LARA SKINNER: My name is Lara Skinner. I'm Associate Director of the Worker Institute at Cornell. And this is my colleague Mijin Cha. She's a Fellow of the Worker Institute.
And the Worker Institute's mission is to address the crisis of inequality, growing economic inequality, inequality of power and wealth, through advancing workers' rights and collective representation. And through the Worker Institute, we have a number of main initiatives, and one of the main initiatives of the Institute is our, what we call Labor Leading On Climate. And the purpose of the Labor Leading On Climate initiative is for us to better explore the labor and employment impacts of transitioning to a low-carbon and sustainable economy to engage workers and union members in addressing that climate crisis, have them be part of the conversation of how we do this. And then also, to make sure in this transition to a low-carbon economy, it's done in an equitable way that protects workers and communities.
So this Climate Jobs Program for New York State project comes out of the Labor Leading On Climate initiative of the Worker Institute. And it's through this initiative that we've engaged about 20 key unions from the building, energy, transport, and other sectors in developing these recommendations for a climate jobs program for New York state. So in terms of the purpose of this New York State Climate Jobs Program, the purpose really is for us to move the discussion around the green economy and green jobs from rhetoric to reality.
So from a worker perspective, from a jobs perspective, we hear a lot from workers and union members, we've been hearing for a decade that this green economy is going to be great. It's going to produce so many green jobs. And where are they? We just haven't seen it.
We have not seen the creation of jobs in the green economy sector that we thought were going to happen. And for the jobs that are emerging in the green economy sector, many of them are non-union jobs. They're not as good, high-road jobs as we expected them to be or wanted them to be.
So that's from the jobs perspective, and then from the climate perspective, we're just not doing nearly enough to tackle the climate crisis in the way that we need to do. The levels of emissions reduction that we need to do have to be much more ambitious for us to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. So we said, to truly address the climate crisis, to bring down emissions to the level science says, and to do major job creation in these sectors, we needed to seriously increase the scale and ambition of work in this area. And so that's the sort of approach and framework that we come at this climate jobs work, is how do we hit that sweet spot of the most emissions reduction, the most job creation, and undertake activities that we know are going to strengthen communities, make them more resilient, and make them more equitable?
And I'll turn it over to Mijin to take a few slides.
J. MIJIN CHA: So for the last year, we've been working on a Climate Jobs Program for New York state. As Lara has mentioned, we've engaged over 20 labor stakeholders and other community groups around the state. And what we have up here is our preliminary recommendations that we've come about in the last year. And it's really not just what we should do, but how we will do it. So they're not the broad, we need to do an 80% reduction by 2050, but actually how will we get to these emissions reductions? And also, how will we create the most amount of jobs per dollar invested?
Our final report will come out in June. We're finalizing it now, and it should be ready to go in June. We'll have a big launch that you would be more than welcome to come to as well. And we'll have our labor leaders there and some legislators. And the idea is really to release a plan that can go directly from our report into action and into legislation.
And the final reason is because New York state can really lead the nation, both in climate emissions reductions and also in job creation. We had two back to back hurricanes, both Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy, that show the damage that can be done from extreme weather as a result of climate change and also really show that either we can make the investment now to stave off the worst impacts or we'll pay based on the damage that's done to our city and the state.
And also, the People's Climate March really showed that there was such an appetite for climate action across a broad sector, so we really think that now is a time to move, both on climate policy and also to help our inequality crisis. So we see our plan as actually solving two crises with one solution, both the inequality crisis-- you know, wages are stagnant, the middle class is declining. So we're going to create good union jobs that will provide families sustaining wages and also benefits, but at the same time, also do the emissions reductions that we need to fight off the worst impacts of climate change.
So we started with three main sectors, the building sector, the energy sector, and the transport sector. And our report is just the first step in a much longer, much more comprehensive plan that will probably eventually talk about food systems and agriculture. But these three sectors we think are really where we need to start.
