“For too long we have allowed some corporations to hold a gun to our heads and demand that we choose jobs or choose the earth.” That’s what Terry O’Sullivan, the general president of the Laborers International Union of North America, told green groups and fellow unions at a green-jobs conference in February 2009, just a few months after the union—one of the largest in the country—joined the Blue-Green Alliance, a group organized to advocate for a “clean economy.”
But by January 2012, O’Sullivan had made a choice. The climate bill had failed, the money from the recovery act had run out, political tides had turned against government spending, and the union was no longer so keen to partner with the environmental movement. “We’re repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women,” O’Sullivan said. This heady “job killer” rhetoric was aimed not just at green groups but at unions like SEIU and the Communications Workers of America. They hadn’t had to do much earn this scorn. They had just opened their mouth about the Keystone XL pipeline.
In the midst of dealing with the fiscal cliff, Congress passed a one-year extension of the farm bill that eliminated funding for almost every even vaguely innovative agriculture policy and kept in place expensive and outdated subsidies that benefit big agribusiness. From the perspective of anyone interested in making change in America’s farm and food system, it was a disaster.
“There's much isn’t to be happy about with this extension,” David deGennaro, a legislative analyst with the Environmental Working Group, said.
“If you care about conservation, food production, or reforming the farm bill, this is a bad deal,” said Justin Tatham, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ senior Washington representative for food & environment. “It's worse than the status quo.”
In New York City, subway service started back up yesterday after Hurricane Sunday flooded seven East River subway tunnels and sent the Metropolitan Transit Authority scrambling inspect hundreds of miles of track along the 108-year-old subway system. But many of the flooded tunnels, which run from downtown Brooklyn through lower Manhattan, remain out of commission, and the power outage in lower Manhattan has stopped service in the borough’s lower half, even across the city’s bridges. On Wednesday, Mayor Bloomberg said it would be unlikely that service was fully restored by the weekend.
Regardless of whether Sandy can be linked directly to climate change, it was the type of extreme weather event that will only become more intense as the planet warms. Old or new, few electricity grids, public transit systems, bridges, roads, or communications networks were built to withstand these challenges. But despite the flooding that occurred during Sandy, this isn’t necessarily one of those stories where officials saw warning signs and did nothing. Since 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, disaster preparedness experts in New York and elsewhere have begun to embrace push the idea of “resilience”—building infrastructure that can weather such storms and setting in place support systems that allow public utilities to recover quickly from damage. Although New York’s public transit system may not be up and running at full capacity quite yet, the city’s response is a good example of how officials are starting to change their thinking about risks like extreme weather and how to respond to them.