Go Beyond Your Politics to Help the Climate
This past weekend saw a very large demonstration in New York in favor of addressing climate change. Support for helping the environment is widespread and spans a lot of political and cultural chasms. You don’t need to be a climatologist to know which way the wind blows.
Even if the case for climate change is oversold, and I’m not convinced it is, the kinds of policies that are most often advocated are policies that we already largely agree are good on their own merits. It is good to lower carbon emissions because pollutants are bad and oxygen is what humans and other animals breathe. Moving towards greater adoption of renewable energy sources is a good idea from a cost savings and energy conservation standpoint already.
Real policy solutions are always going to involve embracing policies you don’t like. No political ideology have a monopoly on the facts, and one of the things that make science so great is that it will never fall completely in line with the preconceived notions of any activist party line.
So it is with climate change. If we are going to improve the environment, it’s going to mean that friends on the left and the right are going to have to embrace or at least tolerate policies that would normally be anathema to them.
Here are five points that people should look at that will be sure to irritate the normal politics of right and left, but will be important to making environmental change.
Invest in public transportation. New York is able to be the size that it is population wise because we have a real public transportation system. It is often a nightmare of ineptitude and maddening lateness and overcrowding, but it exists and millions of people are able to use it each day. Take a look at cities that have had no planning and lack a suitable public transit system for their populations. Atlanta is a morass of strip malls and traffic jams. Los Angeles is a smoggy land of idle chrome and gas fumes. New York is more competitive than these cities because it can attract people and move them around even if they don’t have enough money for a car. That cuts pollutants and allows for more economic growth.
Limit immigration. Immigration, legal or otherwise, increases carbon emissions because it increases the population of the largest carbon emitting countries. Some environmentalists understand this but in the U.S. only the most marginalized political groups are calling for any meaningful immigration reform.
Agree to expand the use of natural gas and nuclear power. Wind and solar energy are great, but we don’t have the time or the money to increase its use enough to meet our current energy needs. Even in European countries where renewable energy is at its greatest use, it still accounts for a relatively small percentage of power use. Nuclear energy allows for maximum power generated with a small amount of fuel and carbon emissions. Also, natural gas deposits in the U.S. can now be tapped with hydro-fracking. Natural gas is cleaner and it holds the possibility of making the U.S. an energy exporter.
Start holding corporate polluters accountable. If I threw a dirty diaper over the fence and onto the White House lawn, I’m pretty sure I’d be held accountable and not only charged criminally but made to foot the bill for cleaning up my mess. Yet BP took a giant oily dump in the Gulf of Mexico and it is still in business. If the U.S. Coast Guard says you still have a mess to clean up, finish the job or go broke trying. There’s nothing socialistic about asking someone to clean up their own mess. If personal responsibility is good for me, it’s good for BP and like corporate polluters.
Keep money local. Embrace capitalism and consumerism in the best way possible and support local farmers. Buy American when you can, and that includes in the vegetable isle. I’d rather keep as many dollars as I can in the U.S.A. as long as they are still worth something. Also, it takes less energy and carbon emissions the shorter distance the food has to travel to you. It may sound like some real hippie shit, but in this case the hippies are right.
Autumn is Coming: New York City Edition
Autumn officially begins on Monday, Sept. 22, and even though New York had a relatively mild summer this year, there are still plenty of reasons to feel good about the new season.
Fall is just better than summer, even a pleasant summer. Autumn is one of the best times of the year. It gives one a sense of renewal, of things starting over again. It is time to celebrate, dedicate oneself anew and see crisply the possibilities of the coming seasons. And this sense of renewal is one of the reasons autumn and New York go so well together. Starting things over again and exploring new frontiers, harvests and chapters of life is what New York City is all about as well.
Here are some ways you can celebrate the coming Fall season in New York that don’t involve fashion shows or raking leaves:
Corn Maze at the Queens County Farm Museum: You probably don’t expect to find too many working farms in the five boroughs of New York City, but there are. Chief among them is the Queens County Farm Museum, located in the Glen Oaks section of Queens. Its annual corn maze (“Maize Maze”) opens this coming Saturday, Sept. 20. A few years ago I entered the corn maze there and managed to find my way out. A few times it was tempting to just break through the walls of corn and thrash my way out of there as if pursued by the Children of the Corn. But we managed to get out without losing our minds, though we didn’t stop at every check point along the way (next time, maybe). Corn mazes are quite common in more rural parts of the country, even those not famous for corn. I’ve come across several while driving through New England.
Any chance to take part in the country life while within the boundaries of New York City is an adventure you should take.
Foliage watching in Inwood Hill Park: People from all over the country come to the Northeast in order to drive through upstate New York or parts of New England to see the trees change color. Save yourself the car rental and take the A train (or the 1 train) to the “upstate Manhattan” neighborhood of Inwood and Inwood Hill Park. I was fortunate enough to live across the street from Inwood Hill Park for more than 10 years. The brilliant array of colors that the trees of Inwood present are as grand as any you’ll find upstate. Inwood Hill Park contains the last natural forest in Manhattan. Even on a day when lots of people are in the park, it’s not hard to find yourself in a quiet and remote part of the woods. Also, because New York City is warmer than upstate and New England, the trees will take longer to change colors, so you have more time to make it uptown. While you’re in Inwood you may spot some eagles or hawks in the park. Nearby Fort Tryon Park is worth a visit too, but lacks the dense woods.
