If you could grade the U.S. on sustainability and infrastructure, what would you give us? What about New York City?
A grade for infrastructure would have to include water, waste, energy, food, transportation, roads, ports, bridges, airports, parks to name a few. The USA would like to think if itself as getting an ‘A’ on all these things but sadly we are far behind the times. We really get a ‘C.’ We know we have a lot of work to do to ensure that every citizen has access to clean water. To me ensuring that all people can drink clean water is one of the reasons that people from all over the globe respect our system. Right now with threats coming from poorly managed water systems, like Flint Michigan, and threats coming from the burgeoning natural gas industry, the USA as a whole gets an ‘F’ for water infrastructure.
New York City, overall suffers because of our marvelous but crumbling public transportation, but we are exemplary with our water management - overall I’d give us a ‘B.’
How can we get it right, or at least better?
At the national level we need massive investment into bridges, roads, water, and energy systems. We need to think about building for the future - with new technologies like composting systems for buildings and full water capture on site so that our centralized systems won’t be overburdened. Fundamentally, funding needs to increase dramatically.
What got you interested in environmental policy, sustainability, and infrastructure?
Really there has been a lifelong interest. More specifically though there was the 2003 blackout that really shifted my thinking. I wondered if a centralized system that could fail so dramatically for so many people was the best system for the future. I imagined if, during the blackout, some places had been prepared - were ‘off-the-grid’ - and that is a future vision I feel like I have been working towards ever since.
Why did you decide to come back to the Marxe School ten years after your MPA?
To be useful. I think we are in a period of a dramatic transition to a more regenerative way to exist on earth. The current way we operate is extractive, and we are running out of things to extract. Given that perspective we all have a role in this transition. I have been close to the policy and strategy formation of sustainability policy in NYC and helped implement and move policies and projects along. My role in the transition from extraction to regeneration is to be a translator. At the Marxe School I can translate what I know of government and sustainability to the next generation of leaders.
You wrote Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet. In short, what does Islam teach us about protecting the planet we live on?
So much! Please read the book. One aspect of Sharia Law is that you are not supposed to make money off of selling water. Water should always be provided for everyone. The City of Mecca was founded around the discovery of water. Providing for clean water is a sacred duty.