Saturday, June 3, 2017

Local climate leadership opportunities for New Yorkers after the Paris withdrawal

Trump recently announced his intent to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord. While this may not be as catastrophic as some suggest, as a reflection of the administration's evil, insane climate denial, it's still pretty bad.  NYC environmental and progressive groups quickly organized a rally downtown in front of City Hall.  Protests, as well as progressive campaigns to pressure elected officials, are necessary but not enough.  The elites running the show have enormous power, and many Americans are asleep.  How do we leverage our limited resources? Organize for NYC and NY State initiatives that advance our climate agenda, and also align with organizing for the 2018 midterms and other elections.

Some silver linings? For perspective, here are some reasons the US withdrawal from the Paris agreement is not completely bad news. 

- - The process for withdrawing the US from the treaty will take four years, so the final decision goes to US voters, making climate potentially a major topic in the next presidential election.

- - Perhaps without the US blocking international action as it has in the past, the world's nations will be better able to agree on more demanding actions.

- - Under the Paris agreement, the national contributions to carbon emission reductions were voluntary and unenforceable.  While it was good that countries agreed to the goals of keeping global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees C and preferably 1.5 C, we were going to blow past those limits anyway.  Stronger and faster action would still be needed.

-- Even North Korea ratified the Paris agreement.  Besides the US, only Nicaragua and Syria are not part of the agreement.  Nicaragua doesn't think it goes far enough, and Syria is distracted by its current civil war.  Highly visible and embarrassing actions like this may serve
to rouse the complacent, distracted and propagandized citizens of the US.  

- - The Trump administration's display of greed, ignorance and insanity in the face of global crisis is accelerating the growth of climate leadership around the world. 

Many nations, states and cities are stepping up their climate responses. 

China is making massive investments in renewable energy.  The new French President Macron made an epic reply to Trump, in English, inviting America's engineers and entrepreneurs to come to France and help "make our planet great again."

The Commonwealth of Nations, an intergovernmental organization made up of former British Empire states, may emerge as an international climate response force. Paul Hawken and a team of scientists
 researched the 100 most promising solutions to climate change and ranked them on cost, feasibility and effectiveness.  The Drawdown team spoke to a rapt and supportive audience of Commonwealth leaders.  Imagine if they were able to get that kind of response from the US Congress and Senate.   

Governor Jerry Brown of California announced a new alliance of US states, starting with California, New York, and Washington State, that will comply with the Paris accord even without Federal support. Many large cities around the world and in the US are acting.

But as evidence of the Trump administration's climate denial it's still pretty bad news. 

There's no point in speculating about how much damage the administration will cause in the next few years. Our situation is clearly much worse than it was in 2016.  So what's next?

Effective ways to resist includes contacting elected officials.

This blog will keep exploring the complex question of what to do next.   Future posts will look into how New Yorkers can effectively combine resistance to the administration while advocating for more renewable energy and lower fossil fuel use and carbon emissions.

After the election, progressive former Congressional staffers issued the Indivisible guide. They learned from the Tea Party protests that coordinated campaigns to call and write elected officials, as well as showing up at public meetings, are effective ways to apply pressure.  There are now nearly 6,000 local Indivisible groups.

The Five Calls app provides a list of progressive issues and connects users with the offices of their representatives.  It's simple: citizens can call the offices with their requests without reading off the entire script or becoming experts on the issue.

By the way: emailing elected officials or signing online petitions is pretty much a waste of time, so don't bother with it.

Protests are important too.    

Go to protests, like the Climate March in DC in April 2017  and smaller ones since then. Show with your presence that
many Americans do not consent to the actions of their national government.

Protests can counteract the bystander effect. Experiments have shown that people are less likely to help a victim or respond to an emergency when all the other bystanders are ignoring the problem.  It increases apathy. So try to join protests about your priority issues or spread word that they happened, to remind the public that some of us are jumping in.

Why is only a minority actively pushing for progressive change? 

The musician Moby has a great animated video accompanying one of his songs.  It illustrates the mind-numbing power of the matrix of commerce, entertainment, and social media.  It will remind you of what you already know. Take a break to watch it now...

Many Americans are aware that climate change exists, and believe something should be done about it, but are not doing anything differently, let alone going to rallies.  Maybe they're distracted, hypnotized, brainwashed, looking at their phones, or busy with their own lives. Or they don't believe that climate change will affect them directly.

Maybe they bought into the subliminal stories that someone else will fix it, or that new technology will be invented that will erase the problem.  There's a body of literature on communicating about climate change.  I recall that messages that do well beyond the choir of activists include the creation of green jobs and economic growth from embracing renewable energy, so those should be key themes.  That needs more research.

Either way, when only a tiny minority is willing to get involved, and the majority does nothing, the kleptocratic (the rule of thieves) Trump administration and their allies  will plunder and destroy the nation and the planet for short term profits.

How do we wake up more people and get them involved? 

Since we're in New York City, what can we do locally? How do we focus our actions so they generate yet more positive social change, in NYC, in New York State, nationally and globally?

I'm a volunteer with 350NYC, the local chapter of the international climate change group,

"350 uses online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions to oppose new coal, oil and gas projects, take money out of the companies that are heating up the planet, and build 100% clean energy solutions that work for all. 350's network extends to 188 countries."

