My Climate Journey

Ep 87: Alessandra Biaggi, New York State Senator

Episode Summary

Today's guest is Alessandra Biaggi, Democratic New York State Senator. Representing her home district of Bronx, Westchester, Senator Biaggi is the Chair of The Revived Ethics and Internal Governance Committee. In her tenure, Senator Biaggi has chaired the first public hearings in 27 years on sexual harassment in the workplace, and led the charge in New York to pass legislation that strengthens protections for survivors and holds employers accountable for addressing sexual misconduct. The Senator worked to pass legislation including tenant-centered housing reforms, climate-change initiatives, criminal justice reform, comprehensive workplace protections, and expansive legislation making it easier to vote. We had a wide ranging discussion in this episode, including Senator Biaggi's unlikely path to holding elected office and the challenges she experienced. We also discussed the nature of the climate problem, where it fits on the New York state policy agenda and opportunities to take action on both the state and federal level. And finally, Senator Biaggi has some great advice for what people like you and I can do to help if we're concerned about this issue. Enjoy the show! You can find me on twitter @jjacobs22 or @mcjpod and email at info@myclimatejourney.co, where I encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and suggestions for future topics or guests.

Episode Notes

In today’s episode, we cover:

Links to topics discussed in this episode:

Episode Transcription

Jason Jacobs: Hello everyone. This is Jason Jacobs, and welcome to My Climate Journey . This show follows my journey to interview a wide range of guests to better understand and make sense of the formidable problem of climate change and try to figure out how people like you and I can help. 

Today's guest is Senator Senator Alessandra Biaggi, the Democratic New York State Senator in her home district of Bronx Westchester. And chair of the revived ethics and internal governance committee. We have a wide ranging discussion in this episode, including Senator Biaggi's unlikely path to holding elected office. Some of the trials and tribulations of the campaign.

What has been liked to hold elected office so far? Some things that have gone well, some things that could've gone better. And some key lessons learned. We talk about the state of our democracy and some things that Senator Biaggi believes that we could do to strengthen and restore our democracy. We talk about the nature of the climate problem, where it fits on the New York state policy agenda and what some most impactful things we could do at the federal level and at the state levels to address the climate issue in the short term and the long term. And finally, Senator Biaggi has some great advice for what people like you and I can do to help if we're concerned about this issue.

Senator Biaggi, welcome to the show.

Alessandra Biaggi: Thank you. Thank you for having me on. I'm, I'm excited to have this conversation with you.

Jason Jacobs: I am too. I have to say it's both an honor and, and also terrifying. Not because you're scary, but because I've spent my whole career in startups and I've spent only just the last few months, begrudgingly dipping a toe into the government landscape because it's so important in the climate fight.

And so I'm learning, but it's definitely an area where I have my bearings a whole lot less. So caveats in advance.

Alessandra Biaggi: It's all good. And just for your, you could put this in your pocket. I'm also learning too, and I think that's also hopefully part of what's going to give us some success, at least in the state and the country.

So. People being open-minded, just a different way of leading.

Jason Jacobs: Well, what a crazy journey even to get into the seat you're sitting in. So I mean, first congratulations.

Alessandra Biaggi: Thank you. It was crazy. It was so crazy. It was like the David and Goliath story, truly, actually. And there are moments every day where what I'm doing kind of slows down and I think to myself.

Knowing where what I'm doing and knowing where I am, like how did I get here? Like how did we pull this off? Like still, and this is almost a year and a half later, so it is, it still has an incredible impact on me because I see what it takes to get into office. It's so much because, especially in the state of New York, which I don't know if many people know this, but I mean it's entrenched in Tammany hall politics, which you know, goes back a hundred years ago when you have political machines, they're very much alive.

We have taken a battering ram to them, I think, in this past election, and I think hopefully. Coming up too, but it's really remarkable, I think, to just be part of a new cohort of people leading.

Jason Jacobs: So I read about it, but for any listeners that don't know the story, I know this is not the purpose of this pod, but let's just take a minute or two and it'd be great to great to hear about the story because I mean, it really was an amazing campaign.