So the buildings sector. There are over eight million buildings in New York state. And buildings contribute about 40% of our total emissions to the state. And the level at which we need to reduce our emissions-- in 2013, our emissions were about 180 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent, which is a very scientific term. But it's a lot. And we need to reduce it 80%, so that would bring us down to 40 million metric tons, which is just a fraction of our current emissions reductions.
We are nowhere near the level that we need to be. So we start with the buildings sector also because energy efficiency is the first renewable energy, if you think about it. And without having efficient buildings, it's a little bit like pouring water into a cup that has a bunch of holes. So what we need to do is, our current building stock, make sure it's as energy efficient as possible.
So our first recommendation is we want to retrofit all public schools. This is very doable. It actually-- the New York Power Authority has already put out a plan to retrofit all the public schools. Schools are also hubs for communities, and it's where our children learn, so we really see public schools as a first step for retrofit.
Our second recommendation is to reduce energy use in all public buildings by 40%. Governor Cuomo actually released an executive order reducing emissions of public buildings by 20%, so we think doubling that amount by 2025 is very doable. And also, they've already done all the auditing to see where the emissions reductions need to occur, so we already have the starting point where we need to reduce our emissions.
And our last recommendation is to streamline and expand access to residential retrofit programs. So the bulk of the building stock in New York state is actually residential. But opposed to commercial buildings, residential retrofits are more difficult because the housing is not as dense. And also, you have a bunch of different buildings, so you have different measures.
So what the Pratt Institute has done in New York City is bundling. So you have certain houses that were made in a certain year. You know that they have a certain construction. And then you say, OK, these houses, we're going to do these five standard measures for all the houses. So it reduces the cost of materials purchasing, it reduces confusion for the consumer, and then you can just do a block by block standard retrofit.
So we would just expand that to upstate. So you could say, all houses built in 1970 that are ranch style will get these three or four kinds of efficiency measures. It makes it much less confusing for the consumer. It reduces costs. And then they'll see, obviously, great gains in their energy savings.
So our next sector is the energy sector. And New York state currently generates about 20% of its electricity demand from renewables, mainly hydro. So we have a huge capacity for increasing our renewable energy production. New York installs-- California installs about four gigawatts of solar every year, and we install really just a fraction of that. So we see a great potential for solar installation in New York state.
So in addition to retrofitting all public schools, our first recommendation is to put three gigawatts of solar energy on their rooftops. Again, this is very doable. It's NYPA's idea.
And it's very important that we also do it through the New York Public-- New York Power Authority-- sorry, I keep calling it public-- New York Power Authority or any other public utility, because renewable energy production needs to be public. It's a public good. It needs to be open and accessible to all New Yorkers. And if we see renewable energy being privatized, you really risk people being priced out of what we see as the future. So it's very important that renewable energy is developed publicly.
Also, then you can guarantee good job standards. It's much easier to guarantee good wage standards in the public sector than it is in the private sector. And we don't want to create a ton of really poor-paying jobs, because that doesn't help solve the inequality crisis. So it's really important that we do as much through the public sector as possible.
In addition to the three gigawatts of solar that we'll put on schools, we think that there's enough capacity to do one additional gigawatt through utility-scale solar projects across the state. One idea that we've heard that I think is great is to lease upstate farmland which is now being unused to put solar arrays, and then allowing people who can't put solar on their house either for financial reasons or because they're not well suited for solar to have access to those solar farms so that they can see the savings on their bills. We see a ton of potential in New York state for utility-scale solar. And again, it must be done through the public sector.
And our last energy sector recommendation is to really tap into the offshore wind potential of New York state. We-- I see you smiling.
SPEAKER 1: Well, I mean, this has been proposed for a really long time, and there's a lot of resistance from people.
J. MIJIN CHA: There is a lot of resistance. But I think you see that changing a little bit. You know, there's a big movement on Long Island to do wind farms. I think the idea is scarier than the reality.
