New York became an instant global leader in the fight against climate change with the passage last week of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.
No other state and no large country has enacted a law with the essential ingredients to meet the temperature goals of the Paris Climate Agreement: a legally binding legislative act to achieve an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and a goal of net zero.
Years of dogged work by environmental, environmental justice and labor advocates — some behind the scenes, some loudly in the streets — paid off. So did the persistence of Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Sen. Todd Kaminsky and Gov. Cuomo. It was a political triumph all around.
The champagne corks are still popping. But the realization is dawning that implementing the new law will be really, really hard. New York is boldly going where no state has gone before. The goal can be accomplished, mostly with existing technology, but it will take a great deal of sweat and treasure (no one knows just how much), as well as a continuation of the political will that brought us to this point.
In a perfect world, serious action to lower emissions would have begun in the late 1980s when scientists rang the first loud warning bells. That didn’t happen. In a less perfect world, at least now we would have a Congress and a president willing to take serious action. Since we have neither, it is left to the states to act. California has long been the leader, but New York has now leapt into the front rank.
The new law will affect every sector of the economy. The most straightforward is electricity. By 2040, all the power used in the state will have to come from clean sources — none at all from fossil fuels. The last two coal-fired power plants in the state are already scheduled to close, but there are quite a few natural-gas plants that still have many years of life in them.
Someone will have to eat the cost of their early closure — whether it’s investors, ratepayers or taxpayers. To replace them, there will be a massive program to build offshore wind facilities, solar farms and storage; the law requires enough of these to add up to the equivalent of 18 nuclear power plants.
There will also need to be a great deal more onshore wind, rooftop solar, solar arrays and transmission lines. Fortunately the costs of wind farms, solar panels and energy storage have been plummeting worldwide, and their all-in costs (capital plus operating) are often below those of fossil plants.
Not everyone will be thrilled to see wind turbines over the horizon from their beach homes in the Hamptons, or on top of their favorite mountains, or the transmission lines that will take the power to where it is needed. But a little bit of visual blight, if that’s what it is — some people think wind turbines are beautiful — is nothing compared to the ugliness that will envelope the planet if we do not act decisively to move away from fossil fuels.
A World War II-scale mobilization has often been called for to fight climate change; and during that war, no one was heard to object to the construction of an airplane or tank factory near their home.
Electricity loads can be reduced by encouraging or mandating more energy efficient lighting (such as LEDs) and other equipment, but that will be more than overcome by the increased loads due to electrification of transportation and space heating and cooling. More on that in a minute.
Only 17% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions is from making electricity. The largest portion, 33%, is transportation. Radically reducing that amount will require the conversion of almost the entire passenger vehicle fleet to electric. (Perhaps some cars will use hydrogen or other clean technologies.)
This won’t happen overnight. No one will be required to give up their current cars, though perhaps incentives will be provided, improving on 2009’s federal cash-for-clunkers program. But increasingly, and in time entirely, new cars and SUVs will have to be electric.
This will require federal cooperation, which hopefully will be available in a couple of years, because Washington sets national standards for vehicle emissions and fuel economy.
But the state must set up the infrastructure to charge the electric vehicles that will have to replace internal combustion engines. Instead of going to gasoline stations, people will fill up their batteries at home, at work, in parking lots or garages or in charging stations on the road.
Many buses and some trucks are already electric, and as batteries become cheaper and hold higher charges, they will run even the heaviest trucks. This will also mean an end to terribly unhealthy emissions from gasoline and diesel, and much quieter streets.
For the vehicles that still use gasoline or diesel, the state may impose a low-carbon fuel standard that requires more of the fuel to come from biological sources, though care must be taken to ensure that this does not involve cutting down forests or reducing food supplies. Another possible energy source for heavy-duty vehicles is renewable natural gas from sources like food and agricultural waste.
We also need to reduce vehicle miles traveled. The congestion-pricing law that will take effect in Manhattan south of 60th St. in early 2021 will help there. The state and cities can further reduce auto use through better mass transit, bicycle paths and transit-friendly land use patterns. Telecommuting will also contribute.
Residential and commercial
Residential and commercial uses add up to 26% of state greenhouse gas emissions. Most of this is from heating and cooling buildings; heating water; and cooking, mostly by natural gas and oil. This will be reduced mostly by retrofitting millions of buildings to make them more energy efficient.
Improvements to insulation, windows, HVAC systems, and other elements can greatly reduce buildings’ energy load. Old inefficient appliances will need to be replaced with new ones. Many buildings will need to have their heating and cooling converted to electricity and heat pumps.
This is another huge lift. Keeping homes from Buffalo to Brooklyn warm in the dead of winter without using gas or oil will take an enormous amount of new electrical capacity. Delivering it, especially on days when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing very hard, is going to be a massive challenge.
Converting fossil-fuel-based heating systems to clean electrical ones costs a lot of money. That will require additional subsidies (some already exist) from governments or utilities — especially for the housing for the less affluent, and for small businesses. New York City got a jump start in April on these building efficiency improvements when the City Council passed a law requiring emissions reductions from large buildings.
The economic costs are real; so are the opportunities.
