A Tale of Two Cities: America's Bipolar Climate Future

By Marc Hujer and Samiha Shafy

Photo Gallery: US East Coast's Watery Future Photos
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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

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1. The flood will come
Mus Musculus 12/13/2013
to New Bern sooner or later. I don't think I'll be able to feel sorry for the flood victims then. Those that are smart are hopefully moving away from the endangered area as quickly as possible.
2. climate change
sailhardy 12/13/2013
Climate change has occurred many times on our planet. Climatology as a science is apparently in its infancy. Anyone who believes that a consensus means something is true is no scientist. One test of the science is if accurate predictions can be made. Thus far, the problems illustrated so vividly in this essay, have not occurred anywhere. And thus far,no evidence exists that massive disruption of world economies to combat climate change will not change anything. Maybe they will; maybe conservation measures will help. We simply don’t know, but some want us to upend our economies to take steps that may well turn out to be meaningless. Is there a compelling truth to the dire predictions? Not yet.
3. Really funny...
matthiashub 12/13/2013
... "a god fearing conservative" who doesn't belive in climate change because there is no proof for it. That really made my day!
4. Armageddon
spon-facebook-10000139396 12/13/2013
But somehow Armageddon never seems to arrive: strange that.
5. optional
spon-facebook-10000096450 12/14/2013
I understand Thompsons view completely. I've spent all of my 55 years along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico, from Tampa to Galveston. I've seen Hurricanes destroy and people rebuild. Nothing lasts forever. So when a storm comes leave. Go back afterwards and clean up. If you can't take the once-a-decade storm move inland. We place too much importance on old places. So what if NYC is partially flooded. Deal with it when it happens, IF it happens. Another thing that adds to people's skepticism is scientists falsifying data, polar ice reports that contradict, sunspot activity slowing down, and record cold fronts that seem to blow away any of Al Gore's credibility. On top of this, the public works projects I've seen to build levees for flood protection are filled with kickbacks and corruption. After five years of Obama, most do not trust our Government.
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