Many books provide useful information that helps the reader better understand a political issue, and some books provide a way to re-frame hotly contested, passion-stirring issues. A new book called A Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses and Citizens Can Save the Planet does both.
Its authors, Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope, are an unlikely pair. Pope has spent an entire career as an environmental activist, most recently as head of the Sierra Club. Bloomberg was a recent two term mayor of New York, but is probably best known as the billionaire owner of Bloomberg News, and also as a philanthropist. He acknowledges that he is not exactly the kind of person attracted to the Sierra Club, but Pope and Bloomberg have found common ground in ways to address the question of climate change and global warming. This is not just another book about global warming and climate change, and it doesn't recite the standard, well worn arguments. Instead, it looks at the issue from a different perspective.
I highly recommend this book, not only because it is highly readable and informative, but also because it is thought provoking. Moreover, it suggests a potential path to resolve the current lack of consensus on how to deal with the issue.
I believe there are three broad "take aways" from the book. First, there are multiple sources of greenhouse gases, all contributing in varying degrees to the problem. There isn't one giant cause of the problem (e.g., fossil fuels). Instead, the authors cite multiple other causes, including things such as poor agricultural practices around the world, as well buildings and building materials. That's actually good news, because it means action can be taken on numerous fronts simultaneously.
According to Bloomberg and Pope, "the best way to increase conservation is simple: make it financially rewarding." The idea of solving the greenhouse gas problem through finance and economics is the second key takeaway from this book. Coal, they note, is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Use of coal around the world, however, is declining significantly, not because of governmental mandates such as the Obama Clean Power Plan but because it is no longer economical. Increasingly, alternative energy such as wind and solar, as well as natural gas, are crushing the economics of coal.
Progressives and others on the left have decried the fact that the US government never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and worried because President Trump is highly skeptical of the Paris Climate Accord. But what if none of that really matters? Bloomberg and Pope point out that even though the US government has dragged its feet in addressing the climate issue, it has still led the world in reducing carbon emissions. Not only that, the economics of non-carbon based alternative energy have improved dramatically. The chart above from the Department of Energy shows the following cost reductions since 2008: a) 41% for Land Based Wind; b) 54% for Distributed Photovoltaics; c) 64% for Utility Scale Photovoltaics; d) 73% for Modeled Battery Costs; and e) 94% for LED bulbs. This is because even in spite of this foot dragging at the national and international level, desirable results are being produced. Bloomberg and Pope identify two key places where results are being generated: 1) the private sector; and 2) by cities. Bloomberg thinks this shouldn't be surprising because mayors tend to be more pragmatic and less ideological than politicians on the national level. Beyond that, Bloomberg notes that 70% of greenhouse gas emissions occur in cities, so that's probably one of the best places in which to address the problem.
Is there any evidence to back up what Bloomberg and Pope say? According to Bloomberg, New York City has a carbon footprint that is two thirds smaller than the national average for the USA. While he cites numerous examples from his time as mayor of New York, he makes a point to say that many other cities around the world have implemented lots of programs that have been both unique and effective in fighting the problem.
Bloomberg and Pope are clearly looking at the issue from a different perspective than was offered recently by the March for Science. All agree that the greenhouse gas/climate change problem is real and needs to be addressed. The approaches, however, appear to be vastly different. In fact, having read Climate of Hope, I have come away drawing the following conclusions about how to solve the problem:
#1: assume that little, if anything, will be done at the national or international level, and actually be happy about it!
Those who believe in climate change are never going to persuade skeptics and deniers to change their minds by: 1) calling them stupid; or 2) scaring them about an uncertain future. How many times has that strategy worked in the past on any other issue? My answer is, "zero times". If we stop doing something that isn't accomplishing anything anyway, we'll all be saving time and effort.
#2: focus attention, as Bloomberg and Pope suggest, at the local and regional level
If results are being achieved at the local and regional level, as the authors suggest, concentrate there.
#3: win climate change "skeptics" over by emphasizing the value of financial solutions to the problem.
Those who see "red" have a very hard time seeing "blue", and vice versa, but the very same people have little trouble seeing "green". Bloomberg and Pope emphasize the idea of sharing "success stories". New ones are appearing every day.
The obvious question is, will the ideas that Bloomberg and Pope advance, be enough, and will they come soon enough? It's, of course, a giant unknown, and there's no way to conduct a controlled experiment to test it out. There is, however, a precedent to consider.
Thomas Malthus in the late 18th century predicted dire consequences of overpopulation: the world was expanding to the point where there would be inadequate resources to feed the world. His predictions failed to materialize. In the middle of the 20th century, various latter day Malthusians predicted the same. Again, the predictions failed to materialize. In each case, the reason the predictions were wrong was because of changes in technology and economics. Malthus and his intellectual descendants inadequately took technological change into consideration.
I believe the same thing is going to happen again with respect to climate change. Improvements in technology are what are causing the reduction in greenhouse gases. Here are but four examples:
.. Fracking technology has resulted in a huge increase in natural gas production in the USA, reducing the price of natural gas dramatically, and making coal uneconomical;
.. New technology has dramatically reduced the cost of solar and wind as energy
alternatives, resulting in dramatic growth in "clean" power;
.. Improvements in building materials technology, thus reducing greenhouse gases associated with those materials;
.. Improvements in battery technology, making cost competitive all-electric vehicles possible.
Please understand, I strongly believe greenhouse gases are causing climate change. There's a definite problem. My wife and I have personally observed it in both the Arctic and the Antarctic, as well as elsewhere. Notwithstanding that, I am not overly concerned that the USA didn't ratify Kyoto, and I really am not worried that Donald Trump wants to bring back coal. That's because, as Bloomberg and Pope point out, underlying economics are killing coal, and Donald Trump can't make coal great again (or at least economically viable). Moreover, economics and technology are driving the reduction in cost of alternative energy.
I recommend Climate of Hope. It's an appropriate title for a timely book.