Several months ago, I asked Naomi Klein what the establishment response would be to a surging candidate who endorses a bold Green New Deal and vows to aggressively take on corporate power. She responded with: “they’re going to do something... perhaps even run a Mike Bloomberg.”
Well the time has finally arrived. Michael Bloomberg officially entered the 2020 Democratic primary race on Sunday.
Bloomberg, a former Republican and mayor of New York City, considered a run earlier in the campaign cycle. Yet with Joe Biden on solid ground, he decided not to enter the race.
Now, with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren consistently polling at the top of the pack, and with Biden waning, the establishment and their oligarchic patrons are getting nervous.
Bloomberg will skip the first four primary states, and refuse to accept individual campaign donations. His “unconventional campaign” will be entirely self funded.
During an event in New Hampshire earlier this year, Bloomberg disconcertedly chuckled when asked about what steps he has taken in his daily routine to address the climate crisis. He smirked at the suggestion that his own lifestyle could in any meaningful way reveal his approach to tackling the crisis.
His gabby response (above) speaks volumes. When challenged on how his own lifestyle demonstrates his commitment to the climate crisis, Bloomberg responds with details of his personal hygiene – circumventing a serious question about his legitimacy, into a rambling response on his drinking habits, exercise routines, and frequency of his fruit salad consumption.
The response is indicative of the class dynamics within the climate debate. Those most affluent in our society tend to view their individual physical well-being as an adequate response to the climate crisis: buying more expensive organic foods, riding a bike once in a while, having a bullet proof SUV drop you off at the subway to head to the office.
Earlier in the talk, Bloomberg stated that “I’m a little bit tired of listening to things that are pie in the sky, that we are never going to get passed, never going to afford. I think it’s disingenuous to promote those things, you have to do something that is practical.”
What our society and planet cannot afford is Bloomberg.
Bloomberg is worth around $50 billion. He holds significant personal investments in natural gas companies through the firm Willett Advisors, which the CEO Steven Rattner has stated “invest[s] a lot in the energy sector… we’ve certainly been on the more bullish side of the argument on oil.” Furthermore, Bloomberg has a history of explicitly advocating for fracking and natural gas as an alternative to coal.
With billions invested in natural gas, and with the source of his personal wealth coming from a strongly held belief in the autonomy of market forces, Bloomberg is not the answer to the climate crisis.
As Naomi Klein says in This Changes Everything: “Bloomberg has made no discernible attempt to manage his own vast wealth in a manner that reflects his concerns.” With so much of his own investments tied up in natural gas and the contemporary global economic order, it is inconceivable to imagine him embracing large scale infrastructure and energy projects funded by the public sphere with increased taxation rates on the most affluent members of society.
Issues of extreme inequality are inextricably linked to the crisis. To adequately address climate change, we need to confront extractivist capitalism which has legitimized and celebrated a world in which 26 individuals own as much wealth as half the world population as the epitome of success and the "American dream."
What is ‘practical’ for billionaires, such as finding a parking spot for your private jet on the Davos runway, should not be accepted as a credible argument against the drastic measures required to respond to the climate crisis. ‘Practical’ for the vast majority of the global population is for billionaires to distribute their wealth, in a manner that can fund a necessary response in line with the recent UN assessment for the survival of human civilization.
The work of Naomi Klein and the rising progressive movement shows us that the climate and neoliberalism are not distinct, but inseparably linked. In order to confront the climate crisis, we need to invest in universal public goods: health care, education, water, transportation, high speed internet. We need to address the student loan crisis, the housing crisis, wage stagnation – which all require an abandonment of the extractive ideology. We need to view these problems through a collective and holistic lens, in which we value the well-being of our planet and fellow human beings above short term economic profit and greed.
Western culture has a tendency to treat symptoms and not underlying causes. We are bombarded by pharmaceutical commercials to take drugs that combat pain, anxiety, and depression. We watch ‘resistance’ television networks that unilaterally focus on Trump as the culprit of our contemporary problems. We view success in monetary terms while dismissing notions of privilege. We blame homelessness, poverty, and personal debt on laziness. As a result, billionaires become the saviors – those who succeeded at the American Dream.
What we really need is to confront this ideology and the underlying history of policies that have prioritized profit and economic growth at the expense of us and the planet. Pandering to the altruism of billionaires and their intimate political representatives will only exacerbate our ecological crisis further. Bloomberg is a symptom of our corrupt system, not its savior.
This is a revised version of an article originally published on The Junction in February.