April Showers Bring April Flowers

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Year by year, spring is springing earlier and earlier

Lots of news in New York City, around the country, and around the world – refreshingly much of it positive – so where to begin?

In the US, I remain cautiously optimistic that we are witnessing a slow sea change around questions of climate and ecological action and justice. Hard to guess what the future holds for the Green New Deal (GND), but we need it, or something like it, and the thing to remember is that the true critique of the GND is not that is too sweeping, but that it may not be ambitious enough.

On that front, perhaps nothing feels more urgent and potentially transformative right now than the direct actions being taken by Extinction Rebellion. From what I gather, it is a sort of radical, ecstatic circus of dissent that is looking to make business as usual impossible (most notably, in London, at the moment) until real and commensurate action is initiated to address the global climate emergency. Amazing to note that not only Extinction Rebellion, but also the Sunrise Movement here in the US have taken inspiration from the courageous actions of a single teenager, Greta Thunberg. Sometimes – if you’re feeling despondent or paralyzed by indecision in view of the scope of the climate crisis – it can be helpful to remember that we generally don’t appreciate what the impacts of our actions will be. Of course, global climate change epitomizes negative (somewhat) unforeseen consequences of human action, but isn’t it about time we contributed to some positive unforeseen consequences?

Here in New York City, we’re seeing fits and starts of climate progress. Congestion pricing for lower Manhattan has passed, but already, the political jockeying has started around exemptions, and not everyone is convinced that it will prove the sweeping transportation fix that it’s been billed. Additionally, the City Council recently passed a landmark piece of climate legislation mandating significant energy efficiency improvements for major buildings in the five boroughs, and there is talk that the Council may officially declare a climate emergency in the coming months, thus requiring that all actions at the level of city government in New York take into account climate realities and climate ramifications. This would be a real step towards sanity.

What can you be doing, then? I’m at least considering joining Extinction Rebellion myself, but am not sure I’m ready to deal with the potential legal consequences. If you, too, are finding yourself shy of taking radical direct action, you can at least be working to change your own mind, and in the process, to change the minds of those around you. (Here’s my climate action primer from a few months ago as a starting point.)

An aside: there is a popular and alluring notion that nature has ended and that we are living in an era of natural-social hybridization owing to the global ascendance of humankind. According to this view, there is no nature anymore, and everything is shaped by human influence/the social. This reflects the pinnacle of hubris. The earth is but a tiny speck in the vastness of the universe, and the universe is ruled by natural laws which function beyond any possibility of human intervention. Our climate system is but the tiniest microcosm of our solar system, our galactic system, and the universal system within which we sit. This is not New Age abuse of language, but an attempt to precisely state facts. If we neglect fundamental laws of the universal system – not as a transcendental abstraction, but as the overarching frame of our reality – we do so at our own peril, as it is not so much the Earth that is under threat right now, but humans and all our fellow living beings on the planet, and the climate system and the natural laws of which it is a function are beyond indifferent to human discourse.

Anyway – coming back down to Earth – urgent action is necessary in view of the above, and thankfully we find ourselves in a moment when it is increasingly possible to imagine new and better futures, futures different from the dystopias and post-apocalyptic cli-fi which we’ve so long been fed by the mass media. Case in point, here‘s an encouraging – if quite basic – video from from AOC, Molly Crabapple, Naomi Klein, and others at the Intercept. Check it out.

We need a Green New Deal, not as an end point, but as a starting point, and I hope you’ll commit yourself to imagining a just and sustainable future and becoming an advocate for the transformations we need to undertake to make such a future possible. This encouraging piece from Douglas Rushkoff – entitled Selling the Green New Deal With Positivity – might be a helpful jumping off point.

What I’m Doing

One action item only this month – stopping the Williams Pipeline:

  • I’ve been regularly calling the Governor (at 518-474-8390; I encourage you to ring through to speak to an operator rather than leaving a voicemail, but every call counts) and other elected officials, signing petitions, joining demonstrations as I find time, and generally speaking out against the construction of the Williams/NESE Pipeline under New York Harbor, as well as against any and all fracked gas infrastructure in New York State. National Grid is threatening a moratorium on new gas hookups if the State does not approve the project by May 15th (have a look at this 350.org report for the case against National Grid’s claims regarding the need for this pipeline), and it is urgent that you make your voice heard on this matter. Want to make your voice heard on other fracking-related matters as well? Here‘s a really helpful map from the Sane Energy Project – called the You Are Here Map – that “allows users to see the big picture of the shale gas network statewide, then zoom in on their own region, learn the current status of a project, and connect with the local group that is fighting it. “

What I’m Reading

Renewable Energy – short, accessible, and optimistic primer on renewable energy technologies that is well worth reading if you’re looking to better understand the progress of and challenges to renewable energy generation.

A Broken Land: Ecological devastation in the American heartland – on fracking.

