STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
President Trump's administration has sharply downplayed the threat of climate change. Some city governments approach the issue differently. And a man who once ran the nation's biggest cities says cities can lead the way on climate. Michael Bloomberg of New York City co-authored a book with the former chairman of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope. Pope says cities are better positioned to act.
CARL POPE: The reality is market forces, popular demand, public sentiment are driving the United States towards a climate-friendly economic future and a more prosperous economic future. And there really isn't anything that a presidential administration can do to reverse that fact.
INSKEEP: Carl Pope and Michael Bloomberg told our colleague Rachel Martin that they're not worried about the Trump administration walking back the United States' commitment to climate agreements. In fact, Bloomberg says cities are already committed to using cleaner fuel and reducing energy consumption.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: The cities are trying to encourage people to not use heavy fuel oil, go to natural gas, things like that - the bicycle lanes, a lot of the changes that mayors and city councils can make. And companies are one of the big heroes here. What you see is big companies doing things that are good for the world because their customers want it, their employees want it and, most of all, their investors want it.
RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: So Mayor Bloomberg, you say businesses are already investing in clean energy. What do you do about some clean energy technologies that still need to be propped up - which still require subsidies, wind or solar.
BLOOMBERG: Well, I don't think wind or solar needs it anymore. Wind or solar, without subsidies - Carl, correct me if I'm wrong - but they've now become not only competitive, they are more efficient in most parts of the country and the world. There are places where you have transmission problems and that sort of thing. But fundamentally, they were supported by public subsidies, got going, and now they no longer needed it, which...
POPE: No, Mike is right. I mean, wind and solar at this point, in places where it's windy or sunny, are providing the cheapest electricity the world has ever known. This is the cheapest...
MARTIN: But transmission is still an issue. Do you need the federal government to help in that?
POPE: You don't need the federal government to subsidize transmission. Some of the states say no, we don't want to let electricity go across our state lines, and the federal government has a role of coordinating that. But transmission does not need subsidy.
MARTIN: I want to turn to something that you have focused on a lot, Mayor Bloomberg. That's the plight of coal miners who have seen their jobs go away because of the move to cleaner energy. And it's something that you have tried to address through your own organization, which has announced some grants to support economic development in these communities. Is that going to be sufficient? What else needs to happen to retrain these workers?
BLOOMBERG: Well, take a look at what's happened in the coal industry. Back in 1925, there were 800,000 people working in coal. Now it's probably 60,000 people. And most of that decline was long before we thought about the environment. The bottom line is we have a big challenge here of trying to retrain coal miners and find jobs for them where they can have the dignity of being self-supporting.
Most of them, at least on the east side of the United States, live in Appalachia. It has not been served well by the rest of this country. They gave us our energy, but we did not give them back good working conditions and good compensation. And coal miners have lung problems because of the air they breathed. They don't have any pensions. They don't have health care anymore. Having said all of that, if you get down to - it's a plain, simple, I can save one life or I can save one job. I know how to answer that, and I think most people would say we've got to find a ways to give those people jobs later on. But the first decision is save lives.
MARTIN: In the book, you write that environmentalists, historically, have kind of treated people who don't agree with them with a certain amount of condescension. Carl Pope, has that undermined the larger effort?
POPE: Well, I'm not sure I'd use the word condescension. But I think we have talked about abstractions and things that did not relate to most people's lives, even when the reality was that the big beneficiaries of the Clean Water Act, for example, have been people in most American communities who now can drink the water and not get sick. And when we didn't pay attention to funding clean water properly, we got Flint, Mich. And actually, we have dozens of communities where there's lead contamination because we haven't invested enough in replacing and modernizing our old infrastructure. And that's something that we ought to get on top of.
MARTIN: I do want to get back to this idea of how you talk about environmental protection with people who may not be on board. Mayor Bloomberg, do you think that there has been a problem with how people, particularly on the left, have talked about this issue - have tried to convince skeptics to...
BLOOMBERG: Well, I don't think the left has any ownership of this. People on left and right and the center - if people don't believe the same thing you believe, you are condescending. You think, oh, they're not smart. They don't understand. I think the thing that rankles the most and should bother every American is when government starts saying, well, science says we should debate that.
MARTIN: So how do you stop this from being a partisan issue?
POPE: It's a very partisan issue at the national level. But if you get down to the local level and you look at which cities are choosing to embrace clean energy, it turns out the first big American city to say it was going to be a hundred percent renewable was San Diego, which has a Republican mayor. Another big city that has said it's going to go 100 percent renewable is Salt Lake City, the largest city in the reddest state in the country. So I think at the local level, when you start talking about - well, do you want the drinking water to be clean? - that isn't a partisan issue. If you talk about - do you want to have cleaner electricity? - that's actually not a partisan issue at the local level.
It is true - in Washington, everything has become partisan. And I'm afraid fixing that is probably above my pay grade. But the good news is that even while Washington works its way through the mess it's in, cities, businesses and states are moving forward on clean energy solutions because they understand this is the biggest economic opportunity and the biggest public health opportunity we have.
INSKEEP: It is Carl Pope, former executive director of the Sierra Club along with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, co-authors of the book "Climate Of Hope." They spoke with our own Rachel Martin.
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