Learn some new skills: Want to be more of a capable person and less of a lazy spendthrift? Well the Fall is a good time to learn some new skills and there are chances to learn how to be a more useful person. For example, New York State is offering free disaster preparedness training courses both in person and online. And this weekend in Queens you can learn how to can your own vegetables thanks to the Flushing CSA (full disclosure: my wife is a member of Flushing CSA and is helping organize this event). So you have no excuse not to emerge from autumn a better and more prepared person.
Good for You: Run the Tunnel to Towers 5K
The story should be familiar to you. On September 11, 2001, Firefighter Stephen Siller was officially off duty when airplanes struck the Twin Towers. Unable to drive there himself because the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was closed, he ran through the tunnel in full firefighting gear. He reached the World Trade Center where he became one of 343 New York City Firefighters to die that day.
Every year in his honor, thousands gather to run the Tunnel to Towers 5K, a run that traces Siller’s steps and not only pays tribute to the first responders who gave their lives for our city, but also raises money for the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which runs several charitable programs, many aimed at helping wounded veterans.
I can tell you first hand that running the Tunnel to Towers 5K will be one of the best runs you ever do. Even if you’re a cynical New Yorker with no use for first-responder hero worship or nauseated by the way U.S. politicians ruthlessly exploited the attacks, the Tunnel to Towers run will remind you of the enormity of the sacrifice of the people who gave their lives in September 11.
Firefighters from all of the world come to run this 5k, with many of them doing the run in full firefighting gear the way Siller did. There are also people from all the armed forces, disabled veterans, some of whom are running with more than one artificial limb, West Point cadets, police and firefighters from all over the world, and thousands of regular New Yorkers. The Tunnel to Towers Foundation has expanded and there were commemorative runs in eight other cities this year.
The run through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel is crowded to the point where it’s difficult to gather up a good speed. The space is already constricted and then the row of standing plastic road reflectors that divide the lanes make it even more difficult to pass people. When I was running it there were numerous people who climbed up on a pedestrian walk way to try to gather speed. They became smeared with black soot from the exhausts of thousands of cars and managed to run only a short distance before police made them get down.
When you emerge from the tunnel, you will see hundreds of firefighters holding portraits of those lost on September 11th next to another line of firefighters holding 343 American flags. It’s a beautiful sight to behold, and you can’t help but be humbled the enormity of their sacrifice. Along the way the crowds will cheer you on and you’ll see high school bands, rock bands, firefighters and many others.
The Tunnel to Towers Run in New York this year is on Sunday, September 28. Be there.
New York offers many other runs and walks that are for good causes as well. Here are some others:
The TEAL Walk is a 5k run and/or walk that raises money for ovarian cancer research. It’s held in Prospect Park every year. Take public transportation there if you can because trying to find parking near Prospect Park is a herculean task I wish on no one.
The Run for the Wild is held at the Bronx Zoo and raises money for conservation efforts. Your registration fee includes all-day admission to the zoo and discounts on buying things there. It’s a great way to run through the zoo early in the morning and then spend the day there. Good times.
Taking Care of Business
Labor Day is a day when most American workers have a day off and spend it being thankful that we have a job, if we have one. Any power the day once held to fire up a meaningful organized labor movement in the U.S. has long been stripped away. For the vast majority of us, work is something we do because we have to do something that makes money.
I’d love to be able to say that I’m an independently wealthy writer who can generate income through the genius of every creative whim, but the truth is I work in an office doing work that doesn’t really interest me. I like being good at my job because I refuse to be a lazy slug and need to make a living. But I’m working for The Man like everyone else.
I find it to be a benefit to have worked many different jobs over the last two decades. I have been a grocery bagger, house painter, video store assistant manager, immigration inspector, security guard, line cook, telemarketer, retail sales clerk and financial journalist.
By far the job I hated the most was as the assistant manager of a video store. This was in suburban Atlanta in the late 1990s when I was living a miserable, impoverished life among the relative wealth and ease of the Atlanta suburbs. Even though I love watching films and getting to rent movies for free was a chief perk of the job, having to answer to the entitled whims of overfed suburbanites grated on my nerves unmercifully. There were a few very nice customers there, but I hated that job so much that when I saw a bug skitter across the floor one night, I couldn’t bring myself to kill it. If a bug can find happiness in this miserable place, then good for him.
Having worked a large variety of jobs has given me a lot of different perspectives I otherwise would not have had. I like to think it shows in my daily interactions with people. I was that awkward teenager pushing his Dad’s lawnmower. I was the pimply kid behind the counter at McDonald’s on Labor Day. I was the unlucky immigration inspector stamping passports on Christmas and getting stuck working overtime.
Sometimes, even among very intelligent and good-natured friends, it becomes startlingly clear those who haven’t worked many of these jobs. The way someone treats a waitress or a bartender will tell you more about their life and attitude than any online profile or paper trail.
There’s a missing value that hasn’t been instilled in much of the population: that there is dignity in work, all work. Just because you don’t like your job or don’t like the people you work with or have to serve doesn’t mean you should feel comfortable behaving without dignity or purpose. All working people have dignity and deserve respect. Working for a living is beneath no one. And when you think about it, we are all a lot closer to the unemployment line than we like to think we are.
It’s a wisdom I’ve come to more recently and wish that I had had when I was bagging groceries and fielding the nonsensical complaints from entitled suburbanites. I felt the anger and resentment that comes with being treated like a servant. I let the opinion of others get to me, and it reflected a low opinion I had of myself. But dignity is not anything that anyone can grant you. If you’re in the right state of mind, you’ll have as much dignity shining shoes as you will being a movie star.
This Labor Day, resolve to take dignity in whatever job you do, and remember that no matter what the job is, everyone working for a living deserves your respect.
Happy Labor Day.