An appreciation of Mr. Bloomberg

November 5th, 2007

Posted by: admin

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is now out in favor of a carbon tax (see also this post by Charlie Komanoff). This is significant because it makes him one of the very few nationally-prominent (or at least nationally-known) politicians to stake out for a C tax over cap-and-trade.

Bloomberg’s support for a C tax is important both because he is seen as a technocrat’s technocrat and because he presides over eight million carbon consumers. Unfortunately, as Redburn illustrates well in his article, carbon tax proponents have more than an uphill battle to get their way on climate mitigation legislation.

It’s not that the carbon tax or cap-and-trade? debate is over already (which, really, would be before it even began), it’s that there is a strong perception in the community that it is over. Wonky types (which in my usage are political realists, not optimists), especially those with some influence on the policy development process, have been telling me personally and conference crowds (like this one) that it’s all over and cap-and-trade is a done deal. This perception might be more important than (the way I see) reality, which is that nobody wants to deal with this problem and because of this, all options are still on the table. It’s not that I am full bore on the C-tax train either, but I would like to see an honest, complete national debate on the two approaches before the “elites” declare the policy problem solved. In particular, I would love to see this issue come out during primary debates for both parties, to at least introduce the average Joe to the issue. Of course, the vagaries of carbon economics will be viewed by party handlers as too nuanced and difficult to explain during debate, but I’ll preemptively call bullshit on that line. Try us.

Speaking of Mr. Bloomberg, I was flying back from NYC on Halloween and, caught in the captive state of the miserable United economy passenger, had nothing better to do but read deep into the nether regions of the NY Times metro section. There I found this article about a public stumble between the mayyuh and a deceased NYPD officer, James Zadroga, who had worked long hours at the World Trade Center site. Zadroga passed away a few years later and his family wanted the cause of his death to be declared working at the WTC site.

Before going further, I should explain this: there is emotion involved in the environmental problem of the WTC site that goes beyond the attacks. I lived in NY during the WTC attacks and the smell of the burning pile was strong for at least two weeks and was noticeable even far uptown (north) when the prevailing winds are westerly. My recollection is that near the site the smell was strong even a month after the attacks. Everybody in that city knows the smell of the WTC site, and I think that experience triggers an immediate sympathy in citizens for the workers (many of whom stayed on the site for weeks without going home) and what they were exposed to. The EPA debacle with air quality testing and the public relations of it didn’t help. So the fact that a family claims that one of their sons was killed by WTC air after working on the site is bound to garner immediate sympathy for the claim.

Bloomberg perhaps forgot this context when he addressed Zadroga’s case. A pathologist had declared Zadroga’s death a direct result of WTC air, but NYC’s medical examiner recently rejected that finding. In a clear case of dueling experts, Bloomberg picked his. Despite this strong statement from the NYC employee:

“Our evaluation of your son’s lung abnormality is markedly different than that given you by others,” Dr. Hirsch wrote in the letter, dated Tuesday and also signed by Dr. Michele S. Stone, another medical examiner. “It is our unequivocal opinion, with certainty beyond doubt, that the foreign material in your son’s lungs did not get there as the result of inhaling dust at the World Trade Center or elsewhere.”

the excess of objectivity problem is clear. The family’s response:

“We knew the city was going to say this,” Mr. Zadroga said. “They’ve been lying since Jimmy got sick. They’ve been lying about all these W.T.C. people getting sick. They would never admit that Jimmy got sick. They treated him like a dog all those years.”

Instead of recognizing the excess of objectivity problem, and forgetting all of the other political context to this case, Bloomberg simply said Zadroga was “not a hero.” Oops.

All of this isn’t really what caught my eye, though. It was the way Bloomberg handled the backlash:

The tone of Mr. Bloomberg’s comments yesterday veered sharply from statements he made on Monday after receiving an award from the Harvard School of Public Health. Asked why science could be unpopular, he said that it sometimes provided answers that people did not want to hear, as in the case of Mr. Zadroga. Referring to Dr. Hirsch’s finding, he said, “Nobody wanted to hear that.”

“We wanted to have a hero, and there are plenty of heroes,” he said. “It’s just in this case, science says this was not a hero.”

Yesterday, Mr. Bloomberg described Detective Zadroga as “a dedicated police officer” with an impressive record who “volunteered to work downtown, and I think that the odds are that he clearly got sick because of breathing the air — but that’s up to the doctors.”

So he doesn’t exactly grasp that the word “hero” is loaded and dripping with emotion, especially in this case, and especially in NY where the tabloids use the word as an interchangeable synonym for police officers and firefighters. But at least he gets why he’s being attacked for his statements and what science and the popular perception and acceptance of science has to do with it.

10 Responses to “An appreciation of Mr. Bloomberg”

  1. The Heretic Says:

    I agree with you 100% about the “bring it on” statement. Although the typical voter memory is disturbingly short, it could certainly bring in more interest – especially if done without any RealCensoring.

    As far as tax vs. trade, it’s interesting how environmentalists are aligning with industry and going for the cap and trade angle. Nothing new there – re. the newest climate millionaire, Dr. Hansen. The tax would definitely put a crimp on the carbon traders’ business as well.

