A Conversation With Michael Bloomberg
Michael Bloomberg discusses the threat of international climate change.
This symposium is cosponsored by the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies and the International Institutions and Global Governance Program.
HAASS: Good afternoon, and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. This is the third and concluding session of this symposium on climate change. The first panel was on basically what was reasonable to expect at Paris. The second panel dealt with larger and longer-term issues about energy and climate change. And third and last, but not least, we have Mike Bloomberg in a conversation, first with me, then with you all, about all these and related subjects.
Let me say one or two things about Mike. We thought that out of the, what, 20 minutes for the introduction was about—
BLOOMBERG: Absolutely. (Laughter.) I thought 20 minutes of, like, a precis of my life up through high school would be fine. (Laughter.)
HAASS: At which point the comparison to Mr. Ferguson’s book on Mr. Kissinger was drawn. (Laughter.) The—
BLOOMBERG: You said that. I did not. I want to make that clear.
HAASS: Yeah. (Laughter.) Getting into trouble already.
Mike is a three-fer, an extraordinary three-fer. He is one of the country’s great entrepreneurs and what he’s done with terminals and Bloomberg and now one of the world’s, I think, most important media companies on top of it all.
Secondly, he was the 108th, I believe, mayor of the greatest city in the world—(applause)—did it for three terms. And in so many ways he passed the—what I think is the basic but also often most difficult-to-pass test. He was not just the custodian of the city, but he left it far better than the way he found it. The city was considerably safer. It was considerably cleaner. Its young people got better-educated. Its citizens were healthier. And in these and other ways, I think, all of us, amongst the 8 million or so who live in this city, have a lot to thank him for. So thank you for that.
BLOOMBERG: Well, somebody pointed out that if my approval ratings ever get to 90 percent, that still means that 840,000 people do not like me—(laughter)—just to put it in perspective.
HAASS: Perspective. Something tells me Mr. Putin never does that calculation. (Laughter.)
BLOOMBERG: He does not.
HAASS: Thirdly, on top of being an entrepreneur, on top of being the former mayor of this city, Mike is also now one of the country’s, and indeed the world’s, leading philanthropists. If my numbers are right, or even approximately right, last year Bloomberg Philanthropies gave away nearly $500 million to a variety of causes. So again, normally being distinguished or excelling in any single dimension makes for a good life. To do it in three is something else. Mike would like it to be in four, but alas, Mr. Bloomberg, golf does not quite come up to that level.
BLOOMBERG: All right.
HAASS: As I said, we’re going to talk for a few minutes here. Don’t mind us. And then we are going to open it up to you all.
So let’s just start with, in some ways, building on the earlier panelists. You’ve watched the run-up to Paris. It’s now about a week away, exactly a week away, from where we are today. Are you worried that it’s, in a sense, going to be something of a letdown, even if it, quote-unquote, “succeeds,” the definition of—it’s almost like Daniel Patrick Moynihan. We’ve defined success sufficiently modestly that a success doesn’t do a lot?
BLOOMBERG: Well, I don’t think anybody has a right to expect that you’re going to sign an agreement that everybody will live by that will solve the world’s problems. Nobody ever expected that. There will be people that will write that. But if you get rid of that, there is progress being made. And the success of this conference, because of the terrorism attacks in Paris, has been redefined. Now heads of state have to show up and get their ticket punched to show that they are strong and not afraid of terrorism. And that will be a success, that if it goes on without any more terrorism, oh, you see, it’s a successful conference.
I think the ways to describe it, it’s a midterm election and not the final election. It is—some things really are changing. Some of the countries actually commit to do things and will do it. Some that promise some things won’t, but at least their public understands that there’s a demand.
And I think the ultimate example is China. China is, to my way of thinking, very worried about one thing. They watched the communist party get thrown out in Russia, and they don’t want that to happen. And how that gets to climate change, because they’ve created a middle class of 150 million people who want to breathe clean air and drink pure water and worry about their kids having a life. And you see the Chinese government reacting when the air is so bad you can’t see across the street and people are wearing masks.
All of a sudden they’ve closed or announced they’re going to close four coal-fired power plants in Beijing. They put a smoking ban in Beijing. Even—the government owns the tobacco companies, and they’ve still done that. And you’re going to see them doing that across all the big cities, because the other cities are just as bad as Beijing. And they’re worried that if you—you know, simple things. The public wants them and you have to give it to them. And so China is going to be the next pro-environmental country.
India is a much bigger problem, but China is going to go there. And America is doing it, but no thanks to our government. We’re doing it all in the private sector.
HAASS: I want to come back to that in a minute. Let me just ask you one other thing. As a mayor, not just when you were mayor but now with the group of mayors from around the world, you’ve organized or you’re part the—is it C-40? What is your sense now of almost, like you just said, the division of labor, where federal and national governments are often constrained in what they can do, how—to what extent do you think the serious work is now done at state and local levels in this country and around the world?
