Cuomo’s climate problem

Good morning!

This is to the fourth edition of This Anthropogenic Life, a weekly newsletter about the people causing and coping with climate change. If you didn’t mean to sign up for this, please unsubscribe via the link at the bottom of this email. Go on. Scram. Git. If you’re a new subscriber, welcome, and thank you for inviting me into your inbox. If you’re a returning reader, uh, wow, this is getting serious. Should we, um, move in together? I hope you’re not allergic to cats. I’m great about doing the dishes. I sometimes make mistakes, like last weekend when I neglected to send this newsletter. I promise I’m getting better. Please don’t forget to water the plants when I’m away.


  1. Want to come to a cool party in New York on Tuesday, Sept. 4? Starting at 7:30 p.m., Jewish Currents (where, full disclosure, I’m on the editorial board) is hosting a summer issue release party at Union Pool in Brooklyn. Don’t miss it.

  2. I’m going to China next weekend. From Sept. 8 - 21, I’m traveling between Beijing, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Hong Kong. Expect at least a couple special editions of the newsletter from there.

Cuomo’s climate conundrum

Andrew Cuomo, the two-term New York governor now running for third, has a complicated environmental record. He became a pariah early on, dangling the possibility of fracking in the Empire State. But he caved after environmentalists waged war against him throughout the 2014 election, backing his anti-fracking primary challenger Zephyr Teachout. A month after he won reelection, he banned fracking.
Over the next few years, he pulled off some decent stuff:

  • October 2015: Cuomo announced plans to cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030.

  • November 2015: He vetoed a major gas export facility off Long Island.

    February 2016: The governor called for a last-minute risk assessment report and asked federal regulations to halt construction of the Algonquin gas pipeline.

  • June 2017: New York forged a formal alliance with the governors of California and Washington to counteract President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

  • August 2017: Cuomo successfully pushed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the nation's largest interstate cap-and-trade market, to adopt slightly stricter emissions targets.

But now Cuomo finds himself once again at war with environmentalists. Once again, they’ve rallied around his progressive primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, who has made climate justice a unique focus of her campaign. Environmentalists’ list of grievances with Cuomo includes:

  • Empowering the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of breakaway Democrats in the state Senate who caucus with Republicans. That gives the GOP a majority and keeps progressive climate bills that pass in the Assembly from ever reaching the Senate floor -- or Cuomo’s desk.

  • Spending millions on new gas infrastructure across the state as renewables stagnate at 4 percent of the state’s electricity use.

  • Providing $1.5 billion in fossil fuel subsidies each year.

  • Refusing to stop accepting donations from oil and gas companies.

  • Responding slowly to toxic water contaminations.

Polling still shows Cuomo far in the lead. But Andrew Gillum’s surprise upset in Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial primary this week raises new questions about how things will turn out on Sept. 13.

You can read more in this piece I published yesterday.

Quotable Menschen

The low-hanging fruit is gone.”

— New York City Councilman Costa Constantinides, announcing historic legislation last month to require landlords to retrofit big buildings and slash emissions 20 percent by 2030.

I try to stay away from politically charged discussion... I believe human activity is a factor in climate change. What percent, what degree, what significance, I don’t know. But I believe it’s a factor.

— Andrew Cuomo, speaking at a December 2014 cabinet meeting. Trump administration officials, including ousted EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler, his replacement, have said the same thing almost verbatim.

Chloe Angyal@ChloeAngyal

I've spent six days in Australia. Two Prime Ministers. Zero elections.

August 24, 2018
Kendra "Gloom is My Beat" Pierre-Louis@KendraWrites

Putting aside US domestic policies for a second, US politics has NEVER been trivial for the countries we are invading, bombing, or covertly trying to overthrow.

August 30, 2018
julio torres ~*@juliothesquare

“No, he’ll come back. ...He said he’d come back. He woulden’t just leave me here. I won’t be discarded without fulfilling my purpose. He’ll come back. And I’ll be here when he does.” -the iced coffee I didn’t finish and left in the fridge three days ago

August 29, 2018

🛢  🛢 🛢

Guyana is already suffering major flooding problems from storm surge and sea level rise. Yet analysts are going nuts over Exxon Mobil's big offshore drilling plans. A new report from Wood Mackenzie found that the ninth offshore discovery there this week means “no other area has delivered as much conventional oil resource.”

"Guyana has hit the jackpot," said Maria Cortez, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie. "If this small South American nation with, a population of about 750,000, can properly manage the billions of dollars of revenue about to come its way, it may become the richest corner of the continent."

📉  📉 📉

The New York attorney general’s office said at a court hearing this week that it’s already found “smoking guns” showing that Exxon Mobil misled investors on climate change. The judge ordered the company to turn over documents, including spreadsheets, but warned prosecutors that they must either decide to press charges or move on.

"This cannot go on interminably," Justice Barry R. Ostrager said, according to InsideClimate News.

🐟  🔥 🐟

Surface temperatures in the Gulf of Maine, already one of the fastest-warming bodies of water in the world, soared to nearly 69°F (nice) on Aug. 8. It was the second-hottest temp ever recorded.

Scientists at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute are calling it an "ocean heatwave."

🌴  🌴 🌴

California lawmakers this week voted to pass SB-100, a bill mandating the state run on 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045. The legislation now awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, though he’s reportedly playing hardball.

It marks a significant victory for state Sen. Kevin de Leόn, who is challenging centrist stalwart U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. He is notably among the progressives now running on a Green New Deal plan.