Alessandra Biaggi: Thank you. Okay, so I will be as concise as possible. I grew up in a political family, but as I had mentioned to you a little bit earlier before he got on to this show. I was not someone who was excited about going up through the regular political process. I always thought in my mind, like I'll run for office later, and I went to law school and I graduated law school or worked in government, and then I worked on the 2016 presidential campaign for Hillary Clinton and we lost.

And of course, like many people, at the end of that campaign, I thought to myself like, what now it's going to happen. And I left that campaign very downtrodden, but also was realizing that a lot of people around me, in my community and outside my community were asking me what they could do. Like Alessandra, you worked in government, you're a lawyer, you worked in this presidential campaign, should I march?

Should I call my elected official? Who is my elected official? And these questions kept coming in. And so what I realized was that there just wasn't a fundamental understanding of civics. And I could potentially provide that. So I put a civics curriculum together and I taught people civics in their living room for four months and talked about the rituals of democracy and what worked for them.

And from that point to the point where I got now, there was this little in between period where I worked for the governor of the state of New York as a lawyer in his counsel's office. And the portfolio that they gave me was a portfolio that was basically doomed to fail. And it was weird because we think of New York as this progressive beacon, and we have this amazing city that really is just enviable to so many other places in the world.

It really represents democracy. And yet the state of New York and the state government has been so incredibly corrupted by the people who have represented the state. And so the bills that I was given, including women's health bills, federal bills, federalism bills, immigrant, an immigration bills failed.

And when I looked as to why this failed, I saw a group of eight turncoat Democrats, which means that they ran as Democrats, elected by the people as Democrats, but when to Albany, and they only caucused meaning only stayed with voted with did everything with the Republicans. The effect of what that meant was that we actually did not have the democratic majority that people thought we could have with the numbers that we had.

Cause we had Democrats elected and they did that in exchange for power, bigger offices. And really what it meant was all those bills that I was given and hundreds of more bills. We're blocked. So New York didn't have election reform. We didn't have anything with regard to climate change. We couldn't even talk about criminal justice reform or women's health or child sexual abuse or sexual harassment in the workplace because the Republicans in power in the Senate did not want those issues to come to the floor. So the long and short is this. I decided to leave the governor's office; I ran in this incredibly uphill race that I was just really thought about as this person who was crazy committing political suicide. Like, what is wrong with you? Why are you doing this to yourself?

Little by little, inch by inch I started with my community. And then from there we kind of grew more. And at the end of the campaign we had 500 volunteers. I had over 40 endorsements from including the New York times, two very powerful unions, 32 BJ and the communication workers. And it was because of the momentum that we build and the story that we told.

And when you think about the results, which were that I won by 10 points, I was outspent almost 13 to one 14 to one; my opponents spent $3 million. I spent about $230,000 or so, and I won by 10 points. It was the sign that New York was, there was a crack in the foundation of what had always been, and it just created so much possibility and opportunity.

But the journey there was grueling and I mean, I did have my life threatened. We had people like sleeping outside my house. My volunteers were threatened. I mean, I was told I'd have to leave the state of New York, like, you are totally nuts. It really was, honestly like a street fight. But the fact that we won was just one of the most amazing feelings, and not just because we won, but because of what it represented.

And now when you look at what we did in this just one session, I mean, it's like New York is finally on track to be a leader, and that also includes climate change and protections for climate change. So I'm really proud to be part of this majority, but it doesn't mean that everything is fixed. We still have to be vigilant.

A lot of what we've done already is simply progress that had been blocked. And so now we have to actually be brave and be visionary and think about how are we actually leading? Because that requires strategy and it requires thoughtfulness and it requires working together. And I think that one of the things we don't have right now in New York, unfortunately, is a vision from the top of our government.

And so we've had to really think about what that means and  it's not easy. Let's just say that. Governing is much harder than campaigning.

Jason Jacobs: Yeah. I mean, I, I was going to ask, and so given that you grew up in a political family, you, at least through osmosis, had more exposure than, than many coming in. What were the biggest surprises coming into office that you didn't anticipate.

