The United Nations last month announced that we have 12 years left for an emergency worldwide mobilization – unprecedented in human history – to halt the use of fossil fuels and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.
Failure to take such dramatic action increases the likelihood that human civilization as we presently know it will cease to exist. Floods, sea level rise, wildfires, heat waves and droughts will make parts of the planet uninhabitable. Climate refugees will likely be in the hundreds of millions. Support systems involving energy, food and water will break down, leading to wars over such resources. Hundreds of millions, if not billions, could die.
There is no indication that Governor Cuomo or state lawmakers take this threat seriously or that they are prepared to launch the needed effort. Climate change was ignored by Cuomo and most lawmakers in the recent election. It also continues to be largely ignored by the media.
New York’s progress on meeting climate goals has been pitifully small. 16 years and three Governors after Pataki set some modest goals for renewable energy, New York has only added 4% of the state’s electricity coming from solar and wind.
We need New York to provide national leadership by enacting the strongest climate change agenda possible. That is the Off Fossil Fuels act, which would immediately halt all new fossil fuel infrastructure, transition to 100% clean renewable energy by 2030 (i.e., net zero greenhouse gas emissions), and require all new buildings to be at least net zero carbon emissions. (California has enacted the latter requirement while also requiring new homes to be solar powered.)
The Act act not only requires the state to adopt an enforceable climate action plan with clear timelines and benchmarks, but for counties and local governments above 50,000 to do so as well.
The State also needs to take the simple but symbolic step of divesting its state pension fund from billions in fossil fuel investments as NYC recently agreed to do. A state carbon tax on polluters would help accelerate and pay for the transition to renewables.
The Democrats and their closely aligned community organizations are poised to enact the Community and Climate Protection Act (CCPA), a version of which has passed the Assembly since 2009. It builds upon an Executive Order issued by Governor Paterson. At least through 2030, the CCPA largely seeks to put into law the Governor’s existing climate goals rather than improve them. It does however adopt important environmental justice and Just Transition goals.
It continues the traditional strategy of taking incremental steps that are seen as politically practical – rather than doing what is necessary to save life on the planet. It does not even call for the state to halt the development of fossil fuel infrastructure.
We witnessed a similar scenario eight years ago, when the Green Party picked up the call by grassroots activists to ban fracking of natural gas. The larger green groups dismissed a ban as imprudent, instead calling for a moratorium to study the issue. Fortunately, the grassroots had the numbers and the passion and eventually prevailed, with the big groups changing their position.
One of the great things about taking climate action is that it has major positive impacts on jobs, health and electric bills – in addition to saving life on the planet. The only downside is for the fossil fuel companies – unless they move into renewable energy, efficiency or energy storage, as their own scientists urged them to do thirty years ago.
The NY Times Magazine recently devoted its entire Sunday edition to the proposition that life on the planet is doomed since we lacked the political leadership to take action to stand up to the fossil fuel companies. The NY Times may say game over but we say game on. We need average New Yorkers to step up and create that political will.
Pope Francis was correct when in his climate treatise he said we could not solve climate change unless we also solved injustice, since it is the same mentality that allows the wealthy to exploit the poor that drives humanity to exploit the planet. We need to change our political and economic system, our values, to focus on meeting the needs of all not just enrich the wealthy.
We need to reject capitalism and adopt eco-socialism. Continuing to allow the private sector and their focus on maximizing profits to determine our energy future will never solve the climate crisis.
For the last eight years we have campaigned for a Green New Deal to transform our energy systems while providing millions of new living wage jobs and eliminating the air pollution that kills millions worldwide.
The Green New Deal has received increased attention in the last year. It made national headlines recently when hundreds of climate activists with the Sunrise Movement held a sit-in in Cong. Nancy Pelosi’s office. Draft legislation by incoming Congress Member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls for a ten-year transition to 100% clean power, with an accompanying committed to environmental and economic justice and public ownership and democratic control of our energy system.
We must push Governor Cuomo to make New York a true climate leader.
Mark Dunlea is the former Green Party candidate for State Comptroller and the chair of the Green Education and Legal Fund.