🏜   🏜 🏜

It’s not all good news in the Golden State. California’s groundwater problem is getting worse.

Between 1962 and 2011, water depleted at roughly half a cubic mile per year in California. Between 2012 and 2016 alone, the San Joaquin Valley's water basin lost 10 cubic miles, according to a Cornell University study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

Letters of Recommendation

First, this song.

  • The great Emily Atkin at The New Republic wrote a smart-yet-marvelously-trolly piece on California’s dire climate future. Having foolishly moved to Los Angeles when I was 21, I can assure you it’s already unlivable.

  • My wonderful editor, Kate Sheppard, dismantled the myth of the late Sen. John McCain’s as the GOP’s “maverick” on climate change.

  • Leigh Phillips makes a strong case in Jacobin that environmental opposition to air conditioning is a form of austerity politics.

  • Eve Andrews followed some campaigners from the Environmental Voter Project and came back with a wonderfully written, detailed account for Grist of how the group’s 2018 work is going.

  • Lucy Sherriff -- who, by the way, has just moved from Colombia to LA (good luck!) -- wrote for BBC News about the fight to save a stunning coral reef miraculously thriving in polluted Cartagena Bay from being decimated as Colombian officials expand a canal to accommodate more cargo ships.

  • In other coral news, HuffPost’s Chris D’Angelo is on board a research vessel in the Atlantic, chronicling the discovery of a deep-sea reef located 160 miles off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina.

  • Kate Aronoff called bullshit on Delaware Sen. Tom Carper’s touted environmental record, laying out a damning case in the The Intercept against the Democrat, who is facing a progressive primary challenge this year.

  • Given that it’s a long weekend, you should read every story in Zoë Schlanger’s multi-part series at Quartz on water issues along the border. But this one in particular, about North America being long overdue for a megadrought, is particularly worthy of your attention.

  • Essential reading: Sharon Lerner’s investigation on The Intercept into how DuPont spinoff Chemours Company lobbied the EPA to stave off rules to use coolants that produce less pollution.

A short interview with Eli Valley

Five years. It took me five years. Five years to process my first trip to Israel. Was it traumatic? Were you confused? Is this a religious thing? All fair questions, but no to all. It’s just that Eli Valley’s Diaspora Boy didn’t come out until 2017, and it took seeing myself in the sickly, bespectacled nebbish of a title character to fully come to terms with how my (already very complicated) experience in the Jewish State impacted my sense of identity both as a Jew and as an American. More on that some other time.

Lately, Eli’s work is everywhere. He illustrated the new Chapo Trap House book. His cartoons regularly feature on The Nib and Jewish Currents. One panel of his latest piece satirizes a story that is likely familiar to readers of This Anthropogenic Life — the Democratic National Committee’s vote to essentially nullify a two-month-old ban on corporate donations from oil, gas and coal companies. I talked to him about the story. The following was edited for length and clarity. The art was reprinted with Eli’s permission. Talk a little about your latest comic for The Nib, and why you chose to include Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez.

The comic probes various aspects of Russian collusion — the ways it’s been abused by some and underplayed by others — and I wanted to include a panel featuring centrist Democrats using the Trump campaign’s collusion as pretext to continue with the status quo. The week I was finalizing the script, reports came out that the DNC was reversing its ban on fossil fuel donations, so it felt like a nice/timely example. (Full disclosure: I texted you asking for good examples to use, and you suggested Energy Transfer Partners for its involvement in DAPL, but it was a bit wordy and generic-sounding, so I stuck to Exxon and Chevron, but thanks!!) Plus, Tom Perez is fun to draw and I was excited by the opportunity to do it.

2. A lot of your work focuses on Israel/Palestine, the resurgent right wing and the American Jewish establishment. How does climate change factor in for you?

Climate change is the catastrophe that underlies everything and that will either exacerbate existing problems (e.g., water resources in Israel/Palestine) or override them as its effects become more pervasive and impossible to avoid.

In terms of Israel/Palestine in particular, I remember years ago I noticed a lot of litter in the region. A local friend said it’s part of Israeli culture, in that they’re in an end-of-times or messianic-era sensibility — clearly among the more religiously-observant, but they said the mentality seeps into secular culture as well — where people don’t have to worry about the environment because eschatology will supersede it all. I don’t know to what degree that was a silly generalization, and if it’s dissipated as the effects of climate change have become more extreme. But either way, obviously it’s a short-sighted perspective, but I can see how the immediacy of the Israel/Palestine crisis, and the life-or-death stakes involved, makes worrying about other stuff (like the melting planet) seem to be a luxury. But it shouldn’t be, because it’s all intertwined and it’ll become more so as climate change leads to further displacement of peoples.

3. Do you think climate change tends to get drowned out in Jewish politics?

Yes, we don’t talk about it as much as we should because on a communal level we’re too busy fighting over who’s allowed to call themselves Jewish and celebrating (in the case of preeminent communal institutions) or denouncing (in the case of lefty individuals/organizations) literal ethnic-cleansing fascists like Netanyahu. The Jewish world has been in a period of crisis for decades, but it’s reaching a climax in the Netanyahu-Trump era of authoritarian dystopia. Climate catastrophe is one piece of our current nightmare, and it’s going to be more and more difficult to disentangle it from other pieces of the dystopia. But I think we’ll be able to continue living in this delusional bubble for at least another decade — or longer if Evangelical Christian Zionists are able to keep fueling the nightmare long after the current generation of Jewish communal leaders passes on.

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