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Exclusive: New York Sandy ‘Climate Resilience’ Plan Won’t Address Climate Pollution

By Brad Johnson, Guest Contributor  

"Exclusive: New York Sandy ‘Climate Resilience’ Plan Won’t Address Climate Pollution"

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by Brad Johnson, campaign manager for Forecast the Facts

The nearly $300 million climate-resiliency initiative established by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg using Sandy relief funds will not address climate pollution, according to a city official.

The New York City Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR), formed in November 2012, will release a report this month indicating how $294 million in federal funding from the Superstorm Sandy relief act should be spent to increase the city’s “climate resiliency.” The report “will present policy recommendations, infrastructure priorities, and community plans, and identify sources of long-term funding” in addition to the emergency federal funds — but it apparently will not include an accounting of the carbon footprint of that infrastructure development.

In an email, SIRR spokesperson Daynan Crull told Forecast the Facts that because the initiative’s job is to “protect New York City against future climate threats,” it “does not directly address energy generation vis-à-vis fossil fuels”:

SIRR’s directive is rebuild and protect New York City against future climate threats, so it does not directly address energy generation vis-à-vis fossil fuels. However, New York City has been a global leader in environmental urban policy, pioneering PlaNYC — one of the most comprehensive sustainable and environmentally conscious policy programs ever established for a major city. It is upon this foundation that SIRR is built. Indeed PlaNYC established the New York City Panel on Climate Change, which is supporting SIRR’s work with the best climate science available.

Crull’s statement makes no sense — if SIRR’s plan is to “protect New York City against future climate threats,” it must necessarily “address energy generation vis-à-vis fossil fuels.” One cannot wall off energy use and infrastructure planning into separate boxes. This announcement is especially troubling because it is not clear that New York City is increasing any of its investments in renewable energy or carbon pollution reduction in response to Sandy. Instead, the city is moving forward with new fossil-fuel infrastructure, including a fracked-gas pipeline planned to cut through the Rockaways.

In 2011, PlaNYC set relatively strong climate-pollution goals for the city: a 30 percent reduction from 2006 levels of carbon pollution by 2017, with hopes of achieving an 80 percent reduction by 2050. However, much more ambitious targets are technologically possible — Stanford researcher Mark Jacobson has detailed a strategy for getting New York State’s energy use carbon-free by 2030. And no climate plan for New York City is complete without goals for divesting the financial industry from fossil-fuel producers like New York’s richest man, David H. Koch.

SIRR’s work will update 2011′s NYC Vision 2020 Comprehensive Waterfront Plan, which included a chapter on climate resilience, defined incompletely by the planners as “adaptation strategies” to climate change impacts such as sea level rise and more intense storms. The devastation of Superstorm Sandy gives the waterfront plan’s recommendations new and tragic urgency — one of the stated goals was to “develop a better understanding of the city’s vulnerability to flooding and storm surge.” The waterfront plan did not explicitly call for resilience measures to emphasize carbon reduction, an unfortunate oversight that looks to be continued.

It is possible that the public word from SIRR is misleading. The climate-resiliency plan is being developed in consultation with the New York City Panel on Climate Change, co-chaired by climate scientist Cynthia Rosenzweig and urban environmental scientist William Solecki; the NYC Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, led since December 2012 by Sergej Mahnovski, a renewable-energy expert; and Goldman Sachs vice president Marc Ricks, a lead architect of PlaNYC.

Despite the official word that the SIRR plan will not address fossil-fuel energy generation, there are reasons to hope that the plan will promote infrastructure investments that are intended simultaneously to protect New York City residents from the damages of climate-change-related threats and to reduce the pollution that fuels those threats — and provide true climate resilience.

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24 Responses to Exclusive: New York Sandy ‘Climate Resilience’ Plan Won’t Address Climate Pollution

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    More evidence that Bloomberg was taken to the woodshed by the gas companies and investment banks. If they can spank him and extract penitence, along with Senators Graham and McCain, “green” groups like WWF and WS, PBS, Obama, etc, who do we have left?

