Bloomberg and Climate Change: Another Small Step Toward the Inevitable

I’ve long predicted that the real turning point on climate change action will be driven by extreme weather events. Humans aren’t built to sense climate…our time frame is weather, and that’s what we respond to.

We’ve already seen two examples historically.  Australia was the only developed country besides the US not to sign the Kyoto Protocol on carbon mitigation, since they sell lots of coal to China. Then Australia went through the worst drought in its history—coincidentally, just about the time that Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth was released. The Australian electorate blamed climate change for the drought and elected a new government, one of whose first acts was to sign the Protocol and initiate climate change legislation.

Something similar happened in Russia after their record-breaking drought several years ago. A decade earlier Vladimir Putin had said that Russia welcomed global warming—the wheat could grow longer and they’d need to buy fewer coats! Then came the drought, which devastated their wheat crop and spawned such enormous fires in the countryside that Moscow was choking on dense smoke. Soon thereafter Dmitry Medvedev announced that Russia needed to face the fact that climate change was a real threat.

Of course, humans being humans, once the extreme weather subsided (and the global economy tanked) both Australia and Russia grew less enthusiastic about carbon reduction. But the seed had been planted.

Now it’s the U.S.’s turn, and New York Mayor Bloomberg’s abrupt endorsement of Obama as the candidate best suited to tackle climate change is another example of extreme weather as sudden motivator.

Inevitably, Americans will lose interest in the climate change issue once the damage is repaired and we have a few months of normal weather. But now another prominent American, whose Wall Street loyalties insulate him from dismissal as just another liberal tree-hugger, is on the record about climate change, and another seed is planted.

I suspect it will take the rest of this decade, and a series of extreme weather events worldwide, to finally create a global awakening. In the US, for example, it might be a Category 4 hurricane hitting Miami, which my insurance clients say would almost certainly bankrupt the state of Florida.  When private insurers began to shun Florida coastal property, Florida basically self-insured, and there’s not enough money in the state treasury to cover a major hit.

Someday, in short, there will be a number of extreme weather incidents , around the globe, in a relatively brief period of time.  And that will finally catalyze the sophisticated social networks of the late Teens to create a worldwide movement demanding action on climate change.

It will be the Millennial generation, not the Boomers, who lead this movement. Climate change is not a Boomer issue—most Boomers will be happy if they’re still sitting on the porch in 2040, when the global impacts get truly dire. It will be the Millennials and their children whose futures are truly at stake. For them, companies and countries that continue to emit excessive carbon dioxide will be seen as international criminals.  And only then will serious worldwide carbon reduction begin.