This is an opinion piece written by New York State Assemblymember Anna Kelles. It was not written by the Ithaca Voice. To submit editorials or letters to the editor, send them to Matt Butler at email@example.com.
Last week, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a comprehensive report on the impacts of climate change on humanity and our planet. UN secretary-general António Guterres called the report “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.” Our window to mitigate the very worst impacts of climate change is narrowing. Across the globe, we are already experiencing destructive storms, flooding, droughts, and fires. To protect our planet, preserve our food systems, and adapt, we must take bold, transformational action now.
Three years ago, New York State took a critical first step. We passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), which requires us to achieve 70% renewable electricity by 2030, 100% zero-emission electricity generation by 2040. The law also mandates that we cut climate change pollutants by half by 2030 and an 85% reduction by 2050. The Climate Action Council (CAC) established by the CLCPA recently outlined a plan to reach these goals. According to a NYSERDA analysis in the plan, the state needs to spend $10 billion annually, with increases every year, to meet our 2050 goal of a fully net-zero economy. Other researchers, including those at the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), put the yearly number at $31 billion. We will not achieve the substantial infrastructure change in our energy grid, buildings, transportation system, agriculture and other critical sectors needed to meet our climate goals with our current planned investments.
The truth is that we cannot afford not to act now and invest the necessary funds to meet our climate goals. According to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), each ton of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) causes more than $125 in damages. Given the DEC’s most recent 2019 estimate of net CO2 emissions (350 million metric tons) this results in nearly $30 billion annual cost as a result of climate pollution in New York State. Every storm that hits the downstate region, every warm winter reducing tourism in the Adirondacks and the Finger Lakes, every flood destroying crops upstate, has a significant direct cost to New Yorkers. Every child and medically vulnerable individual that requires costly medical care and hospitalization from breathing in polluted air is a substantial and unnecessary cost to our state. All those who experience a disproportionate level of air pollution in predominantly black and brown communities due to our current fossil fuel-based energy production system is a healthcare cost and a loss of economic productivity. We can reduce all of these costs by prioritizing emissions reductions.
It is clear that it is significantly cheaper to invest in climate solutions than to stand behind business as usual. I’m calling on my colleagues in the legislature and the Governor to allocate $15 billion for climate, jobs, and justice in this year’s budget. This investment is both reasonable and necessary to meet New York’s climate goals, protect our state from the worst elements of the climate crisis, and prepare our workforce for the important green jobs of the future.
Last year, New York State took in nearly $13 billion in greater revenue than expected. Although it is important to replenish our reserve funds, investing a portion of these gains into reducing our fossil fuel dependency, building up our renewable energy infrastructure, expanding our green jobs sector, and investing in environmental justice communities that will reduce future costs and provide clear social and economic protections is a prudent investment. Every year we spend $1.5 billion on tax subsidies to the fossil fuel industry prolonging our commitment and dependency on dirty and economically volatile fossil fuels. This is another source of funding that could be diverted to an effort to move our physical infrastructure and economy forward into the new green economy instead of backwards on fossil fuel dependency. Finally, we need to reexamine our economic development investments through the state’s Regional Economic Development Council’s. Instead of prioritizing large scale initiatives averaging about $9 billion annually that are politically motivated and provide little economic return and even fewer jobs, we can shift investments to a transparent and comprehensive focus on green energy manufacturing and infrastructure development. Rather than focusing taxpayer dollars on direct investments in for-profit companies, we should prioritize our communities and build a transition to a fully renewable and stable economy.
I believe a winning social and economic strategy for New York is to listen to the world’s leading scientists, stop funding fossil fuels, and start funding climate, jobs, and justice starting today with the recommended annual $10-15 billion in our state budget.