March 11, 2021

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: RE: ‘Cornell Doubles-Down Commitment to Sustainability Measures Despite Pandemic’

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It is encouraging to see Cornell’s ongoing, significant commitments to sustainability, as detailed in “Cornell Doubles-Down Commitment to Sustainability Measures Despite Pandemic.”  While the Cornell Climate Action Plan is admirable, larger scale, statewide initiatives are obviously needed, and change will not be delivered from experts alone. As New York residents, Cornell students must fight for an equitable energy transition.

Why is this important? Climate change kills over 150,000 people per year, according to the WHO, while air pollution kills 6.5 million annually, as estimated by IEA. This annual death toll already exceeds the most deadly genocides of the twentieth century. By 2030, tens of millions of climate change-related deaths are projected each year.

Who is responsible? Since 1988, 100 companies have accounted for over 70% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and the United States is the largest single contributor to global, cumulative emissions. As home to the third largest economy in the U.S.—eleventh largest in the world—New York is itself a major contributor.

In 2019, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) signed into law the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act , requiring “New York to slash pollution by 40 percent by 2030 and over 85 percent by 2050.” Although a historic commitment, the CLCPA is largely aspirational until it is funded, implemented, and enforced. Funding is required to implement “huge new solar and wind projects, expansion of mass transit, replacing gas-powered cars and trucks with electric vehicles, and upgrading millions of buildings to high energy efficiency… but almost no new state funds have yet been allocated.” Based on New York’s history of failing to meet climate targets, insiders say “No one thinks we’ll make it [in achieving the CLCPA targets].” 

Having fought for the CLCPA, NY Renews is now fighting to deliver on that vision through the Climate and Community Investment Act. The CCIA would raise “$15 billion per year from corporate polluters and [use] it to create good, green jobs, invest in frontline communities, and build a renewable economy for New York State.” NY Renews activists — a coalition of more than 250 labor unions, community and faith groups, environmental organizations and environmental justice advocates — aim to replicate their success in advocating for the CLCPA by delivering the requisite funding through the CCIA. 

The CCIA would directly benefit communities across the state while addressing climate change. If Cornell students want real change, they must fight for legislation like the CCIA.  

Henry Williams ’22

Cornell University, M.S. student, Applied Economics & Management