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.

Climate Is All the Rage

Last week was a bad one for Andrew Cuomo. Maybe he knew in advance it was coming, and tried to finesse the damage through the resumption of indoor dining in New York City. I don’t know (although it was telling that SNL featured Governor Cuomo’s announcements about COVID-related re-openings, but made no mention – on “Weekend Update” – about his choice to hide the deaths of thousands of elders, many of which were caused by his own bad policies).

Anyway, the resumption of indoor dining is probably a bad idea, but maybe less bad than it seems, as the logic in this interesting Twitter thread suggests – key takeaway: “In summary, I think the most logical explanation for falling COVID cases is: strong ongoing behavioral limitations + heterogeneous mixing + rising population immunity.” It’s a quick but illuminating read.

With any luck, the governor’s malfeasance with respect to the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities will undermine his iron grip on power in New York State, and perhaps ease our path to preventing him from gutting NYC’s landmark climate legislation from 2019. On the front, I encourage you to read this letter, and, if you live in New York, to call all of your elected officials, including the governor, to express your support for Local Law 97 and your opposition to Part R of the proposed executive budget. New York needs a Green New Deal and real climate action in our city and state are long overdue.

In other climate related news, Bank of America has declared “Climate Is Next Race for Global Supremacy” and “this decade’s most important theme”; the Delhi police arrested a 21-year-old climate activist for sharing materials circulated on Twitter by Greta Thunberg; air quality in NYC’s subway system is bad (this has been an open secret for some time); fossil fuel companies have tricked many of us into loving gas stoves (which is one reason why our indoor air quality at home is so often bad as well); shocker, a decade on, fracking has not benefited fracking communities; and climate finance and climate risk are suddenly all the rage. Go figure.

As the above evidences, my thoughts are a bit scattered this evening; I’m adjusting to the reality in which climate crisis is being taken seriously at nearly every level of US society, but fundamentally, I remain optimistic that the pandemic is winding down in the US while climate action is ramping up, and will, indeed, be a defining “theme” of the decade ahead.

Video #1: A 5-Minute Synopsis of Climate Crisis

I’m honored to announce what may be my first appearance on YouTube (though can’t say I was holding my breath for the moment).

The video is now live for the recent Morehead-Cain event on climate crisis about which I wrote last week. For anyone solely interested in my remarks (hi Mom!), they start around the 6.15 mark, although I’d argue that the lively Q&A was the most interesting part of the evening.

Thanks for watching, and do reach out with feedback if you have any.

In heavier news,  Governor Cuomo is trying to gut NYC’s landmark Climate legislation from 2019 in what would amount to a massive handout to the real estate industry. If you’re a New Yorker, I would love if you would call the governor’s office and your local and state-level elected officials to express your opposition to “the Proposed Part R of the TED Bill in the Executive Budget, which would Cut Good Jobs & Increase Pollution,” in the words of the grassroots climate justice orgs that led the fight for the passage of the Climate Mobilization Act.

Here’s to a better future and the transformative decade we need and can win.