BLOOMBERG: Well, it may reflect the fact that I was a mayor, but I would argue at the city levels, city government—mayors, city councils, whatever—they do things and you can measure whether they do it or not. As you go up the chain, a legislature at a state level and governors at a federal level, a legislature, Congress, House, whatever, it’s much more difficult to know whether they’re really doing anything. And they’re not held to the same standards.
The mayor has to—look, there’s a body in the street or there isn’t. The garbage is picked up or the garbage isn’t picked up. The kid gets an education or the kid doesn’t get an education. You can measure what mayors do; same thing with pollutants in the air. All of the pollutants, almost all of them, come from the cities. Why? That’s where 50 percent of the people live, 70 percent by the year 2050. And even if the power plant is out in the hinterlands polluting the air, it is because people in the city are using that energy. So if you could cut your energy use, you would have some impact on that.
But mayors have to do things. The public says I don’t—my kid’s coughing. My kid went to the hospital with an asthma attack. In New York City, one of the things we did about a dozen years ago is we plotted where kids who went to the hospital with asthma attacks lived on a blank piece of paper, and you had a map of the major roads going through New York, because that’s where it all comes from, the big trucks that are getting across the Cross Bronx and over the GW Bridge. You know, and it’s—so you can see the problems, and the public demands a solution.
HAASS: But also aren’t mayors limited? Let me mention two things. Here in New York, you ran into the buzz saw of congestion pricing. You couldn’t get that through Albany. And now we have a governor who has essentially precluded fracking in this state. So doesn’t that also show where mayors essentially—
HAASS: —you know, just can’t get things done?
BLOOMBERG: You know, you don’t have your own army, although we had the NYPD. (Laughter.) And the NYPD—we didn’t work for the FBI or the CIA. We are the NYPD. And we kept everybody safe, too, so it’s probably not a bad idea.
Yeah, you can’t do everything. But I’ll give you a good example. America is a country where a lot of people refuse to even admit that the climate is changing, much less that it’s man—caused by men. But having said all of that, greenhouse gases in the United States have gone down 20 percent in the last few years. Why? Because the private sector financed this campaign Beyond Coal. I think it was $50 million to the Sierra Club. We just doubled up. We’ve got some other people who put in an equal amount. And we’ve closed 200 of the 500 coal-fired power plants in this country. And that reduced greenhouse gases by 20 percent, no thanks to the federal or state governments—no thanks to them. But you really can make a difference.
I got nothing but grief when I painted the roof of a building over in Brooklyn with Al Gore. We were up there on the roof with these rollers. And it was one of the stupider things anybody’s ever done, and they roasted me with pictures on the front page of the Post. I don’t know what they were doing.
Today, if you fly over Brooklyn and Queens, look, you’ll see 90 percent of the buildings have their roofs painted white. Why? Because if you paint your roof white, your Con Ed bill goes down by 25 percent overnight.
HAASS: At least you could have let Al Gore go, though. He’s been doing that—
BLOOMBERG: We could have let Al go. He the one that invented the Internet. You remember him. (Laughter.) But it really shows you. You go over—you look across the river when you’re flying over New Jersey. Every flat building has solar panels on it. So, you know, it’s the public. We couldn’t—we wanted to in New York City insist on efficiencies in automobiles, whatever they called it; I forget. And—
HAASS: The CAFE standards.
BLOOMBERG: Yeah, right. And the government said—and the court said no. But the public has gone out and bought fuel-efficient cars. They’re driving this. It’s not the government. So, you know, you can get depressed in thinking our government does nothing. And that probably is true. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t effect change. And I would argue government’s exist without the—don’t exist without the will of the majority of the people. And, in fact, you see it here.
There’s an article in—must have been The Wall Street Journal today, I think it was. I was away for the weekend, so I read two days’ worth of papers. I think it was today’s. In Iowa—front-page story—in Iowa, which is a red state if there ever was one, all of a sudden everybody’s very pro-environmental. Why? Because the farmers’ crops are having a problem and, you know, they have floods and hurricanes—or not hurricanes—tornadoes and that sort of thing. And all of a sudden everybody’s—half the state’s energy now comes from solar panels.
HAASS: What about the—I mean, again, you’re one of the few people I know who’s had the political career and the financial and the business career. Take something like nuclear. It makes a lot of sense in terms of climate change, but yet it’s a little bit of NIMBY—not in my background. People don’t want it nearby. What is your sense—
BLOOMBERG: Except upstate, all of a sudden, where the governor wants to close two nuclear-power plants, the public’s going crazy because that’s all the jobs. And so, you know, having a nuclear power plant next door isn’t so bad if that’s the way you make a living. And in all fairness, they tend not to blow up. I wouldn’t overstate that, but—(laughter)—but, you know, so nuclear makes a lot of sense.
And, in fact, I think there’s just been a new nuclear power plant someplace down in the Tennessee Valley Authority. One of those big generators of power just got permission to build a new nuclear power plant. And nuclear is half the power in Germany, France, lots of other places. Nuclear makes a lot of sense.
