New York Mayor Bloomberg at climate talks in Copenhagen

The World

JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Is all environmentalism local? Can local political activism on environmental issues combat global warming? Michael Bloomberg says yes, to a point. Mayor Bloomberg, welcome to the program.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Thank you for having me. It’s a little bit chilly in Copenhagen but probably a little bit chilly there in New York as well.

JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Actually it’s a little bit warm here but it’ll cool down tomorrow, but enough about the weather. Let’s talk about what you’ve said on a number of occasions. I can recall a speech you gave back in 2008 where you said the United States needs to lead by example to have an impact on global warming. Do you think we’re doing that, and how is that reflected in your work at the climate change conference?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Well I think it’s cities that are going to lead national governments to do something and I think national governments have to help each other. And America has always been a country that sets the standard for the whole world and leads by example and so it is incumbent on our federal government to do something. But it’s the cities where the mayors have to make sure their economies aren’t choked by congestion, it’s the cities where the mayors have to make sure that the public doesn’t have to breathe the pollutants in the air into their lungs. And so yes we have to lead by example, but even if nobody pays attention elsewhere, I think we have an obligation to do something and the ability to do something. In New York, we just passed a green buildings bill, which will require for example landlords to post what the energy uses in their buildings are on the internet. Then tenants that might want to locate into those buildings, or buyers or lenders for those buildings can see whether those buildings are energy efficient. In the end, all these things help ourselves.

JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Mayor Bloomberg, one of the issues is political and when you came into office nearly a decade ago you really put a moratorium on the recycling program in New York and refocused it and brought it back. First of all, you were criticized for doing that…

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: With everything you can always do it better and times change and you should look at new ways of doing it. But you also have to be realistic in terms of the economy and jobs and what society can afford, and so for example if recycling is not the best use of your dollars to improve the environment, do something else for a while. If recycling the way we did it in the past is not economically viable but there is other ways to make it economically viable, there’s no harm in changing that. And I’ve always thought that if you really want to make change you have to bring things back to people’s self-interest today. So for example we all care about housing and jobs. My house, my job. And that’s fine, that’s what we should be doing. If people can understand for example that if they were to change the light bulbs in their house or their apartment, they would reduce their energy bills overnight, if they were to paint the roofs of their houses or their apartments white, they would reduce their energy bills dramatically overnight, then they’ll do that, and there are longer-term, more global benefits. But in the end, a company’s going to do what’s in the interest of its shareholders. So if you can show the company that they can save money by being more ecologically friendly or if they can recruit a better workforce, it has a lot of benefits in doing it short-term. And then I’ll take the long-term stuff, that’s great, that’s the way we really have to do it, but the ways we’re going to get it done is to make people understand short-term, local and right in their own backyard, in their own house, they can make the world better.

JOHN HOCKENBERRY: You know we’ve been hearing voices from around the world all week long as Copenhagen has been taking place and young children in India were commenting on this program yesterday about how the United States has an unfair amount of carbon that it puts into the environment purely by virtue of its luxury and standard of living. Are you vulnerable as a mayor of New York on that?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I don’t know if Americans are a bad example. New York City, for example, is one of the greenest cities in the world per capita because of our density and because more people walk and take mass transit than virtually any place else. And most of our pollutants come from buildings and not from transportation. But regardless, we should sit here and not worry about what anybody else is doing, we should make our part, to make our world–particularly the world we live in–better. And it is clearly true that more developed countries in some sense use more energy and therefore are more polluting, but that doesn’t mean less-developed countries should aspire to be as big polluters as we are. In fact, they have an opportunity to get the development in a much more efficient way. So what we have to do is, yes India has to develop and yes India wants for its people the same things we want for us. But while we’re trying to bring our use of carbon products and pollution down, as they develop their economy they should try not to raise it. And we’ll both wind up in a great place.

CELESTE HEADLEE: Mayor, we’ve seen the agreements in Copenhagen get stalled by some pretty complicated issues between countries and we’ve seen states like California bypassing Copenhagen altogether to get some environmental agreements. Which is more effective? Do you think in the end cities and states are going to have to bypass this international political stage?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Well I’ve always believed whether it’s change in the environment, or controlling all of the big issues that face us, most of them are issues where in the end its the cities and city governments that make the difference. And that’s partly because the Mayors are closer to the people day-in and day-out. You know I take the subway every day, I hear what peoples’ concerns are, I walk the streets, I shake hands with anybody and everybody, and as you move up to the state and then the federal government level, they are–and maybe for security reasons or a variety of other things–more removed from the day-in, day-out interests of the people. The reason that Mayors typically don’t move on to higher offices is they have to make decisions. The public looks at them and says, ‘I want that garbage cleaned up and I want it done efficiently. I want to reduce my energy bill in my apartment or my house today.’ And those are done much more at the city level and that’s why mayors are much more of an operations kind of person whereas governors and presidents tend to be much more legislative kinds of functioning offices in the executive branch.

JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Well I’ll come at one more time in this sort of ‘lead by example’ idea. Does that mean you’re going to fly commercial home from Copenhagen Mr. Mayor? The way you use private jets and…

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: No, I’m taking a bunch of people. And you know the small carbon footprint the plane generates for getting the oppertunity to come here and get lots of cities to follow New York’s lead and for New York to learn from other cities, you know a lot of what we do in New York City, we learn from others, for example here in the city hall in Copenhagen, and our new program to close Broadway and Times Square and Herald Square and reduce traffic accidents and pedestrian accidents dramatically, which has improved traffic and certainly helped tourism and business in the area, that came from ideas that we find here in Copenhagen.

JOHN HOCKENBERRY: All right, well, thanks so much for joining us Mayor Bloomberg. Mike Bloomberg with the vagabond shoes is the Mayor of New York and he’s at the Climate talks in Copenhagen.

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