Philanthropist and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg used his opportunity as commencement speaker for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to launch “Beyond Carbon,” a USD$500 million climate commitment to help deliver 100 percent clean energy to the United States.
The initiative expands the commitment of Beyond Coal, the Bloomberg partnership with the Sierra Club to shut down coal facilities nationwide. At least 289 of the 530 coal facilities have been closed since 2011, but Beyond Carbon will expand the mission in what is being touted as the largest coordinated campaign on climate change ever launched in the U.S.
Bloomberg began Friday’s speech with a comparison to the U.S. mission to land on the moon, initiated by the late President John F. Kennedy in another era and advanced by MIT graduates and contributions.
“Going to the moon was not a popular idea back in the 1960s. And Congress didn’t want to pay for it,” Bloomberg said. “Imagine that, a Congress that didn’t want to invest in science. Go figure – that would never happen today.”
But climate change is a serious challenge with the potential for existential catastrophe, and the wealthy climate champion quickly turned away from the brief attempt at humor.
“Today, I believe that we are living in a similar moment. But this time, our most important and pressing mission – your generation’s mission – is not only to explore deep space and reach faraway places,” he said. “It is to save our own planet, the one that we’re living on, from climate change. And unlike 1962, the primary challenge before you is not scientific or technological. It is political.”
Bloomberg’s critique of U.S. policy in the face of numerous examples of mounting climate change threats was followed by an explanation of the Beyond Carbon vision to shut down every coal plant in the U.S. by 2030, while preventing the construction of gas facilities – often considered a bridge to weaning the nation off coal. That’s already consigned to a bygone era too, he said, as he detailed the economic viability of clean energy, the success to date in ending coal, and the role local governments play in driving change to ensure a renewable energy future.
“We don’t want to replace one fossil fuel with another. We want to build a clean energy economy – and we will push more states to do that,” he said. That means enlisting local-government elected officials as allies, and empowering “the grassroots army of activists and environmental groups” already driving progress. Above all else, it means direct engagement in the political process to ensure a clean-energy future.
Bloomberg already has spent $500 million on climate-related efforts, including C40 cities initiatives, ocean protections, and the advancement of climate risk disclosure in global business. With this latest announcement he’s made clear that he’s taking the fight directly into the political arena.
“I know that as scientists and engineers, politics can be a dirty word,” he said to the MIT graduates. “I’m an engineer – I get it. But I’m also a realist so I have three words for you: get over it. At least for the foreseeable future, winning the battle against climate change will depend less on scientific advancement and more on political activism.”