Fracking is better than coal, but fracking still is burning hydrocarbons and releasing stuff into the air. The governor, for reasons beyond me, wanted to close Indian Point, which is a power plant just up near West Point, just up the Hudson River. And he wanted to keep some coal-fired power plants open. Well, in America, something like 13,000 Americans die every year—were dying every year from the pollutants that coal-fired power plants put in the air. That’s down to 6,000 by the modeling. Why? Because of the coal-fired power plants that were closed.
HAASS: As a politician, what was your sense of how you could convince voters to basically pay something of a price for dealing with climate-change challenges now in the hopes of long-term rewards? Was that something you felt that you could sell that deal?
BLOOMBERG: What I would do is I would argue that—forget about climate change in the year 2050. I don’t know about you. You’re a young guy. But me, at age 72, I ain’t going to be around at 2050, OK? But what you—what is around is me, my daughters, and my grandchildren breathing the air today. So if you change the dialogue or the narrative from climate change to public health and environment, then people are willing to sign on. Why? Because it’s about them.
HAASS: It’s immediate.
BLOOMBERG: Yeah. It’s immediate. And people aren’t as stupid as the press and the politicians think. They really understand this. And they sort of what to do what’s right, right for themselves. And they sort of believe what the papers, what the scientists say.
HAASS: I was reading a piece in The New Republic the other day, and it basically argued—it was about climate change. And it said that now there’s two Republican parties when it comes to climate change. There’s one Republican Party, the presidential candidates and the Congress, and there’s another Republican Party of governors and mayors. And the former is opposed to doing anything about climate change; won’t even accept it. And the latter is actually quite practical. What’s your sense of that analysis?
BLOOMBERG: Well, the Republicans—people think the Republican Party is dead, but they control 30-plus out of the 50 statehouses and state legislatures and that sort of thing. And it’s not quite at the level of the city where the public can demand results, but it’s closer than the federal government. And so they have to do something. You see these very conservative Republican governors come in, and some of them are actually espousing tax increases. Why? Because the public wants schools. They want roads repaved. They want that sort of stuff. And the Laffer Curve is a laugh. I mean, it just doesn’t work. You have to go and raise some money. And that’s what they’re willing to do at the state and local level.
I think also if you—the Republican candidates running for mayor, with the exception maybe of Trump and Carson, if they weren’t—
HAASS: You said running for mayor. Running for president.
BLOOMBERG: President; I’m sorry. The rest of them will move very quickly to the middle. The public is in the middle when it comes to climate change. They don’t—they’re not crazy right. They’re maybe not crazy left, but they want—it has gotten to the point, even in Washington, among the national politicians, they don’t deny that the climate is changing anymore. That narrative has gone away. Why? Because in every one of their districts they’ve had a flood or a drought or a tornado or something or other. So all of a sudden they’re saying, oh, no, it’s not manmade.
But a lot of that comes from—why? Look, I have a theory about elected officials. They care about one thing—reelection. And so if they are against doing anything about climate change, it’s because somebody’s funding their campaign or they think that that’s where the public is. And if you—they don’t have any views. They don’t have any beliefs. (Laughter.) This is government. What, are you kidding me? You know, but they really don’t.
HAASS: I mean, so if a Republican—so extending—to follow up, then, extending your argument, if Republican candidates or officials are responding to their base, then the question, from your point of view, I would think, is how do you influence the base? For example, this is a very religious country by most measures. We actually had a conference of religious leaders here not long ago, and there’s a group—there’s an evangelical group in favor of doing things on climate change. And they’re beginning very much from the first book of the Bible, from Genesis, and the idea that God created the heavens and the earth. And there was a sense of man—you know, again, we’re stewards of this planet and we have a responsibility to hand it off in decent shape.
Shouldn’t it be less difficult than it seems to be to build public support for this issue?
BLOOMBERG: Well, I think there’s a difference between public support and support for elections. Seventy or 80 percent of the people who own guns and are members of the NRA favor background checks on gun show sales and Internet sales. If you buy a gun in a gun store, that’s covered by federal law already. But yet the Congress cannot even think about voting anything that has to do with guns. Why? Because the gun advocates—the NRA is a single-issue advocacy group. They take no prisoners. And they have a disproportionate percent of power. So does the AARP. Somebody suggested we change the age when Social Security kicks in in the year 2050. They went crazy. It would hurt their members. How many members of the AARP are going to be around in 2050? Come on. (Laughter.)
HAASS: One of the schools or critics of doing a lot on climate change now say he’s not fighting the science, not fighting the idea that manmade activity has a significant impact, but simply thinks the cost-benefit exchange isn’t there quite yet and that what we ought to do is wait, that we can still get to where we want to go, say, by the end of the century, but we shouldn’t front-load the efforts, but rather we should more caboose, if you will, approach the—
BLOOMBERG: Well, nobody knows whether that’s true. The truth—the trouble with the science is that if the ice melts in the Arctic, the oceans—the sun doesn’t get reflected off the white ice. The oceans absorb it. The oceans get warmer. There’s more storms, because storms get their energy out of the ocean. And the climate heats up a little bit, and then the permafrost in Russia and Siberia melts, and out comes all the methane, and that makes it worse.
