Secondary Navigation

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg Delivers Keynote Address At World Science Summit

May 28, 2008

The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg's speech as delivered.

"Brian, thank you. Tracy, thank you. Alan, it's a thrill for me every time we're together. I never, I grew up in a world where I never thought I would know somebody named Alan Alda or be on the same stage with him. Anyway, I also wanted to thank Columbia for hosting this. This is my second time at Columbia in two weeks. I was honored to give the commencement address at Barnard College which they had on this campus because they're constructing on theirs and it was great.

"Let me also welcome all of you to the first annual World Science Summit which kicks off the World Science Festival. First annuals always show an admirable confidence in the future, you never know if there are second annuals but in this case I'm reasonably confident there will be. I gave the commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania two weeks ago and I stressed the importance and the strong connection between immigration and innovation in making America great. And in that spirit, I did want to extend a very warm welcome to Fred Kavli who immigrated to our country from Norway more than 50 years ago and whose innovations in electronic sensors revolutionized our aerospace and automotive industries. And I'm delighted that he has chosen New York as the place to announce the winners of the first annual Kavli Prizes of a million dollars each in astrophysics, neuroscience, and nanotechnology.

"Now, my undergraduate degree happens to be in engineering, something I'm sure all of you knew. And even though I was the kind of student who normally made the top half of the class possible, when I saw the- seriously, when I saw this on my schedule I thought it might be the right occasion to dust off my own research files on the molecular structure of immune system interactions or the rigidity of single strand DNA or my insights into the causes of failing stars. But unfortunately a dog ate my paper and wouldn't you know, my lab coat is still at the cleaners, so I'll leave that sort of thing up to the real experts, the scores of world class scientists- including the ten Nobel Prize winners here this morning - who will use this festival's programs to introduce the thrills and wonder of scientific discovery to everyone.

"This Science Festival coincides with the opening of a certain movie set in New York City about four independent and glamorous women. By the way, I was originally supposed to have a part in "Sex and the City," but my scene wound up on the cutting room floor. It turns out that they wanted more "sex" and less "city." That's fine, it's their loss. What can I tell you? But today, seriously, I want to talk about a phenomenon which is just as exciting and just as cool and just as cutting edge. And I call it"Science and the City." Because in addition to being a center of finance and entertainment, fashion, and culture, New York is also the world leader in scientific research - and this World Science Festival really puts the spotlight on that. 

"Thanks to Brian, Tracy Day, and everyone associated with the Festival, they're also going to use theater, dance, film, and music to make science in our city sexy. And that sexiness is also going to be on spectacular display in New York this summer, thanks to internationally recognized artist Olafur Eliasson's monument "Waterfalls." It's a public art installation along the East River waterfront which will get turned on near the end of June and I will urge you to go and see it. It really shows creativity. When I was first presented with the project I said 'huh?' And the more I thought about it, the more I got turned on to the idea; it's really going to be spectacular.

"The strength of science and our city starts with the wealth of scientific talent and resources - the best in any city in America. This city is home to more than 30 distinguished academic, medical, and research institutions. More than 120 of our nation's Nobel laureates have studied and worked in New York City. And two of them - Sir Paul Nurse and Dr. Harold Varmus - direct two of the world's greatest medical research facilities, located in Manhattan:  Rockefeller University and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, respectively. In fact, nearly six years ago, I was honored to have Dr. Varmus at my side when we testified before New York's City Council, urging them to ban smoking in all bars and restaurants in our city - a subject that I'll come back to in a few moments.

"Science in our city also puts New York on the cutting edge in the study of climate change. Columbia University's Earth Institute and its Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory are world leaders in understanding and addressing global warming. And scientists associated with the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation - a consortium of five major institutions based in our city - are collectively doing vital research on climate change in more than 60 countries worldwide.

"Their efforts are shrinking the still enormous gap between what we know and what we don't know on these important subjects.  But as vast as those gulfs are, they're dwarfed by another one. And here we get down to the serious part. That is the tragic lag between what we know and what we do. For example, in the 1950s, the head of the American Cancer Society and other respected scientists were already linking smoking and cancer. And as early as the 1970s, researchers predicted that increased greenhouse gas production was accelerating global warming with the potentially catastrophic consequences that are playing out now, all over the world. Yet policy makers failed to heed these warnings.  And the question is, why?

