Reportback on the Talking Transition

Owen Crowley reports: Last Sunday, Nov 17th, activists organized to attend two forums that were part of Mayor-elect Bill De Blasio's "open conversation about the future of New York City" (the Talking Transition tents set up in Duarte Square). The morning session, "Sustainable, Healthy and Resilient Construction,” focused on energy use for buildings, and our team came prepared with info about boiler conversions and radon. The afternoon session, "The Future of Food Policy in the Post-Bloomberg Era," was a perfect setting to discuss Food Not Fracking. TT The breakout format was organized so that each table would discuss challenges and solutions, then report back to the entire room. Nearly every table contained at least one person from either Sane Energy Project, Occupy the Pipeline, NYH2O, or another organization active on these issues.

To put it bluntly, we owned the room. Our activism is working. We succeeded in framing the conversation to address true sustainability.

But we did not dominate the discussion–we didn't have to. Not a single word was uttered in favor of natural gas expansion. On the contrary, fossil fuels were recognized as a relic of last century. One speaker remarked that her grandfather remembered when coal was king, then all the buildings converted to oil and gas. She pointed out that if we could make transformations in the past, now is the time for a new transition.

Some strong themes emerged: That people do not have enough information about their options; that people who make energy decisions are not necessarily the people who consume energy. Suggested ideas ranged from community engagement to building codes and incentives. There was a strong call for leadership, to steer New York City towards a course of true sustainability. There were also calls for New York and other cities to force a recalibration of State agencies and commissions, including the Public Service Commission. New York City has the power to be influential across the Northeast, not merely within its borders. And it was pointed out that retrofitting buildings and infrastructure for sustainable energy would employ carpenters, plumbers, electricians and pipe fitters for decades. The engagement level was high, and we contributed to one topic many were unaware of—the risk of radon in natural gas.

TT2The afternoon session offered an opportunity to speak at the microphone and connect the dots between LNG, the Rockaway and Spectra pipelines, and related infrastructure in areas where our food is grown. We encouraged people to call the 800 numbers on food packages and ask company reps if fracking is happening where their product is grown or produced. Our friends from the Brooklyn Food Coalition spoke from the panel, and hundreds of the new Food not Fracking postcards were handed out.

Clearly, a sentiment is widespread—it's time for a change, and what has been missing is the leader. The challenge has been set for De Blasio—let's see if he has the mettle to take it up. To participate in the last session of the Talking Transition, register here.