New Year’s Day marked the end of an era, and not just for marijuana prohibition in Colorado. For the first time in 11 years, New York City has a mayor who is not Michael Bloomberg. Elected as the city’s 108th Mayor way back in 2002, Bloomberg was an outspoken politician. Although there were many things he got wrong (his brutal treatment of Occupy Wall Street protesters, that bogus stop and frisk program and his defense of horse-drawn carriages), he was a champion of environmental causes during his time in office.
As many speculate about how the new mayor, Bill de Blasio, will acclimate to the challenges of leading America’s biggest city, let’s look back on the impact Bloomberg had on both hyperlocal environmental issues, as well as the national discussion about climate change.
4 Awesome Things Mayor Bloomberg Did for the Environment
1. Greenhouse Gas Emissions
On Bloomberg’s last day in office, it was announced that greenhouse gases in New York City had dropped 19 percent since 2005. In 2007, Bloomberg’s office launched an initiative called PlaNYC. Among other things, this comprehensive climate change blueprint set a goal to slash citywide emissions 30 percent by 2030. Strategies for achieving this goal included hybrid taxis, encouraging electric vehicle adoption and upgrading city government buildings to increase energy efficiency. Many of those strategies were indeed implemented, and as such NYC is already two-thirds of the way toward its 2030 goal.
2. Bike Sharing
Mention New York City and almost everyone imagines taxi-clogged streets and public transit nightmares. But during his tenure as mayor, Bloomberg proved that non-motorized transportation has value. He created bike lanes and pedestrian plazas, and helped launch CitiBike, the first U.S. bike sharing program big enough to rival those in Asia and Europe.
3. Resilient Buildings
When Hurricane Sandy crippled much of New York, Bloomberg used it as a real-life demonstration of our need to take action on climate change. Rather than wait for the federal government to step up, Bloomberg challenged cities to take the lead in climate preparedness and resilient design. He also helped establish Finance for Resilience (FiRe) to identify the best potential climate, clean energy, green growth or sustainability financing solutions and help them get to scale.
4. Smoking Ban
During his time in office, Bloomberg tried to ban lots of things he thought were unhealthy. Many of these initiatives failed because, for better or worse, American liberty says we can abuse our bodies in any way we choose. Bloomberg was successful in fighting back against Big Tobacco, however. Cigarette smoking is usually framed as a health issue, but as the image above shows, there are environmental implications as well. It is estimated that several trillion cigarette butts are littered worldwide every year, and since filters are made of cellulose acetate tow, not cotton, they can take decades to degrade, reports CigaretteLitter.org. Bloomberg’s Smoke-Free Air Act banned smoking in public places such as restaurants, bars, parks, beaches and places of employment. It now additionally prohibits the use of electronic cigarettes in all areas where smoking is prohibited.