Alessandra Biaggi: The growing up in the political family met. We talked about it at the dinner table, so it was very normal. And I know that it's not a topic of conversation for many families. And so that's always in the back of my mind and I'm always trying to make it more normalized because there isn't a thing we do or a decision that's made or something we interact with that isn't political.

The air we breathe is political. The soda or coffee you're drinking is political decision was made to bring that into the United States. Everything's political. And so I think that the hardest part of being a young female in the state of New York is that I'm a young female in the state of New York, in our state Senate, which is still predominantly male.

We haven't fixed inequality for gender. I mean, I was fortunate to last year chair the first hearing on sexual harassment in the workplace in 27 years in the state of New York, and then another one later on in the year. But simply because we pass protections for sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace does not mean that sexual harassment actually ends.

Right? Like I still go to my district office and people come in, they sit down and they say things that are considered sexual harassment, and I'm saying this as an example of it doesn't get easier simply because I'm elected and I had this quote unquote power to change the laws and to use my voice as a platform.

In fact, I think it actually has become harder because now when these things happened to me were in the past, I would say, okay, I'm going to let it go and I'm just going to keep my head down and keep working. I actually feel an incredible obligation to address it right away or to take time to think about how to deal with these things.

And I like to think of myself as someone who is claiming my territory, mainly because I take my job very seriously. But, we're still redefining what it looks like to be an elected official. And so when people see me still, they think I am an intern. They think that I worked for the Senator. In emails that I get,

they say can we have a meeting with him? I mean, this is really like every single day of my life and I don't take it personally. I know that I'm going to show up to this and I'm going to just redefine and constantly remind people that politics and elected officials is changing and an elected official doesn't have one way of showing up. And in fact, the fact that I am one of many diverse individuals has actually meant that our laws and actually actually look more fair. And I think that that was the biggest challenge for me. And then of course, the other things, which I'm sure you can relate to from the startup world, building a team. Building a team is not an easy thing to do, and there's no handbook on how to do that.

So building a team that's not about focused on campaign thinking, but focused on governing. Now that's very different because it means you have to work with everyone. It means you have to compromise. It means you have to not compromise your values, but really work with people potentially that you don't like.

And I've had to do that. For this entire term so far, and it actually is not so bad now, but it can be challenging at times. And I think that not really having a guidebook, but really just kind of being thrown in to the state Senate on the floor and not even knowing the rule that I had to raise my head.

Do I raise my hand to speak? These are the things I feel like were the barriers that held me back, but as soon as I learned them, I was able to kind of take off. But that doesn't mean that there still are not challenges. I'm still, again, young female, elected official from New York, predominantly male body, and even though our leader is female, which is amazing, the first majority leader that's a female in the state of New York, it still doesn't necessarily change the way that that we're showing up.

It's going to take some time.

Jason Jacobs: A few thoughts come to mind there. I mean, one is just as a, as a white male, there's just so much that I take for granted just being in the world and it's, it's super helpful to, to hear these perspectives, not just from you, but constantly reinforced because otherwise you just walk around and you don't have these things happen to you or, or certainly not to the same degree and you just don't know.

But the second, which I think is illustrative is that these things you're talking about are very real. One of the things I struggle with is that if you look at a problem like climate change, people say climate change is more important than any other problem. And the issue with that is that gender equality, reproductive rights, hunger, poverty, you know, path to a better life.

Racism, homophobia et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. These are real issues here and now. But then if you take all of these issues in like our world of today, they're built upon this kind of underlying foundation that is out of balance with the planet that we rely on to, to sustain our species. And that's, that's a real challenge because on the one hand, no, we're not, you know, I'm not saying nobody's saying that right.

That these other issues aren't important. They're fundamentally important. But in the back of my head, it's like, yeah, but there's a steady drumbeat. If if we don't fix this underlying climate problem, like everything else, it's not that it doesn't matter, but every one of these issues will get worse.

Alessandra Biaggi: There won't be a planet.

You actually make the perfect point that when we bring up a bill, we have to debate it. So it's like Democrats on this side, Republicans on this side. All that you heard on the, on the Republican side was like, this is ridiculous. And this is crazy. And I remember standing up during the vote on this bill on the CLCPA, which was the big climate bill in the state of New York, which I'm sure I hope we get to talk about in more detail.

