This week we heard New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio continue to speak out publicly against the dangers of climate change. The talk backs up city policies that have effectively continued much of the climate efforts, albeit respectable ones, of the Bloomberg administration.
In a recent speech on the effects of climate change, de Blasio gave his administration credit for beginning a city-pension-fund divestment from all fossil fuel companies—a move that had us wondering about how much of that was purely a financial decision, with positive social benefits as a byproduct. A quick Google search yields an instant, if incomplete, topline answer from a recent Forbes article:
In the first full year and a half of live performance, to September 2017, Clean 200 companies generated a total return of 32.1%, almost double the 15.7% for its fossil fuel benchmark the S&P 1200 Global Energy Index.
One year after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, and now in the middle of what looks like another bad hurricane and typhoon season across the globe, climate change gets top billing again on editorial pages and is at the forefront of conversations. Everyone seems to agree that the lack of an overt federal policy on combating such an existential crisis is appalling.
This is why the city and state should step up and treat climate change in the same way it dealt with another existential crisis that recently threatened New Yorkers and people all over the world—cigarette smoking.
After Sept. 11, 2001, with the city’s economy and New Yorkers’ psyches in total chaos, the Bloomberg administration proposed a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars across the city, and began a series of aggressive tax hikes on packs of cigarettes (commonly referred to as a “sin tax”). From 2002 to 2017, the price of a pack of cigarettes in New York City went from $7 to $13. The combined practices of banning areas where one could smoke, charging an increasing sin tax on a pack of cigarettes, and conducting an aggressive public information campaign on the negative impacts of smoking reduced the portion of smokers in the city population from 22 percent to 13 percent, according to the city’s health department. This policy was adopted in cities and countries around the globe, and proved pivotal in improving lives worldwide.
New York should use this same approach for climate change. Sadly, we think most elected officials lack the courage to advocate for higher taxes, even if those funds would go toward combating the biggest threat facing their constituents.
What would this effort look like? How about eliminating or reducing areas where there are carbon emissions in the city, charging a sin tax on activities or organizations that emit harmful toxins into the air, and waging an aggressive public information campaign aimed at educating people on what the city and state are doing?
Much like the history of smoking policy, we think lawmakers who step up and propose bold and disruptive policy ideas on climate change will ultimately be rewarded, even if current public polling suggests that people don’t yet back these ideas.