A Green New Deal for Agriculture – actually still working through this long piece (by Raj Patel and Jim Goodman) myself, but it’s been engaging so far; if your daunted by the long read, you can also listen to this interview with the authors by Doug Henwood (which starts around the 1-minute mark).

Mapped: historical public transit systems v their modern equivalents – this, courtesy of Aaron Gordon of Signal Problems (which he is sadly discontinuing because he has taken a full-time job writing about the future of multimodal transit for Jalopnik), which offers clear visual insight into how much public transit we lost in the era of the automobile.

Protect the whole city, not just one neighborhood – a brief piece from Costa Constantinides and Nilda Mesa on why Mayor de Blasio’s $10-billion “climate” plan for Lower Manhattan is a bad idea.

USDA orders scientists to say published research is ‘preliminary’ – and the monthly reminder of what we’re up against.

Bonus

As someone who loves the water around New York City, I’m thankful the City Council has taken action against this eyesore of a business model.

 

Mass Transit Mass Movement

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Spotted – from Carl Schurz Park – this tank barge carrying “Clean Oil” up the East River

As developments around the Gateway project show, it can be impossible, or nearly so, to pursue certain necessary undertakings without Federal support. On the flipside, concerted public resistance to the Williams Pipeline points to the fact that, sometimes, popular action can be enough to block even the most concerted efforts of corporations and political officials.

Shortly after our return from India, a young man asked me what I thought about the Green New Deal (GND). I said I supported it wholeheartedly, and he blurted out in reply:

“But don’t you think it’s a little extreme?”

Upon inquiring what exactly he meant by that, I came to learn that he was under the impression that the GND would entail all Americans becoming vegan and giving up all air travel. Now, of course, moving to a plant-based diet and reducing air travel are both sane and rational choices in view of the global climate crisis, but I wouldn’t say that mandatory veganism and an air travel ban represent key pillars of the GND as I understand it.

Of course, there is humor in this, but also a deep lesson to be learned. In this profound moment of urgency, we can’t afford to be victims of our own defensive and reactionary urges and the propaganda of climate change deniers which is designed to prey on just those insecurities. I have now adjusted my position on the GND so as to preemptively shift the terms of discussion. The GND is insufficiently ambitious and too-little-too-late, but it is also by far the best option we have in our national discourse around climate, and we should all be throwing our wholehearted support behind developing a robust plan from what is currently only a bold proposal. The devil may be in the Republican Party, but it is also in the details.

Much the same can be said about Corey Johnson’s new plan for NYC’s mass transit. The devil will certainly be in the details, but it reflects a welcome breath of fresh air. Given that I started the year calling for “a mass people’s movement to demand restoration and renewal of New York’s mass transit“, I was pleased to read, in the transcript of the Signal Problems interview with Johnson and a few of his staffers, Johnson’s own assessment of the current stalemate around mass transit governance and accountability:

“Do I think people give up power willingly or in a happy-go-lucky way? No. And that’s why it’s important to build public support and build a movement around this. And I think, hopefully that’s what we’ll do.”

Johnson echoed a similar sentiment in his interview with Benjamin Kabak on the first episode of the Second Avenue Sagas podcast:

“You can only get big things done if you get public, broad-based support from the people it affects the most.”

I recommend that you read/listen to both (and consider becoming a subscriber to Signal Problems, as the full interview with Johnson is paywalled, but makes for interesting reading for those of you who are concerned about the nitty-gritty).

I’m still waiting for my hardcopy of the 103-page report, so my own assessment of it will have to wait until April, but for the time being, I’ll just echo this notion, that what we need is a mass movement of informed and engaged citizens demanding sane and just policies around transit, and around climate, for the future of our City, as of the country and the world.

What I’m Doing

Just two things this month:

  • Thinking long and hard about my ongoing failure to transition away from Chase in view of its long-standing role as the leading financier of fossil fuel companies and projects globally. For context, have a look at this (short) report – all the major American banks are major culprits and nearly $2 trillion have flowed into fossil fuel projects since the signing of the Paris Agreement.
  • Continuing to urge my friends, relatives, neighbors, and fellow New Yorkers to get educated about and get involved with efforts to block the Williams Pipeline. We absolutely do not need fracked gas flowing under New York Harbor. Or anywhere in New York State. Or the country. Or the world.

What I’m Reading

My New Plan to Climate-Proof Lower Manhattan – Bill de Blasio’s ambitious, vague, and in my opinion, confused proposal to “push out the Lower Manhattan coastline as much as 500 feet” so as to defend all that real estate.

‘A lot at stake’: indigenous and minorities sidelined on climate change fight – Guardian article for which the title says it all.

An Ecosocialist Green New Deal: Guiding Principles – some thoughts from the DSA on the GND.

An open letter to all people and organizations working to combat global warming and Open letter to 1Sky from the grassroots – an open letter and an open reply to it that give some interesting insight into what has changed and what hasn’t in the last decade or so.

The Green New Deal can’t just be a bill or two. It needs to be the framework for politics for the next few decades. –  Jacobin series on the GND.

