OPINION: Bring the national Climate Crisis Town Hall to Queens

Councilmember Costa Constantinides, chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, has called on the Democratic National Committee to host a climate crisis discussion in Queens. Photo via Costa Constantinides’ Flickr account.

Councilmember Costa Constantinides, chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, has called on the Democratic National Committee to host a climate crisis discussion in Queens. Photo via Costa Constantinides’ Flickr account.

By Costa Constantinides

Special to the Eagle

We won a major battle this week in the fight to bring the existential threats from climate change into the mainstream. Even with CNN’s and MSNBC’s decision to host climate forums, however, we need to go a step further.

For weeks, the environmental world has called for the Democratic National Committee to assign a debate solely to how the 20-plus candidates vying for the 2020 nomination would tackle this economic, national security and infrastructure threat. In this very paper I argued that a significant amount of time should be dedicated to how these presidential hopefuls will address our climate crisis. Until now, the focus was whittled down to a measly 15 minutes over two debates. Very sad indeed. 

CNN deserves special commendation for announcing Thursday night that it will host a town hall here in New York City, which is still, somehow, not completely healed from Sandy almost seven years later. But if the network really wants to make this count, you have to take the show away from the bright lights of Broadway. 

You can’t deny most of New York’s economic activity is centered in Manhattan, but you also can’t deny the fact that the spark for this activity comes from the almost five million New Yorkers who live across the East River. Eighteen Queens and Brooklyn residents were killed when Sandy pummeled our shores. CNN should bring the eight nominees who so far qualify to these neighborhoods, so they can directly answer Americans who most face harsh realities from our rising sea levels and violent weather. 

I’d like to offer three options CNN should consider, all of which should meet the size needs of such an event. Several are within neighborhoods that are constantly bombarded by air and noise pollution brought by flights in and out of our local airports. All of them are home to working-class communities — the types of folks these Democrats need to appeal to if they’re going to win back the White House. 

First, CNN can consider something intimate at the 234-seat Post Theater, home to the Rockaway Theater Company, at Fort Tilden. This area, along with the entire Rockaway Peninsula, was brought under water by Sandy, when the Atlantic Ocean met Jamaica Bay. The Rockaways were one of the hardest-hit pockets of New York City, and many residents know another storm can strike at any second. In fact, 61% of the peninsula’s 120,000 residents, have a one-in-two shot of experiencing a catastrophic flood within the next 40 years.

If CNN wants something a little close to the Queensboro Bridge, executives should pick LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, which seats 740 people. This CUNY school is a stone’s throw from the Queensbridge Houses — America’s largest public housing development. Next door to Queensbridge is a so-called “peaker plant,” a gas-fired relic from a time when we needed more turbines to power New York’s energy demand. Those who live, work, or go to school near this power plant are the very victims of environmental injustice our presidential candidates need to help. It’s these western Queens residents, many of whom I represent, who deserve to hear policies that will make our electric grid cleaner. 

Last, if CNN feels compelled to be “hip” and head to Brooklyn, the network should take a look at Ford Amphitheatre at Coney Island, a 5,000-seat venue along its historic boardwalk. Coney Island, if you remember, was pummeled by Sandy as few other areas were. And while it’s on the up-and-up nearly seven years after the streets were ripped apart, Coney Island is still at risk if another colossal storm marches toward our shores. (The network already did a debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard three years ago, so it’s familiar territory.)

The presidential hopefuls would find it hard not to present substantive proposals once they leave the security of Manhattan and directly speak to people who know climate change is about more than a governmental report. Rockaway and Coney Island residents deserve to hear how each woman or man would bring federal dollars for jetties, sea walls, and other innovations to protect against rising sea levels. Queensbridge residents are long overdue for federal support on clean energy that closes the polluting power plants next door, causing their asthma rates to swell. 

One of the most important weapons we have in our fight against climate change is to simply talk about it. By hosting a climate town hall, we’ve taken the first step. Now, let’s make it count. 

Councilmember Costa Constantinides represents District 22 in Queens.