On Litter and the Coronavirus

The other day, I was struggling to come up with an idea of what to write about for today’s post. It’s not that I lack blogging ideas…It’s just that most of my blogging ideas didn’t feel particularly relevant right now, given what’s going on in the world. And then, I saw this:

Litter in a business area near my home. The photo is from me.

Just as the situation was starting to go downhill in New York City (over a month ago), I said to my younger brother that the coronavirus would bring out both the best and the worst in humanity. And the fact is that images like this, images of massive litter around businesses that have been shuttered for weeks due to the coronavirus, truly bring out some of the worst in humanity. Instead of throwing garbage in a nearby garbage can, it appears that dozens of people have seemingly taken advantage of the closed businesses (and subsequent lack of monitoring of litter) by using the streets as their personal garbage cans for their food wraps, coffee cups, and worse…personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and face masks.

I share this, not because I’m accusing any of my readers of being litterers (my guess is that quite a few of my readers will be horrified with the photo above), but because people need to be aware of the accumulating litter near empty businesses (at least in New York City, because I can’t speak for anywhere else), as well as the subsequent environmental and public health issues that will exist here. There are the environmental issues caused by litter, such as animals mistaking the litter for food and potentially choking on it (and dying from it). But then there’s the public health issue—whoever ends up handling this garbage will have to deal with germs from the PPEs. And at that point, you’re hoping that the germs on the PPEs are not coronavirus germs.

As far as I can tell, this issue of accumulating litter (particularly by the areas near shuttered businesses) is not getting that much media coverage…at least not yet. Given that fact, I think that it’s important to at least raise awareness of this issue on here, so that it is shared with others. It is also important to, if any of us have the opportunity (and if we feel comfortable), say to someone who looks like they are about to litter something along the lines of, “Excuse me, but would you please wait to throw that away until you can put it into a trash can?”

I hope others are doing well, and I certainly hope that none of you are staring at images even half as disgusting as what I have in the image toward the beginning of this post.

Twelve Years of Bloomberg as Mayor: A New Yorker’s Perspective (Part Three)

Those of you who’ve been on my blog during the last week or so will know that I’m doing a mini-series on what it was like to have current candidate for president Michael Bloomberg as Mayor of New York City. I explained in Part One why his record as mayor is relevant, and I explained in Part Two the multitude of problems he had with his treatment of others. Today is the third and final part of my mini-series, which will go into his record on some other issues, as well as where we should go from here with the Bloomberg candidacy.

One of the most important issues this campaign is that of trying to “save our democracy.” And rightfully so, because there is a genuine fear among many that President Trump is dangerous to American democracy. However, if Mayor Bloomberg’s record tells us anything, it’s that he would also be a danger to American democracy. New York City voted not once, but twice, to have term limits for people holding elected office in New York City government (mayor, comptroller, public advocate, council members). Yet, Bloomberg, with the help of the city council at the time, overturned the voice of the people, and changed the limit from two terms to three (it was changed back to two terms…after Bloomberg won a third term).[1] People fear that President Trump would try to overturn the election if he loses, or ruin our democracy further if he wins—those are understandable fears because he has been, for example, not always indicated a willingness to concede an election to a winning candidate, even if it is clear he loses the election.[2] However, Bloomberg, with the help of the New York City Council, managed to do something that not even President Trump has managed to do (yet): actually overturn an election (Bloomberg overturned two, after all). If he becomes President of the United States, let’s hope he leaves his ability to overturn elections in New York City, and not bring that ability to Washington, DC.

He gets praise for his stance on the environment. And, in theory, I agree with him on the fact that the environmental crisis should be treated with urgency. However, I find that praise hollow when he drastically cut funding from public transit while he was mayor,[3] even though use of public transit instead of the car does a world of good for the environment. It’s also hollow when his own environmental practices were subpar, such as having an entourage of SUVs that often idled (mostly to keep on the air conditioning unit on in the SUVs so that he could stay cool during the summer)—he apologized for the idling, but not for the use of the SUVs in the first place (or even an explanation of why those environmentally-unfriendly gas guzzlers were necessary for his team), to my knowledge.[4]

Bloomberg also tries to cultivate an image for himself as being just on health care. Yet, his record on health care in New York City was anything but. Noteworthy was the number of community hospitals that, under his tenure, were forced to close. The New York Times editorial board accused Mayor Bloomberg of having long ago “checked out” on this issue, and a then-mayoral candidate by the name of Bill de Blasio got arrested for protesting the proposed closure of one of the hospitals.[5] Bloomberg also vetoed a proposed law that would have required many city businesses to provide paid sick leave,[6] so if he got his way (he didn’t, ultimately), then tough luck to those working for businesses that didn’t provide the paid sick leave—you’d better work through your flu with a fever of over 102 degrees, even though that would, of course, endanger yourself and others.

