(CN) – The attendees were not the suit-and-tie crowd.
Instead, the men and women who coursed through the halls of the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco on Wednesday sported jackets with various outdoor sports brands sewn above their hearts. Jeans and flannel featured heavily and the overwhelming majority of the approximately 28,000 scientists, journalists, professors and students in attendance at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting were bespectacled.
It is precisely the kind of audience primed to receive a climate change-centric message from Michael Bloomberg, a recent entrant in the race for the Democratic nomination for president.
“Climate change is the greatest scientific challenge the world has ever faced,” Bloomberg said, adding the problem required the best and brightest scientists.
Bloomberg, who repeatedly warned of the prospective ravages of climate change as mayor of New York, appeared on stage at the event alongside former California Governor Jerry Brown, who also made combating climate change his priority while in office.
Bloomberg pointed to his ability to cut carbon emissions by 14% during his mayoral tenure, mostly by mandating green building principles.
The two men also serve as co-chairs of America’s Pledge, a consortium of governments and corporations who pledged to curtail their greenhouse gases.
Bloomberg said an ancillary function of the organization is to monitor the nation’s progress in cutting emissions according to the benchmarks set forth by the Paris Climate Accord, something particularly needed after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.
“The Trump administration has refused to present a roadmap for cutting emissions in the years ahead, so America’s Pledge is doing that as well,” Bloomberg said.
The former mayor and billionaire owner of a media empire and analytics firm is trying to gin up interest in his candidacy as he continues to poll in the single digits. Bloomberg’s strengths are his attention to climate change – an issue taking on increasing urgency with the Democratic electorate – and his vast personal fortune which he can deploy toward advertising purchases and other expenditures necessary to a successful campaign.
An appearance next to Brown, who still stirs admiration for most Democratic voters, can’t hurt either.
Brown said the type of nationalist sentiments espoused by Trump and embodied by other movements like Brexit are inimical to progress on climate change, which necessitates a global approach to problem solving.
“Climate change as a problem does not lend itself well to the parochial consciousness that human beings possess,” Brown said at one point.
But the former governor nevertheless expressed optimism that humans will be able to galvanize around the issue to formulate the type of technical, scientific and policy decisions necessary to stave off disaster.
Bloomberg agreed but was considerably more pessimistic as it related to the policy solutions currently in play.
“Climate change is not a science problem, it is a political problem,” he said.
However, the former mayor also noted that the United States continues to make progress on cutting emissions despite a lack of support from the current political leadership in Washington.
“We are closing coal-fired plants in the United States as fast if not faster under Donald Trump than under Barack Obama,” Bloomberg said. “It’s because of the demand coming from the people to do the right thing.”
Both Bloomberg and Brown challenged the gathered scientists to do more with their scientific information, to be more effective communicators while persevering against those who deny climate change’s existence or attribute it to effects beyond the human scope.
“Scientists can do a lot,” Brown said. “Keep it clear, keep it active and interesting and keep it simple.”
As far as climate change and how it relates to Bloomberg’s electoral prospects, there are two things at work.
First, it remains unclear how much the American electorate actually cares about climate change.
A poll released in September by the Yale University Center for Communication about Climate Change found that only 17% of registered voters listed climate change as one of the top two issues that would determine their vote.
While the number of voters who prioritize the issue may underwhelm, at least 70% of those polled said they would favor candidates who proposed limits on pollution, greater fuel efficiency in cars and advocated for a carbon tax.
“Climate change is now a top priority among Democratic voters,” said Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz, director of Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication, when the poll was released. “Democratic candidates must now compete for the ‘climate vote’ in the primaries.”
Bloomberg’s other issue is how to differentiate himself from the full slate of candidates, many of whom are just as active in touting the dangers of climate change.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, viewed by many as the moderate or centrist candidate, has unveiled an ambitious plan to combat climate change that includes limiting emissions and $1.7 trillion in government spending to invest in renewable energy alternatives and other programs.
Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who represent the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party, are even more ambitious with their spending plans.
But Bloomberg touted his ability to achieve buy-in from corporate America.
“Corporate America is to some extent doing their job,” he said, noting corporate executives cannot survive in 2019 without a detailed plan for how their companies will address and navigate climate change and carbon neutrality.
He also discussed the need to negotiate with China and India, saying their construction of coal-fired power plants represent a major threat to climate progress, and criticized Trump’s current transactional approach to a trade war with China that fails to factor in environmental implications.
“When you are in a fight with someone, it is awful hard to cooperate,” Bloomberg said.
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