Tuesday, April 26, 2016

NY State Attorney General Speaks on Climate Change and Economic Justice in Buffalo

By David Kowalski

Eric Schneiderman    photo D.Kowalski
NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman visited Buffalo on April 21 and presented a talk to a full auditorium at the Frank E. Merriweather Library. The event was sponsored by the Climate Justice Coalition of WNY, NY Renews, Open Buffalo and PUSH Buffalo and was followed by a panel discussion led by Clarke Gocker.

Schneiderman's talk on climate change and economic justice is covered below. A subsequent story will cover another part of the talk about his office's investigations of fossil fuel industries responsible for the global warming pollution and their denial of the problem.

Eric Schneiderman spoke about the need to unite the campaigns that deal with the crisis of climate change with a campaign to deal with economic inequality. He said that the two have to go hand in hand if we are going to save the planet and if we’re going to be the country that we’re supposed to be. He added:
The movement that we have to build has got to go beyond the traditional environmental movement. We have to get everyone to understand that we are all in this together, and that we have to deal with the issue of the destruction of our planet while building a world that supports all families. We can do this. Because this does require a revamping of our energy sector, new jobs will be created. We have to make sure they are good, family-supporting jobs that go to the people that need them in every community.
We have to take action and we have to say what people don't say enough, which is, climate change is real, and it's happening now, and it's affecting us now.
It is undeniable that Earth is warming. Last month was the hottest March since humans began to use instruments to measure the temperature. The month before that was the hottest February ever, the month before that the hottest January ever, 2015 was the hottest year ever, 2014 was the second hottest.

Schneiderman said that the northeastern United States is seeing much more violent and much more frequent storm patterns. In 2011, Hurricane Irene dropped over 11 inches of rain in 24 hours causing catastrophic flooding in the Hudson River Valley and the Adirondacks. Thirty-one counties were declared disaster areas.

The following year, Superstorm Sandy hit New York Harbor with increased intensity because it passed over ocean water warmed by heat trapped by greenhouse gases and was 9°F warmer than it would have been in the past. Also, the sea level was over a foot higher than it was before the beginning of the 20th century, before burning of fossil fuels accelerated. Consequently, Sandy flooded an additional 80,000 people's homes that would have been had the water had been at the pre-industrial sea level.

"There is no responsible scientist who disputes the fact that burning fossil fuels is contributing to warming of the planet. There is no legitimate debate as to that," Schneiderman said.

He pointed out that the argument against environmentalism is usually couched in terms of destroying jobs and hurting the economy. Schneiderman said:
You are the people who are going to build a movement that says we know that’s all a lie. We know the way to create good green family-supporting jobs is to lean in to the move to renewables. And the states that lean in early, are the states that are going to do better in this incredibly competitive Global market.
New York I'm proud to say is leaning in. But as most you know public officials do what their constituents make them do. And this is true of our friends as well as our enemies. We need to encourage our friends and give them support and we need to dissuade our enemies from opposing our efforts to re-establish equality and the state of the planet. It's not really much more complicated than that.
 The price of renewables has come down and the efficiency has gone up. With the increased capability of solar and wind, the proven quality of batteries, he says that the science is moving in our direction there and he believes that we can make the transition worldwide even with low oil prices and collapsing coal prices.

Two thirds of all new investments in energy worldwide are going to renewables. Schneiderman sees that trend is accelerating and is going to get greater, with markets moving away from fossil fuels.

"We have to make sure that New Yorkers are in the ground floor of new jobs for building this green economy," Schneiderman said.

Once the movement towards renewable energy is stimulated, how do we build green economy that works for everyone?

Schneiderman said that a model that we should build on and expand on is the Buffalo Green and Healthy Homes and New Americans Project. These initiatives were catalyzed by $2 Million investment from his office from recovered funds and have helped many of Buffalo’s neediest families lower their energy bills and eliminate serious health and safety hazards. They also trained hundreds of unemployed or underemployed Buffalonian's careers in the Green energy economy. He pointed out that half of those trained in those programs where formerly incarcerated.

These programs also helped educate over 1600 refugees from Burma and Nepal in their own languages so they can understand the benefits of conservation and understand how to get engaged in this new economy.

Schneiderman's office has also gotten testing for lead in hundreds of children in the refugee community. He urged people to consider the fact that the heightened levels of lead in Buffalo children is worse than the children in Flint Michigan, not because of the water here, but because of lead paint.

He pointed out that the Erie County executive and the some legislators are trying to push through a $750,000 initiative to aggressively attack the lead paint problem, but that it is stalled in the county legislature. He urged local activists to view this as "something that merits your attention."

At the conclusion of his presentation, Attorney General Schneiderman said:
Please when you get out of here find out what the issues are in your local communities. Find out what you can do about lead paint. Find out how we can something in healthy homes."

We have a tremendous opportunity to make a fundamental difference in the direction this movement takes now. Please step up to the plate. Unify, push back against denial, stay strong.

I am incredibly pleased to be here with you and to get this launched. I know you have a great panel coming up, but the important work is not just going to take place here tonight.
Thank you very much and let's get this done!

 The Panel: 
Ulysees O. Wingo, Franchelle Hart, Lynda Schneekloth, Eric Walker

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