassau County, and that’s where we’re going to act upon it. All of these people …[at the march] they’re from somewhere. If everyone acts where they are, that adds up to a lot of trench and action.”

 

Throughout the week we will be posting audio recordings of interviews with participants at Sunday’s Climate March. We think that the marchers -and their experiences dealing with local environmental issues- represent an enormous collective resource.

New Yorkers Brought the World Together Sunday to Fight Climate Change

The streets of Manhattan were shut down to traffic Sunday, and taken over by environmental activists from around the world. Young and old, from the Bronx to Alaska, they came with one message: we are prepared to fight for our collective future.

The message was aimed –in part- at the United Nations, which begins discussions this week on a new global carbon emissions treaty. But Sunday’s march was also a long-term call to action to every man, woman and child.

400,000+ Attend The March

Over 400,000 strong, this sea of people –with colorful signs, floats, chants and songs– moved down Central Park West and through midtown. The mood was both incredibly upbeat and “peaceful,” as one police officer said to me.

The demonstrators at the People’s Climate March are the human face of a profound crisis: the earth’s very ability to sustain human life is now in question. Many spoke to us about the deep urgency of the situation. Others pointed to the fact that solidarity climate actions took place in over 160 countries Sunday.

Children were quite visible at the march, holding signs and helping with floats. The presence of the very old and very young in the crowds was particularly moving.

A young marcher from Coney Island
A young marcher from Coney Island

What was also striking was how demonstrators linked local environmental issues to the global climate crisis.

Whether we were discussing the proliferation of natural gas pipelines across New Jersey, receding glaciers in Alaska, river ecosystems threatened by oil exploration in Northern Canada, or the impact of Hurricane Sandy on Long Island, the people we spoke with were very clear in their analysis: it’s time to end our use of fossil fuels now.

Perhaps the most interesting and captivating part of the march was that the participants came armed with solutions. Wherever we turned, there were posters and floats that explained how a clean energy economy can be put into existence immediately. Many said to us that the technology and know-how to end our use of fossil fuels is available now; what is missing is the political will.

Voices from the People’s Climate March

Throughout this week, we will be posting audio recordings of our interviews with march participants, from a 13-year old girl living in Massachusetts to the Green Party’s candidate for New York State Governor.

Every demonstrator has a unique story, but all saw themselves as part of a historic -and global- movement.

Rafael, a twenty-five year old from the Bronx, spoke to us about the fact that, “for far too long we’ve been ignoring this issue…maybe finally our generation will be the first generation…to see what we’re doing to this planet.”

“Politicians need to stop worrying about how they look in the media and start worrying about the actual real issues,” Rafael continued. “Change is coming…we’re all together…together we can make an impact.”

 

 

NYC’s Role In Fighting Climate Change

We also had the opportunity to speak with Nik Sekhran, Chief of Sustainable Development for the United Nations Development Program. Sekhran spoke about the role that New York City plays in finding a solution to climate change.

nik sekrahn un
Nik Sekhran, Chief of Sustainable Development for the United Nations Development Program

“The challenge that we’ve [the U.N.] got is to make sure that collective contribution [in terms of global emissions cuts] is sufficient to avoid calamitous climate change,” Sekhran said. “How do we get to the level of ambition that we need?”

“That’s why an event like this is so important here in New York City. There’s over a hundred thousand people here; this matters to people and ultimately for leaders to take note and to bring to the table good proposals and to make meaningful progress.”

“New York City residents tend to be very progressive,” Sekhran continued. “The City has made huge headway in terms of its waste management systems and its conservation programs…We need to show the world what New York is doing…[Climate change] it’s a very, real significant threat to New York, and because of that…New Yorkers can make a major difference. People hear what New Yorkers say.”

 

 More Climate March Coverage

Want to see more of the March? Check out our big batch of photos from the day.

One of the many good signs at the People's Climate March
One of the many signs at the People’s Climate March

The Objective of Sunday’s Climate March: Building a Clean Energy Economy

On the streets of New York City, signs promoting the People’s Climate March seem to be everywhere. Organizers project that the march could be the largest climate change mass-action ever. Over 100,000 are expected on the streets of New York.

Fourteen hundred -and counting- organizations have signed on, representing environmental causes and communities across the country and the globe. What is the fundamental objective that links all these groups and people together? What is the march supposed to accomplish?