And it’s conceivable that you get to a tipping point and there’s no reversal. So just sitting there and saying let’s do it down the road is pretty stupid. It’s—but here’s the ways to think about it.
HAASS: Tell us what you really think.
BLOOMBERG: I do. I will. (Laughter.) Can you imagine a businessperson has a company, has a plant near the water, either not building a berm, moving the plant, getting an insurance policy? If they didn’t do that, they’d get fired by the shareholders. When it comes down to the real world, where you’re not just sitting in Congress giving these speeches—I love the—we all—I gave a speech in Congress the other day. Yeah, you were the only one in the room.
Do you ever go watch? I don’t know how many of you have been to Washington or watched this. They literally are the only one in the room. There’s nobody in the audience whatever, just them up—and it’s—you know, everybody takes care of each other, so the camera never would turn to show that. (Laughter.)
But it is—these people talk about things when it doesn’t matter. And when you get down to where it really matters, then they do some things. And that gets back to your state-level Republican Party. And then certainly the Democrats are no better either.
HAASS: Do you think that ideas for—whether it’s a carbon tax like George Shultz favors or cap and trade or other schemes, can you imagine those happening? Or do you think we need to deal with almost micro approaches that add up to something significant?
BLOOMBERG: Well, you can get to the point where you just have to do something. And you go and you measure the pollutants coming out of a plant and say you’re breaking the law, have a law against—
HAASS: So regulatory policy becomes—
BLOOMBERG: Yeah. It’s the only thing you’re going to get done, because otherwise the short term versus the long term—I’ve always wondered why the newspapers don’t say Joe says it’s going to cost five jobs. Here are five people who are going to die. Now, five jobs, five lives. You’re not going to win that battle, you would think. And yet people talk about job losses with trying to do things on climate change, and they never talk about the lives that get saved.
Mitch McConnell went on and on—he comes from Kentucky; it’s a coal state—about jobs, jobs, jobs. Two problems with that: One, the comparison with jobs versus lives saved; but number two, there aren’t any jobs anymore in that. Coal has become—the coal union doesn’t even exist, for all practical purposes. We have these enormous machines. You strip off the top of the mountain. You rip out the coal. You leave it so that we’re having an ecological disaster. But there’s no labor involved anymore. Those days of Billy Elliot working in the mines are long gone here.
And when we talk about jobs, there are more jobs being created in renewable energy than are being lost in coal by an order of magnitude. And nobody talks about these jobs. Why? These guys are organized and these guys are not. You get a job. You’re happy. Your kid gets into a school; whatever it is. You walk away. You don’t worry about society’s problems. Nobody’s—the poor can’t get their kids into good schools. The poor can’t get a job; that sort of thing. But they’re not organized.
HAASS: I just have two last questions and then I’ll open it up to our members. One’s on the private sector. You alluded to it once or twice. What is your sense of the private sector’s role here? And how could it or should it be increased? Are there things of public policy that you believe would pave the way to a greater private-sector role here?
BLOOMBERG: Well, I think it is in most businesses’ interest to be pro-environment. Certainly when you recruit young kids out of school, they all want to know what you’re doing being socially responsible, whether it’s working on the economy or helping the school system or whatever. And at Bloomberg we always talk about all the work we do on the environment and the fact that virtually all of Bloomberg’s profits go to the foundation. So, you know, I say you go to work for you. You’re going to go work—you know, make some more money for some rich guy. Come to work for us and you can cure cancer.
And that’s—that really is a ways to get, you know, people to come to work for you. And we—I didn’t even know we were going to be doing this. I was mayor at the time. We rented three or four acres of land in Princeton, New Jersey. We have our data collection facility, a couple of thousand people there. And we put solar panels in and we generate 70 percent of our electricity worldwide. And the payback was a couple of years. And today it’s getting even more advantageous.
HAASS: Last question. Say something about philanthropy. What is it that you are—specifically through the philanthropy that bears your name, what is that you are trying to accomplish? Do you have a long-term plan in this area?
BLOOMBERG: Yeah. We are—we’re working on coal, obviously. We’re working on the oceans. Something like 50 percent of all species in the oceans have had their population cut in half since 1970. And one third of the world’s population gets its protein from the oceans. So if we don’t do something, we’re going to have a real problem here. There’s those kinds of things that we’re working on.
HAASS: OK. There’s a lot of expertise in this room, so let’s start tapping it. Just raise your hand. Wait for a microphone. Let us know who you are. And please keep your—whatever it is you articulate to a question, and keep it on the brief side.
I see a hand towards the back. I can’t see that far.
Q: Mayor Bloomberg, Steve Hellman.
Have you considered a third-party bid for the presidency? (Laughter.) Assuming you have—
BLOOMBERG: No, but Donald Trump has, if I read the papers today. (Laughter.)
Q: Assuming that you have, why have you not chosen to pursue that yet?
BLOOMBERG: Thirty seconds. You can’t—if you do things, you can’t pretend to be something you’re not. So you can’t win a primary, because there you’ve got to go and pretend you’re one side and then move back to the other. Mayors have done too many things. They can’t. So you can’t—no mayor is going to ever be a primary candidate—party candidate.