    McKibben, Romm, Markey, Grantham, Steyer, and a few others- brave soldiers all, but new tactics are needed.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      In Australia the ruling elites in business, politics, the MSM and the legal-industrial complex have all long been purged of everybody to the Left of, say, Bill Clinton or Tony Blair. I well remember when we had a real ‘social democrat’ party, the Labour Party, which has marched remorselessly to the Right over forty years. It once contained numerous talented, intelligent, morally upright types, forged in the Great Depression and WW2. Even the Bosses’ parties, the so-called ‘Liberals’ and ‘Nationals’ contained decent, honest, moral, members, who, in particular, saw the tactical and moral dangers of too great reaction, elite greed and class warfare.
      Today, I can honestly think of very few individuals in public life for whom I have high regard. And they are mostly sidelined, and, like Tim Flannery for one example, endure constant abuse and character assassination from the inhabitants of the Rightwing MSM sewer, the Murdoch ‘Cloaca Maxima’ in particular. The worldwide victory of the Right is, I believe, the root cause of our current, multifaceted, predicament.

  2. M Tucker says:

    Crull and his group are adapters. Resilience is the new buzz word for the adapter group. Resilience – an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. So actually Crull lied. Resilience is not about protection it is about easy recovery.

    So a resilience plan will of course not address a solution to climate disruption. By definition change, misfortune, and disaster are coming and they don’t want the subways to need $600 million in repairs for each station that is flooded. They don’t want to lose power for days. It is about the city and not about the people. Streets and cars will still get flooded and people will still lose their businesses and homes to flooding.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      ‘Adaptation’ is a newish denialist industry tactic. We have as much chance of ‘adapting’ to anthropogenic climate destabilisation, not to mention the surfeit of other ecological calamities, as the dinosaurs had to adapting to life after the meteorite impact.

  3. BobbyL says:

    Personally, I would attack cities that are doing next to nothing about climate change and not NYC which has been a leader among cities in the US and the world in addressing climate change. This post seem to be about a rather petty issue. We need to take on the big stuff.

    • Brad Johnson, Guest Blogger says:

      Unfortunately, NYC is a leader among cities in the world in causing climate change, as the financial capital of the world.

      This isn’t a test that we can get partial credit on.

      • BobbyL says:

        New York City probably has the lowest per capita carbon footprint in the US of any major city. It has by far the best mass transit in the US. New Jersey has been trying get the financial capital to move across the Hudson for years. Would you suggest that NYC force Wall Street out and find some other way to pay for its schools (which mostly are pretty crumby as it is) and for financially strapped upstate NY to find a way to help its people without the aid of taxes from Wall Street. I don’t understand what you want NYC to do. Take a vow of poverty.

        • Merrelyn Emery says:

          You continually criticize China for trying to raise the standard of living for their people when the average wage is US$5000.00. Yet you can’t countenance any reduction in your own, ME

          • BobbyL says:

            I simply don’t understand what NYC is supposed to about Wall Street. It seems to me that Wall Street is the responsibility of the federal government. The financial industry is one of a number of industries that makes NYC its home. NYC can’t regulate it. Basically NYC (as well as NYS) collects taxes from the earnings of the financial industry. I don’t see the analogy between the central government of China and a city government in the US. If I were to criticize a city I might pick on Houston, Texas. I think you would find a very high carbon footprint per capita and no effort being made to address global warming. Why take on those leading the fight. It doesn’t make sense.

          • BobbyL says:

            I was wrong about Houston. That city is one of the leaders in LEED certified buildings. http://www.icleiusa.org/blog/archive/2012/04/26/houston-mayor-parker-announces-green-office-challenge-winners

      • fj says:

        Brad Johnson, you are within rights to criticize NYC as a leader among cities in the world causing climate change.

        Let us hope that it rapidly moves on track to have a much more positive distinction.

        Mentioned in the post, Cynthia Rosenzweig and William Solecki are top scientists and know what a true climate resiliency plan must entail.

        It is highly likely this group will ultimately set and achieve much more aggressive emissions goals and reduced environmental footprints.