You know, you can't really see them. They're so far offshore. And the energy production from offshore wind is really incredible. So we see the potential. This would be about half of our electricity demand can come from offshore wind, and that's just actually a fraction of the offshore wind potential.
Offshore wind is also a great job creator. They create high-wage jobs with construction and also maintenance. And ideally, at some point, we'd be able to manufacture these components for offshore wind in New York state. So we really see offshore wind as a kind of triple hit in terms of wages, manufacturing, and electricity production.
And we need to-- this is also a place where New York state can lead. You know, Governor Cuomo really likes to be a national leader. So we've lost the race in solar. Not that we shouldn't do solar, but there's just no way we're going to install as much as California. But offshore wind is where we can really be the leader in the nation about, OK, we've really committed to offshore wind. We are going to develop gigawatts upon gigawatts of offshore wind.
LARA SKINNER: OK, so then that brings us to the transportation sector. In the transportation sector, what we have is emissions growing faster than any other sector. So we're at a point in time when climate scientists are telling us emissions need to be leveling off and then dramatically decreasing. And what's happening in the transportation sector is they're skyrocketing, both nationally and in New York state.
So this sector is a big concern for us. And most of the emissions in the transportation sector are produced by light-duty passenger cars and trucks, so you know, passenger cars, us driving around, moving goods around in trucks. And most of the efforts to look at how we reduce emissions in the transportation sector really focus on how do we improve the efficiency of vehicles? So how do we make them more energy and fuel efficient? Looking at electric vehicles, hydrogen cell vehicles, really relying on technological advancements in that sector to bring down emissions.
And that's important, and that's going to be important to us, bringing down emissions in the transport sector. The problem we're seeing is that vehicle miles traveled, the amount that we drive in New York state, is growing so quickly that it's outpacing any gains that we're making in making vehicles more efficient. So we're just not able to bring down emissions by actually making vehicles more efficient. We actually have to find a way to move people from vehicles to public transportation.
So in our recommendations for the transportation sector, we take a different approach and say, let's focus on what we can do in improving and expanding public transit to bring down emissions in this sector. Right now, emissions from the transport sector in New York state are on course to grow to 99 million metric tons by 2030. And they need to be at 12 million metric tons by 2050. So they could almost double and go to 99 million metric tons, and they need to be at 12. So we really need to make drastic changes in the transportation sector to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
In terms of our focus on public transportation, there's a number of reasons that we focus exclusively on public transportation. One is just the emissions efficiency of public transportation. Subways produce 76% less emissions and pollution than passenger vehicles, so it's highly efficient to move people by public transportation.
Investment in public transit is one of the best ways for us to create jobs. For every billion that we invest in public transit, we produce 41,000 jobs, and these tend to be really good-paying jobs in New York state. So again, in terms of addressing the crisis of inequality, this is an important approach.
If public transit system is affordable, it's highly efficient, it's high quality, then it provides a real alternative to people driving. So we really need to make these systems attractive to actually be able to make it a real, viable alternative to people using their cars. We also know that having good public transit is a major equity issue in the city. Owning and maintaining a car is very expensive. In many low and middle-income neighborhoods, there's not good access to public transit.
And so then what you have is residents lose access to jobs. They lose access to important other services. And in New York, this is particularly important. We're seeing that housing prices are going up in the neighborhoods that are closest to Manhattan where there is good transit access, so it means that low and middle-income families are being pushed out to areas where there isn't good transit access. Over a third of New Yorkers spend more than an hour commuting to their job if they make less than $35,000 a year, so that gives you a sense of why this is such a big equity issue.
And then the last thing I would say is from a public health perspective. This improvement and expansion of public transit is so important because fossil fuel combustion just from the transportation sector contributes to one in 11 residents having asthma in New York state, and also cardiovascular disease. So we're talking about 1.3 million adults in New York with asthma issues.
