The Beginning of the End

Last night, I walked to the Hudson to watch the sunset. Every restaurant was full (at 50 or 75% capacity – whatever we’re at right now), and on my way back from the river, it struck me that, for the first time in months, a majority of people out and about were not wearing masks. This, along with the recent CDC revision of guidance on mask-wearing, strikes me as a touch premature, but the COVID numbers have, indeed, improved dramatically in NYC as across the US, and, so far, the vaccines seem to be proving largely effective against even the worst variants (though the risk of immune escape remains ever-present).

It is hard to write about such relatively good news here while following the heartbreaking news from India, and I’ve been preoccupied not only with the monumental tragedy unfolding on the subcontinent, but with family matters here as well, and so on hiatus from this blog. Still, in considering the largely human- (read: government-) made catastrophe enveloping India, it can be helpful to be reminded just how quickly things can change, epidemiologically speaking. Back in mid-December, as a brutal third (or fourth) wave swept the US, and many commentators with reaches far exceeding my own highlighted that, at the then-current rate, it would take the US until 2024 or something to vaccinate our entire population, I wrote:

“Either way, what all this math suggests to me is that the pandemic in the US will likely be over by March or April, given the devastating amount of transmission that is already largely “baked in,” and so long as the vaccine rollout proceeds roughly as has been outlined above.”

You’re welcome. I hope events as they unfold continue to prove me right, and that not only the US, but India, and the rest of the world can soon move on from the heartbreak and devastation of the past year or two, ideally to focus more on climate crisis, public health, the alleviation of hunger, etc., etc., and less on a New Cold War.

Reading Material

I have a huge backlog of flagged articles. Roughly chronologically: Ashish Jha on the switch from supply to demand constraint on vaccine distribution in the US. “New Study Finds U.S. Oil and Gas Methane Emissions Are 60 Percent Higher Than EPA Reports” – surprise! And a pretty graph about “methane leaks from oil and gas facilities.” Bill Gates, farmer. Expect more (US) western wildfires. “The Zero Covid strategy protects people and economies more effectively” – obvi. “We sampled tap water across the US – and found arsenic, lead and toxic chemicals” which is bad news. In more of it, “Banks pledge to fight climate crisis – but their boards have deep links with fossil fuels.” But walking and biking are good ways to reduce emissions. These Google Earth time-lapse images are amazing and alarming. Bill Gates, jerk, monster. “Gas is the new coal” when it comes to the risk of stranded assets. “A new study of indoor dust found PFAS and other toxics that can lead to infertility, diabetes, obesity, abnormal fetal growth, and cancers.” “In our haste to ban or regulate unsustainable and environmentally damaging materials and chemicals, we may overlook dangers posed by their substitutes.” “More sophisticated commercial buyers and more risk-aware buyers respond more to floodplain information. This underpricing increases incentives to develop in hazardous places. Enhanced communication of flood risk could help ensure such risk is appropriately reflected in market outcomes.” “Study finds ride-sharing intensifies urban road congestion.” “Andrew Yang’s ‘Plan’ For The MTA is Empty Promises that Won’t Work Anyway.” Bill de Blasio, bad mayor. “Flu Has Disappeared Worldwide during the COVID Pandemic” – who knew?! Amazing global carbon dioxide flux visualization from NASA. And finally, the NYC City Council has passed legislation (finally) to ban the use of a bunch of toxic pesticides on all City property.

#GasBanNYC

In NYC

The campaign to win a gas ban in NYC (that is, a ban on natural gas hookups in new construction and gut renovations) has officially launched. If you’d like to be a part of the effort, you can check out this fact sheet, these slides, and this Politico article on the mayor’s support for a gas ban. If you live in NYC, I hope you’ll then feel compelled to reach out to your councilperson to urge them to sign this pledge. If you’d like to do more than that, just get in touch with me personally as I’m volunteering with New York Communities for Change (NYCC) as an organizer on this effort.

Speaking of NYCC, Pete Sikora has a good op-ed in New York Focus on the ongoing struggle to block Part R in Albany. (Tl;dr – it looks like we’ll stop the governor’s effort to hollow out NYC’s landmark 2019 Local Law 97, but it’s too soon to tell, and one can never put something past Andrew Cuomo, especially as he’s politically wounded, flailing, and in need of all the support he can get from the real estate lobby.)

And Beyond

Further afield, a group of environmental justice orgs wrote this letter to congressional leaders in DC urging them to “Please pass, this year, President Biden’s priority legislation of achieving 100% clean electricity in the United States by 2035”; Rainforest Action Network released their “Banking on Climate Chaos: Fossil Fuel Finance Report” for 2021; and results of a recent study were “‘Mystery chemicals’ found in pregnant Bay Area women,” a stark reminder that climate change/global heating is only one of the multiple planetary boundaries currently at risk of rupture by out-of-control capitalist exploitation of the Earth.

Lots of urgent work to be done, and I hope you’re engaged in your own evolving process of being part of the transformative decade we need to make this one of which we’re at the start.

Postscript: The University of Michigan has announced it is divesting from fossil fuels as part of an ambitious program of climate action. When will my alma mater, UNC, do the same?

