BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | On June 24, Councilmembers Ben Kallos and Costa Constantinides called on the city to declare a climate emergency as a crowd of activists waved signs and cheered on the steps of City Hall under the blistering sun.
“Climate change is real and we see the effects of the climate change everywhere,” said Kallos, whose district includes the Upper East Side, East Midtown, Roosevelt Island and El Barrio in East Harlem. “Yet there are still climate-change deniers, including President Trump.”
An eruption of boos from members of the groups Sunrise, Extinction Rebellion, 350 Brooklyn, Indivisible and Rise and Resist followed the politicians’ mention of the president, who has weakened efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. In 2017, Trump announced he would withdraw the country from the Paris climate accord . During his time in office more than 80 environmental rules and regulations have been rolled back. This March the president took to Twitter to retweet a quote from Patrick Moore of “Fox and Friends” denying the existence of climate change.
According to the councilmember, this is what makes the resolution, co-sponsored by Constantinides, chairperson of the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection, critical. Speaking the words forces climate deniers to face the reality that humans need to take quick and large-scale action to mitigate climate change before rising temperatures cause flooding, famine and drought, the councilmembers and advocates said. The environmental effects are all too real for high school student Xiye Bastida-Patrick, 17, one the City Hall protesters.
Originally from Toluca, Mexico, Bastida-Patrick’s family came to New York six years ago after a drought and subsequent heavy rainfall destroyed crops. According to her, the resulting fluctuating increase in food prices was too great a burden for her parents.
“An avocado in Mexico would be what? Fifty cents? Then it would be 5 dollars,” said Bastida-Patrick, who is an active member of Fridays for Future and Peoples Climate Movement. “We couldn’t afford that.”
On June 16, New York State passed the Climate & Community Protection Act, which calls for the adoption of the country’s most ambitious climate targets, such as reaching 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 and economy-wide, net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This April, the City Council passed Constantinides’s Climate Mobilization Act, a package of bills meant to mitigate the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from city buildings.
But for Kallos and the activists, the state’s goals and timetables are insufficient. He feels New York City should work to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years or less.
“I believe that we as humans must act across all sectors on a level that we haven’t seen since World War II in order to prevent a sixth mass extinction,” he said. The councilmember added that, in addition to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions within a decade or less, the city should establish a Climate Resiliency Department, plus implement mechanisms for “participatory democracy in deciding a path forward.”
If the resolution is passed, New York City would join a growing list of cities and countries that have declared a climate emergency.