Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Saturday, November 3, 2012

An Apology to the Mayor

Two days ago, I asked this question: Was Hurricane Sandy an isolated weather event or an indicator of climate change? I was surprised to report that New Yorkers from all walks of life had reached the conclusion that the climate is fundamentally changing. This included scientists (as usual), insurance companies, waitresses, business owners – and, yes, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

I acknowledged the Mayor for stating that the weather events are “much more severe than before.” But the compliment was definitely back-handed. The Mayor’s apparent agnosticism about the causes of our new severe weather drew this comment from me: “Trust the savvy mayor to call it straight while ducking the politically-sensitive issue of climate change!”

Bloomberg tours wreckage at Breezy Point, Queens, NY
So you can imagine my surprise in finding that the Mayor Thursday endorsed President Obama for one reason above all: that he’s demonstrated leadership in fighting the threat of global climate change, a threat that the Mayor blames for much of the hurricane devastation in New York City. By contrast, the Mayor said that Governor Romney has abandoned the beliefs he once professed to hold regarding our “temporary stewardship of this Earth.”

To be clear, the notable thing to us is not that the Mayor endorsed one candidate or another, but that in doing so, he clearly outlined the very present, practical threat of climate change to the people of New York and their children. Caution to the wind, the Mayor said it straight: “The climate is changing.”

Here are a few excerpts from the Mayor’s announcement of support for the President:

  • The floods and fires that swept through our city left a path of destruction that will require years of recovery and rebuilding work…. In just 14 months, two hurricanes have forced us to evacuate neighborhoods – something our city government had never done before. If this is a trend, it is simply not sustainable.
  • Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be – given this week's devastation – should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.
  • Here in New York, our comprehensive sustainability plan – PlaNYC – has helped allow us to cut our carbon footprint by 16 percent in just five years.... Local governments are taking action where national governments are not.
  • But we can't do it alone. We need leadership from the White House – and over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption, including setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. His administration also has adopted tighter controls on mercury emissions, which will help to close the dirtiest coal power plants … which are estimated to kill 13,000 Americans a year.
  • Mitt Romney, too, has a history of tackling climate change. As governor of Massachusetts, he signed on to a regional cap-and-trade plan designed to reduce carbon emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels. "The benefits (of that plan) will be long-lasting and enormous – benefits to our health, our economy, our quality of life, our very landscape. These are actions we can and must take now, if we are to have `no regrets' when we transfer our temporary stewardship of this Earth to the next generation," he wrote at the time. He couldn't have been more right. But since then, he has reversed course ….

So Mr. Mayor, I owe you an apology. You did not – as I said – duck the issue of climate change. You called it straight based on what you’re seeing in New York. And whatever your politics, you explained your decision clearly based on the issues most important to you. 

Thank you – and perhaps you alone – for responsibly dealing with the threat of climate change in this political season soaked with unlimited oil money.

For readers of the Clothesline Report, perhaps we’ve believed that only Miami and New Orleans are in the climate cross hairs. Now we know better. New York is facing some of the greatest losses to sea level rise in the country. This great city has $2.1 TRILLION of assets exposed to projected sea level rise, the third most exposed city in the world. (Miami, unfortunately, is number one.) The entire Eastern seaboard is highly vulnerable, from the Outer Banks, Hampton Roads, Washington DC, Philadelphia’s fresh water supply, and Connecticut’s vulnerable infrastructure.

What the Mayor sees today for New York, mayors across the country will soon be seeing. From cities awash on the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf Coast, from river towns flooding like clockwork in spring, from Southern cities devastated by record-setting tornadoes, from parched Texas and Midwest cities gasping for water, or Rocky Mountain cities scorched by wildfires, mayors will surely begin to make the connections between a climate on steroids and human fossil fuel emissions. It’s time to talk straight, and Mayor Bloomberg is leading the way.

Thank you Mr. Mayor for speaking out.

Thanks to you all for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

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