"Far too often, it's because of what I call "political science" - the willingness to disregard or suppress scientific findings when they don't conform to a pre-determined political agenda. And today, we're seeing the tragic economic and environmental consequences of such political science writ large in our nation's deeply misguided policies concerning the world's two most fundamental needs: food and fuel.

"The food shortages and riots that have wracked the world in recent months, from the Philippines to Egypt to Haiti, have starkly dramatized the moral bankruptcy inherent in our government's continued subsidies for the production of corn ethanol. For years, politicians have hailed corn ethanol as the answer to climate change. It was all so simple.  Instead of requiring fuel efficiency, or funding mass transit, we could have our cake and eat it too - or in this case corn - and drive cars with it, as well, and in the process divert millions of tax dollars a year to farm states. The only problem was this policy wasn't based on science.  For years, research has questioned the environmental benefits of corn ethanol and now widespread production of corn ethanol has turned out to be an environmental and economic calamity. Not only does it take so much energy to produce that it has just a marginal benefit to our carbon emissions, but it also is driving up the cost of one of the world's most important cereal crops.

"Now, I raised the objections to corn ethanol last November in testimony before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. And in recent months there's been an increasing, if belated, emerging consensus on having a bio-fuel policy that is good for the environment, not just for special interests. Congress can do that by turning from the folly of corn ethanol to the merits of using other more efficient bio-fuels, including sugar-based ethanol.

"Right now, hard to believe though it may be, we are taxing sugar-based ethanol at 54 cents per gallon and we are subsidizing corn-based ethanol at 45 cents per gallon - even though sugar-based ethanol is cheaper and producing it generates less carbon dioxide. That's special interest politics, plain and simple. And if our elected officials in Washington are serious about fighting special interests, then they should lift all tariffs on more fuel efficient bio-fuels, including those produced from sugar. And I think it's actually phenomenally interesting that last November, Florida Governor Charles Crist - the governor of the state that produces more sugar cane than any other, and about a fifth of all American sugar cane - visited Brazil and advocated lifting America's tariff on sugar ethanol from that country. It may seem counter-intuitive for a governor to appear to undercut one of his state's biggest industries but I think it's true, real leaders can see the bigger picture. Importing sugar-based ethanol from Brazil will create a market for that product in the U.S. - and that will produce a sweet new market for Florida sugarcane growers, as well. That makes sense, for Florida and for America - and a far sight more sense than the status quo.

"Congress wants to cut the gas tax, which any economist will tell you won't save consumers money at all, but they refuse to pull agribusiness's snout out of the public trough - something that would save Americans money, and save lives around the world. That's political science at its worst. And it's akin to the political science that threatens our health and safety, by undermining the supposedly impartial regulatory bodies set up to protect us; that often obstructs basic research into disease and disability and rationalizes inertia when what we need is action.

"When such political science triumphs, both politics and science suffer, and so does our entire economy. But it's important to remember that politics and science don't have to be antagonists. In fact, America has a long tradition of supporting science, one we should be proud of and embrace. Franklin, Jefferson, and other of our nations' founders weren't just statesmen; they were also respected scientists. And from the Lewis and Clark expedition to the establishment of NASA, our government has long actively encouraged scientific investigation and innovation, wherever they might lead. We can reclaim that heritage if we show the independence and integrity to look at the facts, to embrace what science tells us regardless of the consequences, and not be cowed by special interests. And in the spirit of "Science and the City," let me describe how we've done that in New York in the vital areas of public health and climate change.

"When I came into office in 2002, we quickly identified tobacco as the leading cause of death in our city - implicated in 10,000 completely preventable deaths every single year. So we made cutting down on smoking the city's number one public health priority. In my first job on Wall Street many years ago I learned that: "In God We Trust.  Everyone else: bring data." And it's true in high finance, but it's also true in public health. And that's why we began with collecting baseline data, and why we've followed that up with ongoing surveys of our city's population. We know from science that second-hand smoke also kills, including second-hand smoke in workplaces such as restaurants and bars. So in 2002, we passed pioneering legislation outlawing smoking in the workplace. It wasn't easy; there was a lot of opposition.  And I can tell you, marching in some neighborhoods on St. Patrick's Day parades after we passed that legislation, I got a lot of one-fingered waves. And I don't think they were telling me that I was number one in their books. But today, seriously, that law has become second-nature for New Yorkers.  And I can't tell you how many times I go into restaurants and they thank me for what I did to protect them as well as increased their business. 

