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With 2020 looming, Michael Bloomberg brings climate change doc to Iowa

Des Moines might seem like an unusual place to premiere a documentary, unless of course you’re thinking of running for president.
Image: Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at the Bloomberg Global Business forum in New York on Sept. 26, 2018.Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Des Moines, Iowa, might seem like an unusual place to premiere a documentary, unless of course you’re thinking of running for president.

Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday will introduce his latest film on the topic of climate change and be part of a panel discussion in the state, which kicks off the 2020 Democratic primary season in 14 months.

Bloomberg hasn’t said whether he’ll run, but many signs indicate that he’s leaning more yes than no as it comes time for him to decide in the next few weeks. The former mayor of New York and founder of the Bloomberg business information empire spent $41 million on 24 House races during the midterms, according to The New York Times. He also registered as a Democrat this year and has funded plans seeking solutions to issues like gun violence, immigration and the opioid epidemic.

Lately, Bloomberg has been using a relationship with the National Geographic channel to expand a local and international conversation about climate change.

“Paris to Pittsburgh” uses Iowa and Florida as a backdrop to explain climate change and its effect on people’s lives while also highlighting Iowa’s solar industry to offer a hint of optimism.

The documentary, which will air on National Geographic on Dec. 12, features a flood victim from Clarksville, Iowa, talking about losing his possessions, and the Orlando director of sustainability, Chris Castro, discussing floodwaters in Florida.

The movie is less about doom and gloom, however, and more about actions people are taking to combat climate change.

“Headlines tend to focus on the lack of leadership in Washington on climate change — but not enough attention gets paid to how much the rest of the country is doing, in red and blue states, to confront this challenge,” Bloomberg told NBC News. “By telling that story, the film drives home the message that fighting climate changes makes our economy stronger, creates jobs and saves lives by cleaning the air we breathe, and hopefully that will encourage even more people to act.”

Bloomberg noted that many people were not relying on government action.

“We need more leadership from Washington, but Americans aren’t waiting around for it,” he said.

The film gets its title from President Donald Trump’s comment that he was representing the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris, in pulling out of the Paris climate accord. The documentary features the reaction of Bill Peduto, mayor of Pittsburgh, to those comments.

It is the second project from Bloomberg, who appears to be making use of documentary storytelling as a way to soft launch himself to voters. “From the Ashes,” another documentary for National Geographic, tackled the coal industry and aired last year.

Scott Mulhauser, founder of the communications firm Aperture Strategies and former deputy chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, said Bloomberg appears to be positioning himself as a leader who tries to solve problems and define himself in a way that's different from other potential candidates.

"My sense is, it's a continued part of a leadership play," Mulhauser said. "Rather than looking at an issue in isolation, he's looking at it in concert with other pieces. My sense is the Bloomberg team would frame it as taking on issues, popular or not, and taking on tough challenges and trying to solve them."