Monday, June 06, 2016

Rumblings of #NYRENEWS in New York’s Capitol

On Wednesday June 1st, folks from all over New York State came together in Albany to insist that our legislators get with the Climate Change program. While a couple of us were waiting to speak to our state senators on the fourth floor, hundreds of activists were thundering through the halls of the state capitol building demonstrating for the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act on the third floor. From our perspective, the rumblings below portended a profound escalation in the public’s resolve to get their representatives to vote for “Good jobs, frontline justice, and healthy communities through 100% clean renewable energy”. (NYRENEWS.org)  

At that moment (about 3PM) none of us knew whether the NYS Assembly would pass A10342, the purpose of which is “…is to enact the "New York State Climate and Community Protection Act" to address and mitigate the impacts of climate change in New York.” (1). So a few of us wandered over to the Assembly Chamber where members were filing in for the vote. Despite the continual clanging of an urgent-sounding bell throughout the humongous building to alert representatives that is was voting time, our representatives made their way leisurely to their seats. But our little group had to leave in order to catch our bus back to Rochester before we found out about the results of this historic vote. Only the next day did we find out:

New York Assembly Approves Climate Bill That Would Cut Emissions to Zero The bill, endorsed by a broad coalition, is also notable for its emphasis on environmental and economic justice, advocates say. This story was updated at 1:15 am ET on May 2, 2016, to reflect the state assembly's vote on the climate bill. The New York State Assembly approved the nation's most ambitious climate change bill Wednesday. The vote came hours after a broad coalition of environmental justice, climate activist, conservation and labor groups took to the State Capitol in Albany urging lawmakers to swiftly pass the bill before the legislative session ends on June 16. The legislation requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from major sources to zero by 2050. That would demand a near total decarbonization of its economy, and it would put New York among the world's leaders on forceful climate action. To achieve it, the bill gives the state until 2030 to get at least 50 percent of its electricity from clean energy. (June 1, 2016) Inside Climate News

Pretty heady stuff. I’ve attended many a Climate Change rally, and it’s not often that a decision gets made in our favor immediately after our demands are made. Instant gratification is not the usual fare when protesting against a fossil-fuel world and trying to herald in a renewable and sustainable existence. In fact, we are a long way from getting even this bill passed that would make NYS a leader in addressing Climate Change; first, a similar bill has to get though the more challenging state senate and even then, the governor would have to sign it.

Outside on the Capitol steps (from about noon to 2PM), six or seven hundred of us listened to many incredible speeches by activists. Some were local politicians pleading for a viable future for their constituents, and some were union leaders describing a future with clean energy jobs. Many speakers talked about the poorest getting hit first and worst by Climate Change. One speech acknowledged the newfound association of many communities not historically linked with climate activism (as they have had many more immediate threats to their existence) and communicated a dawning realization about the new warming world we have entered: Addressing Climate Change is now the political and economic vehicle, whatever ones feelings about our environment, for a viable future. Many groups who have felt helpless getting their concerns addressed are realizing the importance of this new avenue for change. Contained in the often chanted maxim during the day, “The People United Will Never Be Divided!” is something those still attempting to block change through deceit and denial should be aware of: A people united is a force more powerful than money.

Throughout the speeches on the steps, many of the speakers floated seamlessly between English and Spanish.  One speech was rendered entirely in Hispanic. By this time, I was feeling a little stupid for only knowing one language—and some say that one not all that well.   

At around 10AM, on our way through the concourse from our bus to the Capitol, we bumped into one of our local senators. After an amiable exchange, where we all greeted each other as Rochester-centric cheerleaders, we suddenly pushed back on the senator’s characterization that NYS is doing enough already on Climate Change. We should be pounding China not New York on Climate Change, the senator implored.

Ok, that was weird, as if a very cheerful party has just been made uncomfortable by an unpleasant outburst. We pushed back again because China, as we all know, is not in New York State. China is a place where no NYS senator would have any effect. The senator was squirming now and suddenly thought of an engagement he needed to get to—which by the way was in the other direction he was headed before he met up with us.

I’ve heard the China syndrome used in the context of Climate Change before, but not by one of my senators actually talking to me. The argument, as I understand it is that, the Chinese are putting the most carbon emissions into the atmosphere and the activists should go after them. New York, which stopped Fracking in its tracks, should be given a break by the activists. We have done enough. 
There are many talking points one could have used on the senator had he been willing to stick around and listen to them. First, New York State, which was a major player in the Second Industrial Revolution, is partly responsible for most of the greenhouse gases that have already caused Climate Change disasters around the world. This fact probably would have gotten the senator’s eyes rolling big time. Moral arguments were not in the script. However, more to the point of the bill we want the state senate to consider, New York State can and should be a leader in addressing Climate Change by providing good solid jobs around a renewable infrastructure, and blocking new fossil fuel infrastructure like Bomb Trains snaking through our NYS communities or filling empty salt caverns near the Finger Lakes full of gas (see WeAreSenecaLake).

And, as a matter of politics, it was President Obama’s willingness to demonstrate to China that the US was willing to lead and make significant moves towards renewable energy that helped bring China to the table in Paris. China and the US made the Paris Agreement happen. New York can and should lead on renewable energy now that we’ve chased the specter of Fracking away.

Though it is often the nature of the beast, our legislatures shouldn’t be looking over their shoulders to see how their colleagues are voting before making their decisions on the crisis of our age. The NYS Senate is unlikely to vote favorably on the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act, we get that. But our representatives should be looking straight at their constituents, the facts of climate science, and past disasters like Hurricane Sandy for guidance on how they should vote.

The bill passed on Wednesday in the NYS Assembly but where do we go from here?

The bill was first introduced to the state Assembly on May 23 by Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D). There is currently no equivalent bill in the state Senate, and with only eight days left in the legislative session, it’s unclear whether the bill will make it to Cuomo’s desk for a signature before the legislative session ends. (June 2, 2016 – Climate Progress)

I don’t know yet. But I do know Climate Change is not waiting for the voting bell, and the temperatures are rising quickly.


Time passes. 

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