Economically, the wealthy became even wealthier. There’s no doubt about that.[7] But if you weren’t wealthy? Not so much. While he thought that taxes on the wealthy were a dumb idea,[8] he thought it was preferable to shoulder the burden of “fiscal responsibility” on unions[9] by letting the contracts of every single one of New York City’s 153 unions expire—unions where many of the members are in the middle and working class.[10] The most painful example of economic inequality under Bloomberg’s watch, however, was that was the increase in homelessness that happened while he was mayor[11]—an increase that continues to this day. While I acknowledge that there may be certain factors with such trends that may not have been in his control (such as policies at the state or federal level), this is a fact worth reflecting on. Given that economic inequality is such a major issue of this era, it’s puzzling that the Democrats would even consider nominating someone for President of the United States who oversaw economic inequality become substantially worse when he was mayor of his own city.

The bottom line is that, when doing a thorough examination of his record as mayor, his record was overwhelmingly an ugly one on social justice issues. Even more alarming is the fact that many of these social justice issues he was poor on are issues that are relevant today, for whoever is President of the United States—issues such as racism, sexism, economic inequality, and protecting our democracy. As to whether you think Bloomberg is still better than the other candidates in spite of all the baggage I’ve presented, that’s for you to decide. Just make sure you vote whenever you have the opportunity.


[1]https://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/10/23/bloomberg.third.term/?fbclid=IwAR0jYgjb3aq9zstmvO0PFWXcGBpZ2F6AwME3wYTcMY8OK5tYZw9VV9K0e50

[2] https://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/will-trump-accept-2016-election-results-230932

[3] https://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/361-improving-transportation-above-ground

[4] https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/mayor-bloomberg-room-air-conditioner-parked-suv-idle-pollution-heat-wave/1948668/

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/12/opinion/wrestling-with-dying-hospitals.html

[6] https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/mayor-michael-bloomberg-vetoes-paid-sick-leave-plan-passed-nyc-city-council/1997646/

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/01/michael-bloomberg-new-york-mayoral-record

[8] https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2012/10/taxing-the-rich-is-about-as-dumb-a-policy-as-i-can-think-of-bloomberg-says-000000

[9] https://observer.com/2013/12/bloomberg-sounds-alarm-over-labor-electoral-complex-in-final-speech-as-mayor/

[10] https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2019/01/13/labor-commissioner-who-settled-expired-contracts-with-entire-city-workforce-leaving-administration-788294

[11] https://ny.curbed.com/2019/11/25/20981929/michael-bloomberg-2020-campaign-housing-homeless-nyc

Earth Day 2019: Focusing on Policies that Don’t Intend to Hurt the Environment…But Hurt the Environment Anyway

Sometimes, it’s not easy being green. We are often required to drive to/from work, drive our kids to school, drive to get to other family members’ places, have a job that requires someone to drive…on and on it goes. The bottom line is that even if we don’t want to put more pollution in the air, our living habits are such that we often have no other choice.

And here’s the thing: so many of these things are the result of policies that don’t intend to hurt the environment per se, but do so nevertheless. 

But how? Here’s a list of several policies not intended to hurt the environment, but that hurt the environment anyway:

  1. Approaches to land use have often favored development of car-reliant suburbs over transit-reliant areas. For decades, the focus was (and still is) on building around the highway. One of the most famous examples in the post-World War II era was with parts of Long Island in New York being built around the Long Island Expressway, but there are many other examples of this. Policy that allows for the building of areas that are destined to be mass transit deserts leads to heavy use of the car and heavy pollution.
  2. Poor funding for mass transit means fewer mass transit options, and pushing people towards the car. If there’s no mass transit available to take because of a lack of funding for mass transit, what choice is there other than to drive a pollution-emitting car?
  3. School choice policies mean that kids have to be driven or bused to the schools of their choices. What I say here may be controversial, as school choice sounds great and is popular with many. However, one of the consequences of school choice is that, instead of having to walk to the neighborhood school (especially in urban areas), kids have to be driven to far-away places. No pun intended, but if governmental bureaucrats invested energy into making all schools good, there would be no need for kids to have to be driven for miles, while emitting pollutants into the air.
  4. Speaking of schools, many school districts have school lunches that prominently feature food that emits high levels of greenhouse gases. As things like red meats are a large part of the lunch fare at many schools, school districts are heavily using food that emits high amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Lean meats and vegetables are not only healthier for kids than red meats, but they are healthier for the environment.
  5. We’re not doing enough to make housing affordable. In places like New York City and Washington, DC, people often drive long distances to work because nearby areas are simply not affordable. In short, affordability crises are not just bad for people’s pocketbooks, but bad for the environment because people have to drive to work.
  6. Many municipalities recycle but don’t provide easy access for people who want to recycle certain kinds of items. That’s how you end up with copious amounts of e-waste inside a home (including my home)—sometimes a city, even one that purports to be environmental (such as New York City), doesn’t have easy access for people who want to recycle said e-waste (or other waste).

