All eyes are on Seattle this week as big-wigs (and little-wigs) gather for a two-day climate protection summit organized by the United States Conference of Mayors.
Yesterday, Bill Clinton’s keynote address reinforced a message of jobs and hope, economic opportunity, and technological and moral leadership when it comes to fighting climate change. He reminded us that JFK’s challenge to put a man on the moon within a decade back in the ’60s not only switched Americans’ thinking from the gloom and doom of Sputnik-crisis-scenarios to a vision of hope and can-do optimism, it also jump-started the space-race economy that resulted in unimaginable technological fallout (the good kind), innovations that made Americans prosperous—think of the supercomputer and communications satellites and global positioning systems (and, of course, Tang). The gleam in Bill’s eye when he talks about this stuff says it all, “we can make a fortune, we can invent the future, and we can be heroes to boot.” (We’ve come full circle; it’s the economy, again, stupid. See Crosscut’s analysis here.)
Addressing the mayors today, New York City’s Michael Bloomberg echoed Bill Clinton’s refrain and made it clear he’s one to watch when it comes to talking about climate, offering concrete solutions and a voice of hope. He’s calling for real change at the policy level. He’s calling for US leadership in the world. He’s saying that we can slow global warming, promote economic growth, and stimulate technological innovation.
And, despite some discrepancies we may have with the nitty-gritty details of Bloomberg’s policy proposals (Sightline’s Eric de Place sorts those out here), his overarching message is spot-on.
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Bloomberg on putting a price on carbon:
As long as greenhouse gas pollution is free, it will be abundant. If we want to reduce it, there has to be a cost for producing it. The voluntary targets suggested by President Bush would be like voluntary speed limits—doomed to fail. If we’re serious about putting the brakes on global warming, the question is not whether we should put a value on greenhouse gas pollution, but how we should do it.
Last week I wrote about how lame it is to use China as an excuse for US inaction on climate change. Today, Michael Bloomberg articulated my point perfectly. On US leadership in the world:
On climate change, the duck-and-cover usually involves pointing the finger at others. It’s China-this and India-that. But wait a second. This is the United States of America! When there’s a major challenge, we don’t wait for others to act. We lead! And we lead by example. That’s what all of us [mayors] here are doing.
It’s time for America to re-establish its leadership on all issues of international importance, including climate change. Because if we are going to remain the world’s moral compass—a role that we played throughout the 20th century, not always perfectly, but pretty darn well—we need to regain our footing on the world stage…The fight against global warming is a test of America’s leadership—and not just on the environment.
Bloomberg touches on the serious security issues associated with our dependence on foreign oil, but he is more concerned with our economic security and jobs, jobs, jobs. Yep, it’s the economy, stupid:
Climate change presents a national security imperative for us, because our dependence on foreign oil has entangled our interests with tyrants and increased our exposure to terrorism. It’s also an economic imperative, because clean energy is going to fuel the future. Jobs are on the line here—good jobs of every kind: Farm jobs. Factory jobs. Engineering jobs. Sales jobs. Management jobs. If we don’t capture these jobs, they’ll just move overseas.
Green energy is going to be the oil gusher of the 21st century, and if we’re going to remain the world’s economic superpower, we’ve got to be the pioneers—just as America always has been.
(I love “oil gusher” as a metaphor for the potential rush of prosperity in a post-fossil-fuel clean energy economy.)
Winning major points, Bloomberg acknowledges that with a price on pollution, energy costs will go up and thus the most vulnerable among us—low income consumers—will be affected the most financially. He insists climate pricing can be designed to protect low-income consumers. On climate fairness:
But raising the cost of pollution can actually save taxpayers money in the long run. …the most promising idea I’ve heard is to use the revenue from pollution pricing to cut the payroll tax. After all: Employment is good, pollution is bad. Why shouldn’t we lower the cost of the good and raise the cost of the bad? Studies show that a pollution fee of $15 for every ton of greenhouse gas would allow us to return about $500 a year to the average taxpayer. And a charge on pollution would be less regressive than the payroll tax, because the more energy you consume, the more you would pay. That would give us all of us an incentive to reduce our energy use…
Bloomberg sounds like he’s reading the Sightline playbook. Plus, he ties his message together by evoking a sense of national unity and pride, a vision of progress, and a reality check—and optimism—about an inevitable worldwide shift to a clean energy economy. We like that. We also like to see leaders make a compelling, convincing case for action at the federal level—in terms everybody can relate to. Bloomberg “speaking American”:
But remember, this is America! We can’t be afraid to lead, to innovate, to experiment. Cities aren’t afraid. We’re showing that we can do better, we can make progress, and we can do it in a way that is good for the environment and the economy… Make no mistake: Real jobs are on the line here—because cleaner energy sources are going to be a cornerstone of the 21st-century economy.
It’s true what they say, that climate change is turning the world as we know it upside-down: Al Gore wins an Oscar, Arnold Schwarzenegger is on the cover of all the “green” magazines. And now, Sightline is taking talking points from Michael Bloomberg. Go figure.
One small thing. Form an outsider looking in, it gives me a headache continually reading about ‘US leadership in the world’ regarding climate change. Granted the US has a HUGE role to play but the fact is, the US is a long way behind the eight ball compared to Europe or even countries like Australia (check out the framework for an Australian Emissions Trading Scheme anticipated to begin by 2011). If jingoism is needed to inspire the US to pull its own finger out then well and good, but there’s a lot of catching up to do before a ‘leadership role’ can be assumed, or will be internationally respected.
ash_robb: as an expat now living in the US, I think I understand exactly where you’re coming from. But this talk of US leadership isn’t a claim that the US currently leads, so much as a goal for the country: Clinton and Bloomberg are effectively saying “by not leading, we’re letting ourselves down, so we need to stop using the rest of the world as an excuse”. I don’t think it’s so much jingoism as goal-setting.