Words by Jude Messler
The unfortunate reality of the sustainability movement is that its true value often gets lost in alarmist language. It is indisputable that theories of sustainability are essential to addressing climate change. However, sustainability has broader value in its emphasis on human security and planning.
In the United States, politicians often pursue short term gains, with little thought for long-term implications. New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s policy of stop-and-frisk dramatically reduced crime but at the expense of unity within the community. His policies empowered the New York Police Department (NYPD), with no clear consideration for what impact that would have. Long-term considerations were ignored in favor of short-term gains. Bloomberg stoked long-simmering racial tensions between the NYPD and New Yorkers of color, with the implications of such unsustainable policy being a complete breakdown in trust between communities of color and the NYPD. This policy neglected the security of New Yorkers of color and prioritized short-term benefits.
The mass proliferation of ‘unsustainable’ policy initiatives, such as stop-and-frisk, is the result of a fundamentally broken way of making policy. In the age of social media, the desire for quick fixes and catchy soundbites has vanquished the ‘concept of a tomorrow’ from policy creation. To combat this phenomenon, a new focus on sustainability is essential. With its emphasis on long-term planning and focus on keeping all people secure, sustainability manages to be intersectional.
In the U.S., a political culture has been created in which policy gets crafted through tunnel vision. Policymakers fail to see the domino effects of their agenda. When solutions are designed for reactions instead of results, they usually fail. This reactivism is a fundamentally unsustainable framework through which to govern.
Unsustainability in policy creation is captured in New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s new plan to install two surveillance cameras in every NYC subway car. These cameras are not legitimate tools to prevent crime. The intent of the cameras is to provide the illusion of security and boost subway ridership, in fact, the cameras are not even streaming live.1 However, in the media, the Governor has implied that her surveillance state will directly prevent crime.2 Hochul’s reactivism is intended to boost her re-election campaign; little room exists in her policy-creation process for the legitimate security concerns of New Yorkers.
The Governor’s plan is an unsustainable solution to the current subway crisis and will likely fail. The subway has become a cesspool for crime as a result of an ill-planned welfare system, run by an overworked and underpaid bureaucracy that fell apart during COVID-19. Surveillance cameras will not provide housing for the homeless, treatment to the addict, or a job to the unemployed. If the Governor is interested in being effective, she needs to embrace the intersectionality of policy. If the Governor can embrace the overlaps amongst issues, she will be sustainable.
Fixing the broken subway is perhaps the most sustainable policy the Governor could pursue. On the surface, huge investments in public transport are obviously green. However, what seems to be lost on the current administration in Albany, is the domino effect such sustainable action can have. A better subway system will improve New Yorkers’ quality of life, strengthen communal ties and is a legitimate way of keeping riders safe. Ultimately, encouraging community spirit promotes empathy, destroys prejudice and allows for the pursuit of equality. A united community can coalesce to solve pressing issues and concentrate on general welfare.
At its core, concentration on sustainability is a mechanism to remove individualism from policy creation. In a world where new technology is encouraging us to isolate ourselves in a cyber bubble, sustainability has emerged as a beacon of communal spirit. Fundamentally, sustainable policy always prioritizes people and always encourages them to act as moral stakeholders in a shared planetary home.