A Tale of Two Cities: America's Bipolar Climate Future
Part 2: The Green Mayor
Michael Bloomberg will complete his third and last term as mayor of New York at the end of the year, after being in office for 12 years. He has always taken the climate reports seriously, and the fact that New York is fighting climate change is primarily his achievement -- and his legacy.
In August, the New York Times published an editorial, titled "Wanted -- Another Green Mayor," which was critical of Bloomberg's successor, Bill de Blasio, for not making environmental policy a focal point of his election campaign.
Deputy Mayor Caswell F. Holloway IV, 40, meets with us in the ornate City Hall in Lower Manhattan, where he praises Bloomberg for what he calls his pioneering spirit. Holloway looks the part of a New York City official, with his bright orange tie and blue shirt, shaved head and athletic build. "When New York does something, the world pays attention," says Holloway. New York, he adds, has the ability to spur global changes because it's a "world capital."
New York as Pioneer
The deputy mayor cites the city's smoking ban as evidence. "California introduced its smoking ban in the 1990s," he says, "but then it became that strange place no one wanted to visit anymore." Then New York banned smoking in bars and restaurants, "and now you can't smoke in bars and restaurants in Paris and Hamburg, either!"
For conservative Americans, Bloomberg's New York epitomizes the nanny state. The multibillionaire and his allies aren't just fighting climate change. They're also trying to make their citizens healthier by encouraging them to stop smoking and stop eating unhealthy fats and drinking sugary beverages. They also want them to exercise more, using the city's bike-share program, for example. None of this seems to bother most New Yorkers. In polls, three out of four respondents say that they approve of their city's climate policies.
So will stubborn North Carolina soon realize that the world capital is right, and start fighting climate change? The question puts a smile on Holloway's face. He shakes his head and says: "Well, in this country we just happen to have a long tradition of vast differences in our politics."
Then the New Yorker launches into his plea, as if North Carolina itself were sitting in front of him: "They can believe what they want, as to whether or not climate change is manmade, but there is a wealth of data that all points in the same direction." According to Holloway, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that phenomena like superstorm Sandy, the flooding in Colorado and the wildfires in the Midwest will repeat themselves, and that they will happen more often and become more severe than ever, unless humans don't reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Washington 'Is Doing Nothing'
Holloway leans forward in his chair, his body becoming tense. "It's irresponsible for a government to have all this information and still do nothing." His plea complete, he leans back in his chair. New York deserves credit, he continues, for having recognized what was happening as far back as 2007. George W. Bush was president at the time and climate change was an esoteric subject, to put it mildly.
But in the capital of the world, the mayor launched a plan to prepare for climate change while making New York a greener and more environmentally friendly city: PlaNYC. The goal was to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent between 2005 and 2030. The city has already reduced emissions by 16 percent, says Holloway.
Of course, he notes, it would be easier if the country had a national climate policy to serve as a model for cities and states. "But the government in Washington is still doing nothing about climate change."
New York, on the other hand, is leading the way. Skyscrapers are being renovated to consume less energy. Some 76 percent of New Yorkers can reach a city park within a 10-minute walk of where they live, which is six percent more than six years ago. The city has already planted 800,000 of the one million new trees promised by City Hall. Times Square has become a pedestrian zone. Some 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of bike paths have been built all over the city. New York's air is less polluted today than it's been in 50 years.
A Country with Two Poles
New York and New Bern are two opposite poles in a country where it is becoming increasingly difficult to find common ground.
In Washington, the Democratic president must contend with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives dominated by a small, radical group of Tea Party lawmakers that blocks all reasonable compromises on issues ranging from gun control to healthcare to protecting the climate.
And in New York, there is speculation over whether Bloomberg's green legacy will last. "We tried to build climate protection into the city's DNA, so that it would become essentially self-perpetuating," says Deputy Mayor Holloway. He pauses briefly, and then says: "We hope we were successful." As of yet, Veronica White doesn't know if the new mayor will keep her on or if she will have to look for a new job.
And back in New Bern, Tom Thompson has postponed his retirement for the time being. Someone has to fight the insanity.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: America's Bipolar Climate Future
- Part 2: The Green Mayor
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