CLINTON — A panel of three held a discussion on Climate Change action needed in New York State before a group of nearly 100 students and concerned citizens in the Bradford Auditorium of the Kirner-Johnson Building of Hamilton College on Wednesday, April 24.
Professor of Government and Environmental Studies Peter Cannavo served as moderator for the evening and introduced the panel.
Citizens for Climate Lobbiest, Frank Price, New York Senator (D-53) Rachel May and Sunshine Movement of Central New York representative Liam McMonagle took turns addressing the crowd to enlighten them to the possibilities for change and how to go about implementing that change in the 90-minute discussion.
After introductions Price addressed the crowd aided by a Power Point presentation that explained the “brass tacks” of “Carbon Fees and Dividends,” a proposal the Citizen’s Climate Lobby has been advocating for the past 12 years. Price explained that a national, revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend system that places a price on carbon, could be collected and paid back to households, after deducting administration costs, as an monthly energy reimbursement.
“The idea is you collect a fee for green house gases that are emitted primarily by fossil fuels,” Price said. “You know how much carbon is in a ton of a particular ton of coal and you charge a price for that. The government collects that price, that fee is proportional to carbon taxes and you schedule an increase in that fee, it would start at a certain level and increase over time.”
The benefits to that Price said, aside from reducing green house gases and climate change is that it’s very efficient in terms of market efficiency, which is something that economists worry about, because there is a price in the original source, and everything that uses that resource cascades through the whole economy.
Hence, In just 20 years, studies show, such a system could reduce carbon emissions to 50% of 1990 levels while adding 2.8 million jobs to the American economy, according to citizensclimatelobby.com.
Price also stated that such a plan could tip the economic scales towards the poor and boost the faith in government compromise. A plan that Price said is well received and agreed with by 3,508 U.S. economists, all four Federal Reserve former chairs, 27 Nobel Laureates, 15 Council of Economic Advisers former chairs, two former secretaries of the Treasury Department and the Conservative Climate Leadership Council: James Baker, George Shultz, Gregory Makiw, Henry Paulson and Martin Feldstein, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
Liam McMonagle representing the Sunrise Movement of Central New York spoke about the Green New Deal, planet advocacy and the Climate and Community Protection Act, or CCPA.
“One of the main focuses of the Sunrise movement is getting fossil fuel money out of our politics,” McMonagle said. “So the first campaign I want to talk to you folks about is the ‘No fossil fuel’ pledge. It’s basically asking anyone who seeks a political office, or holds a political office to pledge not to take contributions from the oil, gas or coal industries, their lobbyists or political action committees. How it works in action looks a little bit like this, you find a politician that you know, or have access to and you just hand it over like this.
Ands with that, McMonagle slid the form to Senator May for her signature sparking a room full of laughter, none harder than from the Senator herself, who obliged the young man whole-heartedly and signed on the dotted line drawing enthusiastic applause.
“It’s basically as simple as that,” he said with a smile.
McMonagle got serious and explained the Sunrise movement was certainly concerned with climate change, but was just as concerned if not more so with racial and economic injustice and the movement believes without a shadow of a doubt the two are “inextricably linked.”
“There’s no way to separate these two issues,” McMonagle said. “It’s not an accident that our most venerable communities are the ones with the highest asthma rates, the lowest access to political and advocacy agencies. So what the Sunrise Movement seeks to do is work on these struggles at the same and say that through our work on climate change we need to encourage raising up historically disadvantaged communities and righting past wrongs.”
And with that said, McMonagle segued into his explanation of the Green New Deal.
He said it’s a robust federal intervention based on FDR’s New Deal to address these two gigantic problems, that can seriously threaten our democracy. It may not have all the answers, but, like the New Deal it halts the present situation from getting any worse before we can get a handle on it.
“Climate Change is not just the weather,” McMonagle said. “ It affects every single facet of American society, it’s trillion of dollars of economic damage that we can not stop unless we start right now. The GND specifically calls for a lot of what CCPA calls for, switching to renewable energy, getting our fossil fuels dependency gone, creating and sustaining our own economy. And with that...may I seamlessly transition to my state senator, Rachel May.
‘This is wonderful to see so many people here tonight,” May said.
The senator explained she represented the 53rd senate district, which among other locations included the Village of Clinton. She continued to say she felt her support for climate change legislation was something that unites and is good for her entire district.
“There are reasons to care about this if you live in the city, or the country,” she said. “There are reasons to care about this if you’re expecting to live many more decades on this planet.”
She said she comes to this newly elected position after being an activist for a long time. An activist working on climate issues, in particular she was the director of sustainability education at Syracuse University for 15 years before she ran for public office. Hence, she understands how hard it is to get movement on this issue on the legislative level.
“We’ve been trying for a long time.” May said.
The senator attributed the legislative failure of passing any new laws regarding climate change to a lack of courage by elected officials to introduce and vote on such bills. In addition to extremely well funded and very well organized opposition, which has really been willing to stop at nothing to change the discourse, or make it so people are afraid of the idea of doing anything about climate change.
“I dont pretend I’m somehow vastly more courageous than the people who have come before me,” she said. “But I think that things have changed, and they’ve changed partly because a lot of new people have run for office who come from an understanding of how important this is.”
May said people are seeing visual proof of the damage the lack of climate control is causing. She said she has seen it in her own lifetime, with her own eyes. Change that includes certain species going extinct, coastal erosion and damage to crops. So much so that she is supporting the Climate and Community Protection Act. A bill that would set hard limits for the state to reduce its green house gas emissions ultimately to zero by the year 2050.
She continued to say the state of New York and the Governor has done a pretty good job calling attention and promoting the issue, however the targets are “soft” and the stand the Governor has taken still does not have the force of law. Which means, if the state elects another governor that has an opposing opinion, the stand could completely change course as has happened at the federal level, all the work of groups like the Sunrise Movement and Citizen’s Climate Lobby would probably stall.
But May remarked they have had luck getting some stuff done and for that she is pleased. She is optimistic and she, along with others, will ask for significant climate change legislation this year. First and foremost the CCPA bill. A bill that would bring carbon emissions down and provide stability for workers who make their living in the fossil fuel industry.
“I’m looking forward to working with the governor on this,” May said.
“We need you to pressure us, and him, to make sure that we follow through on all this, and know, none of what we’ve accomplished so far wouldn’t have happened without the pressure we feel from ordinary people like you every day.”