    The problem is what should be a realistic tax? What if most of the warming is due to other factors and in fact increasing CO2 increases plant growth (aka food) and evapotranspiration to increase low cloudiness (aka albedo) and is a negative feedback after all? Since we have no clue and even a suggestion lately that “global warming” decreases high clouds, letting ir out more easily, how far a shot is it? What’s even worse is the concept of disposing of what may be the closest thing we have to manna, the base of the food chain: CO2.

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  3. David B. Benson Says:

    Alas, CO2 is not exactly the base of the food chain. That will be found in the oceans, which are already in a distressed state and will become even more so with increased CO2.

    A realistic tax is high enough to cause everybody to forgo using unsequestered fossil carbon. Somehow we need to sequester an additional 350 billion tonnes of carbon or so to bring the active carbon cycle back closer to balanced.

    I’m not optimistic about either of those being properly accomplished.

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  5. The Heretic Says:

    David said:

    “Alas, CO2 is not exactly the base of the food chain.”

    So what is?


    “A realistic tax is high enough to cause everybody to forgo using unsequestered fossil carbon. Somehow we need to sequester an additional 350 billion tonnes of carbon or so to bring the active carbon cycle back closer to balanced.”

    How do you get that number, and what make you think you know what the effect of e.g. clouds is?

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  7. David B. Benson Says:

    Photosynthesis, in the oceans, is the base of the food chain.

    A good estimate of the extra carbon added to the active carbon cycle since the begining of the so-called industrial revolution is 500 billion tonnes (Gt), corresponding to the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 280 ppm to the current 384–385 ppm. Removing 350 Gt takes us back to about 319 ppm, the figure in 1950 or a few years later, and removes about 1/2 of the radiative forcing due to carbon dioxide alone.

    Since in effect this returns the climate backwards through time, more or less, I am using the past climate to predict the effects of such removal. So I don’t bother to consider clouds, etc.

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  9. David B. Benson Says:

    Oops, at 319 ppm the radiative forcing for carbon dioxide alone is reduced to about 1/3 of the current value.

    If carbon dioxide is taken as about half of the total forcings, then the total would be reduced to about 2/3 of the current value.

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  11. The Heretic Says:

    You have an obscure angle, that the ocean is much more than the land surface. However, we’re talking about the land surface. Beside that, photosynthesis is a process, not a product. If you want to get into processes we need to go all the way back to the sun.

    Also, what makes you think 100 ppm of CO2 will not affect clouds? Do you not think CO2 influences convection?

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  13. David B. Benson Says:

    But the surface of the earth is more than half ocean.

    I suppose I could have said plankton are the base of the food chain, including that on the land.

    I don’t know that much about how global waming (so-called greenhouse) gases affect clouds. It doesn’t matter in determining the amount of carbon we must remove from the active carbon cycle.

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  15. The Heretic Says:

    I’ll give that it may be only on *land* where CO2 is the base of the food chain – and is the closest thing we have to manna. So…

    Why must we remove it from the “active carbon cycle”?

    What if something goes wrong and we remove much more than we want? We *hardly* know the nuances of climate, despite the dogma spewers.

    What if we remove the excess CO2 and Earth’s climate goes back to the trend it was on before the industrial revolution, on the slope of temperature from the peak of the MWP to the valley of the LIA?

    What do you think would happen to most of 6.5 billion people if Earth cooled off 2 degrees? How much plastic would be burned by the starving masses to stay warm? Do you think you’ve seen air pollution? Not hardly.

    Sorry, but the only people pushing the climate disaster angle are the people who will make money off it and their dupes. We simply don’t know enough about climate to even think we know the economic consequences of disposing of excess CO2, let alone allowing it continue to increase. We don’t need to waste productivity for the benefit of a few carbon traders. We need to spend it on a massive increase in climate research, because the penalty for failure is indeed huge.

    Let me assure you, there is plenty of doubt about whether or not a warming environment would be bad for the environment, but there is no doubt that a colder one would.

    So, it goes back to my original question. Why must we remove it from the “active carbon cycle”? There is no such thing as “the good old days”.

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  17. ConfusedCollegeStudent Says:

    Isn’t it really a question of faith? Faith, for the proponents of CO2 removal, that there is such thing as the “good old days”, and faith in the idea that a world without global warming is ‘better off’ than with warming? Or maybe a lack of faith that doing anything to cut carbon would do any good?

    There will always be an unknown with respect to climate change, and we won’t *know* until it happens.

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  19. The Heretic Says:

    “Faith” is a good word for belief in “Global Warming”, since there is no proof that CO2 has ever caused global warming in the real world. It’s the new religion.

    We won’t even *know* if “it” (whatever it is) happens, because we won’t know what would have been. Would we have stayed in LIA? Continued down the decline to another ice age? How would that have affected Homo sapiens? Throughout history, warm has been good.

    Back to photosynthesis vs. CO2, does not photosynthesis just separate oxygen from carbon, even in the ocean? So, the material that is the base of the food chain is indeed CO2, throughout the biosphere.