Just retrofitting buildings in the New York City area has the potential to create 126,000 jobs by 2030 — architects, engineers, sustainability consultants, building tradespeople, HVAC professionals — according to Prof. David Hsu of MIT. (This is three to five five times as many jobs as Amazon would have brought to New York.) This will require massive job training programs to provide New Yorkers with the necessary skills.
Inevitably, some jobs will also be lost in the bargain; we can’t pretend otherwise. The law has detailed provisions for helping out workers displaced by the transition away from fossil fuels, and also for assisting those communities that have been disproportionately affected by pollution.
Even as we marshal all our creativity and resources to transform our energy economy, some emissions will be completely beyond the power of the state to reduce. New York cannot bar out-of-state cars or trucks from coming into or passing through the state. New York has no control over airplanes, which are highly emitting.
Some industrial operations, such as cement and aluminum production, rely on processes that emit large quantities of carbon dioxide that are very difficult to control.
Some earlier bills had required absolute zero emissions, but that is not possible. Instead the final law allows up to 15% of statewide emissions to remain. Companies that still emit must entirely offset their greenhouse gases, mostly through natural methods that are subject to elaborate restrictions that may be difficult to meet.
The law gives state agencies the power to accomplish much of this, but it does not tell them just how to do it. It’s left to various committees to figure that out. As these committees are formed and the magnitude of the financial opportunities for some sectors and perils to others become clear, enormous pressures will be brought to bear to secure outcomes favorable to various groups; lobbyists will be among the first to enjoy an employment boom.
Our leaders will need to display the backbone to make sure the ultimate objective of net-zero emissions is achieved.
The costs of all of this will be very high. But one thing is clear: the costs of not acting, and allowing the seas and the temperatures to rise up without restraint, would eventually be far greater. Our grandchildren will not forgive us for imposing these costs on them rather than taking responsibility for the costs of our own pollution.
The world will be watching, and the reverse of the old adage will apply: if it can’t be done in New York, it can’t be done anywhere. New York already has the country’s most efficient transportation system (thanks to our subways, buses and commuter rail) and building stock (thanks to our density). We’re a state rich in money, brains and moxie. Let’s do this.
Israel election: Exit polls show race too close to call
Vote counting is under way in Israel after millions took part in an election widely seen as a referendum on the fate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu, who became Israel’s longest-serving prime minister in July, is seeking a record fifth term in office. He is competing against his toughest challenger in years, former army chief Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party.
According to the first round of exit polls, which are unofficial and can be unreliable, Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition bloc have failed to secure the 61-seat majority they needed.
Two exit polls put Gantz’s party in a narrow lead. A Channel 12 exit poll said it would win 34 seats, with Netanyahu’s Likud one seat behind. The poll had Arab Joint List – an alliance of four Palestinian parties – winning 11 seats with eight for former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beiteinu.
Meanwhile, an exit poll on Channel 13 put Likud at 31 seats, trailing Gantz’s party by two seats.
Official preliminary results will be announced on Wednesday, with final results due on September 25.
Speaking to cheering supporters in Tel Aviv early on Wednesday, Gantz said it was necessary to wait for the official results, but was clearly confident.
“Netanyahu has not been successful in what he set out to do,” he told the crowd. “We, on the other hand, proved that the idea called Blue and White – a venture we started a little over six months ago – was successful.”
Speaking shortly afterwards, Netanyahu took the stage at Likud’s party headquarters in Tel Aviv.
He told his supporters that coalition talks had already begun.
“Israel is entitled to a strong government, a stable government, a government that ensures Israel is the nation of the Jewish people, and that it cannot, will not, be a government which is formed of parties which hate the nation,” he said, apologising for a croaky voice and sipping on water.
Majdi Halabi, an analyst and expert on Israeli affairs, said the initial unofficial results were a “slap in the face” for the prime minister.
Some 31 parties were competing for the 120 seats in the country’s 22nd Knesset.
Although many observers expected election fatigue to set in as voters headed to the polls for the second time in less than six months, early turnout was the highest in decades and long queues formed during the afternoon on Tuesday outside polling stations in the capital Tel Aviv.
The more than 11,000 polling stations across the country closed at 10pm (19:00 GMT).
Israel’s election commission says the final turnout was 69.4 percent, compared with 68.5 percent in April, with a total of 4,440,141 votes cast.
Netanyahu rallied his supporters throughout the day, using various social media platforms, phone messages, and direct engagement with voters on the streets of several major cities.
“We are fighting to the last minute. Every vote is important. Get out and vote for Likud. Bring everyone you can to the ballot box,” Netanyahu told his followers via Twitter in the final hour before voting closed.
Netanyahu is also facing a pretrial hearing in connection with three separate corruption cases – bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing.
In a statement, Israeli police said they had detained or arrested 20 people for various offences, including one man in the Negev Region who allegedly tried to disrupt voting at a polling station.
Netanyahu vs Gantz
Coalition governments are the norm in Israel as no single party has won a majority of seats in the Knesset and the negotiations ahead are likely to be difficult.
Lieberman has said he would not join an alliance that included ultra-Orthodox parties – Netanyahu’s traditional partners.