350NYC has focused on the campaigns to divest NY City and State pension funds from fossil fuel companies.  Group members have been very involved with campaigns against fracking and fossil fuel infrastructure.  To get more New Yorkers involved with our group and the climate movement, we're looking for City and State initiatives that we can get behind and for which we can build grassroots support.

This is not a simple task.  Since Mayor Bloomberg launched PlaNYC in 2007, the City has been making continual improvements in sustainability, energy use and resilience.  Many of the initiatives have been within City agencies and go unnoticed by the public.

Some trigger public controversy.  Bloomberg offered congestion pricing, a plan to raise fees on vehicles driving into midtown Manhattan during peak traffic hours, to encourage more use of mass transit, as part of the original PlaNYC rollout.  State legislators from suburban areas fought back against imagined inconvenience to their constituents and the initiative was withdrawn.  More recently, legislation to put a small fee on plastic bags at grocery stores was defeated by State legislators.

This may be an ideal time to raise the bar and push for climate initiatives that may have been easily beaten in the past, and to shine a light on officials who oppose them.

What are the best NYC initiatives for environmental groups to support?

Criteria include how much the initiative will:

-  reduce energy use, costs and carbon emissions
-  increase renewable energy production capacity
-  reduce pollution and waste
-  reduce human health consequences
-  address environmental justice issues (the siting of polluting facilities in economically disadvantaged and minority neighborhoods)
-  support green economic development and green jobs
- make NYC more resilient to extreme weather events such as flooding and heat waves

Also, is the initiative:
- capable of gaining the support of the NYC Council and the di Blasio administration
- offer perceived benefit to a wide range of New Yorkers
- get more New Yorkers involved beyond the narrow demographic of environmental activists
- offer benefits rapidly and widely enough to generate public appeal
- not be so technical or abstract in its benefits that it can't be easily explained

NYC is perceived to be a blue city in a blue state, but we are not homogenous and should not be complacent.  Further, if campaigns for NYC / NY State climate friendly initiatives aren't aligned with 2018 midterm election organizing, we're missing the point and dispersing our energies, perhaps fatally. and 350NYC are not partisan and do not focus on specific elections.   One climate group that does is The Climate Mobilization.  
TCM says we are in an urgent climate emergency and need a World War II scale climate mobilization to lower carbon emissions much more rapidly than commonly discussed.  For example instead of 80% reductions by 2050, their goal is 100% renewable energy and zero carbon emissions by 2030. 

Their strategy report analyzes political, economic and social factors, and calls for electing Congress members in 2018 and a new President in 2020 that support emergency climate action.
There may or may not be members of the NYC Council who are standing in the way of climate initiatives.  This needs to be researched.

Organizing in support of City initiatives can at the same time identify and recruit activists for NY State initiatives.

There are certainly going to be members of the New York State Assembly and Senate who are standing in the way of climate initiatives.  This needs to be researched.

Are there progressive candidates who plan to challenge non-supportive Councilmembers, Assemblymembers and Senators? That too needs to be researched.

Efforts to promote climate-supporting initiatives can be specifically targeted to particular districts.  Identifying and recruiting pro-climate activists in those districts will lay the groundwork to make climate an issue in that district for the next election.

NY State climate initiatives, and NYC initiatives that can be easily replicated by small cities and towns, can be offered to NY State activists and candidates in swing districts. 

Swing Left has identified 65 Congressional districts in which the last House of Representatives election was determined by 15% or less of votes. "If we hold the 17 vulnerable Democratic-held districts, we only need to flip 24 House seats—exactly half of the 48 Republican-held districts on our list—to take back the house in 2018."

For example, two NY State swing districts not far from NYC are #3, the north coast of Long Island, whichTom Suozzi won by only 17,241 votes (5.6%), and #19, the mid-Hudson. John Faso won it by only 26,000 votes (8.6%)

I'd appreciate your comments and suggestions.  

Future posts will include close looks at upcoming and potential NYC legislation, and climate initiatives for NYC. 

- - - - - - -

Addendum: my personal opinions on a few background factors to the 2016 election

- - The trends taking us to this point have been going on for a long time.  The Story of Stuff traces the history of our consumer economy.  In the early 1970s, the Powell memo catalyzed decades of massive big business funding of anti-progressive lobbying and propaganda.

- - The Democratic National Committee and Hilary Clinton, as well as the Republicans, were captured long ago by big business and military interests. Those interests have been making the rich richer at the expense of the working class, the middle class, and a sustainable infrastructure and energy system, both in the US and globally, for a long time.

- - Bernie Sanders offered a genuine populist response and would have beaten phony populist Trump.  Hilary was unable to speak out against the neoliberal, corporate consensus, which she basically supported.  Hilary and the DNC squelched Sanders, refused to reach out to his progressive movement, and ran a bad campaign.  Many desperate but ignorant voters were conned into voting for Trump.  Many didn't bother to vote. Those non-voters may be more easily convinced to vote in 2018 and 2020 than members of the pro-Trump base.

- - The Republicans have expanded their control over US government by massive voter suppression (Operation Crosscheck, as documented by Greg Palast), gerrymandering (drawing election districts so that districts include a majority supporting the party drawing up the districts, leaving supporters of other parties as permanent minorities), propaganda networks like Fox News, and powerful stealth social media operations like Cambridge Analytica (connected to Steve Bannon) that played Facebook.

- - It will take a massive and focused progressive organizing effort to overcome these factors.


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