When I stood up, I literally said, I said, you know, the things that you'd like to argue about, right? You'd like to argue about rent reform, and you'd like to argue about whether your police have money. None of it matters if the planet, he's not here. So why is it so hard to understand that? And I mean, listen, that doesn't necessarily mean that they understand or care about what I've said, but I felt like I would be remiss if I didn't stand up and say that because it is the most important issue of our entire time.

And let me, I want to draw one line that I think is really important here. I just described my race and the road up that mountain and how hard it is to govern, but here is like the actual reality. Had we not changed the dynamic of our state Senate. There's a state Senate state assembly, and that's the legislature had we not changed the dynamic of the state Senate and we had those same people there.

Those people actually did not prioritize climate change protections in the state of New York. And if they were still there, we wouldn't actually have been able to pass the most comprehensive and the strongest climate protection built in the country. And so when we think about the things that we care about, especially climate change, and we think about how can I be helpful, how can I actually work to make sure that we are protecting our planet?

It really does start on the ground because if all those 500 plus people didn't knock on those doors. And get through to those voters. And those people didn't show up at the polls and the polls didn't go into my favor. I'm not saying I'm the only reason, but I'm one of the reasons why, and it's just an example of replace me with anybody else who runs our elections, can determine the outcome of our planet in a very real way.

And all you have to do is look around your neighborhood and see who's running for what. Look at their platform, grab a literal clipboard and start knocking on doors because that's how you turn numbers out. There is no magic wand here to make our planet actually be safe or protected. It really is up to each and every single one of us.

And our individual actions combined is what allows us to pass laws that protect our planet. And it sounds so ridiculous, but it also sounds so large and so overwhelming. And yet if you just break it down, I think that is how, at least, how I've been able to deal with how overwhelming all of this can be and how big it can be and how we can just make it something we can do and right in front of us today.

Jason Jacobs: So I have a number of people, and I mean myself being one of them who spent their careers somewhere else and maybe get to a phase where purpose is becoming more important. Maybe they they're more established. Maybe they even are fortunate enough to have some flexibility in terms of not necessarily having to optimize for the size of their, their paycheck.

And so they come over and they say, I want to help. What are the most impactful things I can do? And when they hear vote. It's not that that is not the most impactful thing they can do, but it's a Holy, I think unsatisfying answer that it's the only impactful thing that they can do.

Alessandra Biaggi: There's more, there's so much more.

There's vote and don't vote alone, and I actually do mean not commit to vote with someone else. That's actually very important. That's how you grow your numbers. Donate. There's a real stigma around donating to political campaigns and here's the reality. The candidates that actually care about the things you care about, like climate change, who are going to go into our government and pull the lever of change to protect our planet, need money to get their message out into the world.

That is real. And so if you have the means to do that, make a contribution, make several contributions. Hold a fundraiser, hold a gathering, a meet and greet in your home. I mean, those are like the things you can do right now. You can make phone calls and do all of those things fine. But to be honest with you, no matter what your state in, in every state is different.

Unfortunately, not every state is globe or working on it. If every state were blue, we would have a really different landscape of pollution and the way that our that our air quality showed up, that the waste that we produce showed up in the world. And I think that when you show up and your voice is loud and by show up, what I mean is whoever your elected representative is, don't just call them.

You can make those calls and if it's all you can do, fine show up in person. Let me just share with you that from the inside, when people show up in mass. Or in a group of five or a group of 10 or in a group of two it scares a lot of the people who are on the wrong side of things. And I think that that fear is actually a good thing for them to feel.

They need to know that they are going to be held accountable by the people in their communities. And I remind my colleagues often, much to their dismay, that we don't only see them. Okay. We work actually for the people and we're not appointed or anointed, and so at any moment, if our decisions are not aligned with the values of the way in which the world is going.

You can be out of here. And so it is really in your best interest to listen. And so that's why I say show up. It's very uncommon that I see people flocking in to my office. But if they were, I would be thrilled to see that happen. And I think that that is something that is very real. Also teaching civics.

