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Open Letter Calls for Bold Steps to Address Climate Change & COVID Devastation

Issue 255.5

Given the dire threat global warming presents to our city and its communities, in addition to the threat posed by coronavirus, we are publishing this letter to New York's leaders, signed by 132 organizations, in full here.

The People's Climate Movement-New York May 5

To Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Borough Presidents Adams, Brewer, Diaz Jr., Lee, and Oddo, Council Speaker Corey Johnson and all members of the NY City Council.

On Bold Next Steps: Forward Together  

New Yorkers are dealing with the tremendous impact of the COVID-19 healthcare crisis and its economic fallout. Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones and to the millions of people who have lost their jobs and are experiencing financial hardship. We deeply appreciate those doing the hard work to keep the rest of us safe, fed, informed, and as comfortable as possible. 

Just as epidemiologists warned the federal government that a pandemic was coming and advised it to prepare, scientists have long warned that climate change will create widespread devastation.

NYC has been hard hit, creating immense strain on all of the systems which sustain us. The federal government has provided neither timely nor adequate support and is completely mismanaging the crisis. They are not only failing to protect us from the virus, but further shredding any safety net of environmental regulation, healthcare, workers’ rights, and overall protection from an economy that has put corporate profits before the needs of people. 

There are real connections between the COVID-19 crisis and the global climate crisis. Having lost much of their habitats from deforestation, bats were the likely origin of COVID-19 in humans; with increasing deforestation and climate change we can expect more pandemics that we cannot control. The pollution in our atmosphere that causes respiratory diseases, particularly within communities of color, is now putting those very same people at greater risk in this pandemic. It is poor people, people of color, and Indigenous peoples already often living under difficult conditions, as well as the elderly, who are the most endangered. As extractive industries continue to degrade the environment and change the climate in blind pursuit of profit, we can expect changes to the ecosystem that result in the release of new viruses. Climate change, like COVID-19, is life-threatening and poses a risk to us all.

Just as epidemiologists warned the federal government that a pandemic was coming and advised it to prepare, scientists have long warned that climate change will create widespread devastation if we do not swiftly move to renewable energy. Indigenous peoples have for generations understood that we are out of balance with the natural world and have called upon us to start getting back in balance by protecting our water and air.

The federal government has largely ignored the warnings and is making things worse as they weaken the most basic EPA protections and continue to pour financial support into the fossil fuel industry and other polluting industries including factory farming. Our state and city governments have taken some steps, but much bolder and faster action is urgently required.  

If we think COVID-19 is bad, runaway climate change will be much worse. We cannot let that happen. We have learned from this crisis that people can change what they do personally to help the health and welfare of others; people need to heed that lesson in addressing climate change policies and practices before it is too late. We have learned that governments can move quickly when the political will is there. When the current COVID-19 crisis begins to subside, we must harvest our collective energies to push our elected officials to act on the climate crisis as the emergency that it is.

In NYC, we will need our local government to be proactive in building a just and equitable recovery grounded in core principles:

  • Centering the health and well-being of the most vulnerable communities by building a just transition that is focused on addressing race, gender, class, ethnic, sexual identity, religion, age, and disability inequities. 
  • A commitment to eliminating carbon emissions as quickly as possible and moving to 100% publicly-owned renewable energy, with new energy sources built in the NYC metropolitan area. This must include immediately halting all fossil fuel pipelines and dirty energy plants, and other such projects.
  • The creation of new living-wage, unionized jobs, while integrating community resilience at the center of projects such as new hospitals, schools, daycare centers, clinics, and renewable energy production. 
  • A just transition, led by the public sector and not privately-owned corporations, must include improving and expanding public transportation; building new and fixing existing public and truly affordable housing; strengthening health and education systems; expanding and protecting open spaces such as community gardens, parks, and wetlands; and ensuring strong social safety nets.
  • We are not naive about the cost of a just transition: it will require billions of dollars. The City must open up new revenue sources, such as taxing the rich, taxing stock transfers, making corporations pay their fair share and eliminating tax abatements and other tax breaks. This will mean mounting a campaign to make sure the NY State government lets this happen.

Central to this will be the need for the City to reframe its annual budget process. Every aspect of the budget — expenditures and revenues — must be looked at through the lens of climate. Environmentally-conscious budget decisions will translate into enormous savings over time.

There also must be a truly participatory, transparent, accountable decision-making process grounded in community involvement. For instance, the City needs to immediately expand its preparedness for other major epidemics and pandemics, starting right now by addressing the disproportionately high numbers of Black and Brown peoples infected and dying of COVID-19. In the same way, while different neighborhoods in NYC already experience the climate crisis in different ways, this is something the whole city must be involved in. Better decisions will be made when communities are fully engaged in the process.

We know we can accomplish these critical goals. It’s up to us as the people who live and work in this great city to build a movement to make this happen. We call on our Mayor, City Council, Comptroller and Public Advocate to partner with us to do the necessary work.

When our city comes out of the current health crisis we will face a moment of reckoning. We can step back and lose all we love or we can step forward and create the world we need to survive and to thrive. Let’s come together, as New Yorkers, and make it happen.

For a full list of signatories and to sign on behalf of your organization, click here

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