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Morning Spew

Another Suffocating Day in Climate Hell

As the haze slowly starts to lift, the government belatedly begins to hand out masks.

9:54 AM EDT on June 8, 2023

New York City, June 7, 2023 (Tod Seelie / Hell Gate)

Yesterday's climate disaster, in which the city was enveloped by a noxious blanket of wildfire smoke that turned our skies hazy, then yellow, then bizarrely orange for several hours before relaxing back down to simply "dangerously unhealthy," was accompanied by the type of government response we've become accustomed to. First, it was the mayor with the message that "it's not our fault, no way we could see this coming." (A strange thing to say when the City was well-aware of worsening air quality early this week, based on alerts sent to users of the Notify NYC app.) Then, it was "we're taking this very seriously." And finally came "listen, here's the best we can do, but only after we hang out with Robert De Niro." 

Kids with asthma were leaving school just as the smoke broke air quality records, while delivery workers were stuck making deliveries, often without adequate masks. Some politicians took the initiative and did their own mask distribution, while on Wednesday night, the mayor made some vague gestures at an eventual plan to distribute masks (he settled on two distribution sites, today, per borough). Governor Kathy Hochul belatedly took matters into her own hands, as governors are wont to do when mayors dither, and mobilized mask distribution across the city's transit system—but only beginning today, the day after what appears to be the worst of the smoke. Mayor Adams, in a stroke of luck, was spared the decision of whether to close schools (they're already closed today for teacher development, which the teachers are now doing remotely). 

Perplexing decisions were made (or not made). Would driving be curtailed during this climate emergency, to remove polluting vehicles off the roads? No. Would car owners, some of whom idle in their cars for 90 minutes waiting for a street sweeper, be given a reprieve? Yes—alternate side parking rules were canceled, but DSNY workers still had to show up to work today, raising some questions about how exactly they would sweep all those streets that are still full of parked cars. It was the type of haphazard response New Yorkers are all too familiar with, with health impacts we won't properly reckon with for a few years (long-term impacts of particulate matter found in wildfire smoke include worse cardiovascular health and respiratory diseases). 

Today will still be dangerously smoky, and according to the National Weather Service, conditions will remain bad through the weekend.  

It should be obvious by now that we need to alleviate the worsening impacts of climate change, by burning less fossil fuels, which can be accomplished in part by cutting down on our dependence on driving and supercharging the energy transition that New York state has already committed to (and that its own energy regulator said yesterday is going to be an unprecedented lift to accomplish). Right now in Albany, legislators are batting around the HEAT Act, which would cap energy bills for low-income New Yorkers, while also cutting off subsidies to natural gas companies by no longer having customers cover the cost of gas hookups to buildings, a spigot of cash that natural gas companies use to lobby against legislation that would cut down on carbon emissions. The bill has passed the State Senate, but has run into a wall in the Assembly during the last week of the legislative session, as legislators quibble over whether immediate climate action is truly necessary. Apparently just looking out their window isn't swaying them. 

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