I mean, listen, if you have skills and the ability to do that, teach civics. People have no idea what I do, and they don't even understand the level of government that I'm in. They call my office asking me to do federal issues, city issues, and I have to remind them that I'm at the state level. These are the things that I have jurisdiction over, and I act do act as a bridge.

I say, here's your member of Congress, here's your city council member, here's your community board. But it's really fascinating to me that a lot of people just don't know. And so there's a lot we can do. And I think that. It really is, again going back to what I said earlier like what is your ritual? What feels good for you?

What do you want to do? But also like push that limit because we should all be flocking and flooding all of our elected offices. And if you don't like what you hear, support someone else, run yourself literally. And I say that no one, not everybody can run but show up because so many people are not showing up.

And that is so still, I thinl, hard because that's the only way that we actually shift the narrative. We can take and change the White House. If the 93 million people who stayed home show up in this next presidential election, that's what it's going to take.

Jason Jacobs: Philosophically when you look at how divided we are as a nation today and as a government, and you look at the best path forward, both for the climate issue, but in for our democracy in general, is the path more towards a blue wave, so to speak, and a street fight, or is it more towards finding a path of unification?

Alessandra Biaggi: I like to see it as a path towards unification, even though we turn the TV on right now it's like left and right, and it's gotten so polarized that it's unhealthy, I think. And I say this being a progressive, being someone who has values that are left of left, well, they're not all the way left. And I say this because I know that in order to actually do what we're trying to do, which is save the planet, we actually need everyone and we can't afford to leave people behind. And so what that means is having conversations with people who disagree with us. It means reaching across the aisle to that Republican colleague who disagrees with your decision as a legislature to ban plastic bags and listening.

Why do you think we shouldn't do this? What actually is behind your belief? And really trying to understand, and I say that because I think that through those conversation, this is how inch by inch we actually are able to get this change done. And the reason I know that is because if you look to the federal level, a topic like criminal justice reform, which historically has been a topic that the Democrats have championed, that they care about, actually was done under this federal administration.

And it was a bipartisan bill that was done. And so how did that happen? Through these hard conversations. Through understanding what's going on. Through feeling the impact. Through sharing what it means to actually have someone who is in prison that you know, or a family member who's gone through the criminal justice system.

It's the same thing with climate. It's the same exact thing, and I think that. It's so sometimes challenging when I see some of my colleagues, but even more importantly, people on Twitter are people on Facebook who are just yelling at each other. It's a waste of time, in my opinion. Even though it might make you feel good, yelling about what you care about without a goal is nothing.

It's just putting out that energy without actually affecting change. And so. It's going to take a lot, but the unification method, the only way is the only way we do this.

Jason Jacobs: And when you look at the, on the one hand, we want to get the most impactful things we can done. And on the other hand, we don't want it to be so bold.

And I'm saying this is a statement, but this is a question, so bear bear with me. We don't want it to be so bold that it doesn't get done. How do you balance those? Do you worry that if we try to get too ambitious that we can't get any durable bipartisan support?

Alessandra Biaggi: I don't necessarily worry about that. It's not the support part that I worry about.

It's more about the funding, right? Because I'll give you an example and bring it back to New York. So last year we passed something called the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. It is the strongest, most aggressive state level bill in the entire country.  And it will dramatically limit our carbon emissions.

It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It has the goal of a hundred percent reduction, eventually, by I think by 2050. I mean these goals are aggressive. Considering that it's 2020 right now. 2050s 30 years away. It will require us to invest in infrastructure, that it's clean energy to divest from fossil fuel companies and think about how to actually fuel the state of New York. And so where our money goes is a huge part of this process. And so I just think that a lot of people don't want to spend money on climate change or on green energy because I think that they just don't understand it. And in my district, even though I have a huge portion that's, it's predominantly Democratic, but there are pockets of it that are more conservative.

And so when I show up places that are more conservative and they say to me. I can't believe that you, you know, I'm barely making ends meet. I can't believe that you would be so irresponsible to vote yes on a bill that would cost $6 billion. Meanwhile, I can't even pay my medical bills or my rent. I have to really pause and I have to say, let me explain to you what this does.

