Why Michael Bloomberg says he's 'optimistic' about climate change

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is coauthor of 'Climate of Hope,' a solution-oriented book about what individuals and governments can and should be doing about climate change.

Carolyn Kaster/AP/File
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg waves after speaking to delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 27, 2016.

In their new book Climate of Hope, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope write about climate change – and why they’re both ultimately optimistic about solutions. They discuss the challenges as well as opportunities for progress; zero in on issues involving coal, food systems, and urban planning; focus on solutions coming from cities and the private sector; and argue that climate-friendly decisions can also be good for the economy.

“Political and environmental leaders both tend to talk about climate change as a single massive problem, and one that only global governments can solve,” they write in the book’s preface. But, “the changing climate should be seen as a series of discrete, manageable problems that can be attacked from all angles. Each problem has a solution. And better still, each problem has a solution that can make our society healthier and our economy stronger.”

Here are excerpts from a recent Monitor interview with Mr. Bloomberg.

On why he’s emphasizing hope:

You should be depressed about the direction the planet is going, but we think there’s reason to be optimistic based on how some of the countries, companies, and individuals are reacting. It’s a bunch of individual problems, some relatively easy to solve, some intractable and you’ll never get it, and not everybody’s going to participate.

But what we forget is, if we stop polluting, the whole world benefits, so the fact that I don’t stop polluting doesn’t mean that your efforts are for naught.

On what actions are most meaningful:

There are a handful of players that have a big effect.

If the United States can close half – 250 roughly – of the 500 coal-fired power plants, we made an enormous difference. If we close a bunch more we can make an even bigger difference.

The fact that you personally didn’t do anything – I’d like you to do it, it would help, but the bottom line is, it’s the big guys you really have to worry about....

The public wants this done, meaning it wants us to address this issue. The public may not be willing to make some sacrifices, but they are buying more fuel-efficient cars, are changing to LED and compact fluorescent, they are painting their roofs white to reflect the sun....

And companies are doing a lot, not because they’re altruistic but because it’s in their interest. If you interview a young kid out of college, they want to know what you’re doing in the environment. Your customers want to know what you’re doing, your employees want to be proud to work for a company that’s pro-environment, and the big investors, the pension funds and endowments, they want to be socially responsible in investing.

It all adds up.

On the economics of climate-friendly policies:

Being environmentally friendly, not every time, but most times, is good for the bottom line. If you use less energy, you have to pay less for energy....

Wind and solar have gotten cheaper. [Recently], the Kentucky Mining Museum announced they were switching to renewables because it’s a lot cheaper than using coal.

On the impact of the US potentially backing out of its Paris agreement commitments:

It doesn’t matter if they reduce the commitments, because we’re going to make them anyway. We’re two-thirds of the way there already for the 2025 commitments. We’ve brought down greenhouse gases dramatically ... and the federal government has done nothing.... Obama put a few things in the end, which really don’t matter. It’s all been done at the local level, by local governments, or by public and private companies.

On what cities can do:

Every city is different. I can tell you what we did in New York. In most cities, 80 percent of pollution comes from transportation and 20 percent from buildings. In New York, because we use mass transit and walk, it’s 80 percent from buildings and 20 percent from transportation. What we did is, we tried to find ways to reduce the pollution from the buildings. We found 10,000 buildings produced the vast bulk of the greenhouse gases. We convinced almost 6,000 to take a two-year loan to convert from oil to natural gas and the payback was within two years and they went on to make a lot of money – in the meantime, helping the health of themselves, their families, and their tenants, as well as rest of the world. The [rest] were much harder to do and we ran out of time.... There’s a good example of a city doing something.

On what he wants people to take away from his book:

I think the word "hope".... We shouldn’t sit here and be complacent, but on the other hand, there’s no reason why you should just throw your hands up.... If you help and nobody else does, we’re at least going to live a little bit longer…. You’ve got to keep working. I’m optimistic. I don’t get depressed.

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