So a number of equity, public health, job creation reasons that we're looking at investment in public transportation. So that brings me to the recommendations. The first one is the $20 billion investment in New York City's transit system.
We have an excellent transit system. It does a really good job of reducing emissions as is. We have a lot of people using subway rather than driving, using buses rather than driving. That's great, but we need to invest $20 billion to bring it to a state of good repair.
There's major improvements that need to happen in the system. And then there's expansions that we need to do to reach those populations that don't have good transit access right now. So it's a great job creation approach, but it also links thousands and thousands of people to good jobs.
That's just the New York City system. There's 130 public transit systems in New York state. And so looking at investment and improvements for all of those systems is another important aspect of this.
The second one is a real big project, but the benefit in terms of emissions reductions are huge. It's constructing and improving the Adirondack and Empire West high-speed passenger rail corridor. So we're talking about the corridor from Albany to Buffalo and then from New York all the way up to Montreal. It's a 247-mile section. It would be dedicated to passenger rail.
Right now, ridership is about 1.4 million people per year. With this improvement and construction of a high-speed passenger rail dedicated track, we would be looking at 4.3 people using this system per year. We have 80% of New York state's population living within 30 miles of that Empire corridor, so it gives you a sense of how accessible this line of transit would be for the majority of New Yorkers.
And then the third recommendation is around bus rapid transit. This is what people like to refer to as surface subway. It's a cheaper, quicker way to expand our public transit network than investing in sort of heavy rail infrastructure, but it's still a good way to move people around quickly. And so our recommendation is that we need to establish a bus rapid transit program for New York state where we look at where the best communities for us to establish bus rapid transit.
It's not appropriate for all communities, and so we need to do a scan of where is the best places to do this. And we really need to prioritize routes that are going to link low and middle-income communities to jobs. Those are the routes that we should be prioritizing. And then in New York City, there's two specific routes that we focus in on. One is from Bush Terminal to JFK Airport, and the other one is from the East Bronx to East Harlem.
So that's the sort of scan of transportation recommendations, and we can talk more about those and all of the recommendations. And then the final thing that we sort of focus on is establishing what we're calling a Just Transition Task Force for the state.
So what we recognize is that there's a huge opportunity here for us to tackle the crisis of inequality-- New York State has the second-highest income inequality in the country-- and also tackle this imminent climate crisis. We know we need to act now. So we're saying we can attack both of these crises at the same time through a climate jobs program. This is a great way to do it.
At the same time, we need to recognize that there are many workers and communities that are currently dependent on high-carbon sectors, the fossil fuel industry, and so we need to think about what's a just and equitable transition for these workers and communities. If your community's been based around a coal plant, what's the future sort of economic development route for that community, and how do you get assistance to make that transition, both for the workers and for the community? And we're starting to see some good models for how to do this, including in New York state, but this is an important part of us making this transition to a low-carbon economy more equitable.
And so we'll stop there and take any questions and comments that folks have. Thanks for being here.
SPEAKER 2: I know I had one, and that is someone had asked me-- obviously, I know you all looked at New York state, New York City, under a microscope, at what changes could be done. How much difficulty do you see things [INAUDIBLE] nationwide, taking some of these things-- obviously each state, they're going to create their own policies, regulations, goals for hitting energy targets, but how transferable are some of the recommendations you have to the nationwide scale?
J. MIJIN CHA: I think that they're absolutely transferable. We have a political problem at the national level. So depending on what happens in the next election, I think that these ideas are-- I think the interesting thing is that they're not really new, right? These are things that we've been hearing about for a long time. We just had been lacking the political capital to move a lot of it.
And it's just going to get worse, the climate crisis and the inequality crisis. We chose the state level because I think a lot can be done. And states, as Abraham Lincoln said, are the laboratories for democracy. And you can see a lot more done. But at the national level, to be honest, I have less hope for-- not that it couldn't be scaled up nationally, but politically, I think it will be challenging.