Let me explain to you why this actually, the longterm effects of what this investment will do to your life will actually pay us in dividends and we'll be more successful. It will create more jobs, and so it takes patience, but I think that it's just necessary to do that.

Jason Jacobs: So if you look at this point in time snapshot, I hear a lot, and I've see that the federal government is not only not necessarily pushing a climate agenda forwards, but working against it.

And so I guess from your seat, how are things functioning now in terms of the role of the state government in this problem to the States versus federal, and then how should they, what should those roles look like in a healthy democracy?

Alessandra Biaggi: I think that, for the first time in 100 years, the state of New York is finally making progress for the values and the principles that most align with a majority of New Yorkers.

That is because people got activated. They got involved and they voted, and so they changed the dynamic of the state and in a very, very big way. When I think about how we interact with the federal government, especially being New York, it makes me distressed because New York is a blue state now. It was purple.

It now is a blue state. And the actions that we take, the aggressive actions that we take cause the federal government to take retaliatory actions against us. And so our push for the codification of Roe V Wade, which we did with the reproductive health act. It's not the only reason why I think the federal government did this, but one of the things that they tried to do at the federal level is to roll back Roe V Wade, and then also they took away their state and local tax deduction.

And also they did things that only target blue States. When you think about that, that actually is really working against our progress because if our funding is removed, because for example, we say that we're going to codify Roe V Wade, or we're going to make New York state by sanctuary state, a place where all immigrants are welcome and our federal funds are threatened to be withheld.

It means that we actually can't provide the basic necessities for the health and the welfare and the safety of new Yorkers, and it is dysfunctional. It doesn't work because one action in a state should not be a reason why a federal government reacts this way, but unfortunately, politics is in the way, so it's dysfunctional.

If it were to work, I think in a functional way. Listen, 50 years ago, if these two circles were, you know, Republican and Democrat, and the middle was who worked together that middle venn diagram would be much bigger. Now it's like you look at, you count up the people in the Senate and the Congress who worked together.

It's like eight people. It's eight members, okay? There are hundreds of members. That is just unacceptable. So we have to look at like where the breakdown was and what has happened here, because the reality is. What we do at the federal level is felt by every single citizen. But what we do at the state level is felt in a more day to day way.

So if we can't, as the state of New York provide funds for hospitals and they can't provide services for the people who come in with climate related illnesses. We can't actually protect the people in the state of New York. And that simply could be because the federal government decided that they were gonna screw us over on something cause they didn't like another policy decision that we made.

It wasn't like this. It wasn't as volatile or as hostile. Yes. Politics is a contact sport. Yes it is. I get it. But it doesn't have to be that way. And I really do believe that. And so I feel like I'm showing up to this in a way to transform it. Not to change it because change is temporary, but to transform it so that a majority of people actually realize that they can maintain their values and their beliefs, but still reach across and identify that, yeah, Hey, look what's happening in Australia that has never happened before.

There is basically an Armageddon of wildlife species, and that's because of our climate. Do you know? And like, and to be able to have that conversation and to really. Bring people along. The fact that we can't get there is distressing to me, and so the news really hurts us because they perpetuate this, polarize... "The Republicans today did this thing and the Democrats said this," then who cares? Nobody cares. They care about what did you do to make our lives better? What did you do to make our world safer? How am I going to be able to get up and ensure that the future that my children and grandchildren will have will actually be one that I can leave this planet proud of?

We're not doing that. We're not showing up for that, and it's because of this dysfunction, which is a break in the foundation of relationship in government.

Jason Jacobs: As I've been making the rounds, I've heard a couple of different, one more than a couple, but two worldviews I'd like to surface that are different from each other.

One is that we need a big bold initiative that inspires a world war II style mobilization and an alternative narrative as we need to stop doing things that rub salt in the wounds and make it so polarized and just quietly behind the scenes keep putting one foot in front of the other with with durable legislation.

How do you think about it?

