New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of a select number of Republican leaders in the United States who makes any sense, turned up at the American Museum of Natural History on Sunday to deliver an Earth Day plan for his city that should be the basic text for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the United States. A full account of the 127 steps the mayor proposed is here. The big pieces are significantly improving and expanding the region’s rapid transit system, investing in open space and energy efficiency, reducing pollution, responding to global climate change, and making sure that the one million more New Yorkers expected over the next generation have good, affordable, accessbile housing.
A Mode Shift plan if ever there was one. It looks forward, understands the confluence of market, demographic, and environmental conditions that are changing the world and New York, and offers a cogent plan of action that is reasonable, affordable, and necessary. The plan builds on the decades of investments that New York made in its transit system, water infrastructure, parks, streets, housing, and schools to produce a place that is safer, more energetic, more lively than it was when I was growing up there in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Bloomberg plan also bears remarkable similarity and consistency with the new economic development strategies already in place in California (the $37 Rebuild California program passed last November), Knoxville, Chicago, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and many more American places. Sooner or later, and hopefully sooner, citizens will require presidential candidates to outline their plan for improving America’s competitiveness and quality of life. Mayor Bloomberg developed the cogent answer: “We need to increase open space, expand housing, deal with our congested roadways, create better mass transit options, increase our energy sources and stabilize our water supply or we simply won’t be able to continue the high quality of life we now enjoy. If we act now, we’ll have a better future, a better quality of life, and more importantly, our children and their children will too.”
Meanwhile here in Michigan, we are teetering on the edge of fiscal collapse, losing our bright young college educated people, and are immobilized by leadership that looks backward instead of forward. There is no better recent example than the sparring that occurred last month over a resolution to respond to global climate change at the monthly meeting of the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners, leaders of the largest county in northern Michigan and the fifth fastest growing county in the state. A revealing account of the frighteningly and laughably ignorant oppostion to the resolution by three Republican commissioners was published in the Traverse City Record Eagle on Earth Day.
One commissioner, Margaret Underwood, said, “I believe the Sierra Club, along with Al Gore, President Carter and the United Nations are socialistic organizations that are trying to change the government of this country, and I am opposed to everything they support or try to (foist) on us to do. I cannot support this unproven theory of global warming.”
A second commissioner, Sonny Wheelock, piped up,”We know that the Earth was covered with layers and layers of ice in the past and it all melted away. I don’t believe that dinosaurs driving around in Mercedes (are) what caused the problem.”
The best, though, came from Commissioner Dick Thomas: “I think it would be happening if there were no people on Earth,” he said. “They have recently discovered that the polar ice caps on Mars are shrinking. So what would cause that on both the Earth and Mars, that would be the sun, so we should e-mail the sun and tell it to cool down a little bit.”
A state’s reputation, its ability to generate good jobs, its brand is determined by the quality of its leaders. In New York, California, Washington state, Virginia, New Mexico, and Tennessee, leaders see energy efficiency, land conservation, pollution prevention, rapid transit investment, and natural resource conservation as part of a new economic development strategy as well as solutions to global climate change. In Michigan, leaders “email the sun.”