… and Then You Win

Short and sweet today. After a year of grinding away at the unglamorous work of organizing and lobbying, our small grassroots coalition won a big victory with the passage, by the New York City Council, of a ban on natural gas connections in new buildings. The victory does not come without compromises (the ban will take effect in buildings under seven stories at the end of 2023, and in those over seven, not until 2027), but represents, nonetheless, another major step towards climate sanity in our policy framework, and sends a signal nationally and globally about our rapidly changing times.

Speaking of times, the corporate media coverage was, predictably, idiotic and dishonest, ranging from the New York Times‘ emphasis on gas stoves, to Forbes‘ outright lies regarding the regressiveness of the bill (which was championed by a diverse coalition of environmental justice orgs). Here’s what I wrote on the My Climate Journey Slack with respect to the Times headline:

This is a stupid headline from the NYT, as most of the emissions from natural gas in NYC come from heating buildings (and not from gas stoves, which are dangerous and unhealthy, but to which many people have a sentimental attachment that has been fostered by decades of gas industry propaganda), but the victory is a big one. I worked closely (on a pro bono basis) on the grassroots campaign that led to this legislation’s passage. The four lead organizations on the campaign, all nonprofits that operate on shoestring budgets, spent perhaps a few hundred thousand dollars over the course of one year to fuel the organizing that led to this win, and yet ~40% of NYC’s ~50MT of CO2e annual emissions come from heating buildings. We, of course, still have to decarbonize our electricity generation, a very heavy lift, but even so, that’s an impressive prospective impact per dollar, to the extent that many MCJ community members are accustomed to thinking about ROI in terms of emissions. This legislation is also a massive tailwind to startups working on energy efficiency, electrification, smart grid, etc. Hope we see much more emphasis on climate policy from the climate tech and finance communities going forward. Time for the “government is our enemy” ideology of too many tech folks to die, as we don’t successfully address climate crisis without government action at every level.

With respect to the framing in Forbes, the magazine’s reactionary high-brow ethos speaks for itself, but let’s just say that 1) anyone who believes that the transition off fossil fuels isn’t both inevitable and urgently necessary is in denial, at best, and 2) given the relatively long time frame for the phase in of this bill, which only applies to new construction, it is hard to understand how it could possibly put regressive energy costs on low-income New Yorkers (save in a case where energy transition totally fails, but then we have much bigger problems), though I’m heartened to see Forbes suddenly so interested in economic justice and energy poverty.

I dwell on the negative, momentarily, only because we would have won this fight much sooner if not for the lies, obfuscation, and bad faith of the corporate media and the corporate Democrats – including my own council member, outgoing Speaker Corey Johnson, who did nothing to support us, refused to endorse the proposed bill, let Queens council member Jim Gennaro lock the legislation up in committee for months, but then rushed to take credit for this monumental victory in the press once we finally managed to push it through – to say nothing of the few Republicans on the NYC City Council.

Are you moved and inspired, as I am, by this victory? Get involved. You can reach out to me directly about being part of our next campaign, which will launch in early 2022, and, at very least, you can donate to New York Communities for Change, Food and Water Watch, NYPIRG, and WE ACT. These are the core organizations in the coalition that won passage of the Climate Mobilization Act, with Local Law 97 at its core, in 2019; an expansion of Local Law 97, on which I worked intensively, in 2020; and now this gas ban, in 2021, under the banner of a #GasFreeNYC. As mentioned above, the entire budget for our campaign this year couldn’t have been more than a few hundred thousand dollars. Just imagine what we could accomplish if we were well-capitalized and had proper broad-based support from a well-informed public?! You can be a part of making those hopeful conditions a reality, but it will mean getting informed, getting engaged, and embracing that public policy is one of the most powerful levers we have for wrenching the future in the direction of sanity and justice.

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