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Blair Horner: Making Climate Change Rhetoric The Reality

Governor Cuomo made a startling prediction last week.  In an interview on WAMC, the governor said he did not “see anything specific for the rest of the session” related to legislation to fight climate change.

Why the governor would say that can only be answered by one person.  It may well be that he feels like enough has been done by the state on climate, which it hasn’t.  Or that there was no need for specific legislation since the Administration is advancing policies on various fronts that would achieve a similar goal.  Or perhaps it’s something else.

This is a striking reversal for the governor.  Just a few months earlier, the governor – as part of his proposed budget – called for the creation of a “Green New Deal” that would have mandated that New York's electricity be powered by 100 percent carbon-free sources by the year 2040.  Under the governor’s proposal – issued with great fanfare – the state would mandate a significant increase in the amount of electricity powered by renewable sources: moving from the current goal of 50 percent to 70 percent renewable electricity by 2030.

But when the budget deal-making dust had settled, the governor’s Green New Deal was left out.  So, now that the ink is dry on the budget is the governor throwing in the towel?

Thankfully, the Legislature seems committed to taking comprehensive action. For several years, the New York State Assembly has passed a bill known as the Climate and Community Protection Act, which would put into law a goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. With the new majority in the State Senate, this legislation has potential to pass.

While we wait to see if New York will act, in the face of the Trump administration’s hostility to acting on the climate crisis the rest of the nation is moving ahead.

Last month, New Mexico targeted to have its electricity production 100 percent non-fossil fuel by 2045.  The Maryland legislature recently passed a bill targeting 50 percent renewable power by 2030 and looking into the viability of 100 percent by 2040.  The state of Washington is acting.  Illinois might pass a 100 percent target soon.

The state of California and Hawaii already have acted, adding to the more than 100 U.S. cities that have acted.

Not all of these plans are perfect, but they show a real commitment to moving from the rhetoric of promising action to combat the looming climate catastrophe to actual, legally-binding, actions that do so.

Compared to the inaction – or the awful actions – of the national government, promises are better.  But unless the world acts, the devastation resulting from global warming will ruin the lives of billions.

If New York State acted alone to aggressively move away from reliance on fossil fuels, it would be impactful.  If New York State were an independent nation, it would rank as the 12th or 13th largest economy in the world.

But combined with the actions already taken – or soon to be taken – by states (including California) across the nation, action by New York would send a powerful signal: that the nation is moving away from fossil fuel power despite the inactions of the Trump Administration.

New York State’s action would be consequential.

According to the world’s climate science experts, actions are needed.  In the Fall of 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – an organization that includes the world’s climate experts – sounded the alarm bell that governments around the world must take "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society" to avoid disastrous levels of global warming.  There needs to be a worldwide mobilization to reverse greenhouse gas emissions in order avoid this global catastrophe. 

That is why the governor’s comments last week were so puzzling.  The Cuomo Administration has taken bold actions in the past, most notably when it decided to follow the recommendations of the world’s climate experts and keep the fossil fuel available through hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) in the ground.  That was an important decision, and the Administration has taken additional steps to expand state supports for solar and wind power.

Instead, we’re left with the governor’s perplexing prediction.  If the governor doesn’t lead, the Legislature must.  There is no time to waste.

Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors.They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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