During a League of Conservation Voters (LCV) reception two weeks ago at the Central Park Boathouse, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was the star speaker. The mayor, who is poised to run for a third term after the City Council revised term limits, has been striving to cement his legacy as a green visionary. Earlier this year Time named him to “Time’s 100 Scientists & Thinkers.”
Wrote Robert Kennedy, Jr., a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and a staunch Democrat, “Mayor Bloomberg realizes that a better future for New York will must include cleaner air, safer drinking water, more green spaces and a healthy, accessible Hudson River. In addition to protecting the local environment, he has promised to make New York a paradigm in the fight against global warming. His visionary PlaNYC commits New York to plant 1 million trees, slash greenhouse gases 30% by 2030 and achieve the cleanest air of any big city on the continent.”
Bloomberg told the LCV audience that in “tough times we should be more committed” to making big “investments.” He cited the Empire State Building “after the crash” and Central Park, whose construction mostly coincided with the Civil War. Such sentiments are hardly surprising coming from a big-city Northeast mayor, but Bloomberg, a self-made billionaire Republican-turned independent, has a certain amount of street cred. And national polls have been showing a greater willingness to spend money on public works projects. “Going green saves lives and saves money,” he declared.
Bloomberg also mentioned a recent meeting with western European leaders who asked him how the environment is figuring in the U.S. presidential race. “I had trouble not laughing at them,” he says. “Sadly, it doesn’t.”
But as a subsequent speaker noted (after the mayor left) energy has been a huge issue in this election, probably more so than any in other election in history—commanding considerable attention from both candidates, particularly during the last debate when the moderator Bob Schieffer asked them to discuss climate change and energy.
John McCain reiterated his commitment to “eliminate our dependence on foreign oil by building 45 nuclear plants, power plants, right away. We can store and we can reprocess.” If he has explained how to store and reprocess waste, the two factors most complicating nuclear power, it certainly hasn’t made the news yet. The Arizona Senator then went on: “So the point is with nuclear power, with wind, tide, solar, natural gas, with development of flex fuel, hybrid, clean coal technology, clean coal technology is key in the heartland of America that's hurting rather badly.”
He still proclaims his commitment to addressing global warming. “[It is] one of the most important issues facing our nation and the world today, and I have made it a priority throughout my career,” he told Audubon (September/October). “I pledge to work with Congress, local government and the full range of stakeholders” to implement a cap-and-trade system. Unfortunately his vociferous campaign pledge— “drill, baby, drill”— runs counter to his mission to find alternative, renewable energy sources, and, in the long run, will compound the problem.
For his part, Barack Obama has expressed nuanced support, compared to McCain,’s, for nuclear power and offshore oil drilling. “Now, from the start of this campaign, I've identified this [energy and climate change] as one of my top priorities,” he declared in the debate. ”That's why I've focused on putting resources into solar, wind, biodiesel, geothermal. These have been priorities of mine since I got to the Senate, and it is absolutely critical that we develop a high fuel efficient car that's built not in Japan and not in South Korea, but built here in the United States of America.”
Toward this end, Obama supports loan guarantees to U.S. automakers “to hold them responsible as well to start producing the highly fuel-efficient cars of the future. It's going to be one of my highest priorities because transportation accounts for about 30 percent of our total energy consumption.”
“If we can get that right,” the Senator from Illinois added, “then we can move in a direction not only of energy independence, but we can create 5 million new jobs all across America, including in the heartland where we can retool some of these plants to make these highly fuel-efficient cars and also to make wind turbines and solar panels, the kinds of clean energy approaches that should be the driver of our economy for the next century.”
So Mayor Blomberg may not be exactly right about the environment’s role in this election, but he’s on the same page with Obama and, to a degree, McCain about the economic boom that will come from tackling climate change and other environmental problems.