A Big, Hard, Complex, but Addressable Problem

New York News

Unsurprisingly, the Climate Action Council – “tasked with devising the policies to achieve” the goals laid out in New York State’s landmark CLCPA – is “mired in incrementalism“; in brighter news, a big new piece of proposed climate legislation just went live in Albany, and plans are gathering steam for a gas-ban push in NYC. I encourage you to follow the links if you’re interested in getting involved with this organizing.

Also, if you’re in NYC and interested in community solar, check out this collaboration from Krystal at Grouphug.

On the Pandemic

Another excellent piece from Zeynep Tufekci dispelling some myths about origins of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern and rejecting the dehumanizing logic of self-serving vaccine diplomacy (as opposed to simply trying to vaccinate everyone because it’s the right thing to do).

General Climate Content

Pieces that caught my eye on the “Economic footprint of California wildfires in 2018,” “Climate change extremes and photovoltaic power output,” and the “health and environmental impacts of solvents for producing perovskite solar cells” – all in the spirit that climate crisis is a big, hard, complex, but addressable meta-problem. This, from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, would suggest that a majority of people in the US agree with that framing.

Climate plus Crypto

And, finally, just because I happen to be interested in both, good pieces from Albert Wenger and Nick Grossman (both of NYC’s USV) on the intersection.

The Long, Dark Winter of Neoliberalism

One piece of good news to start the week, one encouraging sign, and one good takedown of a bad idea that is long past its expiration date.

The Good News First…

As Politico reported this morning, “Lawmakers reject Cuomo’s real estate power play”; to quote from the article, which describes the rejection by NY State Senate and House of Part R of the governor’s proposed executive budget:

One-house budgets dropped over the weekend after a tumultuous week in New York state politics. Both the Assembly and Senate rejected Cuomo’s proposal to override a portion of New York City’s landmark local building emissions law. The proposal backed by real estate would allow building owners to pay for renewable credits from existing upstate projects rather than make retrofit investments or pay penalties. Opponents of Cuomo’s proposal have warned it would gut the intent of the law and limit any job creation impacts.

The battle now is to ensure that not only is Part R removed from the budget, but that no false “compromise” takes its place. Local Law 97 should stand as it was passed, no matter how hard the real estate lobby pushes the governor in Albany.

The Encouraging Sign

I encourage anyone who hasn’t followed the shocking case of the corporate political prisoner Steven Donziger – the human rights lawyer who has been under house arrest in his Upper West Side apartment for nearly 600 days at the behest of Chevron – to listen to this interview with him from this morning’s Democracy Now! – sobering to say the least, but encouraging that a coalition of climate/environmental justice organizations have written a public letter to new Attorney General Merrick Garland calling for justice for Donziger and the communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon to which he, among others, has provided legal representation.

May he soon be free and some semblance of justice served in New York as in Ecuador. The two Federal judges who have been instrumental in this miscarriage of justice should both lose their posts.

The Bad Idea

Scientific American has a good takedown of the so-called “tragedy of the commons” – one of many casually repeated (and re-Tweeted) neoliberal tropes, the uses of which often run counter to empirical evidence, but serve corporate interests. Here’s a winning excerpt:

It’s hard to overstate [Garrett] Hardin’s impact on modern environmentalism. […] But here are some inconvenient truths: Hardin was a racist, eugenicist, nativist and Islamophobe. He is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a known white nationalist. His writings and political activism helped inspire the anti-immigrant hatred spilling across America today. […] Of course, plenty of flawed people have left behind noble ideas. That Hardin’s tragedy was advanced as part of a white nationalist project should not automatically condemn its merits. But the facts are not on Hardin’s side. For one, he got the history of the commons wrong.

Wishing everyone a good week ahead. We’re seeing signs of spring in NYC, and for my part, I’m committed to working towards a new political spring in the US as well after this long, dark winter of neoliberalism.

Postscript: That Politico piece is actually from 2019, but as relevant as ever today, for better or worse.

One Year On

One year ago, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. (I, personally, declared it a pandemic on February 27th, 2020, and started writing daily about the same last March 7th in an effort to document/make sense of what was happening to New York City.) Hilariously, even a year later, autocorrect on WordPress is still giving me “The Who” for WHO.

There’s not a lot new to say at the moment. The early days of the Biden Administration have been encouraging, if modestly so, and the passage of the ARP is a significant victory for the US Left. I remain optimistic about our national path out of the pandemic, but pandemic are not national affairs, and the greatest threat to our progress remains the global state of vaccine apartheid that is currently prevailing, setting aside the damning neglect for the lives of others encoded in it.

In the News

There continue to be lots of interesting novel applications of satellite imaging, this one in urban planning; Inside Climate News reports that “Big Banks Make a Dangerous Bet on the World’s Growing Demand for Food“; and Zeynep Tufecki has another good [paywalled] piece on vaccines.

Closer to home, Benjamin Kabak has an article worth reading on how “A better transit route for LaGuardia remains a long shot, but thanks to an FAA policy shift, it now could happen“; and Pete Sikora of New York Communities for Change did an interview about the fight against Part R in New York State with The Indy (if you live in NYC or NYS, it’s a must-listen in my view).

Finally, for my fellow UNC alums, this piece – “What if UNC’s $6.5 Billion Endowment Actually Worked for All of Us?” – by Julio Gutierrez is an excellent primer on the mis/management of UNC’s endowment.

Here’s to spring.