The key focus, said Jamie Henn, strategy and communications director for 350.org, is to show mass public support for keeping eighty-percent of existing fossil fuel reserves in the ground, and moving aggressively toward an economy based on “clean energy.”

350.org is the lead organizer of Sunday’s march. Their name refers to the often-cited statistic that maintaining a livable climate requires a reduction in “the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 400 parts per million to below 350 ppm.”

“There’s never been a march like this- on this scale,” Henn told NYER. The march “is a big tent moment,” he said, “to demonstrate a huge constituency” for addressing climate change. “What we’ve been lacking is political pressure…we need our political leaders to start responding to people, not polluters.”

Henn agreed that the movement was diverse, composed of hundreds of organizations who “also have very singular fights,” from stopping fracking to combatting pollution sources in individual towns and neighborhoods.

The focus on re-organizing our economy around clean energy, “makes it possible for lots of people from different walks of life to come together,” Henn stated.

New Global Emissions Targets Should Impact Energy Policy

The People’s Climate March happens two days before an “emergency” United Nation’s summit on climate change, which is intended to build political momentum for the negotiation of a new climate treaty in Paris next year.

Henn said that environmental groups across the globe will be watching the treaty negotiation process with one over-arching question: do new emissions targets “move us toward 100% clean energy? Does this mean that no more coal fired power plants will be built?”

What Would A Clean Energy Economy Look Like?

A Clean Energy Economy would be centered around renewable sources of energy, like the sun, wind and water. A focus on renewable energy would heavily impact capital investment and workforce development decisions, for example.

Both the City and the State of New York are investing in clean energy generation.

The City announced this week that it is constructing a hydroelectric facility to “capture the natural force of the billions of gallons of water” released from its upstate Cannonsville drinking water reservoir every year.

The plant, says the City, will generate enough electricity to power roughly 6,000 homes and it will avoid the emission of 25,620 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually—the equivalent of removing 5,400 cars from the road.

The facility is also expected to generate approximately $2 million in revenue each year, “depending on demand and the market price of electricity.”

Betting on Renewable (and cheaper) Energy

Making renewable energy sources cost-competitive with fossil fuels is key to their wide-scale adaptation. By the end of the decade, reports the Natural Resources Defense Council, “solar energy could become cheaper than conventional electricity in many parts of the country.”

New York State is investing heavily in solar. The Cuomo administration has committed a billion dollars to solar expansion over the next decade. The goal is to build 3,000 megawatts of solar power, enough “reliable clean electricity to power nearly half a million New York homes.”

New York is currently home to the largest solar farm on the East Coast, the 32-megawatt Long Island Solar Farm at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The Long Island facility produces enough electricity annually to power nearly 4,500 homes.

There are almost 140,000 American workers employed in the solar industry today, says the NRDC, and that number is expected to grow. New York could eventually be home to ten-thousand solar jobs based on the Governor’s investment.

And the NRDC has found that wind energy now costs about the same as electricity from new coal- and gas-fired power plants. American wind generates enough electricity to power more than 11 million homes, and provides manufacturing, construction and operation jobs for at least 75,000 Americans, the group adds.

In some months, says the NRDC, “wind energy provides more than 6 percent of our nation’s electricity, and experts estimate that in the future, wind energy could realistically supply five times that amount — 30 percent or more of our electricity needs.”

The State, and other partners, have been attempting to move ahead on a proposed wind farm off the Rockaway Coast. The Long Island – New York City Offshore Wind Project has the potential to be the largest off-shore wind facility in the U.S.

If built, the Farm could help the State meet its objective that New York obtain 45 percent of its electricity through improved energy efficiency and renewable sources. The State had originally proposed meeting this target by 2015, which now seems unlikely. Advocates are pushing the Cuomo administration to renew and stick with aggressive renewable energy targets.

Affecting Every Level of Society

Beyond power generation, however, a Clean Energy Focus will affect every level of society, especially our economy. The need for energy conservation means that our homes, workplaces and public buildings will have to be retrofitted, creating scores of jobs and other economic impacts.

Our methods of transportation will continue to shift toward electric vehicles, mass transit and bikes. Major investments will be required to expand mass transit, and rail-based cargo shipment.

Our waste stream will change as we send less of our trash to landfills, and more to recycling plants and facilities that can turn waste safely into energy. Transforming how we deal with trash will move jobs away from trucking and dumping it, and more toward re-using it.

