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.

 

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