The independent thing sounds nice, but in a three-way race you’re not going to get 50 percent of the delegates. And if you don’t, then Congress picks the president. And 40 percent of the public will vote Democratic even if Sarah Palin is their candidate. (Laughter.) And 40 percent will vote Republican even if Trotsky’s their candidate—(laughter)—because party loyalty is a very big deal in this country. People don’t understand that. But they—you know, if you said to Chuck Schumer, who’s a very smart guy, and works very hard, and you know, really is—I think does a very good job—if you said to him, would you vote for somebody because of ethnicity? Absolutely not. Their orientation? Absolutely not, this, that, and the other thing. Their party? Of course. And you know, that’s what it is. And you just can’t get 300 percent of the 20 percent in the middle in a three-way race. It’s just not possible.
I mean, and if it was possible, yeah, I’d think about it. But I just don’t see how you can possibly do that. So—
Q: Thanks very much. You spoke—
HAASS: Adam, introduce yourself.
Q: Oh, sorry. Adam Wolfensohn, Encourage Capital.
BLOOMBERG: His father was a friend of mine for more years than he’s known Adam, so. (Laughter.)
Q: Thank you.
You spoke so well about state, local, and the private sector progress, and that we shouldn’t expect the U.N. process to solve all things. What do you think is the right role here in 2015, as opposed to when CADA (ph) was started? What is the right role for the U.N. process? How could we optimally hope for that to be helpful to the climate—
BLOOMBERG: Well, do you want shame people? Do you want to have organizations where they make some commitments? And they’ll probably live up to some of those commitments, sharing best practices, showing how it works in one place and not another. Companies—countries do compete with each other. America is sort of isolated because of the big oceans, but in Europe countries really do look at what others are doing. Like, in Scandinavia, they all compete with trying to be more pro-environment than the other. And there’s a—there’s a ways to do it.
The big scary things are things like the fires in Indonesia, where some of these are going to burn like coal-mine fires for years because the peat’s six feet deep, and once it gets going it’s hard to put it out. And I think—I read something that can’t be true, but I guess it is—that the pollutants that come from there—(blows nose)—sorry, I came down with a big cold over the weekend—the pollutants that come from there are more than all the pollutants that come from America, just from those fires, and nobody knows how to put them out.
HAASS: So to follow up on something you said, if—because you mentioned Indonesia. If you were in the running, or just as you talk about it, do you find it useful to frame the kind of questions we’re talking about today as national security issues? Do you find that a useful framing?
BLOOMBERG: Well, the right-wing crazies say, oh, you know, Obama and some of these people think that—or I guess it’s Bernie Sanders is the one they go after—think that the environment’s more important than fighting ISIL or ISIS. You can make the case, if you’re going to get over that tipping point and we all die, you know, it’s hard to see the terrorists wipe out everybody. Climate change could wipe out everybody. I hope that doesn’t happen, and it probably won’t happen while I’m alive, but I do—I will say I really worry for my kids and, particularly, my grandkids. We are heading down a disastrous path. And whether we have the leadership to stop it and change, I don’t know.
But, you know, Ban Ki-Moon is trying. Hollande deserves an enormous amount of credit. He has worked as hard as anybody can work to make this conference a success and to actually get real deliverables. And we’ll see what happens.
HAASS: Yes, sir.
Q: Stephen Kass, Brooklyn Law School.
Mr. Mayor, among the principal victims of climate change in the coming decades will be cities around the world which have to adapt in one way or another, in which you are among the foremost experts. Where can they get the money to do that? New York City needed help from the federal government. Where can the major cities in developing countries get the resources to do the adaptation that is required?
BLOOMBERG: Well, the answer—I hate to sound like a conservative, but the answer’s not always more money. That’s what everybody thinks, that you need more money. You know, New York City has a $70 billion budget or something like that, so you can always move some monies around. I know we always say we want more money, but that’s just—what the elected officials do is generally move monies around and give monies to people. And a lot of the climate-change stuff that we’ve done in New York—for example, New York City differs from other cities in the following sense: 80 percent of our pollutants come from buildings, 20 percent from transportation. Every other city is 80 percent transportation, 20 percent buildings. Why? Because in New York we live very densely, we take mass transit, and we walk.
What we did is we got these 5,000 buildings that account for virtually all the pollution. They burn this very heavy oil and put the crap in the air. And we got two banks—I think it was Deutsche Bank and JPMorgan; it’s a long time, I don’t remember—to make loans to building owners that wanted to convert their boilers to natural gas. Payback was in two years. And the savings—in two years, you really do save it, because fracked natural gas is much cheaper than oil in this day and age. And we cut the pollutants in the city by half, literally.
Now, we didn’t do the other half, the other 2,500 buildings. Why? Because there wasn’t gas running down those streets, and so it would have cost a lot more money to connect them. But at least—and maybe my successor has found ways to do that. I don’t know; I’ve sort of stayed away, am not paying much attention to what they do. But, you know, you don’t have to have to have more money to do a lot of these things.
Painting your roof white is another example, How much can a couple cans of white paint cost? You don’t have to get some federal monies.
