Overview of Climate Crisis and NY Renews

by Tom Ellis

ALBANY, NY Mark Schaeffer of 350.org and Conor Bambrick of Environmental Advocates (EA) spoke at the September 21 SPB dinner about the climate crises and the need for a political climate change. Mark led off saying pre-industrial age atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations were 280 part per million (ppm) and today are 400+ ppm, in part the result of years of inaction resulting from decades of disinformation by the fossil fuel industry, including Exxon. He said we endure “a smog of disinformation” from some of the same scientists who lied about tobacco safety.

Mark, also a long-time SPB member, said getting into a hot car in summer proves that solar energy works and that it can be captured. About ninety percent of the planetary warming is in the ocean which captures heat better than land. The accumulated growth so far is about one degree Celsius or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. The California drought of the last five years is the worst experienced there in 1000 years. A one degree increase in temps creates a four percent increase in water vapor, itself a greenhouse gas — a positive feedback.

He said 2015 was a record hot year, increasing numbers of droughts are occurring worldwide, and Moscow experienced its first 100 degree day. The Red Cross, he said, believes there may be hundreds of millions of climate refugees by mid-century. Sandy-type storms could hit New York City annually by 2100. “This is a global emergency,” he said, “ gradual on the human time scale, but super fast on the geological time scale.” The world temperature record was broken by two-tenths of one degree in 2015 from 2014; in prior years the increase was about one-hundredth of a degree. “It is like fast driving in a fog toward a cliff at some unknown distance…The real danger,” Mark said,” is not individual storms but the gradual warming.”

Mark said peat, concentrated in northern latitudes, releases CO2 and methane, and could raise global temperatures by fifteen degrees. Mark believes humanity needs the equivalent of a US World War Two mobilization to combat climate change. Much of the western US could experience dust bowl conditions by the end of this century. Renewables are ready and can create millions of new jobs, more than would be lost in the fossil fuel industry. He concluded saying changes are needed at all levels of government.

Conor Bambrick is air and energy director at EA, which is part of the New York Renews (NYR) Coalition. He said with little action likely at the federal level and New York often being an innovator, efforts should be focused at the state. He said eighty-two organizations have signed on to NYR, real action on climate will require a transformation of the economy, power plant closures have broad implications, and a “just transition” is needed for impacted communities.

He said NYR is urging New York State to end all human-caused climate pollution by 2050 and get fifty percent of electricity from renewables by 2030. The whole economy will have to electrified which must come from clean energy. Legislation has been drafted that envisions no fossil fuel cars by mid-century. He said the many communities not benefiting from investments in the new energy economy should be assisted first. What are essentially public monies should support career pathways for workers with fair labor standards and prevailing wages.

The proposed legislation would require each state spending decision to consider a climate test. He said that during the prior week, the state environmental conservation department (DEC) told Pilgrim and Global to essentially start over and apply a climate test to their proposals (to build fossil fuel pipelines from Albany to New Jersey (Pilgrim) and install oil heating machinery at the port of Albany (Global)). He concluded saying successfully dealing with climate change requires a broader strategy than legislation only.

During the Q&A, meteorologist Hugh Johnson said make communities more worker and biker friendly, especially for short trips. Conor agreed saying NYR programs should be community driven. Mark added that Albany (city) is adopting a complete streets plan and the Madison Avenue “road diet” is part of it.

Michael O’Hara, a Hudson city councilman, said he is teaching people how to lobby at the federal level In support of legislation to collect a federal tax on carbon at the point of generation with all of it rebated to taxpayers. Mark said there are many variations of a proposed carbon tax; one would rebate two-thirds to the poorest people.

In response to a question from Grace Nichols about how much nuclear will we suffer with NYR, Conor said the 2015 state energy plan did not envision the giant nuclear power subsidies recently imposed on New Yorkers by the state Public Service Commission and nuclear is not included in clean energy definition.

To a question from Sue DuBois about how the NYR-backed law would be implemented if enacted, Conor said DEC would have primary responsibility and resources to administer it would have to be included in its budget.

Responding to a question about what would comprise the fifty percent of electricity that is not renewable, Conor said natural gas, nuclear, a little oil and coal, with natural gas gradually replaced by renewables and nuclear power not likely to last past 2030 or 2035.

Another question concerned the need for a broader coalition of decision makers than utility people. Conor said the legislation directs all state agencies to participate in the climate action plan and he hopes for a wider inclusion of people and interests in the planning process.

Another question concerned the NYR plan’s impact on local taxes to which Conor said enactment would force school districts to make healthier choices.

Tina of the Sierra Club said the legislation has passed the Assembly but not the Senate and asked what is the victory strategy. Conor said the NYR legislation is being improved and intensified pressure will be applied to the Senate. Mark said senators who oppose the bill will be subject to targeted political action.


Published in November/December 2016
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