"We took other steps as well to improve the public health in New York City. We raised the City's tax on cigarettes steeply.  Cigarette prices, it turns out, make little difference to adults; they'd stop eating before they give up smoking. But teenagers are a completely different story. They are very sensitive to higher prices and they played a part in discouraging teen smoking. We've also mounted hard-hitting public information advertising campaigns that greatly increased smoking cessation programs. We put pictures of people who talk and breathe through their- a hole in their throat, on the subways. You see one of those, you stop smoking. And let me tell you the results of all of this. Today, smoking in our city is down nearly 20%. We estimate that will prevent roughly 100,000 premature deaths. And smoking among teenagers in the last five years is down 52%. Just a few years ago, nearly one in four teens smoked; today, only one in 12 say they smoke. And that's a very hopeful trend that is going to save even more lives in the years ahead because if you smoke as a teenager, you're much more likely to smoke as an adult.

"It sets an example, I think, for cities across the nation and countries around world. And the evidence is appalling. Six years ago, very few U.S. cities had banned second-hand smoke.  Today, most Americans live in cities and states governed by rules like that. And our nation as a whole hasn't yet had the courage to follow suit but I'm happy to say nations in Western Europe and other parts of the world have, including Italy and Norway, New Zealand, the UK, Republic of Ireland; France, Germany, Turkey, to name a few. Mexico City just a few weeks ago banned smoking in Mexico City. This really is something that is catching on and that's great news, because we're in a global race to save one billion lives that would be taken this century by smoking. We really do need urgent action and stopping smoking is the- something that is doable; it is within our grasp, it requires courage, it requires information, and you can all be a part of it as well.

"We're in another deadly global race as well, and that one is on global climate change. And as with tobacco use, the science is now incontrovertible. To manage New York City's impact on global warming, what we did is we started out measuring it. So two years ago, we decided to do what- something that nobody else has ever done: to measure the size New York City's carbon footprint.  And we learned that we produce some 58 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year - and that this carbon footprint was growing. In fact, it was on course to increase by some 27% by the year 2030. But we didn't just find out the size of our problem; we also learned how to attack it.

"By doing the study we also found out how to attack. And I strongly believe in leading by example and that's why last October I signed an Executive Order directing City agencies to shrink City government's carbon footprint by 30% by the year 2017 and to start acting now. Now that's shrinking it 30% from what it is today, not the way government statistics are usually presented - shrinking it 30% from what it was projected to be down the road. This is a real cut and to do that we've committed 10% of our annual energy costs - equal to roughly $80 million a year - to reduce City agency production of heat-trapping gases. We've taken major steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from autos. As a matter of fact, the world's largest yellow cab fleet, which is here in our city, is scheduled to go green by converting to hybrid or hybrid-equivalent power by the year 2012.  And I actually think because of the high price of gasoline and this is so much in the interest of taxi drivers, they will get it done earlier than that.

"We are focusing on replacing old and heavily polluting power plants with newer and more efficient generators. We've taken steps to put New York in the lead in energy-efficient power co-generation. And we're on course to more than double production and use of solar power in New York City by this time next year. And that's not only going to shrink our carbon footprint; it's also going to take deadly pollutants out of the air we breathe. For New York, as in other great cities, cleaner air and a greener environment go hand in hand. And as with tobacco control, this is another area where "Science and the City" is going global - and New York City, I am proud to say, is leading the way.

"As we become more urbanized, we also certainly become more science-friendly. The leaders of the world's cities are the great pragmatists on the world's stage.  They're not like the State and Federal government where they can't talk about things. Cities are led by mayors who have to do produce results, who have to give you concrete, specific targets and then get measured by the press every day as to whether they meet them. So we're interested not in ideology, but in results - and that makes us natural allies of science.  And it's also true that "Science and the City" is a relationship as old as history itself. Cities have always been "science-friendly."  That was true in ancient Alexandria and Athens, true in the city-states of Renaissance Italy, and it's truer than ever in New York City today.

"In medieval times - I'll leave you with this thought - there was- it was said that "city air is freer," because cities liberated people from the bonds of feudalism, unlocked human creativity, and fired human imaginations. Now Science and the City - scientists and city leaders - have the potential to make the air freer and healthier for everyone who inhabits our globe. So I would urge you, let us work together to make that potential a reality.  The future really is in our hands. Have a great week, enjoy New York, and for those who come from out of town, please spend a lot of money, we need the tax revenues. Thank you.

Stu Loeser

(212) 788-2958