Alessandra Biaggi: I think it is a little bit of both, and I'm going to use my own life and leadership as an example. Last year I came into this legislature and I was very outspoken about money in politics and during our budget season, which is the most powerful time of year. In the month of March, our governor held a very, very high dollar fundraiser with his state budget director and I was outspoken about it. It was disruptive to the process.

I would have still shown up to be outspoken, but here's the thing, in the month following that, the ability for me to be effective in the legislation that I came to do was disrupted because I was political about my approach to deal with an issue that I care deeply about? And so I've been incredibly, really reflective about this.

And at the end of this past year, what I did was reach out, even if I don't agree with him on everything. I agree with him on so few things sincerely. But here's the thing. The governor of our state is the person who is the governor of our state. He's been elected to do that job. And if I, I'm not playing the game of everybody wins, he doesn't win.

And if he doesn't win, New Yorkers don't win. So I had to literally re-understand how I show up so that I could actually do my job and not do the behind the scenes undermining and commit publicly that I'm actually not going to torpedo him. I'm still going to disagree, but I'm going to do it in a way that is actually productive and not destructive, and I'm playing the game of everybody wins.

And that means that you win because if you win, then all 22 million New Yorkers win. And that's what I'm, that is why I'm here to lead. And that was a real learning for me. That took a lot of time and coaching and training, and I'm so grateful that I'm here and I feel that I'm now responsible to share that with my colleagues too, because there is this, you can see it as soon as there's a conflict, there's this like rise of emotion and anger and it's like the instinct is to like kill, not literally killed, but like we're going to crush that thing and that is actually not where we need to be right now.

We actually need to be in a space that's building together and I'm hoping to continue to be part of that conversation with my voice and the things I say and do. But again, it's not easy because the space that we're in is so untransformed. And it's so not at the level of consciousness that I think that the public is actually reaching.

So I think on the outside of those walls of the legislature, the public and most people are starting to understand what's needed and our systems that were built are so old and antiquated and calcified in the ways that worked then in the past. And it's taking time for them to catch up. And that's actually what concerns me probably the most.

Jason Jacobs: And I mean, there's so many different perspectives. I want to ask this question from, but when you think about the most impactful things, or maybe as an exercise, if you had, let's say, $100 billion and you could allocate towards anything to maximize its impact in climate. I'm curious. I mean, typically when I ask guests, I asked that globally because they might be focused on one technology or industry, but they have a global purview. In your case, you're focused on, of course, the state of New York and your constituents, but I mean, I'm interested in the most impactful things within your purview in New York. I'm interested in the most impactful things for our country, and I'm interested in the most impactful things overall.

Maybe answer that however you'd like, but those are the things on my mind.

Alessandra Biaggi: Okay? If somebody gave me $100 billion. I would plan to $100 billion worth of trees. Not only in New York, across the whole country, and honestly across the whole world, because I know that trees filter carbon, which is a leading cause of why our air is polluted and why our atmosphere is now deteriorating. And so it's so simple and yet it costs so much money. And that is exactly what I would do because that one simple act would potentially. Decrease the increasing of our temperature in our oceans and our air. And almost immediately, and part of what frustrates me is that I feel limitless as a human, and I'm yet within a system that has limits that I'm trying to break and I'm breaking some of them.

But I'm not breaking them fast enough. And part of that is because of the lack of creativity or thoughtfulness. Like we come around the table and we're like, let's talk about as much today and let me tell you my experience. No, let's like, what are we doing. Are we going to actually take people out of the places where asthma rates are high because the air is bad and it's practically criminal for people to live there.

Are we banning plastics? We ban plastic bags and people flipped out last year in New York. I mean, they really were very angry that we did that. There are some reasons I understand, especially for the individuals who can't maybe purchase a paper bag because they're on a fixed income. I get it. And so for that we made specific safety net areas for them to be protected.

But here's the thing. Our use of plastics, the air that we breathe, these are like simple things we deal with, but $100 billion, I would plan to $100 billion for the trees.

Jason Jacobs: And I know that, I mean, this is a complicated problem and, and I'm not a domain expert in, and even there's so many different domains that this problem requires to understand, to look at comprehensively, where does an elected official go to get the information that they need to inform what types of initiatives to fight for in this area?

