It can grow tiresome to hear governmental candidates preach at any sandwich shop, press conference or Rotary picnic about the importance of fighting climate change.
And yes, there’s the cutting down of rain forests, micro-plastics in the river water, and a floating island of plastic garbage in the Pacific Ocean three times the size of France. The list goes on. The eyes glaze, and American families continue trying to pay the bills.
Even with the general consensus among the scientific community that man-made global warming is real, it’s easy to sink into a sort of cynical torpor knowing that the problem is too big, that our governments are moving too slowly to do anything about it, and that one of two national political parties raises money denying the science to anyone who will listen while working against regulatory solutions which might encroach on anyone’s right to make a fast dollar
The venerable Zoological Society of London has been shouting through a megaphone to the world that global population sizes of wildlife have decreased by 60 percent between 1970 and 2014.
Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at the World Wildlife Foundation, says it’s as though we’ve been were sleepwalking near a cliff. “If it were 60 percent of the human population that had disappeared,” said Barrett, “it would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.”
A famous 2016 research article stated plainly that “our global society has started to destroy species of other organisms at an accelerating rate, initiating a mass-extinction episode unparalleled for 65 million years.” The scientists who crunched the data hail from Princeton, Stanford, Berkeley, University of Florida and Mexico City. Their bonafides are only important if one believes that car trouble should be diagnosed by a mechanic rather than a preacher or that open-heart surgery should be performed by a heart surgeon rather than a politician.
The point of these sober appraisals is not to leave the reader feeling doomstruck but to make common cause at the roots of reality and to draw attention to an ambitious piece of legislation on the back of the ballot in New York State on November 8.
What will the money fund?
Proposition 1, The Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022, would be the largest bond act ever passed in state history, authorizing spending of $4.2 billion for farmland preservation, climate mitigation, water resources and green jobs.
In 2020, state and local governments in New York already carried $368.24 billion in debt. If the voters authorize another $4.2 billion, the effect would be to raise New York State’s existing debt by only a little more than one percent.
Only. Yes, the supporters of all bonds, whether for housing, education, transportation and other honorable causes, use that word. It’s up to the voters to decide which bonds get funded and which don’t. Most previous New York State environmental bonds have been approved by the voters.
While New York carries the second highest debt amount of any state in America, it also delivers the third largest gross domestic product, 1.9 trillion dollars annually. In the quest for clean air, clean water, resilient infrastructure and farmlands, it’s just pennies on the dollar for the thirteenth largest economy on the entire planet.
Where will all that money received from the sale of bonds go?
– Not less than $1.1 billion will go for restoration and flood-risk reduction.
– Up to $650 million for open-space land conservation and recreation.
– Up to $1.5 billion for climate-change mitigation
– Not less than $650 million for water-quality improvement and resilient infrastructure
– A $300-million amount is not earmarked for a specific purpose.
Those unprecedented sums will have to be paid back with taxpayer money and will pass through the fingertips of a slew of department heads and commissioners who will purchase equipment, acquire land, and pursue reintroduction projects for species listed as endangered or threatened.
Farmland preservation implementation grants, for instance, will be overseen by Richard Ball, the commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Markets. Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation commissioner Erik Kulleseid will have dominion over monies intended for land conservation, easements and the like.
And so forth.
Grant guidelines will be posted on websites and a 30-day public comment period will be required. Non-profits, municipalities and academic institutions alike will line up with their hands out to compete for a slice of the pie.
An environmental justice component is baked into the pie as well. Each department must make every effort that 40 percent of the funds and certainly not less than 30 percent of what is dispensed benefit disadvantaged communities.
No later than 60 days following the end of each fiscal year, each department and recipient of an allocation will have to account for themselves in year-to-date disbursements, remaining uncommitted balances and a description of each project and where the money went.
While there are some efforts made at labor protections in the bill, there is also other language complicating picketing and striking. The bill’s authors were wary of cost overruns.
There is a “Buy-American” clause to make structural steel plant owners cheer. In the very next paragraph, however, a loophole is provided to renege on the pledge if the price is too prohibitive.
There’s dough to support nurseries in the sound, and spawning in the ponds. There’s bog money for migratory birds to winter, nest and breed. Bays and streams, rivers and lakes, feeding and foraging for fish and wildlife and other biota.
There’s money for fisheries, and the Hudson River Estuary Action Agenda, mentioned as a possible contender for grants, will have to compete with other bodies of water from Lake Erie to the Long Island Sound.
Jen Metzger’s role
Candidate for Ulster County executive Jen Metzger played a part in the crafting of the bill when she was a state senator.
“Yeah, it takes it takes a few years for a ballot initiative to get from, where it starts, and through the legislature, to where it ends, which is on the ballot,” says Metzger. “I was on the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, and contributed directly to this bond act, including really advocating to make sure that there were resources for farmland preservation, which is a huge issue for our area.”
In the bill for the Hudson Valley are funds for riparian buffers between farm fields and streams, measurement and monitoring of soil health, abatement measures to fight erosion, and assistance payments to water and soil conservation districts.
“This is the point of public service,” said Metzger. “To improve the lives of people in our community, and protect our community on a range of issues, whether it’s protecting our natural resources or mitigating the effects of climate change. So there’s funding in all of that for our communities, both urban and rural, to protect water resources and to protect open spaces.”
The proposition may not be enough to save us or the planet from ourselves, but voters statewide will decide on November 8 whether it’ll be a start.