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

Protesters erected a symbolic dam to stave
off the floods grom global warming.


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.

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 rainforests.

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 the planet.



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