LARA SKINNER: Yeah. And I think we've created a different lens to look at a couple of problems that a number of different communities are talking about. On one hand, we have communities talking about how do we create good jobs? How do we do economic development in our states? And what we're saying is, yeah, we need to do major investment, particularly in some of our infrastructure, but let's do it through a lens of how we tackle the climate crisis, how we can reduce emissions.
And then on the other hand, we have a number of communities who are focused on environmental issues and how to reduce emissions, but not necessarily looking at it from an equity perspective. So yeah, let's do things that can bring down emissions and tackle the climate crisis, but let's make sure that we do them in a way that's lifting all of our communities up and providing access to those services, making our communities more equitable.
SPEAKER 3: And do you think that New York can be a model for the rest of the country? Is that sort of what you are--
J. MIJIN CHA: That's the hope, yeah.
LARA SKINNER: Yeah, we do.
J. MIJIN CHA: Absolutely.
LARA SKINNER: I mean, we absolutely think that if New York state were to implement a bold, ambitious climate jobs program like this, that many other states would look at trying to do something similar.
SPEAKER 4: Within your recommendations, are there any sub-recommendations for jobs for women, jobs for visible minorities, jobs for people who make-- or even pay equality for people in these categories?
LARA SKINNER: Yeah, that's a good question. Part of the-- and this will come out in the full report, but part of what we think the scope of the Just Transition Task Force should be is looking at what job and wage standards need to be built into these programs. And a specific part of that would be, what are the hiring policies?
So if we're going to do bus rapid transit, if we're going to do energy efficiency work, what are we doing in terms of prevailing wage? What are we doing in terms of local targeted hiring? What are we doing in terms of hiring women and minorities? So that's part of the scope that we think we need to look at through the Just Transition Task Force.
J. MIJIN CHA: And it's another reason why we're so-- it's so important to do it with the public sector. It's much easier to make sure that wages are fair, that you have local hiring, targeted hiring, through the public sector than the private sector.
SPEAKER 5: Did you guys-- oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.
SPEAKER 4: I was just going to say, in terms of having the public sector influence the private sector, how do you then make that transition? Because there's still so much disparity between private sector practices and public sector practices.
J. MIJIN CHA: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think the public sector shows the example. And the scope of our report is to highlight how the public sector can lead this transition. And then, obviously, we have to keep fighting to make sure the private sector and that all workers and all communities are treated equally.
SPEAKER 5: Did you guys look at-- I mean, a big part of the stimulus was energy efficiency, retrofits [INAUDIBLE] but that didn't seem to go as well as people had hoped. Did you look at that as part of calling for energy efficiency retrofits [INAUDIBLE]?
LARA SKINNER: Yeah, you can speak to that.
J. MIJIN CHA: We did. So part of the problem was that WAP was so antiquated, the Weatherization Assistance Program was such an old program. So it went-- I'm forgetting the exact numbers, but it basically got scaled up, I think, tenfold after the stimulus package, and it couldn't handle that level of scale-up. So it's something that we've learned from.
And also, we had Green Jobs, Green New York, which is a similar program in New York for residential retrofits. And I think that the idea is that we make the programs that are existing now work better and then also scale them up to the level that they need to be. And I think people have learned a lot from what happened during ARRA, and I think now-- I really see it as this problem of political will, not capacity.
LARA SKINNER: Yeah, and I think one of the things that we talk about when we talk about increasing the ambition and scale of these policies is what is the climate policy that's driving investment in these sectors? And that's a big issue that we've been facing in this state and nationally. We need to have ambitious climate policy on the books that actually matches what science is saying we need to do to reduce emissions, because if you're in the wind sector, are you going to make a big investment in plopping down a factory to build wind turbines here if you don't know if New York is committed to scaling up wind energy?
