For far too long, many assumed that protecting the environment and economic growth were antithetical. New York is proving that not only is that a false assumption but also that investing in environmental resiliency is necessary for a strong economic future and protection from weather crises.
Across Long Island, residents face rising sea levels, increased storm surge and flooding. Adapting communities to address these challenges will be no small task. But the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that preparedness matters. We have seen that disruptions to a functioning society — an effect also produced by extreme weather events — can quickly unravel our economy. The better prepared we are, the less painful the impacts of climate change will be to our communities.
And New York is taking action both to make us more prepared and to fight climate change. The $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Environmental Bond Act proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the State Legislature will lead to critical infrastructure upgrades that will defend Long Island and vulnerable communities across New York from flooding and extreme weather by preserving natural habitats and protecting clean water.
We can and should advance an environmental bond act because it is a good investment. By improving air quality, protecting clean water and preventing flooding, we can avert large costs to taxpayers in the future. With predictions that major storms will increase, now is the time for a bond act, which would go before the voters in November.
No new tax is proposed to fund this bond act. It is an opportunity for taxpayers to ensure a portion of their tax dollars are spent to advance economic and health benefits by investing in sustainability. Studies have shown strong returns on investment from environmental programs. A study by the Trust for Public Land shows that for every dollar invested in land and water protection, $7 in economic benefits are generated for New Yorkers. And for every $1 million spent on water infrastructure, 17 jobs are created, meaning the bond act also will create thousands of jobs.
In addition to the bond act, this year the State Legislature passed a suite of measures that will make meaningful progress in the fight against climate change and grow the state's green economy by supporting renewable energy and clean water projects.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it would have been easy to overlook our climate goals. All too often, government views environmental investment as a luxury that is cut early and often when the going gets tough. However, the environmental policies accomplished in this year's state budget will unleash billions of dollars in local investment, create thousands of good-paying construction jobs while combating our climate crisis, and better protect and prepare our communities for the next natural disaster. Specifically, Long Island is positioned for job growth — the offshore wind industry alone has the potential to create more than 10,000 jobs — and needs the environmental protection offered by the bond act.
If given the chance to travel back in time, we would take every step imaginable to prevent the health crisis we are going through now. The climate crisis is intensifying. The time is now to make a down payment on our future by investing in clean energy and protecting ourselves before it’s too late.
Julie Tighe is president of the New York League of Conservation Voters.