Book review: Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope, Climate of Hope
The subtitle of this book is "How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet." Okay so why am I reviewing a book that was published in 2017? Mostly it's because with the ascension of Bernie Sanders' second campaign, the elites are getting desperate. And so Michael Bloomberg to the rescue!
As for the elites, they don't want the Sanders political revolution, and they're desperate for another Barack Obama who will steal Sanders' thunder while planning post-election to give the store away to the Republicans once again. Joe Biden is not much of a campaigner, Kamala Harris' staff is in revolt, one of Cory Booker's PACs is shutting down, Pete Buttigieg is looking like a white people's candidate, Elizabeth Warren is nosediving, and so on. So it's going to be Michael Bloomberg, the Elite White Hope Du Jour.
Bloomberg, interestingly enough, wrote a book on climate change, with a Big Green careerist, Carl Pope. So let's take a look at it; you'll want to know what it has, especially if Bloomberg is anointed President.
At any rate, the authors alternate chapters, with the headings telling you who wrote what. The preface sets a tone:
Instead of debating long-term consequences, let's talk about immediate threats. Instead of arguing about making sacrifices, let's talk about how we could make money. Instead of putting the environment versus the economy, let's consider market principles and economic growth. Instead of focusing on polar bears, let's focus upon asthmatic children. And instead of putting all hope in the federal government, let's empower cities, regions, businesses, and citizens to accelerate the progress they are already making on their own. (3)
Here Bloomberg and Pope illustrate what is most challenging about the neoliberal, "environmental accounting," approach. Just to be clear: the idea of an "environmental accounting" approach is to hand out merit badges for Boy Scout or Girl Scout deeds, and hope that with enough merit badges the problem will go away. Nowhere in the "environmental accounting" approach is it mentioned that climate change mitigation will require that the trends that identify climate change be reversed. Producing less oil, for instance, means that some agencies must be out there forcing those who produce oil to stop producing oil. Neither Bloomberg nor Pope is advocating this.
We might also be wary of claims of "progress they are already making." As long as fossil-fuel production increases each year, no progress is being made anywhere.
We should be wary, moreover, of approaches tailor-made for political convenience. To a politician, for instance, "immediate threats" are photo-opportunities. Long-term consequences, however, are what matters to anyone who is serious about climate change mitigation, because today's fossil-fuel burning only shows up as climate change a decade or two down the line. Climate operates on delayed feedback -- old climate patterns will continue to assert themselves until there is enough of a change to change the old patterns. And then you see it!
The first chapter appears to be about Carl Pope being "anti-coal." Which is fine -- be anti-coal. I'm sure there's some other way of ruining things.
The second chapter is about Bloomberg's PlaNYC, an environmental initiative he advocated when he was mayor of NYC. It focused upon alternative energy and energy efficiency, all fine and good. Too bad it doesn't amount to climate change mitigation in any real, physical way.
The third and fourth chapters are descriptions of "the problem." This is also fine and well. Deniers suck.
The fifth and sixth chapters are about "coal to clean energy." It's funny that the authors' notion of "clean energy" includes "natural gas," i.e. methane, with a vast ability to heat global climate in a short period of time.
Chapter seven, written by Bloomberg, is about refitting buildings so that they run on alternative energy and are more energy-efficient. The following quote should give you an example of the scope of Bloomberg's ambition:
At Bloomberg, we have saved about $40 million over the past decade by reducing the emissions of our operations and information systems by nearly half. And, between our wind and solar investments, we obtain 23 percent of our electricity from renewable sources. By 2020, we aim to reach 35 percent, with a goal of becoming 100 percent renewable by 2025.
This is all fine and well, but why they are waiting until 2025 to go to 100 percent is a puzzle.
Chapter eight, written by Pope, is about promoting organic agriculture. So what if the mayor of New York were to convert the whole city into an organic garden? This isn't suggested. Guess they'll have to continue to have their food trucked in from California.
Chapter nine is about bicycle cities. Also fine and good.
Chapter ten is about making it easier for people to buy electric cars. But here's an idea -- how about offering everyone a trade-in, fossil-burning for electric, free of charge? Not mentioned here. Once again, the reliance on "private enterprise" means less mitigation over time.
Chapters eleven and twelve are about "cool capitalism." Pope's chapter is about a carbon tax -- something I've critiqued elsewhere -- and chapter twelve is Michael Bloomberg tying himself in knots trying to show that a transition to a sustainable society will somehow magically be profitable.
The last portion of this book, chapters thirteen and fourteen, is about adapting. The Pope chapter is about planting trees and restoring wetlands; the Bloomberg chapter is about urban planning for natural disasters.
Generally, in sum, the Bloomberg and Pope proposals are nice. But they rely upon a too-little, too-late approach because they are concerned about offering a soothing voice to rich investors. Capitalism is in crisis, and climate change will amplify the compounded disasters that will wipe it out. The big questions are 1) whether or not people can be persuaded that tomorrow will be nothing like what yesterday was, and 2) can people really imagine tomorrow differently. Already reality warrants installing Bernie Sanders as our next President, which should show everyone how weird it's gotten. There is no inherent reason why planet Earth has to be a livable place, and so it is up to us to keep it from becoming unlivable. As a manual for that, Climate of Hope is tame and inadequate.