So right now we have the 80% reduction by 2050. That's below 1990 levels. We had that as an executive order that Paterson implemented, but that's not a legislated mandate at this point. And so that's an example of a way that we increase the ambition of policy to actually drive the investment in efficiency, in public transportation, in renewable energy.
SPEAKER 5: What is the-- does this all come back to Cuomo? Is that what we're talking about here?
SPEAKER 4: All roads lead to Cuomo.
J. MIJIN CHA: I mean, we definitely have a governor-strong political system, but like Lara said, ideally it would be legislated, because the thing about executive orders, as you all know, is that they can be repealed by the next administration. So if we think about long term, a market that can be both predictable and stable for private investment, legislation is really the best bet. So what would be great is if Governor Cuomo was the leader and then did it in a way that would seal his legacy permanently and not just do it by executive order.
LARA SKINNER: We can move pieces of legislation around energy efficiency and around public transit and around solar or wind, but what we're really proposing is, let's think about this bigger, because if we really do want to do massive good job creation, and we do actually want to do the scale-up of emissions reduction that we need, we need to think bigger about this. So we're really pushing, let's think about this as a comprehensive program that applies to all three sectors and eventually can be expanded to other economic sectors.
SPEAKER 2: I was going to ask if you found some funding. I know you had talked about, I think, a $20 million investment in the transit system. Was that-- that was just for New York City?
J. MIJIN CHA: Yeah.
SPEAKER 2: OK. That seems like a huge number, you know? How much goes into that? Or do you think that it's a realistic number that will be met?
J. MIJIN CHA: I think it's realistic. I think it's an investment. And it will be a big investment, for sure. And a lot of these things will pay for themselves, like energy efficiency measures and some of the renewable energy.
But I kind of think we don't really have a shortage of funding. We have a shortage of priorities. So last year for instance, when they wanted to cut the millionaire's tax for yachts and-- that seemed-- that wasn't really like, how are we going to pay for that? How are you going to pay for a millionaire's tax cut?
And then when it comes to helping communities that are struggling, or workers, then suddenly funding becomes a big problem. I really, really truly believe we do not have a revenue issue. We have a priorities issue.
SPEAKER 5: Speaking of that, the MTA will tell you that the reason we have a maintenance crisis is because of worker pensions. Do you address that at all? And presumably, the $20 billion is to fund that shortfall? They don't have a funding problem, per se. They have plenty of money, but they say that it all goes to legacy workers. And I presume that you want to extend that system.
LARA SKINNER: Yeah, one of the things that we looked at is that just nationally, the investment in public transit has not been sufficient. So if we look at how we spend our federal transportation dollars, 80% of that is going to highways. And certainly there's a lot of work we need to do to repair and improve our road and bridge infrastructure, but at the same time, we're seeing massive increases in transit ridership.
We know that demand is going up. People want to use transit. We know from a climate perspective and an equity perspective, this is where we need to be investing money. But right now, only 20% of those federal dollars are going into public transportation, walking, and biking. So what we need to see is a shift at that federal level in terms of how we're spending the dollars, because there's just not enough money coming into the capital programs that we need for New York City and other public transit systems, but also in the operations and maintenance of it, which include providing good jobs for the workers who are running those systems and doing it reliably and safely.
SPEAKER 5: And the Department of Transportation will tell you that that's because we have 48 states that don't have large urban centers that benefit from public transportation, but they all benefit from highways. I mean, how do you overcome that?
LARA SKINNER: Yeah. I just think we've-- part of the thing, too, is that the way that we fund our transportation systems right now is through the gas tax. And that's not a great source of funding anymore, so we also need to shift our priorities in terms of how we're raising revenue for these programs. And again, we come back to a public sector approach where interest rates are still quite low right now. We have the ability to take out bonds to do big infrastructure projects like this. And so I think in order to do the massive investment that we need to do, we need to look at options like that.
