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.

Pedestrian-First Cities

Today, most cities are dominated by motor vehicles. As a byproduct, cyclists, pedestrians, and others feel and are at risk from these vehicles. Unfortunately, as within many other violent hierarchies, people trapped within this particular disfiguring framework – sometimes referred to as Car Culture – tend to punch down rather than up. Thus, it is not uncommon to encounter cyclists endangering pedestrians by blowing through red lights going the wrong direction, for example, or riding on sidewalks, or disregarding crosswalks. Similar, if less dangerous, dynamics prevail with respect to skateboarders – amongst whom, obviously, a fuck-you attitude is more prevalent than amongst cyclists who, at least in the richer cohort, tend to have an entitled/aggrieved relationship to public space. The proliferation of e-bikes, one-wheelers, motorized skateboards and scooters, etc. (all of which I enthusiastically support as alternative transportation modalities in deep need of proper infrastructure, regulation, and norms) has only further complicated these tensions, which are acutely felt in New York City, while the class component of these tensions – intensified further during the pandemic as rich(er) individuals deepened their dependence on deliveries by poor(er) individuals of all sorts of goods – simmers, often submerged, beneath the political surface.

From my perspective, it’s quite obvious that a re-orientation is necessary – one that centers pedestrians and public modes of transit, such that we start from the needs and prerogatives of people on foot (or in wheelchairs, etc.) as the users who are the primary focus of our design of/approach to public space and work our way up the chain of size/speed/dangerousness of transportation modality.

Rather than dig into this knotty topic deeply here, I simply invite readers to examine their own day-to-day experiences and behaviors through this lens.

Some Recommendations

CNN, and others, report that “A huge iceberg that’s bigger than New York City broke off near a UK base in Antarctica” – the video is awe-inspiring and sobering.

Grist reports “A surge in battery storage” in 2020. I’d go so far as to call it a massive spike in battery storage capacity in the US. (Believe I previously linked to this excellent Nature Climate Change piece – “Electrification of light-duty vehicle fleet alone will not meet mitigation targets”– which emphasizes materials extraction and availability challenges with respect to scaling up EVs and batteries, and argues, “Tackling climate change is not a one-country, one-sector or one-technology job. It will be the achievement of extensive system-based analysis, thorough planning and effective implementation. EVs offer an exceptional opportunity to reduce CO2 emissions. But electrification is not a silver bullet, and the arsenal should include a wide range of policies combined with a willingness to drive less with lighter, more efficient vehicles.”)

Good, under-the-radar news that I missed a few weeks ago: Quietly, the Delaware River Basin Commission “votes to ban fracking in the watershed” – a momentous victory for our region.

Finally, Albert Wenger has a nice piece/Tweetstorm up – “The World After Capital in 64 Theses” – which summarizes his forthcoming book. There are many points on which I don’t exactly agree with him, but his is a thoughtful take, and I encourage you to have a read.

Cuom-over // Cuom-idiots

A lot of Cuomo-sexuals out there must be rethinking T-shirt purchases they made last year. Ross Barkan believes “Andrew Cuomo Is Finished,” and I certainly hope he is right.

Readers interested in revisiting some of my own writing about Governor Cuomo might consider “The Empire Is Always Striking Back” from 2018 (on the Federal felony conviction of Cuomo’s close aid and personal friend Joseph Percoco for taking bribes to facilitate the permitting of a fracked-gas power plant in the Hudson Valley); “Amazon Cuomo” from April of last year; or “Their Man in Albany” (from last May, but quoting at length from a personal email I sent in 2018 explaining why I was backing Cynthia Nixon for governor; it is, of course, idle to speculate if Nixon would’ve done a better job handling the pandemic, but one is inclined to believe she might have if for no other reason than that she likely would have listened to her world-class advisers and public health experts).

U.S. Right to Know has a piece out entitled, “Bill Gates’ plans to remake food systems will harm the climate,” and I loved this piece from Brooklyn-based venture capitalist Charlie O’Donnell (“Why there’s no other place I’d rather be than New York“) featuring lines like: “Good luck getting me to move to any startup city in a state run by people who deny climate change, seek to thwart democracy through voter suppression, and that sees proper oversight of vital infrastructure as a financial burden too great to bother with.” I, too, am bullish on New York City. (O’Donnell also has a new podcast out with Lillian Ruiz featuring interviews with leading NYC mayoral candidates that I’m finding helpful as the primary approaches.)