The end result of moving away from fossil fuels? Enhanced air and water quality, thousands of new jobs dedicated to rebuilding our country, and a fighting chance at protecting our climate for future generations.

See you on Sunday.

It’s Not Just the March- so many great climate events happening this weekend

Activists and everyday people from around the country, and around the globe, are convening on New York City this weekend for the People’s Climate March.

The march starts at 11:30 on Sunday. Over 1,400 organizations have signed on; and over 100,000 marchers are expected to turn out!

According to organizers, participants will be assembling on Central Park West, between 65th and 86th streets. You can enter on 65th, 72nd, 77th, 81st, or 86th street. For a map of the route, click here.

There are scores of events leading up to Sunday. It’s a great chance to meet fellow New Yorkers, and people from across the country and the world, who care about climate change.

If you can’t make it on Sunday, Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now will be broadcasting live from the march from 10:30am to 1:30pm. Listen here.

For the full schedule of events leading up to and after the march, click here. Here’s just a small sampling:

Friday

Pop-Up Workshops in the Union Square Green Market from 10am to 4pm. Throughout the day, New School faculty and staff will conduct brief instructional workshops focusing on topics including food systems, and the green economy.

Educational Forum: Today’s Fossil Fuels and the Future of our Children’s Health @ John Jay College for Criminal Justice at 5pm. 524 West 59th Street in Manhattan.

From the Heart of Amazon: Ecuadorian Voices and Solutions @ Impact Hub NYC in Lower Manhattan from 6 to 7:30pm. An evening with Ecuadorian youth and indigenous leaders, as they share their hopes for the Ecuadorian Amazon and the planet.

A Queer Response to Climate Change @ NYC Metropolitan Community Church at 7pm. 446 W. 36th Street in Manhattan. How are LGBTQ folks specially positioned to creatively consider Global Warming and develop strategies for addressing it?

Saturday

South Bronx Environmental Justice Waterfront Tour & Cantastoria of the South Bronx. Meet at Brook Park at 12pm. This dynamic tour will bring participants to the frontlines of climate change and environmental justice, less than five miles from UN headquarters.

Lower East Side Sustainable Community & Garden Walking Tour at Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space. 155 Avenue C from 12 to 2pm. Learn about recycling, composting, and bicycle activism and how the city adapted to the sustainable concepts that started in the Lower East Side.

New York State’s Response to Climate Change. A Panel Discussion About the Public Service Commission’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) Initiative. Fordham University School of Law from 2 to 4pm. New York State’s energy industries and policies are undergoing a transformation. Concerns about climate change, system security, and the resiliency of an aging energy infrastructure are catalyzing innovations in energy production, transmission, and end-use, particularly with regards to electricity.

The Climate Crisis: Which Way Out. The Unitarian Church of All Souls from 8 to 10pm. 1157 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. Join SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS of Vermont, BILL McKIBBEN, NAOMI KLEIN, CHRIS HEDGES, and KSHAMA SAWANT for a panel discussion on strategies and tactics for building the climate movement. Moderated by BRIAN LEHRER of WNYC.

City Council Gets In Step with the People’s Climate March

On Sunday, September 21st, New York City will make history by hosting what will almost certainly be the world’s largest climate change demonstration—and the City Council has officially gone on record in support of the event.

Resolution 356, drafted by Council Member Donovan Richards (who also chairs the Committee on Environmental Protection), not only endorses the People’s Climate March but also “recognizes the dangers of climate change to human health and the environment.”

More than 1,000 organizations have signed on to support the march—from environmental justice groups to faith and conservation groups—and tens of thousands of people are expected to attend. “It’s unprecedented, the bringing together of groups that have not always worked together,” said Eddie Bautista, head of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, to Capital New York.

Members of the City Council have committed to march on Sunday, too.

Five Questions for the Councilman

While Resolution 356 may not alter our nation’s path with regards to climate change, it is an important gesture from NYC’s  lawmaking body, and a strong signal to Mayor de Blasio: now is the time for climate action.

