NEW YORK, NY—In a forum discussion at The Cooper Union on Sunday night, moderator Brad Johnson of Forecast the Facts, a grassroots organization that spreads information about climate change, urged a panel of experts on renewable energy, urban planning, business and investments to take deeper look at the root of the climate change problem: Wall Street.
“If you look at the culture of Wall Street and the culture of financiers, the culture of the people who are deploying the pension funds, it’s a culture in which rejecting the science of climate change, isn’t just okay, it’s actually actively done,” explains Johnson. The rise in sea levels can no longer be ignored and these disasters can no longer be seen as isolated incidents, he argued.
It was a year ago that the Northeastern part of the US coast was hit with a devastating hurricane known in the media under several names like ‘Superstorm Sandy’ and ‘Frankenstorm’. Ultimately, it was Hurricane Sandy that took claim of New York and New Jersey with the most wrath, causing damage that has been reported as over $68 billion in total, landing it as the second most destructive hurricane since Katrina in 2005.
This week as Sandy’s first anniversary prompts New Yorkers to look back at the storm and the recovery process since, there’s still the overarching question of what to do next and how to prepare for what many people are now agreeing is global warming. “This is actually what climate change looks like…it’s dramatic but episodic,” says Bracken Hendricks, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress at the forum. “It’s these sudden sort of cataclysmic life changing things that happen…[and] they’re a direct result of the climate changing.”
And while a year later many are still struggling to pick up the pieces Sandy left ravaged behind, organizations like Occupy Sandy, NYU Divest and Forecast the Facts are all looking beyond preventative measures a city can physically take to weather proof itself, and how to face this issue from the root. “[We] need to start thinking about climate as a first thing,” urged energy panelist Kate Gordon, “and not as a co-benefit argument.”
As a direct result of Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg with former US Secretary of Treasury Hank Paulson and retired founder of Farallon Capital, Tom Steyer formed the Risky Business Project, an organization that looks at the US as a business and assesses the negative impacts that climate change would have on it. “If the US were a business we would have a risk committee figuring out what our risk is for climate change. Right now we don’t know the quantitative answer to the question what risk we’re facing, so we can’t ask people to react to that risk because we don’t know what it is,” explained Gordon, who is the executive director of the project. A full risk report will be available by the summer of 2014, according to the project’s website.
In the meantime, “divesting” has become the popular term of the hour promoted by activist groups seeking to get larger companies or entities like universities to pull investments from the trendy fossil fuel market. NYU Divest is one of those organizations working to get New York University on greener pastures by calling for divestment. While the efforts of these organizations have been met with pushback, there have been small victories with other schools like Foothills—De Anza Community College District, in Silicon Valley, which became the first college to divest from fossil fuels.
As for private citizens, pension fund holders have the option of choosing where they send their money. During the discussion, these energy conscious suggestions were shared sparking inspiration amongst the audience. “I was told that when I first started six years ago, that we do have a pension fund, and that we can actually pick and choose which fund we want,” explains Cecilia Raymond, a union carpenter. “I’m an active union member and I have a voice,” she adds. Meeting these options with informed decisions by the pension holders can manage to bring a shift from fossil fuel investment to the smaller renewable energy companies. Spreading these ideas is what Forecast the Facts hopes to promote.
“The anniversary of Sandy in lower Manhattan is really a time to look at Wall Street,” concludes Bracken Hendricks, “and how we can come together as people and have our collective voice be strong enough to make a difference.”