Bonus

I bumped into our friend Harry from the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation the other day, and he recruited me to join for what turned out to be a photo shoot in defense of the White Horse Tavern. I wouldn’t call us “Angry”, per se, but that’s another story…

Mass Train-sit

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The “outskirts” of Hyderabad, one of the many megacities in Asia which are largely unheard of in the US

I’m delighted to declare victory in my campaign to make 2019 The Year of the Train! Thank you to Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and all the other courageous politicians who made this momentous victory possible.

Jokes aside, a lot has happened related to mass transit in NYC in the last two months. We spent the month of February in India, and I’m personally still digging back out from a backlog of correspondence and chores, so hence will keep this brief. It’s always jarring to travel between India and the US, and the contrasts cast in stark relief the challenges and opportunities in both countries, not least of all related to mass transit. (Incidentally, it is especially jarring to transit between South India and the Northeast of the US at this time of year. We went from 37 degrees Celsius to 37 degrees Fahrenheit in a day!) And, of course, the hypocrisy of writing about the need for urgent climate action and my own elective transcontinental air travel in the same paragraph is not lost on me, although I’m not alone in grappling with such contradictions.

On mass transit in NYC, I was thrilled to see Corey Johnson’s sweeping plan, though haven’t yet had time myself to do it full justice. Its release followed close on the heels of the release of the Governor and Mayor’s joint plan. I recommend readers have a look at the Second Avenue Sagas roundup of Johnson’s ambitious plan and the Sagas and Signal Problems breakdowns of the joint gubernatorial-mayoral plan as well. (This piece from Sagas on Mayor de Blasio’s utter failure to address mass transit issues is also worth reading.)

All of these developments have me now questioning the viability of my own #CuomoDeBlasioFixTheSubway proposal, and I’ve been reflecting on what practical steps everyday New Yorkers can be taking to support sane, just, sustainable mass transit policies for the 21st century. For now, I’ll continue to reflect, but hope to write more on this by month’s end.

In the meantime, here’s:

What I’m Reading

The Subway Action Plan is not making the subway better. Here’s what is. – Illuminating piece from Aaron Gordon of Signal Problems on how political pressures distort narratives and practical action related to/by the MTA.

The MTA as a Worker – Great piece from an MTA worker that appeared in the NYC DSA’s newsletter.

Powerless: What it looks and sounds like when a gas driller overruns your land. – Powerful reporting from ProPublica on the abuse of eminent domain in the expansion of the fracking industry in Appalachia.

COP24: Developed Nations Continue to Dictate Terms of Global Climate Action – From December. Title says it all.

What I’m Doing

This month, just one action item:

  • Support efforts to block the Williams Pipeline. We don’t need this fracked gas pipeline running beneath New York Harbor and just off the coast of the Rockaways. You can sign petitions and submit comments via this website as a starting point.

And a…

Bonus

Actually three bonuses:

First, here’s some welcome, if quite serious, comic relief from the halls of Congress regarding the impact of seismic airgun tests on whales.

Second, this month’s sobering reminder about the scale and direness of climate change, courtesy of NASA.

Third, and finally, a humbling reminder of the courage of activists and communities at the frontline of climate action, this one from Wet’Suwet’en Land.

The Year of the Train

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I love our ferries, but what we need is not token pet political projects but functioning buses and trains

There is growing consensus that 2019 will be a “make-or-break” year for the subway – by which I think people generally mean New York’s remarkable, but ailing mass transit system more broadly. We all know how staggering in size and complexity are the interconnected networks of commuter trains, subways, and buses that serve the more than 20 million residents of Greater New York; that perhaps nothing more symbolizes the spirit of New York City than the subway; and that mass transit is a central democratic institution of our metropolis, so I will cut right to the chase: While there has been a great deal of hand-wringing and Twitter groaning about the state of the crisis; while the #FixTheSubway Coalition is doing admirable work to improve rider experiences; and while Governor Cuomo has made great symbolic shows of his commitment to action on mass transit, he has had eight years to give the people of New York substance rather than show, and all we’ve witnessed and experienced is steady deterioration of the quality of service and the state of our essential transit infrastructure.

Hollow words from our elected representatives are not enough. We need a mass people’s movement to demand restoration and renewal of New York’s mass transit systems. We need to make 2019 the year of the train.

Premises

1. New Yorkers are confused and upset about the state of our mass transit. Fares and tolls keep going up, and obviously a lot of money is being spent (speaking of token pet political projects, just look at the 2nd Avenue Subway!), but overall, the quality of services has declined sharply in recent years.

2. Politicians – especially Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, as well as their respective predecessors – have passed the buck and blamed the MTA, but we know that the MTA was actually created (in 1968) for the very purpose of allowing politicians to pass the buck and avoid taking blame and responsibility for mass transit! And that it is the Governor and the Mayor who have outsized control over our mass transit systems and their budgets. They are disproportionately responsible for the current mass transit crisis and should be held accountable for it.

