What will Bloomberg’s legacy on climate change be?

January 5, 2014 at 12:00 AM EDT
Michael Bloomberg left office a few days ago after serving 12 years as the Mayor of New York city and people already are trying to assess his legacy. Katherine Bagley of Inside Climate News speaks on why she thinks the mayor's efforts to address climate change are so significant.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Michael Bloomberg left office a few days ago after serving twelve years as the mayor of New York City and people are already trying to assess his legacy. Some pointed to the city’s plunging crime rate, others to its soaring real estate prices, and income inequality. Still, others to the mayor’s health initiatives. When I spoke with Reporter Katherine Bagley, of Inside Climate News, she said it was something else altogether. I began by asking her why she considers the mayor’s efforts to address climate change to be so significant.

KATHERINE BAGLEY: So, he has been working for the past six years on sustainability and climate change initiatives, and it is something that gets very little attention in the public and by the media, and yet what he has done is both a physical transformation of the city, And also something that a lot of people do not see; things like reducing emissions and reducing harmful pollutants in the air – things that have public health dangers.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Right. So, we see the bike lanes all over town. We see perhaps some of the impacts on transportation infrastructure, but what are some of these longer term projects? What is that legacy going to be like?

KATHERINE BAGLEY: So, you know, a lot of what they have done is taking the thousands of buildings that are in New York City and really switching their heating fuel source from these really heavily-polluting fuels to cleaner energy sources. That is kind of one of the big projects that a lot of people do not see, and so far 5,200 buildings have been involved, and there are thousands more that have to comply as well. A lot of the longer term initiatives came in after Hurricane Sandy hit, because they had been working for five years on mitigation, reducing emissions, increasing green spaces throughout the city – things like that, and then Sandy hit and there was kind of a wakeup call just about how vulnerable the city was. They had known about how vulnerable it was, but it made it more apparent to the public. There was more of a push to build these bigger projects. So, over the next few decades you are going to see New York transformed with sea walls and doom systems, and kind of these massive transformation projects going all over the 520 miles of New York City’s coastline.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Let’s talk about some of those infrastructure issues, building insurance changes, the park system change. Even the way we think about energy is changing in this city.

KATHERINE BAGLEY: Yes, it is. It has been a gradual transformation and it was not one that came easily. I mean, the administration really had to fight for a lot of these things to get done, and, what has been remarkable is that they never gave up. They started their plan “YC” as they called it. In 2007 is when they officially launched it, and then you had the recession hit a year later and you had a lot of people that said, “Whoa, let’s back off. Let’s stop doing all of these massive projects and…” – You know the city went from having no deficit to having a four billion dollar deficit in a year, and yet the Bloomberg Administration just pushed forward. This was very much led by the mayor saying, “No, we said we were going to do this. We are going to do this.”

HARI SREENIVASAN: Does he plan to continue doing this after his mayorship?

KATHERINE BAGLEY: Yes, we had an interview with him in September and he said that he very much wants to stay involved in climate change. He is involved in – it is called C40. It is an international coalition of mayors from countries across the globe. What they are trying to do is take action on climate change in ways that federal governments are not. He plans to stay very involved with that. He is currently the leader of that. He is also launching a program to kind of look at the actual cost of climate change in the US over the next few years, and what is going to happen. So, he is very much involved, but I am not sure how much he is going to stay involved in New York City.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright. The eBook is called Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and The Future of New York City, written by Katherine Bagley and Maria Gallucci. Thanks so much for joining us.

KATHERINE BAGLEY: Thank you for having me.