J. MIJIN CHA: And I also think we're going to have to change this mindset of, everybody drives so we just have to keep driving, because we can't. So it is true that New York City is-- we're so lucky that we have this great transit system. And the idea is then to make every other city have, or every other state have great transit systems. And the way that-- we're going to have to start to break these addictions somehow and not keep saying, well, this is the way it's being done. This is the reality, because our reality is shifting, and our policies need to shift accordingly.
SPEAKER 5: But that's the trick, right? That's the social science of it. What does your report have to say about, you know, there's a resistance to the offshore wind. People don't want it to ruin their viewshed. There's a resistance to high-speed trains because people don't want to pay for it.
There's a resistance to better transportation funding because so many states don't benefit from public transportation or don't see themselves as benefiting from it. How do you begin that social engineering? Or is that not something-- or is that not part of this particular project?
J. MIJIN CHA: I think a lot of that is changing. And if you think of it, there was a resistance to ending child labor. There was a resistance to having weekends. There's always resistance, but it doesn't mean we stop social change. And I think the People's Climate March is a great example of-- there was 400,000 people in New York City. You saw a wide spectrum from immigrant rights groups, native groups, to workers to environmentalists. I think that maybe the idea of climate change is so overwhelming that people don't know where to start, but there will always be resistance, but it doesn't mean that we shouldn't act.
LARA SKINNER: And poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans want action on climate change. So I think the idea of how are we addressing the climate crisis, particularly for young people, who feel so impacted by this issue, is becoming bigger and bigger. At the same time, though, economic inequality is getting bigger and bigger, that gap. And so I think a lot of people are struggling to get the jobs, to have enough money to pay for transportation, health care, food on the table. And so what we're laying out is, this is really a vision for us to address both of these things.
And I think that's something that we haven't seen before, right? We've seen on one side, oh, let's do something about environmental issues and reducing emissions, and on the other side, let's do something about inequality and job creation. And we're saying we actually can create a vision and do it here in New York state where we implement both of these things.
And right now, with a lot of the models that we see, it's like, you can have solar panels on your roof if you can afford to do it. I think we need to move beyond that type of framing. It's in the same way that we've tried to move beyond jobs versus the environment. This is a proposal, and New York state can be a leader in how do we have a healthy economy and do something about the climate crisis?
SPEAKER 3: You mentioned something about age, and [INAUDIBLE] and I'm wondering if you see millennials in some ways as being the driver behind the social change. It seems like they're less dependent on cars and much more embracing of public transportation, that kind of thing.
J. MIJIN CHA: I definitely think that's part of the shift. I think if you look at a city like LA, which is so car-centric, and they invested the most in public transportation than any region in the country. And I think a lot of it is because young folks, millennials, they don't want to drive. They want to take public transit. And so you see the demand is shifting from car-driven, car-centric, to more public transit sector-driven.
And I think also there may be more-- I have this theory that millennials have more exposure to other cultures and other ways of being because of the internet and all of that. So the idea that you could have a public transit system is not so crazy, because that's what Europe is like. Or even some of these socialist ideas like health care and all of these programs that some people are so resistant to, I think millennials are like, that's how it is in Europe. And it's not scary when you're like, that's what Europe does. So I definitely think they're part of this shift.
LARA SKINNER: And the education and training part of this work that we do called Labor Leading On Climate is with union members and members of workers' organizations. And what we're hearing from them is that more and more of their younger members are saying that they want their union, they want their worker rights organization, to be doing more on climate change.
SPEAKER 5: You said there were some good examples of these just transitions?
LARA SKINNER: Yeah.
SPEAKER 5: Can you talk a little bit more about them?
LARA SKINNER: Yeah, just at the end of the last legislative session in spring 2015, the Fossil Fuel Plant Closure Fund legislation was passed. And this was really spurred by a coalition. It's called the Just Transition Coalition. It exists in western New York. It's a collaboration between the Western New York Area Labor Federation, so it's the labor federation representing unions in western New York, and the Clean Air Coalition, an environmental organization in western New York.