The federal government always wants you to have federal monies. Why? Because that’s their power. State governments, that’s their power. They don’t do anything, they just allocate—they take money from one group and give it to the other group. There’s the old joke that they take money from the rich and votes from the poor and tell both that they’re the only thing protecting them if the other side—(laughter).
HAASS: Thus speaketh experience. (Laughter.)
Q: Hi. Bruce Usher, Columbia Business School.
What other cities, other than New York, have shown real leadership on climate change, especially in developing countries?
BLOOMBERG: There’s some. I’ve got to get you a list. I can’t off the top of my head. I’m trying to think who.
In Colombia they’ve done a lot of things. In Brazil they’ve done a lot. The chairman of C40 this year is Eduardo Paes, who’s the mayor of Rio, and they’ve done an awful lot. He really has pushed that country to do it. There are a bunch that are doing it.
You know, a lot of the African countries are so backwards that really just—that what they do is they burn down the—cut down the forests. That’s the real damage they’re doing. They don’t put a lot of stuff into the air, they just take away the ability for the air to be cleaned by the forests.
HAASS: What about domestic cities? Are any cities—it’s hard to imagine; might there be a city other than New York that’s doing, you know, something—
BLOOMBERG: There are actually a lot of cities in places like Kentucky and Tennessee. And New Orleans, the mayor is very good. There are some very good mayors around this country who are working very hard, and you don’t read about them just because their cities are small compared to New York. But they really are making a big difference.
HAASS: In the—you’re right there. You’re right—that’s the gentleman. Yes, ma’am, you got it.
Q: Hi. Jay Koh from Siguler Guff.
Mayor Bloomberg, you’ve had experience both in the private sector, at the state level, and now city level, and also in the U.N., and done a lot of work on resilience. I’m just wondering if you can comment on what you think the role of the private sector is going to be in adaptation and resilience to climate change.
BLOOMBERG: In the end, it’s the private sector that’s going to do it because it’s in their interest, and they are driven by results not by politics. And so that company I talked about before would move their plant or get an insurance policy. If they have to be environmentally friendly to get permits in the town or an employee—attract young people, they will do that. If they can put solar panels on their roofs to reduce their energy costs, they will do that. You know, I’m—it’s funny, but I’m a big believer in the private sector on the environment because the federal and state governments just can’t do it, and it comes about in this bicameral stuff where you spread everything around with one of the governments and the other government just tries to focus in on where people live, and nothing gets done.
HAASS: One thing, then, explicit in what you said is that it’s not a mitigation versus adaptation approach, but it’s a mitigation and adaptation approach—that you need elements of both.
BLOOMBERG: Yeah. Companies that—you know, the press helps because they write about companies. The chairman of the board and the president of the big company wants to be accepted and in his social world. And businesspeople tend not—you got to also remember, the business community no longer has any part of the federal government that represents them. It used to be the Republican Party was the party of business. That’s long since gone away. So the business community is sort of stuck in the middle, and they don’t have—they have to just do results. They’re not going to get anything out of the government.
HAASS: Sure. Pam.
Q: Thank you.
HAASS: Wait for a microphone. I know as a journalist this microphone thing is a strange piece of technology.
Q: (Laughs.) Yes, exactly. Thank you, Richard.
It’s Pamela Falk from CBS News, Mr. Mayor.
You’ve made a good point about—
BLOOMBERG: One? (Laughter.)
HAASS: She meant at a time. (Laughter.)
BLOOMBERG: Get me less—(inaudible).
Q: Not (mine ?). (Laughter, laughs.)
I mean to say, you made the point that there should be somewhat lesser expectations of this COP21 in Paris in the sense of a big, binding agreement isn’t coming. What is your best hope? I mean, the public sees it, to some extent, as what will come out of it? Will there be a new treaty? And what do you expect? Thank you.
BLOOMBERG: There will be agreements to reduce emissions and that sort of thing, but America is never going to approve any treaty. I mean, we’re the ones that you should really look in—we should look ourselves in the mirror and say, wait a second, you know? We’re all—we go to all these conferences and we’re the one country that says, sorry, we can’t sign anything.
But there will be—there is progress being made. And it’s—have a cartoon at home of these two guys, cavemen, sitting—(coughs)—excuse me—sitting around a fire in the cave. And one says to the other, I don’t get it, we breathe clean air, we drink pure water, all our food is organic, we get plenty of exercise, and we die at age 25. (Laughter.) So, you know, things are—we are better off than that, and we do improve our lives, and people understand this. So, you know if you want to write the story they didn’t have this one agreement and we couldn’t get Ethiopia to commit or force Eritrea to produce, OK. Sorry, that’s not the real world. The real world is that you are going to have some countries that will make commitments they live up to and some countries that will make commitments they don’t. But we’ll come out of this better than if we didn’t have this whole process. And—
HAASS: But—oh, I’m sorry, go ahead.
