Brad Lander for NYC

Words and Updates from Brad Lander


Six Years After Sandy

Six years ago (on a blustery Saturday like today), Hurricane Sandy hit NYC. What New Yorkers did together in the days afterward — in the Rockaways & Red Hook, in the shelters at John Jay HS & the Park Slope Armory — remains the most extraordinary example that I’ve ever seen of our ability to come together, across lines of difference, to take action in support of each other … of the radical potential of organized compassion.

Can we recall the collective strength we found then, to help us rise to face our crises now?

Can we recall the collective strength we found then, to help us rise to face our crises now?

At a moment when our capacity for democracy is in real doubt, remembering those days helps anchor my certainty about what we can do at our best. I’ve quoted Rebecca Solnit on this many times before: “The recovery of this purpose and closeness without crisis or pressure is the great contemporary task of being human.”

Unfortunately, the heroic democratic action we took then has not been matched in longer-term. We’ve taken some steps, projects like the Rockaway boardwalk/dunes that function as a storm-surge barrier, and moving toward divesting NYC’s pension funds from fossil fuels. But we are nowhere near to responding on the scale of the collective, existential crisis we face.

The report this month from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reminded us again of how urgent collective action is. But I fear in some ways these dire predictions, especially in these times of Trumpist/right-wing ascendance, could render us frozen, helpless, rather than compel us to action.

So, I thought I’d offer a few quick thoughts on some steps we should be taking right now. Well, OK, not right now. For the next 10 days, we should just be knocking on doors (I’m leaving for Bay Ridge soon). But right after that.

With a climate denier in the White House, for the next two years we should focus on action that cities & states can take, both to significantly reduce carbon emissions, and to start taking resilience seriously:

*** In Albany, after we win a Democratic State Senate, we can and must prioritize passage of the NYS Climate and Community Protection Act, championed by the New York Renews coalition, to require our state to move to 100% clean energy (with attention to environmental justice & creating good jobs).

*** In NYC, where buildings account for 70% of our emissions, we must pass legislation — that we’ve been talking about for 10 years — to mandate that owners retrofit their buildings (especially, but not only, the most dirty ones) to meaningfully reduce their emissions and energy consumption. Recently, advocates, environmentalists, and even the real estate industry reached agreement on a framework, and Council Member Costa Constantinides is preparing a bill to implement the agreement. But it’s years overdue, and we need to get it done ASAP.

*** At a City Council hearing this past week on sea level rise, it became clear to me that we have not yet built climate resilience into basic planning processes: into the City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) that we use to evaluate land use proposals, into our 10-year capital plan for infrastructure investments. And since we don’t have a comprehensive plan, we sure haven’t included it there. We must use the Charter Revision Commission (which is looking at land use issues, including a proposal from the Progressive Caucus for a comprehensive plan) to make climate change analysis an element of all our planning. Seems obvious. But we aren’t yet doing it.

*** And yes, OK, it won’t stop the seas from rising, but getting rid of plastic bags would at least help make sure they aren’t filled with toxic plastic. And it should be so easy. Suffolk County’s 5-cent plastic bag fee — modelled on the law that I sponsored & passed in NYC, but which Governor Cuomo and the legislature killed — has reduced plastic bag waste by 70% since it went into effect on January 1. Ulster County just banned plastic bags, with a 10-cent fee on paper. If we win the State Senate, we’ll take another look at what NYC can do.

So, for today (and the next 10): go knock doors! We need Democratic control of the U.S. House of Representatives to prevent the federal government from making things worse, and of the New York State Senate to start making things better.

Right after that, let’s try to remember the collective strength we found in the wake of crisis six years ago, and use it to address the profound crisis we still face.


P.S. This summer, I read Kim Stanley Robinson’s “New York 2140.” I know (especially coming from me) that is sounds like a boring policy report! But it’s actually a terrific piece of science fiction, that imagines NYC underwater in ways that I think you’ll find really compelling. It functions not only as a sustained critique of runaway capitalism, but it also reminds us that the power to take action is — and will continue to be — in our shared hands.