a network and hub for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts in Staten Island
Co-authored by the head of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Larry Hanley, who for decades was head of the Staten Island ATU Local.
Superstorm Sandy has made it clear that no matter how hard some politicians try to ignore climate change, climate change will not ignore them – or any of us. More carbon means higher seas, the kind that inundate subways. The U.S. can also thank carbon emissions for contributing to the hottest summers on record, massive wildfires, and crippling droughts. The good news is, we can take some pretty serious steps to cut carbon pretty easily – and make lives better at the same time.
Think about the transportation sector, which accounts for 27 per cent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from cars and trucks. Tailpipe pollution is also a major source of asthma and other illnesses – the transport sector contributes 80 per cent of the harmful air pollutants that cause 1.3 million premature deaths each year. Road fatalities claim 33,000 lives per year on average, making traffic accidents the number one killer of people under 34 in the United States. And traffic congestion is known to elevate stress levels and reduce quality of life for millions.
We can drive more fuel-efficient cars, of course, and President Obama deserves praise for raising mileage standards (though if he approves the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline he will wipe out all those gains). But much bigger cuts in emissions will come if we scale up public transport systems. A recent poll conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council suggests that this would be popular with the public, 59 per cent of who believe that the U.S. transportation system is “outdated, unreliable and inefficient.” Americans also want to be less dependent on cars. Today, 55 per cent prefer to drive less, but 74 per cent say they have no choice, and 58 per cent would like to use public transportation more often, but it is not convenient or available from their home or work.
The U.S. therefore needs a 3-step mass transit program to help our communities thrive, protect our climate, and promote human health.
Step 1: Stop the budget cuts that are decimating public transit systems across the United States. Since 2009, approximately 85 per cent of public transit systems have raised fares or cut service, and thousands of workers in the industry have been laid off. These cuts are hurting ordinary people who rely on public transit to get to work, school, medical appointments and to take care of family members. This is happening at a time when more riders are using mass transit as an alternative to driving.
Step 2: Redirect federal investments in ways that massively expand and improve the U.S. transit system. We need to bring quality public transport systems to the 57 per cent of the public who today have limited or no access to mass transit and therefore rely on cars and taxis to get around. This will require shifting public money toward building new bus, subway and rail systems. If mass transit investments rose steadily, it would provide efficient, quality transport services, and reduce emissions and harmful pollution at the same time. Investing in transit is also a good way to create jobs in the U.S. – for every billion dollars spent on transit investments 36,000 Americans secure a good job.
Step 3: Make mass transit free, or reduce its cost dramatically, by taking the money we waste now on fossil fuel subsidies and redirecting it toward our transit systems. Senator Bernie Sanders has identified more than $113-billion in fossil fuel subsidies that can be eliminated over the next decade; that could fill fareboxes, which in turn would fill our buses and trains.
Sandy was the largest hurricane ever measured – its tropical force winds stretched out 1,040 miles from the eye. The barometric pressure had never dropped this low north of Cape Hatteras. It was unprecedented in every way – but almost certainly a harbinger of what the future will bring if we keep raising the temperature. When Sandy flooded New York’s subways, it brought the city to a halt. Re-opening the system was a challenge – but the real challenge is bringing mass transit to a nation that very much wants it. •
Lawrence J. Hanley is international president of the Amalgamated Transit Workers (www.atu.org/union/leadership/hanley).
Bill McKibben, author, is co-founder of 350.org, an organization committed to building a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis.
This article first published on the Huffington Post website.
Dec 2 UPDATE
DEC 1 UPDATE:
Neighboring hub at 626 Midland Ave evicted today after 10 hour notice by owner of the parking lot from which they were operating.
NOV 30 UPDATE:
Mayor’s office has declared 489’s free, community-run disaster relief effort “vending,” and the site has been “warned.”
MAYOR’S OFFICE THREATENS IMMINENT EVICTION OF 24/7 COMMUNITY-RUN HUB
Friday November 30, 1pm
—Come to 489 Midland Ave Staten Island, NY 10306 to stand in support
—Volunteers requested to help move the hub to 100% private property
347-210-3011 Aiman Youssef, community hub coordinator
646-220-6790 Hannah, Team Yellow coordinator
For comment from the Mayor’s office: Lisa Bova-Hyatt 212-788-0705
The community-run network of support for food, volunteering, supplies, clothing, and human services is an essential part of the New York City recovery efforts, and the mayor’s office wants to shut it down immediately. The mayor’s office is calling upon local police forces to “clear all outdoor sites” effective immediately. We are calling on all New Yorkers to advocate on behalf of these community run hubs that provide essential services to those whom the city and federal government, and support agencies, have under-served, neglected, or abandoned.
We call on the city, service organizations and police to support these crucial hubs by maintain location and services to community, offering tents, generators, and storage pods for supplies or finding free, nearby, and feasible medium to long term spaces where hubs can operate.
This Friday morning Staten Island police representing the mayor’s office have threatened eviction action against the crucial Staten Island hub at 489 Midland Avenue, in the heavily hit Midland Beach area. Aiman Youssef, a 42-year-old Syrian-American Staten Islander whose house was destroyed in the hurricane, has been running a 24/7 community pop up hub outside his property at 489 Midland Avenue since the day after the storm. He and a coalition of neighbors, friends and community members are serving hot food and offering cleaning supplies, non-perishables, medical supplies, and clothing to the thousands of residents who are still without heat, power, or safe housing. This popular hub is well-run, well-staffed, and has a constant hum of discussion, support, and advice as well as donations and pick ups and volunteer dispatch through another pop-up group, volunteers who call themselves “The Yellow Team.”
At the standing-room only Town Hall meeting at Staten Island’s New Dorp High School last night, Youssef was the first to raise his voice in the question and answer period. The community’s expression of extreme need and frustration with the lack of official support made for a contentious environment where city government officials offered few solutions. At one point borough president James Molinaro asked the audience “You wanna shut your mouth?” due to their increasingly loud demands for community support and housing solutions.
We ask all New Yorkers and Sandy supporters worldwide to not heed Molinaro’s demand, but to speak out as Youssef did. Ask the mayor’s office to support, not evict, the well-run community support hubs giving crucial services to New Yorkers in need.
Staten Island links
NY Times article “ “Staten Island Volunteers Fear City Will Hamper Their Hurricane Relief Efforts”
LA Times article on Youssef’s community-run hub “For Sandy survivors, a Thanksgiving they’d never expected”
Volunteer group running out of 489 Midland “the Yellow team”
WPIX “Staten Island’s Storm Victim Town Hall Turns Into Yelling Match”
Staten Island Advance “Answers in short supply as exasperated Staten Islanders throng Sandy forum”