BLOOMBERG: No, I just—
HAASS: But in fairness, there is—it’s not just Eritrea and whatever. It’s going to be India is not going to sign up to anything. I mean, even China, its agreement, it’s not—
BLOOMBERG: Well, I’m optimistic about China. Just forget about the agreement; they’re going to have to do this because their people are just going to revolt in these cities. When you can’t see across the street, everybody knows there’s something wrong here, OK? So they’re going to have to do something.
India is a much bigger problem. It is going to be bigger than China in another few years, and it is so poor. I’ve seen pictures of coal mines. They carry the blocks of coal out in their hands. There are these people carrying blocks of coal from the mine. You know, it’s just so different than what we expect coal mines to be and the 21st century to be.
HAASS: A few years ago we had the Indian electricity minister here, and someone was pressuring him to—that India had to be more aggressive in meeting climate standards. And he said, you know, fine, but we still have over 400 million people who don’t have access—regular access to electricity, and this is just simply not in our—you know, when we—
BLOOMBERG: And India is—they would make the case they are putting in more solar power than any other country, and they are. It’s just that it’s small compared to everything else. They’d also make the case that they, per capita, put in a very—a small amount of pollutants, you know. So you got to—and then there’s this environmental justice: well, you built your economy by polluting the air, now we have the right to do it. Well, you say, wait a second, you may have the right to do it, but it’s your people that are going to get killed, are going to—when that hurricane or storm monsoon comes in and the floods, or there’s no water for—
HAASS: It’s already happening with disease because of breathing in pollutants.
BLOOMBERG: Yeah, that’s true.
HAASS: OK, we got—yes, ma’am.
Q: Thanks. Rachel Robbins.
Mayor Bloomberg, you referred to the dysfunction in Congress, and Richard asked about how do we change the Republican base. And you talked about changing the dynamics and the discussion to health and environment today, and lives lost. Can you expand on that? What else would you do to try to—
BLOOMBERG: Well, Congress is dysfunctional, but it’s always been dysfunctional. You know, you have two parties. They fight each other. And they have their left and right crazies, and they’ve always had those.
I guess I am a believer that it’s the president’s job to lead Congress. And you can tell me it’s hard to do, but I’ve never heard anybody run for office saying I can’t do it but vote for me anyways. And that’s the president’s job, to get Congress to come together, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t.
It is harder with social media. It is harder with better transportation. In the olden days they’d stay there for the whole winter or they’d stay there for weeks. Their kids would go to school with the kids from the other party’s congressmen or senators and they’d build relationships, and then they’d work together. Today, some of the congressmen come in, they sleep on the couch in their office. They don’t even have an apartment in Washington, D.C. So it’s really hard to build those kinds of relationships.
Having said that, if the president sent flowers to the spouse, or a bottle of scotch to the spouse if the spouse is a male, at their birthdays, I think you’d get more cooperation. I mean, you know, it’s kind of hard to really look somebody in the face and say screw you if they just sent flowers to your wife. Come on. (Laughter.) It is. Or Clinton was very good at—he’d play golf every weekend, and so does our president now. But Clinton would have a whole bunch of—he’d have three Republican and three Democratic congressmen with him. He’d play nine holes with each. They’d go in a room. They’d have scotch and cigars and tell dirty jokes. But they did build some camaraderie and rapport, and they could at least talk to each other. Today there is none of that.
I have introduced congressmen to each other. And I actually introduced one senator—although, in all fairness, he was new—to another senator. There’s only a hundred of them, for God’s sakes. (Laughter.)
HAASS: Yes, sir. Here in the—
Q: Thanks. Bill Solecki, City University of New York. Also co-chair of the New York City Panel on Climate Change.
I was interested in your narrative about extremes and the influence of extremes on people’s response. And I was wondering, you know, a lot of people talk about that as the way in which people will experience climate change. So, from your perspective—also, given your communications background—how do we kind of work more proactively to sort of, you know, take those experiences and sort of, you know, learn from them, or recognize that that’s part of climate change and try to understand how we can, you know, translate that message of extremes to—
BLOOMBERG: I come back to you got to bring it down to the here and now. You’ve got to change the dialogue to public health and the environment.
On Staten Island, they have a lot of low-lying places that flood all the time. Every time there’s a rainstorm, they flood. One time I had a town meeting—which we did once every couple weeks—and I had all the commissioners lined up. And the commissioner for the environmental protection wasn’t there, so he had one of his assistants filling in for him. And somebody in the audience asked, when are you going to redo all the sewers on Staten Island so that it doesn’t flood anymore? And this—I turned to the commissioner or deputy commissioner, and he answered the question. He said, in probably about 50 years, and I thought they were going to riot and come up and kill us all. (Laughter.) But he was right. That’s what it’s going to take.
You have to—seriously, you can do things incrementally, and people understand there’s something going on. Hurricane Sandy scared some people. Pretty much they’ve forgotten about it. If you remember, we were going to all—we were going to raise all the houses along the beach. You raise your house next to mine and I’m sitting down there, your house isn’t going to survive that winter. I guarantee there’d be a fire. I mean, just I don’t want somebody blocking my view. So we’ve forgotten about all of that.
We put in a lot of boardwalks. Nobody wants to have them made out of concrete. They want them wood. Well, the next storm will take them out.