        • BobbyL says:

          Who should be criticized next, prostrate Detroit because it is the home of the auto industry? I don’t get this strategy of criticizing city governments because certain industries happen to be located within their borders. City governments have been doing a lot to address global warming thanks in large part I believe to ICLEI. NYC has been a leader in ICLEI and has been chosen as one of the model cities for developing a sustainability index. By any measure NYC is a leader in the fight against global warming and efforts to achieve sustainability. I believe this is acknowledged throughout the world.

        • fj says:

          BobbyL, yes NYC city has great potential but has yet to be the true engine to battle climate change it is capable of being.

          Most New Yorkers don’t even know what PlaNYC is.

          And, the local advocacy is highly disfunctional not capitalizing on safe livable streets as the first most important initiative for early stage net zero transit.

  4. Jeff Howard says:

    Even though NYC is doing much to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it would be foolish to undertake climate change adaptation/resiliency without systematically attempting to minimize the greenhouse gas emissions this activity will generate. Depending on how resiliency is undertaken, it can contribute to *reducing* emissions or it can greatly *increase* emissions. The former would be smart planning; the latter, shooting oneself in the foot. The fact that SIRR spokesperson Crull seems oblivious to this distinction is not reassuring.

  5. addicted says:

    I think this article is much ado about nothing. SIRR is specifically focused on protecting NYC from the effects of climate change, whether we are able to mitigate them or not.

    It is still part of PlaNYC which contains the overall blueprint for how NYC will tackle mitigation.

    I agree with your assertion that PlaNYC could go farther, but disagree with your assertion that a plan SIRR, which is specifically intended to tackle adaptation, and not mitigation, should include plans for mitigation.

    • Brad Johnson, Guest Blogger says:

      It’s a false choice to “tackle adaptation and not mitigation.”

  6. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Beware big words that people only vaguely understand when they are transported from their original field to the social one, ME

  7. fj says:

    The report linked in this post is truly encouraging that outlines a path to statewide renewable energy conversion, and away from natural gas and imported fuel.

    Stanford researcher maps out an alternative energy future for New York

    http://news.stanford.edu/news/2013/march/new-york-energy-031213.html

  8. fj says:

    Using the world’s great cities to battle climate change, c40cities.org headed up by Michael Bloomberg, has extraordinary potential.

    Coordinating with the US Army’s net zero initiative seems to be a very good way to go.

  9. fj says:

    Do not feel sorry for NYC or compare it to Detroit.

    Some of the world’s wealthiest people choose to live here — when they can live anywhere they want — with good reason.

    “The Wealthy” can be highly philanthropically sensitive and or highly clueless to the daunting problems and great difficulties confronting humanity.

    They waste huge amounts per capita and are easily insulated from the 99 percent of humanity and the problems they face. They also have tremendous power and resources to apply to civilization’s most difficult problems.

    The world’s great cities are large scale model societies, and very likely, the places where the battle against accelerating climate change will be won in record time if it is to be won at all.

    And, “poor people first”, is by far, is the quickest and best way to achieve positively disruptive change.

    In capitalist terms: Profound use of natural capital where human capital is the most important component.

  10. fj says:

    Some of the world’s wealthiest people choose to live here — when they can live anywhere they want — with good reason.

    “The Wealthy” can be highly philanthropically sensitive and or highly clueless to the daunting problems and great difficulties confronting humanity.

    They waste huge amounts per capita and are easily insulated from the 99 percent of humanity and the problems they face. They also have tremendous power and resources to apply to civilization’s most difficult problems.

    The world’s great cities are large scale model societies, and very likely, the places where the battle against accelerating climate change will be won in record time if it is to be won at all.

    And, “poor people first”, is by far, is the quickest and best way to achieve positively disruptive change.

  11. fj says:

    To put things in perspective, the $300 million climate resiliency initiative is more than ten times the $24 million net zero Citibikeshare that starts Memorial Day.

    It is also a small fraction of the $2 billion per mile Second Avenue Subway many years in the making.

  12. fj says:

    The $300 million climate resiliency initiative is miniscule compaired to NYC’s trillion dollar real estate market and the New York Metropolitan Region’s trillion dollars in annual economic activity.