A Robin Hood Tax Can Jumpstart Climate Change Policies and Action
(Photo credit to AP973)
New York City – The Northeast is still reeling from Sandy. Heavy rains, fierce winds and surging seas – 30% beyond previous record levels - walloped the region last week, leaving low-lying communities submerged, millions without power, thousands homeless and even loss of life still to be counted. It was a very large dose of reality: man-made effects of climate change are here and now. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that with Hurricane Sandy comes “the recognition that climate change is a reality; extreme weather is a reality; it is a reality that we are vulnerable.” Added Cuomo, “Protecting this state from coastal flooding is a massive, massive undertaking. But it’s a conversation I think is overdue.” Governor Cuomo: listen up.
Increased attention, research and plans of action on climate change – both in the U.S. and internationally - are squarely within the scope of the Robin Hood Tax Campaign. Addressing infrastructure needs are also a high priority for RHT, making arguments for a Wall Street sales tax on speculative trading even more compelling. Sandy’s damage makes clear that in both these areas – climate change and enhanced infrastructure – immediate, coordinated steps on a federal level are required without delay. Where Governor Cuomo and others, who now recognize the effects of climate change, fall down is in their overriding concerns about deficits and support for hands-off policies on taxes, especially on Wall Street. They need to hear our message.
The annual revenue an RHT would generate in the U.S., $350 billion, would go a distance in attending to these compelling priorities—climate change and related infrastructure. They would also, in the case of infrastructure, create significant numbers of good jobs in planning and construction. That’s a win-win. Robin Hood can bring an end to the lose-lose scenarios of austerity-minded policy makers and their supporters. .
No one on Wall Street can rightfully complain that a sales tax on stocks, bonds, derivatives and currency trades – embodied in The Inclusive Prosperity Act, H.R. 6411 – is unaffordable. Quite the opposite. Just five banks announced this week that their employee bonus pools have already reached $92 billion this year, with more to come.
Back to Sandy, its path and consequences. Writing in CounterPunch, November 2-4, Pace University scientist and professor, Chris Williams, provided:
The fact is an event like Sandy was all too predictable – and indeed predicted. Three years ago, the panel of experts that Mayor Bloomberg had convened to investigate the likely impact of climate change on New York, aptly named the New York City Panel on Climate Change, gave its initial report. It stated that average temperatures in New York City had already increased by 2.50F over the last 100 years, while sea levels had risen by a foot in the same time period.
These facts have already caused increased health impacts and costs from heat stress as the number of days over 90 degrees has increased, along with the vulnerability of low lying coastal areas – New York has 520 miles of coastline to protect and 200,000 people live no more than four feet above high tide. The panel predicted another 1.5-30F average increase by 2020, along with another 2-5 inches of sea-level rise. The fuel for hurricanes is warm surface ocean temperature and increased humidity and air temperature – all outcomes of global warming.
At the release of the report, in what is now a particularly damning quote, Bloomberg had this to say: “Planning for climate change today is less expensive than rebuilding an entire network after the catastrophe…We cannot wait until after our infrastructure has been compromised to begin to plan for the effects of climate change now”.
Williams and others are sounding an alarm about a region with insufficient projects in place to protect the environment and shield vulnerable communities. While the lights remained on adjacent to Wall Street – in Battery Park City – coastline working-class communities in Brooklyn and Queens were decimated and today are without power and water.
These same areas make up the industrial hub of New York, where many working class and lower income people live; they contain toxic sites and chemical storage areas. “These all need to be assessed, checked for safety and their flood defenses hugely enhanced as quickly as possible,” wrote Williams.
Many are now questioning why Con Edison failed to invest to install submersible switches and move high-voltage transformers above ground level. Had this improvement been made, some argue, the explosion that eliminated electricity in lower Manhattan may have been avoided. Con Edison’s profit was $1 billion in 2011.
Today, preparations in the U.S. for climate change continue to fall behind other nations. Williams’ prescription includes the following:
Instead of ripping up and paving over marshland and other wetlands with impermeable concrete to build roads, parking lots and marginal beach front developments, let’s employ people to reclaim the land for natural flood defenses and water purification activities that will not only make New Yorkers much safer, give people meaningful and socially useful employment, but also hugely enhance the stability and variety of local wildlife.
Let’s start with that and then see what else needs doing over the shorter term, which will likely include extra sea defenses, as well as lots of things that can be done to enhance the safety and security from flooding with subway tunnels, electricity sub-stations and so on.
While we’re facing up to reality, New York needs to assess and address the overall infrastructure needs of a coastal city of 7 million. Only four in ten bridges are in good repair. The city recycles 15% of its vast solid waste output, the rest sent to landfill. “New York’s antiquated and totally inadequate sewage treatment system needs a complete overhaul,” wrote Williams, “as almost any heavy rainstorm means that untreated sewage goes straight into the rivers and ocean as the system becomes overloaded with run-off.” Why is 21st Century New York living amidst sewage?