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Another Voice: New York State Legislature steps up on climate change

By Howie Hawkins and Steve Breyman

New York State government has taken a well-deserved beating in recent years in the press and the public eye. Corruption appeared at the highest levels of both executive and legislative branches. From brazen demands for “ziti” and low show jobs from individuals and firms doing business with the state, to charges of bid-rigging and millions in illicit payments in exchange for official favors.

It’s most welcome then when Albany gets something right. That something is the boldly ambitious bill recently introduced by Assemblyman William Colton and Senator Brad Hoylman (A5105/S5908) — at the behest of a coalition of more than one hundred citizen groups across the state — to move New York to a completely renewable-energy-powered economy by 2030.

The bill arrives at a crucial moment. To closely follow climate science on a daily basis as we have for the past 30 years is to be convinced of two things: (1) climate change is real, human-caused, happening now, and worsening; and (2) time is of the essence. There is virtually zero doubt among climate scientists of these two facts.

Decades of research shows in exquisite detail the painful challenges human civilization and the rest of life on the planet now face due to two centuries of unrestrained burning of fossil fuels. The first greenhouse effect theories surfaced already in the 19th century, were confirmed as scientific fact by the 1950s, reinforced by the Johnson administration in the 1960s, and were even accepted by giant oil companies as long ago as the 1980s.

Sure, the Heartland Institute, the Koch Brothers, and other notorious climate deniers will tell you otherwise. These are the people who’ve picked up Big Tobacco’s obfuscation playbook and run with it. Even if completely ignorant of their efforts, ask yourself whether cigarette companies and their paid agents told the truth about their products? Think those denying the overwhelming evidence for climate change — on the payroll of fossil energy firms — are any different today?

2030 is right around the corner. There’s no question that replacing oil, natural gas and nuclear power by wind, water, geothermal and solar energy is a challenge of historic proportions. Unfortunately, biophysical realities require the urgency. If we’re to avoid the worst of the catastrophic climate scenarios, there’s not a moment to waste.

There will be claims that the transition is impossible, the timeline ridiculously short. Considerable resistance will arise. Recall that past generations of Americans achieved extraordinary advances even more quickly: WWII industrial mobilization, Manhattan Project, Marshall Plan, Apollo Project. Current generations have no choice but to surpass the accomplishments of our parents and (great-)grandparents.

The good news is that the transition is not only technically possible with off-the-shelf technology, but that New Yorkers’ health, welfare and pocketbooks will be improved for making it quickly. We’ve already kicked coal out of New York. All we need to finish the job is the requisite political will.

The Colton/Hoylman bill calls for establishment of a state plan to manage the conversion. The shift will be harder for some of us than for others. The bill thus calls for support for dislocated workers and impacted communities. The upside is that the wholesale replacement of our old energy system by clean energy will create a couple hundred thousand well-paying jobs.

Colton and Hoylman cannot pass the bill on their own. They need the support of the millions of New Yorkers who understand the implications of climate science. Join us on April 23 for a march on the state Capitol to demand action from the governor and Legislature.

Howie Hawkins, a retired Teamster, is seeking the Green Party nomination for governor. Steve Breyman, Ph.D., is an environmental social scientist active in statewide efforts to get New York to do its share in stabilizing the global climate.

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