Alessandra Biaggi: Traditionally, an elected official would go to the parks department, so at the city level and the state level, that is a very accessible agency that has information about where we can plant trees, where there's a need, where trees had been cut down, et cetera. But that's not how my mind thinks. My mind doesn't think I'm in the system.

I can only use this system. I have really reach outside my network.

Jason Jacobs: But just so you understand the question, where does an elected official go to make the assessment that planting trees is the most impactful thing that you can do for climate change?

Alessandra Biaggi: The parks department and the people who are part of it have created reports that are very clearly showing evidence that if you plant trees, you will reduce carbon. And that's at the state level. Like that is a real thing, right? And there are experts within these agencies that know that, that are hired to know that. But outside of that, I mean, you have to do your independent research, like everything else you, we'll talk to your network of friends around you, but not just stop there.

I mean, we're lucky to be in the city of New York. There are limitless resources at our fingertips. And so for me, I have every single person I've encountered. I've asked them, have you heard of this? Do you know about this? And honestly, it has been actually fascinating to see people who have nothing. I'll be in a meeting about nothing having to do with trees, and I'll mention it and they'll say, Oh, my friend worked on the million trees project. You should talk to that person. And it's through these conversations that I'm literally getting connected and bridged to the people who actually know what's going on. Also, because I use Twitter so often, I will use it in a way that is seeking information.

And so I've gotten a lot of direct messages from people who have done this in Pennsylvania, in Ohio, in California. And so that's actually a really amazing tool. And lastly here. I have friends in other legislatures across the country, which is, I think probably one of the, like my best kept secrets in a way.

Because when you're asking people who are doing the same work in a different state, what they're up to and what they're doing and what information they have and sharing that information, I mean, it just empowered you to do even more.

Jason Jacobs: And I know we're running up on time here. So my last question is just, my audience, as I mentioned, is not kind of mainstream America.

It's really people that are either working in climate, coming from different angles for a long time, or people who have been working in other fields, but that are looking to reorient themselves professionally around the systems nature of this problem for their next chapter. For those people specifically, what advice do you have for them on how to get mobilized effectively and how to be most impactful with their assistance?

Alessandra Biaggi: If you care about climate change and you are in a state that has not passed comprehensive climate change bill yet, I would say to take a look at New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act and to literally take the language of it, give it to your legislator, whoever that is at the state level, assembly or Senate.

And ask them to introduce it, because if all 50 States did not, we would actually reduce our carbon emissions. It would be tremendous in an amazing way. So that is one real way that you can get activated and actually ask to have progress be done because the provisions of that bill are not pie in the sky.

Maybe we'll be able to do them. There are clear pathways to actually making sure that we are on the track to be a green state and it's going to take legislation to do that because unfortunately not everyone is willing did change until the law changes. And that's one of the issues that we always face. 

Jason Jacobs: And we can, we can link to that bill in the show notes as well.

So anything I didn't ask you that I should have or any parting words for listeners?

Alessandra Biaggi: The only thing, honestly, I'm just going to say it again, please vote. Please don't waste your vote on someone that you don't believe in. Please use your voice in a way that is effective and that is forceful. Because when we think about who's coming, no one is coming, actually. It is just us coming. That means that it's up to us and we have got to collectively take responsibility as awful of that may sound to some people together. You don't have to be elected to make a change here.

Jason Jacobs: Well, Senator Biaggi, I learned so much from this discussion and thank you both for all of your hard work and for serving us so forcefully, and thank you for taking the time to come on the show as well.

Alessandra Biaggi: Thank you very much for having me and thank you for doing this because this is actually part of the change, so I'm so grateful to you.

Jason Jacobs: Hey everyone. Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on My Climate Journey. If you'd like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at My Climate Journey dot C O note that is dot C O not dot com.

Someday we'll get the.com, but right now, dot CO. You can also find me on Twitter @jjacobs22 where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear. And before I let you go, if you enjoyed the show, please share an episode with a friend or consider leaving a review on iTunes.

The lawyers made me say that. Thank you.