Mayor Bill de Blasio’s performance Tuesday at a Vatican climate-change conference called to mind the college sophomore who arrives late to a seminar, clearly hasn’t done the reading, but monopolizes the discussion nonetheless.
Invited by Pope Francis to address a global conference of mayors on “Modern Slavery and Climate Change” (don’t ask), the chronically late de Blasio managed to miss his speaking slot entirely. (He had chosen an overnight international flight scheduled to arrive in Rome only two hours before the start of his morning speech—a cushion most people would consider inadequate for a job interview.) The audience eventually heard New York’s mayor deliver a speech on climate change straight out of the alternative world from which he governs. He spoke of impending doom for humanity, warning that “the status quo is slowly killing” the planet and that current consumer habits would “hasten the destruction of the earth.” We need to act soon to “sustain life” and “preserv[e] life for future generations,” he said, calling the issue one of “survival.”
Yet the oft-cited “scientific consensus” suggests otherwise. In its most recent assessment, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change outlines major threats posed by climate change—and neither destruction of the earth nor eradication of mankind is among them. The word “survival” does come up, but in reference to salmon migration patterns. Completing its own “Climate Change Impacts and Risks Analysis,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently found that taking no action on climate change would produce effects over the next century ranging from additional fatalities during heat waves to a 34 percent decline in the supply of oysters. Not quite the apocalypse.
Of course, under the popular rules of the climate debate, anyone downplaying climate risks is a “denier,” while anyone overstating them is a “passionate leader.” But even among those charging down that uneven playing field, de Blasio stands out for allowing his rhetorical momentum to carry him past the goal line, through the fence, under the bleachers—and off into the woods.
De Blasio embraced Pope Francis’s recent encyclical on climate change as a “very powerful, very sharp document” that “burns with urgency” and “rightly asks the most of governments.” But like most on the left who have applauded the encyclical, the mayor ignored what the document actually says. It does not call on the nations of the world to come together and combat climate change; it calls on wealthy nations to pay for everyone else.
“The time has come,” says the encyclical, “to accept decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth.” Rich countries owe poor ones an “ecological debt” and “ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries.” The pope’s solutions include “a true world political authority” and “mechanisms and subsidies which allow developing countries access to technology transfer, technical assistance and financial resources.” According to the E.U.’s leading climate negotiator, such a deal would require advanced nations to send the developing world hundreds of billions of dollars annually—indefinitely.
Such concerns are but trifling details for de Blasio, who always tries to be first out of the gate in attacking “inequality.” But he doesn’t seem to realize that he and Francis have a different understanding of the term. From the mayor’s perspective, a $15 per hour wage (producing an annual full-time income of $30,000) is the minimum anyone in his city should earn. From the pope’s perspective, that same income practically places the worker in the global top 1 percent. Thus, as Francis sees it, all New Yorkers are consuming too much, prospering at the expense of the global poor, and all owe part of that “ecological debt.”
The papal encyclical is also incompatible with de Blasio’s own grand visions for New York, which demand a vibrant and growing economy to produce redistributable wealth. That the city itself may achieve significant reductions in its greenhouse-gas emissions is beside the point. J.P. Morgan Chase’s own carbon footprint is immaterial beside the footprints of its massive industrial borrowers. The Alcoa headquarters can become the greenest building in the world, but aluminum smelting will demand no less power as a result. But if the developed world slows its growth and sends trillions of dollars to developing countries, New York’s economy will suffer greatly.
Following de Blasio’s speech, reporters asked the mayor mostly about the pomp and circumstance of his Vatican visit. Perhaps when he comes home, he can explain where he gets his scientific information and whether he really meant to endorse the pope’s call to slow New York’s growth and transfer its wealth elsewhere. He probably won’t raise his hand to answer those questions, but someone should call on him anyway.