The Problem With “Baby Step” Advocacy

NY Sea Gate Fox News

As one of the lucky ones able to clean up the debris from the wrath of Hurricane Sandy and begin the path back to normal, I was shocked to read a NY Times Op-Ed by Joe Nocera that my sister forwarded to me.  Nocera points out that dikes and barriers built back in the 1960s to protect Providence, Rhode Island were able to successfully withstand Sandy. Similar solutions have been proposed here in NYC but instead of a giant sea gate spanning the harbor, we in Staten Island will soon have the world’s largest Ferris Wheel.  A tourist draw that will no doubt topple in the next year’s once in a lifetime storm.  There was, of course, the obvious push back against the cost of a giant sea wall . A cost that pales when compared to the rebuilding phase the Eastern Seaboard is about to enter.  But, Nocera points to another problem the project faced:

“…many environmentalists are firmly opposed to a big public-works project, fearing that it would give people a false sense of security about the problems posed by climate change. They prefer taking smaller steps, like raising the height of subway grates to keep water out of the subway tunnels. Bloomberg has embraced this approach.  

However well intentioned, in the face of a monster storm these “Baby Steps” fell tragically short. Weeks before Sandy, Mireya Navarro wrote in the NYTimes that the city was far behind in addressing the looming crisis of rising waters:

“So far, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has commissioned exhaustive research on the challenge of climate change. His administration is expanding wetlands to accommodate surging tides, installing green roofs to absorb rainwater and prodding property owners to move boilers out of flood-prone basements…. City officials say that sea barriers are among the options being studied, but others say such gates could interfere with aquatic ecosystems and with the flushing out of pollutants, and may eventually fail as sea levels keep rising.”

So many voices and so many choices.  Sandy left behind tragic and devastating loss, but she also opened all our eyes to the need for alternative solutions and new voices rather than silencing them and pushing “unpopular” proposals aside. Governor Cuomo is finally showing the type of political leadership NY needs to take on the challenge and hopefully he will listen to ALL of the voices involved in this complicated and sophisticated issue and make a decision that best protects us. I suppose advocates in all movements face the “baby steps” dilemma.  For years I’ve heard that same “prodding them with a carrot” argument about proposed workplace bullying legislation.  Sigh. But, that’s a discussion for another day.

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