In order to get a better sense of Council Member Richard’s stance on climate change, and his thoughts on the People’s Climate March, NYER posed the following questions. Here’s how Richards replied:

NYER: Why did you develop Resolution 356?
Council Member Richards: Resolution 356 offered me a unique opportunity as the Chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection to address the long standing issue of climate change. The warming of the globe and the threat to not only the earth but also more importantly to human life, can no longer be considered the elephant in the room. I am surprised that the council took so long to make a largely ceremonial but important step. The resolution also culminated perfectly with the events surrounding climate week in New York City such as the People’s Climate March and the UN Climate Change Summit so the timing worked perfectly.

NYER: What do you hope the People’s Climate March achieves?
CM Richards: Climate change affects us all and the march is symbolic of the role the individual plays to reverse the extensive damage to the planet. The most important thing about the People’s Climate March is what happens on the 22nd. Marches have always been about organizing people around a common cause, but the work comes after acknowledging your contribution to a movement, maintaining momentum and making an impact whether that be a locally or worldwide.

NYER: Councilmen Vincent Ignizio and Steven Matteo, both of Staten Island, formally abstained from a vote on Resolution 356 — even though their borough was the hardest hit during Hurricane Sandy. Do you know why they abstained? (Ed. note: NYER did attempt to contact both CM Ignizio and Matteo; both declined to comment.)
CM Richards: I trust my colleagues to vote in a manner that represents the needs and interests of their constituency.

NYER: Where do you think NYC could be acting faster with regard to climate change?
CM Richards: The list of things that New York City can do to address climate change is exhaustive but to name a few; the city can begin by creating an official energy policy, set more ambitious goals such as fully transitioning to renewable energy in the next decade, retrofitting and updating NYCHA housing for resiliency and ending the direct subsidization of fossil fuels.

NYER: What gives you hope about climate change?
CM Richards: There is a wealth of compelling evidence that our love affair with fossil fuels, consumerism and denial must end now. Simply, faith is the substance of things hoped for- the evidence of things not yet seen and I believe it is not too late to make the right decisions that will reverse some of the damage human activity has caused.

 

Plastic Bag Watch: It’s #BYOBag Week

Can you live without using a plastic bag for a week…or longer? Proponents of a charge on single-use plastic and paper bags are challenging New Yorkers to do just that.

Surfrider NYC and a coalition of environmental and neighborhood groups have declared September 15 – 21 #BYOBag Week. The groups are encouraging New Yorkers to bring their own reusable bags to the store.

Building To A Bag Law

#BYOBag Week is designed to build support for a proposed surcharge on single-use bags. In late March, Council Members Margaret Chin and Brad Lander introduced legislation designed to “dramatically reduce single-use plastic and paper bags in New York City by forcing us to think twice about whether we really need a bag and encourage reusable bag use.”

Those second thoughts would be triggered by a 10-cent charge on every non-reusable bag provided by grocery and retail stores. Stores would get to keep the 10 cents.

Reducing Waste Or Causing E. Coli?

The bill, which aims to reduce plastic bag use in New York City by 90 percent, is currently being reviewed by the Council’s Sanitation Committee. Supporters take pains to say it’s not a tax. Rather, they point to the hefty costs associated with plastic bag use. According to their numbers, New Yorkers use 5.2 billion plastic bags annually; getting those bags to landfills costs $10 million per year.

Despite a provision that would exempt WIC and SNAP recipients from paying the charge, some opponents of the bill fear it will hurt low-income families. A lobbyist for the plastic bag industry raised concerns that reliance on reusable bags will lead to an outbreak of diseases like E. coli, a claim that Council Member Lander was quick to refute.

The proposed legislation comes at a time when other cities and states are doubling-down on single-use bags – including California, which recently banned free plastic bags.

How To Bag It

To help New Yorkers ditch single-use bags, Surfrider has arranged a number of events for #BYOBag Week, including reusable bag giveaways in Brooklyn and a student-focused rally on Tuesday, September 16th. These events lead up to the People’s Climate March, a major environmental action to be held in New York City on Sunday September 21st.

While participating in #BYOBag Week can be as simple as bringing a reusable bag to your corner bodega, Surfrider is encouraging participants to go online to register their support for the legislation.

Reporter’s Notebook: We All Live Downstream- an encounter on the Hudson

This past Sunday I stopped overnight in beautiful Cold Spring, New York. The village of Cold Spring—which has an incredible spot on the banks of the Hudson River—is in Putnam County, just north of Westchester.

In the morning, I decided to take a walk along the river. The sheer scale of the river, and the views across it, looking toward the soaring bluffs on the Hudson’s western side, are pretty breathtaking.

