No Time for Despair

There is a lot of bad (climate) news these days. I won’t rehash global or national events, but here in New York, we had our heaviest hour of rainfall in the city’s recorded history last night. One need only spend a few minutes on Twitter to get a sense of the impacts and human suffering brought on by the third major flooding event in NYC this summer.

Lots of people tell me they are “depressed” about the current state of (climate) affairs, and I understand why they feel that way. My early writings on climate crisis reflect the sense of despair that must of us feel in starting to grapple with our changed reality; however, as the meme goes, this is the hottest year on record, and – barring an even worse eventuality, like nuclear winter – it will be the coldest of the rest of our lives. Things will definitely get worse, but they can also get much much worse, and the call for our generations is to turn the corner on climate action and, in so doing, leave to future generations a livable planet. Wallowing will not get us there.

All that said, I’ve had a wonderful summer and enjoyed taking a break from writing. Sadly, neither the pandemic nor climate change took a break, and in the spirit of reflection, I’m linking back to my hopeful take from December that the pandemic might be over in the US by the spring, and my concerned takes, from January, that variants might prevent that hopeful outcome. I’m also pointing back to the piece with which I started the year, “The First Climate Decade“; my conviction is stronger than ever about the necessary transformation, and my cautious hopefulness has only grown as escalating climate impacts begin to spur intensifying climate action.

I continue to be engaged with the push for aggressive, sane climate policy in NYC, and would welcome support from anyone interesting in getting behind our push for a municipal gas ban (in new construction and gut renovations). We’re up to 22 co-sponsors (the NYC City Council has 51 seats, with a couple currently vacant, for context).

I’ve also been much more actively angel investing around “climatetech” this year; may write more, in coming months, about all of that, my approach, and some of my investments; and am always happy to speak climatetech/early-stage investing with anyone who might be interested.

Reading

In roughly chronological order, here are some articles, etc. I flagged over the course of recent months: “Intro 1524 Will Protect New York City Residents from Toxic Pesticides”; from The Guardian, “Chemical giants hid dangers of ‘forever chemicals’ in food packaging” and “Study finds alarming levels of ‘forever chemicals’ in US mothers’ breast milk“; from The Wire, “Stunned by Data, Gujarat Blames Death Certificate Spurt on Duplicate Registrations“; from Nature India, “India’s sewage surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 going down the drain“; from National Geographic, “Antidepressants in waterways may make crayfish bolder, increasing risk of predation“; from Oxford, “Obsessing over electric cars is impeding the race to net zero: More active travel is essential“; from NY Focus, “Albany Just Blew it on Climate, Again” and “The World’s Most Important Local Climate and Jobs Law is in Eric Adams’ Hands“; from Yale Environment 360, “In Push to Find Methane Leaks, Satellites Gear Up for the Hunt“; from the Times of India (with respect to the quiet transfer of mega-assets from a South Indian tycoon to a close North Indian ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi), “Adani Group takes over Mumbai airport“; to state the obvious, with respect to something that I wrote a great deal about, “First wave COVID-19 data underestimated pandemic infections“; from Democracy Now!, “Floods, Fires & Heat Waves: Michael Mann on “The New Climate War” & the Fight to Take Back the Planet” (I highly recommend Mann’s new book) and ““All We Can Save”: As Climate Disasters Wreck Our Planet, Women Leaders Are Key to Solving the Crisis“; this Behind the News segment with Christian Parenti on a Left approach to carbon dioxide removal; from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, “Segmenting the climate change Alarmed: Active, Willing, and Inactive“; from the Hindustan Times, “Bihar recorded 251k excess deaths since Covid-19 pandemic: Data“; and from The Wire, again, “‘India May’ve Reached COVID Endemicity, With Local Ups and Downs’: Soumya Swaminathan“; enjoy!

#GasFreeNYC

Short and sweet today, as I’ve been enjoying the onset of summer weather in NYC and focused on organizing work, among other things, rather than writing of late. To quote from an email from my friend Pete Sikora of New York Communities for Change:

Intro 2317 – which ends gas in new construction and gut renovations – now is up to 11 co-sponsors. That’s great progress! Now, it’s time for Council Speaker Corey Johnon to make a decision: does he support people or the real estate and gas corporate lobbyists? 

RSVP now to join us and the #GasFreeNYC coalition to rally this Thursday, June 17th from 4:30-5:30 outside NBC studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza (50th Street entrance)

We know Speaker Johnson will be there since NBC is taping the next Comptroller election debate there. We’re there to urge him to co-sponsor and pass Intro 2317. Please join the rally for a #GasFreeNYC. 
RSVP here!


Pete goes on to link to some articles which share background on gas bans in general, and our gas-ban push in NYC in particular, including the following from the WSJ, The Real Deal, SP Global, and Politico. I hope you’ll read up, and – if you live in NYC – get on the phone with your city council person and plan to join us on Thursday at 4:30 PM if your schedule allows.

Here’s to a transformative decade ahead.

Banning New Fossil Fuel-Powered Power Plants in New York State: An Invitation

There are currently bills in the NY State Senate and Assembly to ban the construction of new fossil fuel-powered power plants. To quote the identical bill summaries:

“Prohibits the development of any new major electric generating facilities that would be powered in whole or in part by any fossil fuel, unless the developer of such facility can demonstrate a need for such facility, and that there is no other reasonable method to satisfy such need.”

The focus, in particular, here is to prevent the construction of wasteful, highly-polluting, and environmentally-unjust peaker plants in NYC (such as those currently proposed for Astoria and Gowanus), but fracked-gas projects Upstate – like the Danskammer, Cricket Valley, and CPV power plants – speak equally clearly to the need for such legislation.

Do you live in New York? Are you interested in supporting this push? Given that the NYS legislative session ends on June 10th, the timeline for passage of this only-recently-introduced bill is compressed, and thus prospects for passage a bit of a long shot, but the time is right, the need is urgent, and your help can be part of winning this victory, so please do reach out if you want be a part of the effort.

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?