3. For the first time in a long-time, we have a Democratic Governor, State Senate, and State Assembly in New York State, plus a progressive Democratic Mayor and City Council in New York City, and an incoming Democratic United States House of Representatives spearheaded by young, new progressives who are prioritizing (green) infrastructure. Mass transit is a climate, social, racial, and environmental justice issue; the time is now to act such that every year going forward, the subway, commuter trains, and buses will improve, and by 2030, we have the world-class mass transit system that we – and the city we love – deserve.

Demands

1. Fully implement congestion pricing as soon as is possible (there’s backstory on congestion pricing on page 28 of the Fix NYC Advisory Panel Report from January 2018 for those who are interested).

2. Reorganize the MTA per the recommendations of the Metropolitan Transportation Sustainability Advisory Workgroup Report, and begin to implement the Workgroup’s additional recommendations as soon as is possible.

3. Fully fund the Byford Plan (a.k.a. the Fast Forward Plan) and commit designated (“lockboxed”) funds to the immense task of restoring and renewing our mass transit system by 2030.

Action Steps

1. Call the Governor (1-518-474-8390; and no harm in submitting a webform while you’re at it!) and demand that he accomplish the three steps outlined under Demands above.

2. Call the Mayor (may be necessary to call 311 to reach the Mayor’s Office; and ditto on the webform) and demand that he accomplish the three steps outlined under Demands above.

3. Call your State Senator and demand that they accomplish the three steps outlined under Demands above.

4. Call your State Assemblymember and demand that they accomplish the three steps outlined under Demands above.

5. Call your City Councilperson and demand that they accomplish the three steps outlined under Demands above.

6. If you’re feeling especially inspired, take to social media to demand the accomplishment of the three steps outlined under Demands above using #CuomoDeBlasioFixTheSubway.

All told, this should take you about 15 minutes. (Still itching to make more phone calls? I wouldn’t hesitate to reach out to your United States Senator and Representative either, although they’re somewhat remote from this.)

Thank you for taking action. Happy New Year!

If you need any additional motivation to get and stay involved with this struggle for the future of New York, here are words from the tireless Aaron Gordon – if you aren’t already, I encourage you to become a (paid) subscriber to his weekly newsletter, Signal Problems:

“It is for these reasons I suspect 2019 will be the most important year in this city’s transportation history. Never before have so many issues culminated at once. Congestion pricing, MTA reform, the L shutdown, the legality of for-hire vehicle surcharges, the Fast Forward Plan’s future, and on and on. 2017 was the year we recognized we had a problem. 2018 was the year we got a prognosis. Now what? It’s make it or break it, put up or shut up.”

And the Workgroup itself:

“Failure of the public transportation system is the single biggest threat to the continued livability and prosperity of the New York metropolitan region.”

I’d argue that climate disruption is actually “the single biggest threat” to New York City (and most of the other great cities of the world) but while climate change can feel daunting, abstract, and impossible to grapple with, transit is an everyday reality for many of us. It’s time we broke through our fatalism and the cynical obfuscation of our political leaders to demand:

#CuomoDeBlasioFixTheSubway! Transit (and therefore, climate) action now!

Postscript: Apologies to readers outside Greater New York that calls to action here are geographically specific! And note, as the congestion pricing lawsuit makes clear, these issues are (obviously) very complex. For sake of popular accessibility and immediate actionability, some simplification of demands felt necessary, but that simplification was by no means meant to obscure the political nuances at play here.

The Solution is Prevention

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Time to stop fossil fooling ourselves, for example, about late fall in NYC and its causes and consequences

This week, after roughly a year of construction and approximately half a million dollars in expense, repair work on the Morton Street Bulkhead appears to be winding down. Meanwhile, the Global Carbon Project estimates that global carbon dioxide emissions – which had leveled out briefly at the end of the Obama administration – are on pace to increase by 2.7% in 2018 on top of a 1.7% increase last year. As I have written before, coastal defense alone will likely cost New York City tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars in the foreseeable future, and yet, diligently, we are repairing aging bulkheads that, odds are, soon enough, will be regularly underwater. Clearly, as we hurtle towards the proverbial cliff’s edge, we are (almost) all in denial.

And who are we? The individuals and classes most responsible for the global climate crisis.

A loved one reached out to say she was feeling discouraged and personally culpable for climate change, and I responded: “It’s a tough reality at the moment and those of us who live comfortably in the US are all disproportionately to blame, but I don’t see any option at this point but working to reduce the harm.”

A friend declared that what she most feels in thinking about climate issues is “shame.”

By way of social media caption, I wrote: “If you’re not thinking, talking, and acting on climate every day at this point, then you are part of the denial. We have until 2030-ish to utterly transform the way the world works, and despair, cynicism, and resignation are all just different forms of cowardice. Time for concerted, sustained, collective, just, historically-rooted, and evidence-based action.”

Another friend publicly reasserted his conviction that geoengineering will be the only way to avert the most dire consequences of global climate disruption (a contention with which I firmly disagree).

