Indian Point power plant (photo: Governor's Office)
In an opinion piece by Leonard Rodberg and Herschel Specter, “Is Governor Cuomo Serious About Climate Change? Indian Point Decision Says No,” published March 2, the authors argue that the climate plan for New York is not serious because it cannot accomplish the desired reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. However, they claim, it is easy to make the plan serious by cancelling the planned closure of two nuclear power plants. Their arguments are the same as in their prior pro-nuclear opinion piece from last year, namely that enough renewable energy and the corresponding infrastructure is not being built and cannot be built.
In my letter to the editor that appeared in response to that piece I replied that nuclear is no solution because the waste has to be kept and managed in perpetuity and can do enormous damage if some of it escapes. The effort needed to maintain it should instead be going into renewables. This is still my opinion.
But I also agree with the statement that the Cuomo plan is not serious. In this respect the plan is in keeping with national policy consistently followed over the last 35 years. It is a policy clearly declared by the U.S. Senate in the period leading up to the Kyoto agreement in 1997. Kyoto was then not ratified; this was enough to make it irrelevant. Since then the rhetoric changed a few times but the essence did not.
Big business in the United States has been investing in fossil fuels ever since. It intends to reap the profits of these investments. It is also aware that the climate crisis, as it progresses, hits the competitors of the U.S. harder. So there is a practical consensus in this matter within big business, even if in other things there is not.
Of course in the end, and nobody knows where the tipping point is, all human life becomes impossible. But the consensus is that this tipping point is likely to be far away and the present policy is worth the risk. As a result, a plan to build up New York City’s flood defenses for $119 billion or to build a sea wall in the North Sea between Scotland and Norway for $500 billion is seriously discussed, while the Green New Deal is rejected out of hand as utopian and impossible.
Things being as they are, could Cuomo, pressed by New York public opinion, go against the grain and do more? I think he certainly could. He could forbid or at least heavily tax new fossil fuel installations; he could speed up energy-saving measures; he could incentivize solar panels; he could speed up building the planned large wind farm. Last but not least, he could make it perfectly clear that the federal government must be involved, and a national Green New Deal, as it has been proposed, is urgently needed.
Adam Koranyi, retired professor at CUNY Lehman College