New Yorkers: Vote for the climate bond ballot initiative

It's been a while since I last wrote. That's mostly because I haven't had much to say that comes close to the import of the 2020 election.

But now I do! Winning elections is not a goal, but a means to doing good things, and right now, New York voters (which constitute most of the recipients of this email) have an opportunity to do something good during this coming election. Deep, deep into your ballot, you'll find "PROPOSAL 1: an Amendment: CLEAN WATER, CLEAN AIR, etc etc" (the name is way too long). This is a bond measure to fund over $4 billion worth of climate projects in New York State. (This same bond measure was originally on the ballot two years ago, but Gov Cuomo removed it for hand-wavy Covid reasons.)

If you live in New York State, I think it's important that you vote Yes. New York City is a bunch of islands (36, actually), we get a lot of rain (20% more than Seattle), and our infrastructure is simply not ready for our new climate reality:

  • The city has over 30 electrical generation plants, and almost all of them are just feet from our rising shoreline.
  • We're the third hottest heat island in the country--during the summer, the city is about 8F hotter than surrounding areas, all because our roadways and buildings lock in solar heat, turning them into giant radiators that run all night long.
  • Our sewer system continues to drain into the ocean every time it rains. We have a system called Combined Sewer Overflow, which means that our stormwater drainage system and sewers share an egress. That egress is usually one of our 14 water treatment facilities (which, like our power plants, are all really close to our rising shoreline, yikes). But during rainstorms, the entire system overflows--the pipes become too full, and in order to prevent backing up into city streets, they quickly drain through an escape valve: our rivers, harbor, and seashore. Here's a video of sewage reversing the tide of the Gowanus Canal following the 2010 tornado. (It feels ridiculous to request this of people, but because of this system, you should try to avoid doing laundry and dishes while it's raining.)

This shitty sewage infrastructure is actually vastly improved since the 80s. Back then, every bit of sewage from the entire west side of Manhattan dumped straight into the Hudson River. There was zero treatment capacity whatsoever. You know what solved it? Big government spending. In 1986, the city finished the $1 billion+ North River Wastewater Treatment Plant. That plant is the reason the Hudson River isn't full of shit. Big government spending projects are the reason we have nice things.

This election's ballot initiative (early voting started yesterday and runs through November 6) would let the state raise $4 billion toward pro-climate capital projects. At least $2.4b will go toward climate change adaptation (that is, defending the city against the increasingly intense storms and heat waves that lie ahead), and at least $1.5b will go toward climate change mitigation (that is, making such storms and heat waves less frequent).

What can a city do to mitigate climate change? The #1 thing city dwellers can do is use our land better: less space for suburban-style living (fewer auto traffic lanes and parking lots) and more space for urban life: bus lanes, bike lanes, and lots and lots of new high-density housing developments. Every time the country's largest city rejects a proposed residential highrise, we push its would-be residents to the suburbs, where their homes take up more land, their families consume more energy, and they all use cars a lot, lot more.

Urban policy is not just an issue for city dwellers. If you live in the country or the suburbs, dense urban living is the one thing that keeps your neighborhood livable. The greener and more affordable NYC is for those who want to live here, the quieter and more peaceful the rest of the state remains. So no matter where you live and why, being pro-climate means supporting dense urban housing and public transit.

If you live in New York State, early voting is happening now through next Sunday, November 6. Election Day is November 8. Go find your polling place and get acquainted with your ballot.

If you like this, please forward it to other New Yorkers. And wherever you live, go figure out how you're voting and what else is on your ballot.

If you want to become more involved in promoting pro-climate urban policy, consider joining Open New York, a group that advocates for more housing and better public transit options.

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