Michael Bloomberg’s record as one of New York City’s longest serving mayors has been analyzed to the point of exhaustion. His ban of oversized soft drinks, his calorie counts on restaurant menus, his police department’s stop-and-frisk policy, his obsession with data, even his penchant for loafers—it has all been dissected and then dissected again.
Rarely mentioned, however, is Bloomberg’s dogged effort to reduce New York’s greenhouse gas emissions and to protect the city and its 8.4 million residents from the perils of climate change. Climate experts around the world say the plans created under his leadership are a model for other cities. But most Americans, including New Yorkers, know little or nothing about his record in this area.
An undertaking as complex as preparing a city for the challenges of climate change is much harder to grasp than, say, building a park or a bridge or banning giant cups of cola. It means laying plans for projects that are invisible to the naked eye, like reducing air pollution, and may not be completed for years or even decades.
To record and explain what Bloomberg did and how he did it, InsideClimate News reporters Katherine Bagley and Maria Gallucci spent much of the past year researching and writing “Bloomberg’s Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York City.”
Their effort is important for two reasons. First, it gives New Yorkers a clear picture of the groundwork that has been laid to ensure their city’s future, so they can demand that successive mayors continue or improve on Bloomberg’s work. Second, it offers politicians in other cities a roadmap for creating their own sustainability and climate change plans. Other U.S. cities have begun grappling with the prospect of climate change, but New York is certainly the biggest and most rambunctious to have done so on such an ambitious scale.
Andy Darrell, an Environmental Defense Fund leader who sat on an advisory committee that was key to the process, still marvels at how so many disparate groups came together to work on the plans.
“When the mayor says…‘We’re going to have one more meeting on this,’ people show up at that one more meeting,” Darrell said. “What are you going to do, say no to the mayor?”
In an interview for this book, Bloomberg downplayed his achievements. He pointed out that his wasn’t the first New York administration to take on environmental issues and that it was his staff that did the real work.
And he is right. Bloomberg didn’t come up with the specific ideas or do the mathematical equations or hammer out the fine details. What he did do, however, was make clear to his staff, to city officials and to the private sector that this was going to happen—that New York was going to have a clear and unified vision for dealing with climate change.
This is Bloomberg’s hidden legacy—a legacy that may be fully appreciated only by generations yet to be born.