On the one hand, we are desperately in need of a strong dose of reality; on the other, it’s about damn time for some pragmatic optimism and can-do spirit. Yes, the interwoven social, political, economicecological, and climate crises have grown to staggering and daunting proportions.

What are you doing about it?

In that spirit, here’s a very loose framework for thinking about your own climate action, and here’s an even looser roadmap about where we go in the coming twelve years.

If you’re in need of further inspiration, I recommend you follow the links to videos about what youth activists of the Sunrise Movement are doing here in the United States; what indigenous communities are doing in Canada; what members of Extinction Rebellion are doing in the U.K.; what farmers are doing in India; what Greta Thunberg is doing in Sweden (and her remarkable speech at the generally tepid and heavily-policed COP 24 Summit in Katowice); and what Amy Goodman (of Democracy Now!) modeled in chasing one of the chief representatives of the U.S. Government at the Katowice Climate Summit in pursuit of honest answers to a few simple questions.

I urge you, look to these good examples, and then ask yourself – this holiday season, this new year: What am I doing about the climate crisis? Why am I not doing more? How will I feel about my actions, or lack thereof, in a decade? Or fifty years?

Here’s to making 2019 the first year during which global emissions trend down, after which they stay down. Take Drawdown with a grain of salt, but we already have the solutions (chief among them, ending the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, which Drawdown does not emphasize, hence the salt). And if you’re dreading challenging climate conversations with family and friends, here’s a primer.

We have a lot of work to do. See you next year.

Doing What We Can’t Not

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A great many tree branches came down in New York during the recent snowstorm, no doubt owing, in part, to our ever-more-delayed fall

The holiday season is upon us in the United States. I try not to succumb to the frenzy of excess and consumption that constitutes the most sacred celebration of our way of life. Still, it’s hard to find time and space of mind at the moment. I fear that the continuation of my Infrastructure Series will likely have to wait until next summer; however, continue it will, and in the meantime, I’m going to offer a skeletal sketch of my vision for climate action in 2019 and beyond.

First, I’m sure regular readers will have noted the barrage of alarming climate news in recent months. Following the October release of the IPCC’s Special Report (here’s the still-long Summary for Policymakers), came the White House’s own Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II (here’s sample coverage from the Chicago Tribune). Meanwhile, reality bore out the dire predictions: Hurricane Michael did tens of billions of dollars of damage and left 45 people dead in Florida (and at least 15 more people dead in Central America); Super Typhoon Yutu caused massive damage and multiple fatalities in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands; and fires across California killed close to 100 people and left tens of thousands of homes and businesses destroyed.

Even a summary attempt at a global round-up of bad climate news would have us here all day (it would probably have to start with the election of Jair Bolsanaro as president of Brazil), and I continue to try to keep my focus actionable, practical, and pragmatically optimistic. In a nutshell, there is emerging global consensus that “The next 10 years will be the most important in the next 10,000 years in terms of shaping a future where humans can have a hope for an enduring place within the natural systems that keep us alive.” Calendars are arbitrary relative to the biogeochemical processes of the Earth, but we live by them all the same, and readers who are grappling with how to meaningfully take or deepen their own climate action (ideally in collaboration with others as part of growing popular movements for climate sanity and justice) may find it helpful to set some time-based goals.

Here in the US, we have two more years of fighting for harm reduction. There are arenas beyond the national political, but federal headwinds hamper all of our climate actions. So perhaps it makes sense to see 2019 and 2020 as years of building, of planning, and of personal and social transformation, as well as as a time to limit the damage done. Of course, courageous individuals, communities, and activists have been fighting for climate sanity and justice for decades and generations; however, as a great many people contemplate for the first time the realities of imminent (and already unfolding) climate catastrophe, I suspect it will be productive to make space for ourselves and others to ask: “What’s next? What’s my role? What actions do science and my conscience demand?”

I’ve previously offered a very rough framework/roadmap for thinking about different levels of climate action that individuals might consider taking. Here, I’ll simply suggest that as we approach the new year of one particular calendar, and those of us in the US – whether we like it or not – are catapulted through another cycle of capitalist death and rebirth, that you set an intention to devote substantial time and energy in 2019 to making a climate audit of your own life and commitments; that you do so with an eye towards taking real and lasting climate action in 2020 and beyond; and that you embrace (and promulgate) the understanding that, if we fail to make the years 2021 through 2030 the most globally transformative in human history in a good way, then the years and decades that follow will be among the most globally transformative in human history in a bad.

What I’ve Been Reading

Some recommended (holiday) climate reading. In the US, it’s already an overwhelming time, so maybe just pick one or two pieces that speak to you and read them with care:

How Extreme Weather Is Shrinking the Planet – Bill McKibben’s long New Yorker article on the current state of the global climate and global climate justice movement. (There’s an audio version as well.)

Select Committee for a Green New Deal – Draft text regarding the new House committee the formation of which has been proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (Here’s a ThinkProgress piece on the same.)