So it’s—you’ve got to explain to people, you live in a place where there can be a storm or, you know, your kid, I don’t know, is breathing the bad air, or whatever.
HAASS: Got time for one last question. David, is that you?
Q: Sure. David Speedie, Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.
Mayor Bloomberg, you’ve mentioned the sort of watershed year 2050 a couple of times, and clearly a group that will be affected by that are the college students of today. There was a piece in The New York Times yesterday—it was interesting—about the protests in Missouri, Princeton, Yale, and elsewhere. And the author referred to the insecurity of students in the current times, and he mentioned climate change, as a matter of fact, as one of those facts of insecurity. What they’re protesting about, though, is not climate change, but about the political incorrectness of Presidents Jefferson, Jackson, and Wilson—
BLOOMBERG: Woodrow Wilson.
Q: —who lived 200 years ago. Why is there—first of all, what is the reason for this? Is there not—this groundswell that you see among the college student ages is something that we’re not seeing as widely reported. Clearly the obvious analogy would be the nuclear weapons protests of decades ago. This would seem to be the cause—the great cause to be out in the streets for.
BLOOMBERG: Well, number one, these things are fashionable. They come in and they go away, the kids on campus get back to trying to figure out how they’re going to get a job and, you know, they want to go have a sex life or whatever they think about. But it’s not going to be these things all the time, and it’s very small number of the students that are out there complaining. And they, you know, have some legitimate things. I want to give a speech sometime about responsibility of the administrations in the universities of not cowing to a small group and not taking away people’s rights to express themselves, but to express themselves in ways that doesn’t step on everybody else.
You do have a right to express yourself. I believe in free speech. That doesn’t mean you can walk into a classroom and start screaming all the time. That’s not the same thing. And we’ve got to somehow or other get over this.
I’m told in the private schools and elementary schools these days, and junior high schools, high school, they don’t have grades. A lot of them have stopped grading. Why? Because it discriminates against people that don’t have a high grade. You can’t—(laughter)—you can’t have best friends. Why? Because you’re discriminating against those people who aren’t your best friend. And in the public schools there are eight schools where it takes a test to get into, and the argument is that if the cohort that gets in is not diverse, then it wasn’t fair. Now, you got to step back and say, wait a second, maybe the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh grades weren’t preparing the kids so that they could pass the test to get into you know, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, but nobody wants to face that issue.
I think we’re going—we’ve got a really—a problem here that it’s the administration in these schools that just have to stand up. And I would love to give a speech someday arguing that schools should be run by the administration and the boards and the deans, maybe, as opposed to the faculty.
I did give a talk at—commencement speech at Harvard a couple years ago, talking about the fact that on campuses, particularly in the Northeast, they are no longer liberal. If liberal means letting people talk and share things, that’s fine. They’ve gotten away from that. And things like tenure that came in were—came in because of guys like Joe McCarthy, but now if you’re a conservative you can’t get a job on campus. Now we let the students scream and drive commencement speakers out. And there’s just something that—there’s something wrong. Universities should be places where people can come and express their views. And you have a right to express your view; you also have a right to not express your view. And that’s—we’ve gone away from that. And I’ve—the articles where the presidents are being driven out are really worrisome.
And I don’t know what you do about Woodrow Wilson. My oldest daughter, who did eventually go to Princeton—we were taking, her mother and I and her, a tour of the campus, and we went through whatever, University Hall or whatever they called it, with the pictures of the different presidents. This is Joe Smith, the 27th president, and Sam Jones, the 97th president. This is Woodrow Wilson, and he was a something-hole. And we get outside and I said to this young lady, did I hear you say that? And he said, yes, he was, and here’s what he said. And he did make a disparaging remark about Princeton would never take women—they’d take dogs and Negroes before they’d take women. He was a bad guy. But, you know, do you go back and change the name of schools in this day and age?
It’s even more complex if you took money from somebody. Somebody gives you money to build a building, and then later on they turn out not to be nice people. Do you take their name off the building? Don’t talk to me about the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia. (Laughter.) That’s the most outrageous thing I ever heard of. Guy gives all his money and they just take it away as soon as he’s dead. It doesn’t leave me very comforting with the Bloomberg Hall. (Laughter.)
HAASS: (Laughs.) A dangerous precedent, I could—
BLOOMBERG: You got that one right. (Laughter.)
HAASS: Well, what we’ve just heard is—the only—you set up a dilemma where you’ve got a commencement speech to give. The question is now to find a campus that would let you give that commencement speech. (Laughter.)
BLOOMBERG: The first thing you do is you don’t tell them what you’re going to say. (Laughter.)
I can only tell you I’m told that Drew Faust did not smile during my entire commencement speech. (Laughter.) Having said that, they were in the middle of a $6 ½ billion capital campaign.
Do you have any other questions? (Laughter.)
HAASS: (Laughs.) I don’t have questions about that or about climate change.
I want to thank you for coming here today, and—(inaudible). (Applause.)
BLOOMBERG: Thank you. (Applause.)
This is an uncorrected transcript.