Bet on Adoption of a U.S. Climate Policy

Whatever the outcome of the presidential election, legislation to reduce carbon is likely

3 min read
Bet on Adoption of a U.S. Climate Policy

Four years ago, six months before the last presidential election, I expressed skepticism about whether the United States would adopt a cap-and-trade carbon reduction plan, even though both candidates Obama and McCain had explicitly favored such a system. This year, though neither President Obama or challenger Romney has uttered the words "climate change" during the campaign, my prediction is that the United States will soon adopt some kind of carbon plan, regardless of who wins.

Because of dramatically extreme climate events seen in the last few years, most recently the drought that afflicted U.S. farm states last summer, most Americans have come to quietly accept that global warming is real and dangerous. Accordingly, in the immediate aftermath of the storm that devastated New York City last week, both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo prominently mentioned climate change--without blaming climate, they said the city would have to expect more disastrous flooding as the world continues to warm.

Two days later, in a move that took all political pundits by surprise, Bloomberg endorsed Obama for re-election, basing his decision almost entirely on what he said was the president's superior position on climate change. Why would Bloomberg, who first ran for mayor as a Republican and now styles himself an independent, endorse a Democrat who has not talked publicly about climate change in the four years he has been president?

In essence Bloomberg referred to what I have called in this blog Obama's stealth climate policy: the very strict clean air regulations his Environmental Protection Agency has imposed, which strongly discourage continued generation of electricity by the dirtier and older coal-fired plants; and the equally strict rules his administration has set for long-term automotive fuel efficiency (the CAFE standards).

In his statement endorsing Obama, published by on Nov. 1, Mayor Bloomberg said: "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.… [O]ver the past four years, President Barack Obama  has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption, including setting high 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 (an effort I have supported through my philanthropy), which are estimated to kill 13,000 Americans a year."

Bloomberg, to be sure, is not your average-Joe American, and New York City is not your typical demographic. As stated in his endorsement column, the immensely wealthy mayor has had his personal foundation donate $50 million to a national anti-coal campaign. Under his leadership, New York City has deployed the world's largest fleet of hybrid-electric buses, ordered universal adoption of hybrid taxi cabs, pioneered deployment of electric vehicle charging stations, and formulated an ambitious long-term green energy program. Bloomberg also has chaired the so-called C40 group of big cities in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Still, it is a telling fact when, just as a national election is hanging on a razor balance, a major political figure unexpectedly steps into the fray and throws his considerable weight to one of the candidates on the basis of that candidate's position on the previously unmentionable subject of climate change. The specifics of Bloomberg's position also are telling. In their joint press conference the day after "Frankenstorm," Governor Cuomo opined that New York City may just have to build a "dike" to protect itself, having seen two "hundred year storms" in two years. Subsequently, Mayor Bloomberg expressed skepticism about whether such barriers would be feasible in New York City.

It's to be assumed that Bloomberg--a trained electrical engineer, by the way--knows what he is talking about. He owns a home in London, which in fact has built such barriers to protect the Thames estuary from North Sea storm surges. When Bloomberg says he believes New York City cannot feasibly build such a system, we can take it for granted that he has considered the issue carefully and is not shooting from the hip. What he is saying, implicitly, is that there is only one way, long-term, to protect New York from the ravages of climate change, and that is to slow and ultimately stop global warming.

The Conversation (0)