You don't need a weatherman to tell you that Washington's pace
of action on global warming will remain glacial. Never mind the
spring droughts in Florida, the floods in Texas, the early bumble
bees in Boston--or all the other portents of climate change. Stiffing
his European hosts during his first state visit overseas, our Chief
Oil Executive dismissed carbon dioxide's impact, disdained the latest
National Academy of Sciences report
and proposed an energy plan predicted to promote 30 percent more
greenhouse gases in less than two decades. Let the polar bears eat
cake and the island nations buy boats.
And, yet, despite--or, perhaps, because of--such Washington windmilling,
a growing number of climate activists have been galvanized into
battle. This infantry of grassroots advocates, scientists, health
experts, non- governmental organizations and even City Hall bureaucrats
has launched its own struggle to reduce the greenhouse gases that
cause the climatic disorders of the day, organizing in an almost
inverse ratio to the obstinacy of the president.
Greenpeace, perhaps the
most visible of the climate campaigners, animates the battle on
the frontlines. Their antics at last November's meeting on climate
change at The Hague were typical of the organization's spirited intervention.
Their climate crusaders, more than 200 American students, pitched
in with 5,000 European peers to construct a sand dike around the conference
site--a symbolic dam to stave off the floods from global warming.
Chanting "stand strong," they handed flowers to the European delegates
as thanks for holding fast against the United States, whose emission
of a quarter of the world's greenhouse gases--and self-serving offer
to count existing forests and farms as carbon dioxide "sinks" instead
of genuinely reducing emissions--foiled progress. This summer, the
organization will send students to the next international climate
change meeting in Bonn.
Protesters erected a symbolic
dam to stave
off the floods grom global warming.
Other well-known groups doing battle include the Public
Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) agitating against "filthy fuels"
like coal. Clean Air
Cool Planet works to promote voluntary commitment to the Kyoto
protocol in the Northeast, while Climate
Solutions does the same on the opposite coast. Friends
of the Earth and the World Wildlife
Fund also commit to the cause on multiple fronts.
On a smaller scale, communities are pursuing clean renewables all
by themselves, from Minnesotans for
an Energy-Efficient Economy to entire states like New York and
Maryland, which have passed legislation for energy conservation
tax credits. Shareholder protest rallies organized by Campaign
ExxonMobil hit the oil companies and corporate elites where
it counts. While the Rainforest Action
Network has been focusing on climate change, the Woods
Hole Research Center's scientists have pushed to save the Amazon
To spread the information that could rouse an even larger public
outcry, Eban Goodstein, an economist at Portland's Lewis and Clark
College, launched the Green
House Network three years ago. Alarmed by "out of place, bizarre
and extreme events," Goodstein started training after-hours missionaries
as single-focus speakers on the subject of global warming. "It's
the defining issue of the world and neighborhoods," Goodstein tells
audiences at his training program, showing them slides of his own
activist theater work as a Santa Claus displaying an "I don't want
to be Ho Ho Homeless" sign that made the local news.
Beyond the roster of street-theater performers, green believers
and scientists, a workaday constituency of bureaucrats has joined
the crusade. Strikingly, the "faceless" officials behind the nation's
municipal desks have embraced the hands-on task of adopting and
adapting the Kyoto protocol percentages rejected by the U.S. Senate.
While Washington lags, Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) has mobilized
many of these groups, here and abroad. An arm of the
International Coalition for Local Environmental Initiatives,
the urban organizers have drawn some 350 international and local
governments, cities and towns to trim a Kyoto-based percentage off
their carbon emissions.
Neither political novices nor partisans, involved officials hail
from staple progressive cities like Portland, Madison, Burlington
and Berkeley, but also from places like Los Angeles (the largest)
and lesser-known cities like Fort Collins, Florida or Arlington,
Massachusetts. Theirs is door-to-door, nitty-gritty work: a four-step
program of auditing and activism. A project begins with city workers
looking into their own corners and cupboards to accomplish the community
cleanup that Washington ignores. They map their current emissions,
target the trouble zones, and create and then finally implement
a cleanup plan.
One example is Dave Konkle of Ann Arbor, Michigan's Department
of Natural Resources. To fulfill his emissions-reduction goal of
10 to 20 percent, Konkle went on a virtual treasure hunt for carbon
emissions around town. After targeting travel and utility consumption,
the city is now capturing methane gas from landfill sites. This
deadly gas that usually escapes into the atmosphere is more harmful
though less plentiful than carbon dioxide, and has entered the cleanup
roster of many cities.
In New Orleans, whose sinking sidewalks suggest a watery future
aggravated by climate change, Mayor Marc Morial welcomed 150 community
climate activists to CCP's meeting last fall. The ready audience
of delegates listened to the deluge of environmental difficulties
and what could be done about them. The focus of this year's session,
the automobile and its attendant pollution and sprawl, broadened
attention to an energy glutton that ravages urban cores and paves