Gantz has ruled out participating in an administration with Netanyahu if the veteran politician is indicted on the corruption charges.
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin will decide who will be given the mandate to form a new government – usually the leader of the party that wins the most seats.
If Rivlin thinks this person is unlikely to garner enough support from smaller parties to control at least 61 seats in the Knesset, he may give the task to someone else.
“If Netanyahu doesn’t clear the 61-seat threshold, Rivlin may still give him the mandate to form a government,” Eli Nissan, an Israeli political analyst told Al Jazeera.
“But if he fails to form a government within the next few weeks – like what happened after the April vote – the President may give Gantz the opportunity to do that instead,” he added. “If he fails as well, the president may push for a unity government.”
Israel has not had a unity government since Netanyahu came to power in 2009.
According to experts, voter turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel was expected to be higher than the April vote which saw only 49.2 percent of eligible voters among Palestinians cast their ballot.
“There was a higher voter turnout among Palestinian citizens this time, most of whom voted for the Arab Joint List,” said Haifa-based analyst Diana Buttu.
“We also saw a large number of Jewish voters support the Joint List,” she added referring to the alliance which had split into two competing groups in April but regrouped again in advance of this election.
Oudeh Bisharat, a Nazareth-based political analyst, agreed.
“Palestinian voters went out in bigger numbers this time because the Arab Joint List was united again and because they wanted to challenge Netanyahu’s racism and incitement against them,” Bisharat told Al Jazeera.
This is what Edward Snowden says it will take for him to return to the U.S.
Edward Snowden says he’d like to return to the U.S. — on one condition.
That’s what the former National Security Agency contractor told CBS News in an interview that aired Monday on “CBS This Morning.” Snowden has been living in exile in Russia since leaking classified information about the government’s mass surveillance of U.S. citizens in 2013.
“I would like to return to the United States,” Snowden told CBS. “That is the ultimate goal. But if I’m gonna spend the rest of my life in prison, the one bottom line demand that we have to agree to is that at least I get a fair trial. And that is the one thing the government has refused to guarantee because they won’t provide access to what’s called a public interest defense.”
That type of defense would allow a jury to consider Snowden’s motivations, which he says the government opposes.
“It’s not hard to make the argument that I broke the law,” he admitted to CBS, but said the government has not shown how his leaks caused harm. “They never show evidence for it even though we’re now more than six years on, it would be the easiest thing in the world to show.”
Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported that the NSA was considering shutting down the once-secret surveillance program that he exposed because it lacks operational value.
In a separate interview aired Monday on MSNBC’s “The 11th Hour” with Brian Williams, Snowden said he was trying to “reform,” not destroy, the NSA.
Snowden, now a privacy advocate, added that he was alarmed by how governments and companies can now access vast amounts of personal data through digital devices such as cell phones.
“Anything you can do on that device, the attacker — in this case, the government — can do,” Snowden told MSNBC. “They can read your e-mail, they can collect every document, they can look at your contact book, they can turn the location services on.”
“They can see anything that is on that phone instantly,” he said, “and send it back home to the mothership.”
Not coincidentally, Snowden has a new memoir, “Permanent Record,” coming out Tuesday.
Opinion: President Trump Claims He Was At Ground Zero On Sept. 11. But Was He?
News organizations now refer to President Trump’s whoppers — from the size of his inaugural crowds to a hurricane threatening Alabama — as routinely as referring to rain in Seattle.
But, there was still some surprise this week when at services to mark the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the president insisted, “Soon after, I went down to Ground Zero with men who worked for me to try to help in any little way that we could … We were not alone. So many others were scattered around trying to do the same. They were all trying to help.”
Richard Alles, battalion chief of the New York Fire Department at the time of the attacks, spent several months in the smoking, choking ruins at ground zero. He told PolitiFact this summer, “I was there for several months — I have no knowledge of his being down there.” He added that there would be a record of Donald Trump sending a hundred or more workers to aid in the harrowing recovery efforts at Ground Zero; there is not.
We might remember that 18 years ago, the wreckage and rubble at Ground Zero was considered sacred ground. It held the remains of thousands of loved ones, including police and firefighters who perished as they tried to save lives. It was a place for rescue and recovery workers — not amateurs, gawkers or celebrities.
Producer Peter Breslow and I were in Lower Manhattan in the days following Sept. 11, when a haze of pulverized steel, glass and death hung in the air, and scores of photos of mothers, fathers and lost loved ones were taped on buildings and lampposts asking, “Have you seen … ?”
But we couldn’t go past the security perimeter outside ground zero. My wife and I would stand outside that perimeter along Canal Street at night where thousands of people stood to cry, pray and cheer for the workers in hard hats, heading in to do the hard, heavy, hazardous work there.
There is a phrase for the offense committed by impostors who wear phony medals and try to pose as combat veterans: stolen valor.
At a Republican debate in 2016, Sen. Ted Cruz decried what he called “New York values.” And Donald Trump replied: “New York is a great place, it’s got great people, it’s got loving people, wonderful people. When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York.”
It was all he needed to say: then and this week.
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