Cross-posted from CPRBlog.
The most solemn commitment borne by an elected official is to promote the public welfare and keep the citizenry safe. As New York City struggles to rebound from one of the fiercest storms in memory, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg rose to that occasion with an urgent call for government at all levels to forcefully address climate change.
Yes, folks, Gotham gets it.
In an editorial for Bloomberg View, the mayor wrote:
The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast -- in lost lives, lost homes and lost business -- brought the stakes of Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief.
The floods and fires that swept through our city left a path of destruction that will require years of recovery and rebuilding work. . . . In just 14 months, two hurricanes have forced us to evacuate neighborhoods -- something our city government had never done before. If this is a trend, it is simply not sustainable.
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.
He described New York City’s own efforts to fight climate change by reducing carbon emissions “by 16 percent in just five years.” He could also have noted his city’s impressive planning efforts to adapt to those climate effects that can no longer be avoided.
Then comes the kicker, which you’ve probably already heard about: the mayor called for the reelection of President Obama. Local governments “can’t do it alone,” he said.
We need leadership from the White House -- and over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption, including setting higher 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.
Is this the beginning of a tipping point? History shows that extreme events have the potential to focus people’s attention and energy in ways previously thought impossible. In the eighteenth century, the Lisbon Earthquake forced a dramatic rethinking across of Europe of the government’s role in hazard management. Portugal’s prime minister launched one of the first scientific inquiries into earthquake mechanics. The government imposed stricter zoning laws and Europe’s first seismic building codes.
Northeast governors whose states are receiving federal assistance after Hurricane Sandy have Herbert Hoover to thank. After the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927, Hoover, then the Secretary of Commerce, helped establish the national role for disaster recovery in the United States. Less than a decade later, the federal government boosted hazard protection across the nation by taking charge of all flood control projects on all federal waterways.
Even Hurricane Katrina, for all the dysfunction that ensued, can be credited with impelling the federal government to strengthen and re-energize FEMA and forcing the city of New Orleans to seriously confront long-standing problems with crime, education, and political accountability.
For a brief moment Hurricane Sandy has seized the attention of citizens across the nation and around the globe. In a twist unimaginable even a few days ago, it’s possible that global warming could even influence next week’s knife-edge presidential election.
As followers of this blog know, I’m living in New Delhi this semester. On Halloween morning I awoke to an article in the India Times, titled, “Frankenstorms Can Get Worse as Global Warming Intensifies” (it’s not a subtle publication). “Hurricane Sandy,” the writer speculated, “could be an answer to many who've wondered when America would smell the climate change.” Global warming is a bitter brew. But it must be acknowledged, planned for, and minimized. Mayor Bloomberg, a successful businessman and an effective politician, has announced he’s ready to face the day as it really is. Who’s next?
Robert Verchick is the author of Facing Catastrophe: Environmental Action for a Post-Katrina World.