Obviously, this is a rather car-heavy list. Regardless of that, my point is that there are many governmental approaches and policies that are not malicious to the environment per se, but end up doing a great deal of harm to it. And, during this week of Earth Day, we should be aware of such policies.

Lacking Recycling Bins in Public Spaces: A Waste of an Opportunity

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This is a photo of one of many areas in New York City that has a trash can, but no recycling cans. This photo was taken by me. 

When I saw a good friend in Philadelphia the other day, I had an environmental brain cramp. Namely, I didn’t think to hold my plastic water bottle until I got to my friend’s house, and I therefore put the bottle in a public trash bin.

Now, I am at fault for not waiting until I got to my friend’s house, where I could’ve actually recycled the bottle. However, the City of Philadelphia was also at fault for not having a recycling bin for plastic in a public space.

The thing, though, is that the problem I describe is not unique to Philadelphia. It is a widespread problem throughout the United States in places ranging from Carlisle, Pennsylvania (the town where I went to college) to my hometown of New York City.

I don’t understand why recycling bins are still uncommon in so many places. It’s not like there’s a lack of knowledge about the benefits of increasing the amount that our society recycles. Or that there’s a lack of desire to increase how much we recycle because many of these places without adequate public recycling have been led by environmentalists for many years.[1] I just don’t know why there hasn’t been more of a conscious effort to have more recycling bins in public spaces. My only explanation is that this issue has been overlooked, though if anyone else knows why, please leave a comment below.

What I do know is that we’re wasting an opportunity to increase recycling by not having more recycling bins in public spaces, because while I don’t think that recycling in public spaces will, by itself, save this planet, what will help is measures that help our society be better stewards of the environment, including the providing of recycling bins in public spaces.


[1] Michael Bloomberg won three terms as New York City Mayor as a Republican, but the original pilot program for recycling in parks and transit hubs in New York City started in 2007, during his second term as mayor.

Earth Day 2018: A Call to Action

Next Sunday is Earth Day. So in advance, I wish everyone a happy Earth Day!

However, I don’t feel that it’s enough to just wish ourselves and others a good Earth Day. We need to take action too.

The action I propose for this year is that all of us think about the ways in which we use too much plastic and don’t put plastic where we should.[1]

Indeed, when we go to fast food restaurants, we’re given plastic tops for our drinks and straws made of plastic. We go to grocery stores and buy plastic water bottles. We throw our plastics away on the street or in the regular trash, often because that is the most convenient and expedient thing to do. We have plastic bags at grocery stores, and then throw them away in the regular trash once we use them for our one purpose (carrying groceries). So much of our food uses plastic wrapping, and we use plastic bags to help seal and protect food.

Granted, some of the onus is on companies and the government. Companies that use plastic in its products can have a hand too in at least making sure that their products are recyclable, so that the plastic we use causes as little harm to the environment as possible. Government can also have refuse-disposal cans not only for trash, but for paper and plastic as well.[2]

But some of the responsibility is in the hands of us as individuals. I don’t pretend to be holier-than-thou, as I have used and continue to use more plastic than I’d like. However, just because I struggle with some or all of these things doesn’t mean that I (and others) shouldn’t try to do better. We should all try to do better, because I highly doubt that many of us are as good as we could be. We can at least cut plastic out of our lives when plastic is not necessary; for example, when we’re at sit-down restaurants, we don’t need straws and can politely ask not to be given straws. We can also use tap water (with maybe a filter) instead of plastic water bottles. And, if you are a decision-maker in a company or in government, you can advocate for measures that could increase the recycling of plastic or cut down on plastic usage.

I, for one, commit to trying to be better about refusing to use plastic straws, as well as recycling my plastic when I am out in public. I hope that others use the upcoming Earth Day to make a commitment to cut down on plastic usage and recycle the plastic we use.


[1] This is in line with the Earth Day Network’s focus on plastic this year.

[2] In every municipality I’ve been in, including New York City, they make the baffling decision not to do this everywhere.