But what captivated me, as someone who has lived in New York City for over two decades, is how accessible the river was, and how inviting it seemed. From where I stood on the shore of Little Stony Point Beach, you could literally walk right into the river.

The Hudson River from Cold Spring. Photo credit: Sarah Crean.
Little Stony Point Beach, Cold Spring, N.Y. Photo credit: Sarah Crean

There were no embankments or railings or cement structures. The river was right there, waiting. It was easy to imagine that this is what the shore of the Hudson had once been like all along the western edge of Manhattan.

Many were drawn to the river the day I visited. There were people throughout the half-mile stretch of beach, playing music, barbecuing and swimming.

Encountering the SeaChange Climate Justice Flotilla

As I walked along Little Stony Point Beach, I passed two amazing, but fragile-looking canoes, covered with drawings.

I wanted to keep moving but it was impossible not to ask what these canoes were. Both vessels flew flags and it was clear they were being used for a major journey. What I had stumbled across was a Climate Justice Flotilla.

Artwork on SeaChange canoe showing flotilla entering New York City. Photo credit: Sarah Crean
Artwork on SeaChange canoe showing flotilla entering New York City. Photo credit: Sarah Crean

The canoe “pilots,” Amaranta Herrero and Kevin Buckland, explained to me that a fleet of hand-made, full-scale, paper boats is traveling down the Hudson, from Troy to New York City. The “SeaChange” flotilla is to arrive in New York City as the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit gets underway and environmentalists from across the country come together for the September 21st People’s Climate March.

The project was initiated by 350.org and Mare Liberum, which describes itself as a Brooklyn-based boatbuilding collective.

The SeaChange Flotilla. Photo credit: Sunita Prasad
The SeaChange Flotilla. Photo credit: Sunita Prasad

The flotilla is making several stops on its 160-mile journey, visiting riverfront communities like Albany, Newburgh-Beacon, Hudson, and Peekskill. Every stop has significance. The stop in Peekskill on Tuesday, for example, focused on Indian Point and the question of nuclear power.

Herrero, Buckland, and the rest of the flotilla had been in Newburgh the night before I encountered them. They said they met with local residents and activists to discuss the escalation of crude oil rail shipments along the Hudson. They had also gathered to hear a presentation from Riverkeeper on an oil heating facility proposed for New Winsdor/Newburgh that could potentially handle crude from the Canadian tar sands.

Herrero and Buckland noted that as they visited communities along the Hudson, they were learning about the threat of parallel disasters: local and global. The use of the Hudson as a path for crude oil shipment threatens the river, Hudson Valley residents and the climate, they said. Ultimately, “we all live downstream,” Buckland observed.

The SeaChange Flotilla arrives in New York City tonight at the Inwood Canoe Club. The flotilla will circumnavigate Manhattan on Saturday and Sunday. You can follow the flotilla’s progress, find out where they will be landing and how to join them here.

I asked Herrero what it had been like to paddle a fragile canoe in such a wide and powerful river. One of the canoes had capsized in the Hudson, she answered. “Our trip is unpredictable, like the environment,” Herrero said.

A Local Issue: Sewage Releases into the Hudson

It was surprising to me how a brief walk along the shore of the Hudson could raise so many questions about how we relate to our environment. During my walk on the beach, I also encountered large pipes extending into the river from the shore. I had passed the village’s local sewage treatment plant on my way down to the river, and wondered whether the pipes were an outflow point for the plant.

Drainage pipe into the Hudson River. Photo credit: Sarah Crean
Drainage pipe into the Hudson River. Photo credit: Sarah Crean

As we reported last week, water quality throughout New York State is impacted by the fact that sewers and sewage treatment plants can become overwhelmed by rain, leading to the release of raw, untreated sewage into local waterways.

I have not yet been able to confirm that the pipes are outflow points for the Cold Spring Wastewater Treatment Plant, but I have located the state permit that confirms the plant can release effluent into the Hudson. Once wastewater is treated, it re-enters local waterways.

The longitude and latitude coordinates for Little Stony Point Beach, which is considered an “informal beach”, do seem to match the coordinates of the effluent release site mentioned in the town’s permit.

The night before I arrived, the mid-Hudson Valley had experienced heavy rain. Hopefully, there had been no need to release untreated sewage from the pipes on Little Stony Point Beach into the river.