Elections are about choices, and because of the choices made by New Yorkers in the last election, which gave Democrats a majority in the state Assembly and Senate, New York may soon be making the strongest response to climate change of any state in the country.
The Climate and Community Protection Act has previously passed the Assembly but has been stymied by Republicans in the Senate. Now it seems to have a path to approval by the full Legislature, and with Gov. Andrew Cuomo also pushing for climate change-inspired policy transformations, New York could move to the front of the race to adapt to this crisis.
The bill sets ambitious goals — to have half of New York’s electricity generated by renewable energy by 2030 and to have the state’s entire economy free of fossil fuels by 2050. That seems far-fetched, but it’s not. In 1939, when less than half of American households owned a car, most people would have called a moon landing within 30 years impossible.
We can do this. But will we?
Will we wake up to the looming danger of rising seas, worsening storms and warming temperatures? Or will we dig our holes a little deeper and stick our heads in them a little farther?
This bill has gotten a lot of grassroots support by including requirements that state agencies consider not only climate but equity in their decisions. So, for example, jobs created in renewable energy would have to follow fair labor standards, and 40 percent of the state’s investment in clean energy would have to take place in lower-income communities that are being hit hardest by climate change.
Labor unions and a coalition of climate and community groups have been rallying for the legislation.
Alicia Barton, CEO of the state Energy Research and Development Authority, said rapid improvements in technologies, such as offshore wind power, make the act’s ambitious goals feasible.
Last fall, a report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change laid out the scope of the crisis in stark terms. If nothing is done, catastrophe will result. But the good news, according to experts like Barton, is that we have the know-how to transform the way we produce energy, resulting in enormous reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases.
Naysayers will argue we can’t afford to move away from fossil fuels too quickly. What we really can’t afford are increasingly severe storms that, coupled with increases in rainfall and rises in sea level, will create disastrously destructive events.
Imagine how much it would cost to clean up a severely flooded Manhattan Island. Imagine how much it would cost to erect barriers around Manhattan to keep out the sea.
Switching to clean energy isn’t only preventive — clean energy provides employment just as the fossil fuel industry does.
The state Senate started last week a series of hearings on climate change, during which the Climate and Community Protection Act was discussed.
Heidi Garrett-Peltier, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, advocated for the bill and estimated it would require an investment of $8.7 billion per year to hit the renewable targets. That’s a lot of money, but in 2018, it would have equaled about 5 percent of the state budget.
We should be able to dedicate 5 percent of our spending toward averting the biggest danger we face.
“Here in New York, public policy is informed by science, and we are collectively committed to taking action to address the climate crisis,” Barton said at the hearing.
We hope that proves true not only for the groups that have rallied around this bill but for all New Yorkers.