(Editor’s Note: This is the first in an occasional series that will explore questions and answers of national and international significance raised at Senator Daniel Squadron’s recent Community Town Hall meeting. This installment focuses on the issue of global warming.)
At the November 15 Community Town Hall meeting hosted by State Senator Daniel Squadron, a surprising number of questions from constituents concerned national, rather than local, problems. This response was perhaps driven, at least in part, by the results of the recent presidential election.
Tribeca resident Chloe Derovsky said to the Senator, “we had agreed to uphold Paris Climate accord as a nation, and that’s now in jeopardy at the federal level. But New York State is a larger economy than many nation states that signed onto the accord.” She then asked Mr. Squadron, “what are you going to do to fight to uphold those promises?”
The Senator began by saying, “I’m a local State Senator and I know that I appear to be of enormous power and influence…” which elicited a round of giggles from the audience. He responded, “thank you for laughing at that,” but then proceeded to a serious analysis of how political action at the local and state levels can mitigate at least some of the anticipated effects of climate change.
“Our nation has to uphold promises and treaties,” he said. The Paris Climate Accord, “which is the first time you have nations, both more industrialized and less, participating in significant reductions in carbon emissions, is one of these. NATO is another, which has contributed to peace in Western Europe for a lifetime. And Geneva Accords which, in their current form, are a basic reaction to the atrocities of World War Two, are a third.”
“The broad picture with all of those, however, is that whenever there’s a government you’re not happy with, or that gives you reason to doubt that it’s acting constitutionally, lawfully, and within the values that we as a community and a nation share, we need to be ready for a crisis to occur.”
“I pray that we see adherence to Paris and Geneva and NATO. But the moment that our country is being pulled out of things that we are lawfully a part of, the moment that something is happening with the way that the Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security are being run that we think fundamentally undermines the law, the Constitution, and who we are, we need to be ready to act.”
“That action,” he continued, “in the form of really active, engaged public protest, is based on our First Amendment rights — of assembly, in defending freedom of the press. Sometimes I hate the press, but we need always to defend their right to do the things they do.”
But Senator Squadron added a caveat: “That is stronger and more effective if we have already been participating up to that point on the issues we care about within our communities. Joining a community organization, a civic organization, an issue-based advocacy organization, is the best way to be part of an influential group of thousands or ten of thousands in defending who we are as a people.”
He also outlined a second approach, which he described as, “much less conceptual and more specific,” and began by noting that, “New York State can do a whole heck of a lot. We have a huge economy, just slightly smaller than South Korea’s.”
“And the truth is, in New York, because our State government is so closed and so broken in some ways, and because a very small number of people participate in State government, a relatively small number of people — for example the number of people in this room — can have an enormous impact on major legislation.”
He went on to describe the process of governing in New York as dominated, “almost entirely heavily vested interests and self-interests, some of which, by the way, I tend to agree with, although not always. And some of which I tend to disagree with, just about always. But that is what drives action and inaction — and inaction is a very, very powerful force in Albany.”
“I have found again and again that if you get 100, 150, or 200 people who are willing to really invest their time, whatever financial resources they have, whatever resources they have in terms of expertise in an issue, it elevates that issue into the group that is being talked about and considered in Albany.”
“You can look at how broken and closed and special interest-driven our State government is and say, ‘that’s really depressing and a waste of time,'” he reflected. “Or you can look at it and say, ‘that’s an opportunity, if you can get a group of people together, to have influence.'”
“In a state of 19 million people with a $170-billion-a-year budget, frankly it’s a surprise that a couple of hundred people can have that impact,” Senator Squadron observed.
In specific terms, he noted, “the State is currently committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 40 percent as of 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. That was a program begun under Governor Paterson and continued by Governor Cuomo,” adding that these goals have been set by executive order, “because the Republican Senate has blocked it legislatively.”
In terms of a roadmap for more ambitious goals, he cited a bill currently before the State legislature, “which calls for a 100 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2050.” This bill, which was enacted earlier this year by the State Assembly, was blocked in the Senate, effectively killing it for the legislative session that ended in June. It is now expected to be reintroduced in both chambers at the start of the new legislative session that begins in a few weeks.
“This is a bill that now exists,” Senator Squadron continued. “It’s a real piece of legislation that has real sponsors. And this would get us, in New York State, beyond even the requirements of the Paris Treaty. If we do this in New York, it would send a message regionally, to other states. We need to make this happen.”