Averting Climate Catastrophe: What DSA Should Do – as the title suggests, this outlines how the DSA is thinking about holistic climate action. Short and very worth the time.

Call climate change what it is: violence – a 2014 essay from The Guardian by Rebecca Solnit which I came across in her new collection of essays, Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays). I encourage you not to buy it on Amazon.

New York’s transit woes and the looming climate crisis are inextricably linked – one example of the excellent NYC transit coverage from Aaron Gordon (as well as from Jonathan English, of CityLab). Incidentally, Gordon’s weekly newsletter on mass transit in NYC, Signal Problems, is superb – this reminder that recently-reelected Gov. Cuomo bears a great deal of responsibility for hamstringing our remarkable mass transit system was drawn from it.

Climate reports, a coal plant bribery, & military solar power – those of you in the American South may especially appreciate the good reporting being done by Southerly.

The Tiny Corner Of America Where Oil Titans Will Stash 2 Million Gallons Of Gas – because no newsletter should pass without a reminder that fracking is terrible, and we have an obligation to stop it (along with all fossil fuel extraction) and roll back the massive build out of fracked gas infrastructure currently being rammed through nationwide. (Corrupt politicians – like our Governor – and political appointees are making this buildout possible.)

Bonus

Can’t bring yourself to read one more word online than life and work already require? I understand. Perhaps you’ll enjoy:

  • This compelling interview from Democracy Now! with George Monbiot on why he embraced a plant-based diet and you should too.
  • This audio segment (also from DN!) with Noam Chomsky on the existential threat climate change poses to “organized human life on Earth.”
  • This short explainer from The Story of Stuff Project on the high human and ecological cost of Amazon’s free shipping. (More on Amazon here. I stopped using it years ago and have not missed it at all. Like giving up meat, I think you’ll find it’s much easier than you expect if you just take the plunge. And an aside: it’s truly obscene that the word amazon has become synonymous with the monopolistic tech giant at the same time that a neo-fascist in Brazil threatens wholesale destruction of the actual Amazon, that is, the most glorious rainforest on Earth.)
  • This upbeat episode of City of the Future – the techno-positive podcast from Sidewalk Labs (an Alphabet company) – on Closing the Recycling Loop and the future of recycling in NYC (a nice complement to my piece from September on solid waste management in New York).
  • Finally, guessing that other New Yorkers will be as entranced as I was by this video from 1905, taken of a moving subway train.

We have momentous years ahead. So please, wherever you are, start (or keep) thinking about what you can do, and what you can’t not.

The Time for Climate Action is Now

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This community solar facility in the Bronx is where we “get” our energy now (that is, it feeds into ConEd’s massive grid on our behalf)

Last week, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a dire report which suggests that, in the absence of an almost total transformation (and decarbonization) of the global economy by 2030, catastrophic global climate disruption is likely to unfold by 2040. Frankly, this is not news, but if it is to you, I encourage you to go dig into the report’s details.

The key distinction the report makes is that between a 1.5-degrees-Celsius temperature rise (the Paris Accord target, which is looking increasingly unreachable and some say has already been locked in) and 2-degree-Celsius rise; basically, with the former, things will be bad (massive insect die-offs, most coral reefs dead, millions of climate refugees owing to sea level rise, drought, lack of access to clean water, heatwaves, etc.) while with the latter, things will be – again – catastrophic, with near total global loss of coral reefs, cascading ecological and agricultural consequences from reef and insect loss, hundreds of millions more people subjected to water scarcity, tens of millions of additional climate refugees…

If we don’t act by 2030, by 2040, the latter scenario is what we are almost certain to face with all its attendant social and political disruptions.

My goal here, however, is not to recapitulate the IPCC report. My goal here is to issue a call to action. I have been alarmed to see many leading liberals meeting this latest news with resignation. Albert Wenger – the prominent venture capitalist (with whom I maintain a friendly personal acquaintance) – writes, on his decision to support geoengineering research, “I have concluded that we will not get on top of greenhouse gases in time. That means we will need more dramatic interventions to halt a further heating up of the atmosphere.”

A close friend (and successful financier) writes that he is “fluctuating [between] despair / acceptance of what seems to be the inevitable [and] trying to make an impact.”

One need not look far to find other prominent examples of liberal elite climate-towel-throwing-in. People who know me, or who have consistently read my work, will be aware that I am highly critical of both the roots of the American project (in genocide and slavery) and of the contemporary state of American geo/politics (characterized by imperialism and white supremacy). I find it nonetheless deeply discouraging that the country that put human beings on the moon and has driven and shaped the hypertechnological contemporary world order now suddenly confronts the global crisis we’ve made with outright denial, or a helpless shoulder shrug.

So, sparing choice words, I’m instead calling upon – beseeching, imploring – my peers and the people in positions of power and influence in the United States and beyond to embrace this crisis and this challenge as the defining struggle of a generation, and really of the century, a civilization, perhaps a species, and certainly of the millennium to come.