Finally, food (and other biomass) for thought – I’d heard this moment was coming, but a December 2020 Nature article concludes: “Global human-made mass exceeds all living biomass,” while a recent Nature Climate Change article makes the perhaps obvious assertion: “Electrification of light-duty vehicle fleet alone will not meet mitigation targets,” and thus suggests, “There is therefore a need for a wide range of policies that include measures to reduce vehicle ownership and usage.”

Technology can be part of a comprehensive response to climate crisis, but tech fixes a la Gates are too often as much about profit as they are about real climate action, and reorienting ourselves towards public goods (in the spirit of public luxury and private sufficiency) will be part of a successful global program of climate action.

Post-script: I probably should’ve mentioned that in endorsing O’Donnell’s election podcast, I’m not expressing support for the Citizen’s Budget Committee, which strikes me as unduly austerity-minded, nor, necessarily, for O’Donnell and Ruiz’s perspectives (which I respect); you’ll have to form your own impressions of the candidates, but these long-form conversations provide some excellent material upon which to base those impressions!

The Steep Part of the Curve

Today, an assemblage of fragments of interest, as well as some brief comments on the emerging new climate consensus in the US.

First, the Fragments

As I’ve been arguing for some time, “America’s vaccine rollout has been among the best in the world”; that quote actually comes from an Axios headline, and it has been interesting to watch the elite/corporate media consensus shift on this, even as there continues to be a huge amount of griping and hand-wringing. Could our effort be much better? Definitely. Is it world-class and a tremendous triumph? Absolutely, as well. Barring immune escape by a SARS-CoV-2 variant, this pandemic will soon be over in the United States (and you read it here first, back in December).

I’ve also been arguing for a while that, under climate crisis, “extreme weather is leaving no area untouched” and that “No place is safe from failing US infrastructure”; I wish I could take credit for those great claims, but they are from Axios, again, and TechCrunch, respectively. This is why the idea that tech companies fleeing the Bay Area to – yes – Texas in response to catastrophic wildfires, or that huge outflows of capital and talent from New York City to “new homes that are less impacted by the climate crisis” are viable responses to climate crisis is so risible (as I wrote on January 1st of this year).

Tim Schwab has a good piece in The Nation reminding readers that – no matter that Bill Gates’ “new book, a bid to be taken seriously as a climate campaigner, has attracted the usual worshipful coverage” – Gates is not a real climate champion (but is a self-serving oligarch). I encourage people to read Michael Mann’s new book instead.

Vincent Rajkumar has an interesting Twitter thread on India’s COVID-19 statistics. I think he discounts the amount of outright lying and willful not counting going on, but it’s worth reading.

Finally, as New York Focus reports, “Top state lawmakers oppose Cuomo’s push to override NYC’s landmark climate law”; there is growing opposition – in Albany, at City Hall, from leading establishment good-government groups, and at the grassroots – to Cuomo’s backroom attempt to gut NYC’s landmark Local Law 97. If you live in New York State, I encourage you to read over this letter, and then call the governor’s office (at 518-474-8390) before reaching out to your own City Council person, state assembly member, and state senator to voice your support for climate action, NYC’s green new deal, and in particular, Local Law 97, and your strong opposition to Part R of the proposed executive budget.

The Emerging Climate Consensus

I’ve been enjoying helpful posts from the new media venture, Climate Tech VC, especially their recent post, “Some risky climate business” in which they opine, “Climate risk is investment risk.” Until quite recently, I think most subsets of the US ruling class believed that a transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy would be harmful to their own interests. I believe we are now witnessing a rapid transformation in opinion, as corporate leaders in industries as diverse as electric utilities, auto manufacturers, and commercial real estate recognize that green transition – while costly up front – is actually beneficial to them and only harmful really to one industry: The fossil-fuel (and petrochemical, and gas utility, but you get the point). At the same time, escalating impacts of climate crisis are making very apparent to anyone paying attention the likely costs of failure to rapidly address the greenhouse-gas emissions crisis in particular. Although this does not guarantee a Green New Deal, a move away from extractivism, or even a redistributive shift in our politics, I do think it augurs an extremely rapid transformation of our economy as we hit the steep part of the exponential curve of transition now that technological, social, political, corporate, and financial interests are all aligning around some basic facts.