Foreign Policy Blogs

Mike Bloomberg's Earth Day

Mike Bloomberg is a billionaire (see Forbes) and the mayor of the biggest city in the United States. He's in his second term of office , NYC has a term limit of two for municipal office , and he's come out with a very bold, far-reaching plan, PLANYC, for "A Greener, Greater New York." He unveiled the plan on Earth Day at the American Museum of Natural History. "With historically low unemployment, a low crime rate and better schools, New York is thriving , it's a place that people want to be. The time to build on our success is now, and I will not spend my last 984 days in office ignoring the problems that this City will face in the future," said Hizzoner. (You can watch a video by going here.) 

Bloomberg's plan is ambitious and, from my perspective, absolutely fabulous. It's also unprecedented in my experience to have a New York City mayor really embrace so many of the ideas that urban environmentalists have been championing for years:  street trees, expanded open space, an emphasis on renewable fuels, energy efficiency and green buildings, distributed generation, mass transportation, brownfield remediation, protecting ambient water and expanding recreational opportunities. So many of New York City's environmental mandates are dictated by federal and state law. Mayors haven't been able to skirt these. But they've often stinted of their concern. Giuliani wanted to liquidate most of the community gardens and had nothing but contempt for recycling. I was at an American Planning Association convention one year listening to someone from Chicago talk about Richard Daley's commitment to street trees and urban parks and I just was squirming thinking of my own city. I also remember being in a meeting in 1986 with one of Ed Koch's deputy mayors. A group of us were discussing a state bond proposal to increase spending for open space acquisition. "We don't want new parkland, even if the bond act will pay for it," the deputy mayor told us. "We'd have to spend money on upkeep if we did."  I wrote a magazine article for the twentieth anniversary of Earth Day in 1990 which, in essay form, was later published by the American Planning Association. "The City Is Built To Music" is a sort of urban environmental utopia. I always thought that the Big Apple's politicians could never really think this way. Mike's making a monkey out of me, and I love it.

Here's one big-ticket item:  plant a million trees!  Sweet. "Beyond aesthetics and emotional well-being, trees perform important functions that protect and enhance city dwellers' health and property. Trees literally clean the air by absorbing air pollutants and releasing oxygen. They reduce stormwater runoff and erosion; they temper climate; they can save energy; they create wildlife habitat; they can improve health, serve as screens, and strengthen community. They can even help contribute to a community's economy and way of life."  The USDA has a wealth of information on the benefits of the urban forest.

Another initiative in the plan is congestion pricing. I mentioned this in my post immediately below, under the heading How Green is Your City?  The pushback is already coming on strong. See this from "Crain's NY Business."  But you've got to see the congestion pricing also in the context of the overall transportation plan. We are supposed to get better mass transit at the same time.  Not incidentally, the NY metropolitan area already has, by far, the most extensive and widely used mass transit system in the country. See this from the US DOT. Anyway, London's congestion pricing system works!  It can and should in the Big Apple. (For critics of congestion pricing as an "elitist" measure, consider London Mayor Ken Livingstone's politics. They don't call him Red Ken for nothing.)

So here's the part that's most germane for this little sector of the blogosphere:  the plan has a significant component on climate change. Fun fact:  The sheer scale of our city means that New York emits nearly 60 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, slightly more than Switzerland and Norway and slightly less than Ireland. We're looking now for a 30% reduction from the 2005 baseline by 2030. The idea is to get reductions of 33.6 million tons – 10.8 million tons coming from "clean power," 16.7 million from "efficient buildings," 6.1 from "sustainable transportation," plus an additional 15.6 million avoided by accommodating 900,000 people in New York City or "avoided sprawl" as the Plan terms it. Plus, the City will devise a comprehensive plan for dealing with weather impacts that are likely to come no matter how negatively or positively global warming trends. This is all heady stuff.  

Bloomberg and New York City are hosting the "C40 Large Cities Climate Summit" next month. "Cities are responsible for three-quarters of the world's energy consumption, and as such, the world's largest cities have a critical role to play in the reduction of carbon emissions and the reversal of dangerous climate change," says their website.

I'll let the Mayor get the last word in here. He's earned it, for my money, with this plan. "Climate change is a national challenge, and meeting it requires strong and united national leadership. The fact is, the emerging consensus among scientists is that, to avoid serious harm, we must reduce our emissions by 60 to 80 percent by 2050."



Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change