And it was around the Huntley plant. It was a coal plant, coal-fired plant, in western New York. And the owners of the plant were saying, it's not financially feasible for us to run this plant anymore. Environmentalists were saying, we want to see all coal plants-- some parts of the environmental movement were saying, we want to see coal plants in the state shut down and transitioned out. And so this coalition, the Just Transition Coalition, came together and lobbied for this Fossil Fuel Plant Closure Fund to be passed. And the legislation was passed, and they're now looking at what will be the criteria to use the fund, but it's funds to support the community in the transition to some other sort of economic development path, given that the community and many workers were relying on that coal plant.
SPEAKER 5: I feel like I'm monopolizing.
J. MIJIN CHA: No, you're asking good questions.
SPEAKER 3: Keep going.
SPEAKER 5: Until somebody stops me. [INAUDIBLE] journalists too. Nuclear power plants are a contentious issue for the Green Blue Alliance. I didn't see any mention of it, but I imagine that you looked at it. There are quite a few nuclear power plants in the state. Could potentially have more or a lot less. What's the future for nuclear in New York state?
J. MIJIN CHA: I would say maybe the future for New York state is renewables. I think, like Lara said, there are a lot of issues we have to think about in terms of fossil fuel workers and the contribution that fossil fuels made to our economy. But if we think about our future, our future is not nuclear. Our future is renewables.
Both from a climate crisis level and from an income inequality level, we have this opportunity now to build our future energy platform. So let's embrace it, and let's do something revolutionary. And let's do something that really is sustainable for forever. And it's really renewables, is the way that we see the future being built.
SPEAKER 5: Unions might disagree with you.
J. MIJIN CHA: That's why we're going to create good union jobs in renewable sectors.
SPEAKER 2: I have one more, and that was about-- I guess in New York City, obviously, one of the best, if not the best, public transit systems in the world. But in places that are more rural, places more spread out, the idea of mass transit is much more difficult to even generalize, because people are just all over the place. Is there anything-- I know you all look a lot at mass transit for the upstate area of New York. Are there any ideas you have about ways that some of the things that work here might be able to work in Ithaca or Elmira?
LARA SKINNER: Yeah, I mean, there are some really great public transit systems that exist in a number of communities in upstate New York. And like New York City's transit system, a lot of those systems are underfunded. They have not been able to make the investment in having the buses run as often as they want or to be able to expand their routes in the way that they want or offer fare that's affordable to people. And so some of it is just getting the funding for those transit systems that they need.
And then the other thing that we're looking at is bus rapid transit, which again is kind of a faster, like, bus system on steroids, in the sense that they don't do as many stops, but they can get people longer distance quicker. And it's a big issue for young people and elderly people, and both of those populations are growing in upstate New York. Young people are not driving as much, and so it's important for us to have public transit systems that can get people around who don't have access to cars. So they're not going to be expansive and as inclusive as the systems are down here in New York City, where there's much higher density, but they can still be very effective. And that's why we look at it like, OK, let's actually do a statewide look at where we can implement bus rapid transit routes.
SPEAKER 2: All right, well, it is about one o'clock, and I'm a woman of my word when it comes to timing, but I really want to thank you all for coming out. I want to thank you all for your time. This has just been great, and I do look forward to hearing more of the recommendations in June when the final report is out. So anyways, welcome to stay afterwards and ask questions and everything, but thank you all for coming.
LARA SKINNER: Thank you all.
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Lara Skinner, associate director of Cornell’s ILR Worker Institute, and Institute Fellow J. Mijin Cha address income inequality, the growing climate crisis and economic reform on April 12, 2016 as part of the Inside Cornell series in New York City. Skinner and Cha highlighted recommendations from their climate jobs plan, "
A Climate Jobs Program for NYS: Reversing Inequality, Combating Climate Change." Final recommendations are scheduled to be released this summer.