According to the IPCC report “we” have 12 years to get it together, or my generation’s children will be facing (as I replied to that financier friend) “a fracturing world order and escalating catastrophes that make [the] current global situation look very rosy” by the time they are graduating college. Let’s set aside that in many places around the world, and for many people, catastrophic climate disruption is already unfolding and has been for years or even decades. If you care about your children, your grandchildren, or your own future, the time to act is now.

It bears noting that these same elites, liberal or otherwise, are by far the most responsible for global climate disruption. That is, we are.

For perspective, the US is estimated to have been responsible for nearly 30% of all carbon dioxide emissions between 1850 and 2007, and the top ten emitting countries accounted for more than 70% of global emissions during that same time period. The cumulative percentages have no doubt shifted in the last decade as the economies of China and India, especially, have rapidly expanded their consumption of fossil fuels, but the fact remains that Germany, France, greater Russia, and the Anglosphere account for something like 50-60% of all cumulative global carbon dioxide emissions. Imperialism and colonialism cast long shadows on the present and the future.

Additionally, something like 50% of all historic anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have been released since ~1970, yet those of us who bear the most responsibility as a class are now going to wash our hands of the matter and dream of injecting (toxic) sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere in perpetuity as a “solution”? Now, a choice word. That’s bullshit. More than that. It’s an utter abdication. For decades, techno-optimists promised real climate solutions through innovation. Now, suddenly, we careen from optimism to pessimism, and the only alternative is insane experimentation with biogeochemical cycles at a planetary scale?

As I wrote to Albert:

… ~70% of global emissions are generated by ~20% of the global population, ~50% by ~10%, and, one supposes, ~35% by ~5%, so ~20% by ~2%, and perhaps ~10-15% by ~1%. You and I both fall into some of those percentiles, and you fall into all of them. I understand that, through the lens of [an understandable] pessimism… it is hard not to foresee the worst here; however, given that you (and we) are deeply implicated in the escalating climate crisis, it seems both self-serving and a bit disingenuous to throw your hands up now. It is not the time for fatalism among those of us who are the key drivers of the problem.

Basically, I’m calling for some… optimism. Rather than endorse, and throw your not-insubstantial resources behind these dangerous moonshot half-solutions (that, after all, have the convenient ancillary of leaving the root causes of climate change unaddressed, and serving to justify ongoing business-as-usual), why not use your power and influence to push for NYC to embrace Japanese-style (Super) Cool Biz? Why not not-only fly less, but again, use your remarkable position to push for drastic substantive changes in the way that elites operate within VC and startup spaces (that is, encourage your peers to fly less, consume less, waste less, etc.)? Why not put that money (and perhaps much more) into real climate solutions rather than geoengineering research? In short, why not do the hard work now that we all have to be doing if we are to have any hope of addressing this problem?

Okay, so hopefully by now, you’ve embraced that the best time for climate action was 40 (or 400) years ago, but that the next best time is the present. So, what can you do? And what can we?

First, the world is not in need of droves of new (white) climate saviors, but it would probably benefit from fewer (mostly white) climate deniers and obstructionists.

Second, there is a spectrum of actions – ranging from the strictly personal to the more broadly institutional and political – which you might take. Moving from the former to the latter, here are some thoughts on potential action steps:

  1. Consume less: That means fewer flights, less driving, less plastic, turning the lights off, turning the thermostat down in the winter and up in the summer, giving up meat, not buying useless crap and then landfilling it, etc., etc., etc. You might consider giving up Amazon Now; using Postmates, Caviar, Seamless, etc. less; avoiding single use plastics for a month to see how doable it is…
  2. Go renewable: Move your residential and/or commercial electricity to solar, wind, tidal, or – barring other renewable options – hydropower. I don’t see nuclear as renewable (just look to Chernobyl and Fukushima for an explanation why), but there are well-informed people who disagree with me. If you’re in a position to, install solar panels (or a windmill for that matter!), do so. If you’re not, explore community solar or reputable energy services companies (ESCOs) that offer the opportunity to buy renewable energy certificates (RECs). If you rely on an automobile, go electric if possible.
  3. Donate: This is low hanging fruit. Do it, but don’t kid yourself that you’re making a serious dent unless the numbers are huge and the impact is veri- and quantifiable.
  4. Vote for climate sanity: This means being informed about local, state-wide, national, and global climate issues. In New York State, people can look to organizations like NY Renews, Sane Energy Project, Protect Orange County, and We Are Seneca Lake for guidance on issues like moving New York towards 100% renewable electricity generation and stopping the ongoing massive buildout of fracked gas infrastructure in New York State and across the region. (Bill McKibben’s 350.org is obviously also a helpful resource/starting point.)
  5. Take action for climate sanity: See all of the above, but consider going beyond the ballot box. Not everyone is prepared to chain herself to a fracked gas pipeline, or even to protest in the streets, but at very least, you can be on the phone to your elected representatives, at community meetings, and in conversation with your friends, neighbors, and loved ones about how essential climate issues and climate action are.
  6. Divest/Invest: When my father died, I divested his (modest) brokerage portfolio from Kinder Morgan. I’ve been proud to see significant action on fossil fuel divestment in New York City and State, but we need a lot more of it. Individuals and entities should be divesting from (and ceasing future investment in) fossil-fuel companies, broadly speaking. We should also be pressuring not only our city, state, and national governments, but our banks and financial services companies to divest. On the flip side, you can look for sound climate-friendly investments if that’s your thing; I’d only caution that it might be helpful to have a veteran climate activist vet these, lest you simply divert money to something that feels good but doesn’t do much good.
  7. Reshape your organization: Are you an executive, board member, or otherwise decision-maker within a corporation, non-profit, governmental body, etc.? Attempt to apply steps 1-6 to your organization. Convert to 100% renewable energy. Climate audit your supply chain and business practices. Turn off the lights in the office/skyscraper at night. Donate, divest, and invest with climate as a key pillar. Proudly declare that your organization is committed to climate sanity and climate justice and then actually walk the walk on the talk. Use your weight to move political conversations. This will likely be extremely hard as climate sanity and capitalism remain fundamentally at odds.
  8. Support broader civic initiatives: Not that we haven’t already touched on this – for example, in talking about fighting against pipeline projects – but there are opportunities everywhere – and especially in New York City in my view – to make climate progress. We should adopt municipal or regional (Super) Cool Biz: New York is only getting hotter, and a significant fraction of our energy consumption goes towards cooling buildings in the summer (which only further contributes to the urban heat island effect). We need to simply do away with (male) business attire when the weather is warm, set the thermostats to 78 degrees Fahrenheit, and spare those of us (disproportionately female) who dress sanely in the summer the necessity of carrying around sweaters when its sweltering. Golf courses have proven for generations that one need not wear a suit to close a deal; so when it’s hot, wear shorts and a t-shirt (rather than a blazer like a maniac), then get on with your business. Other ideas include actually enforcing a no-idling ban (I tremble to imagine the emissions tab accrued by New Yorkers simply idling as they wait to move for street sweepers, for example) and legislating against leaving those skyscraper lights on and in favor of stricter energy efficiency standards in new construction (and of retrofitting). Additionally, we should support the subway, the MTA, and public transit more broadly, and demand that the political gridlock and corruption which have starved and partially paralyzed our flagship transit system be broken. Right now, too many of New York’s richest and most powerful people don’t see subways (and buses and transit) as their problem. Meanwhile, the city chokes on Uber and Lyft for-hire vehicles and FedEx and UPS trucks (making Amazon deliveries); few things would make more of a climate dent than improved and expanded public transportation (which relates to why the Kochs, et al are so feverishly fighting against transit projects across the United States).
  9. Support a national Green New Deal, or equivalent: This one speaks for itself. We have roughly a decade to make this happen. We need to break the stranglehold of fossil fuels on our society and economy. We need to massively ramp up installation of renewable energy generation and storage capacity (and continue to drive rapid innovation in the underlying technologies) while putting a total nationwide moratorium on new fossil-fuel projects (that is, pipelines, power plants, LNG terminals, you name it). This may require some sacrifices and some adjustments, but it is the livability of the future for which we’re fighting. Significant outlier challenges involve developing and implementing the use of renewable fuels for container ships and airplanes.
  10. As a friend, quoting Donella Meadows, put it, question “the mindset or paradigm out of which the system… arises”: This will be especially hard and uncomfortable because conversations about capitalism, imperialism, genocide, slavery, militarism, white supremacy, and occupation always are. I’ve tried to have these hard conversations in tandem with calling for climate action, and will continue to do so, but at this juncture, it’s my view that the urgency of the crisis calls for a pragmatic strategy of striving for (real) progress wherever opportunities exist, even if intersecting challenges remain intractable. It is almost guaranteed that profound conflicts will arise in this arena. One need look no further than the example of climate offsets – which are designed to allow the rich in the Global North to continue their consumption unabated, with clean consciences, but often result in the displacement of poor/rural/indigenous people in the Global South from ancestral lands which have been deemed (by for-profit offset companies) as offset preserves – to understand how sinister and complex the dynamics involved can sometimes be.

This week, I’ve initiated a series of conversations with relatives, friends, mentors, clients, and others to urge climate action (which simply represents an intensification and slight formalization of what I’d already been doing). Given my own limited time and energy, I’m reaching out to people in my life who are in positions to effect institutional change at scale; however, I think we could all do to be having more of these conversations. As I’ve said before, almost no interaction should pass at this point without an honest mention of the climate. We used to talk about the weather, but if the stadium is collapsing, it no longer makes sense to focus only on the action on-field. Such is our current predicament.

I’m using this document as a jumping off point for those conversations; invite you to do the same; and would welcome feedback on what’s wrong with it and how it could be improved. Planning to return to my NYC Infrastructure Series next month; in the meantime, be well and stay engaged. Apathy kills and there’s no time like the present.