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Bush's glib environmental destruction is eliciting comparisons to the Taliban, and to isolationist Americans who stood by while Hitler rose.

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South Korean environmentalists chant anti-U.S. slogans near the U.S. embassy in Seoul, April 2, 2001. Their demands: that the Bush administration support the 1997 Kyoto Agreement on greenhouse gas reductions. Yun Suk-bong


Bush Secedes from Kyoto,
Establishes Rogue State

by Kelly Cogswell

APRIL 2, 2001. George W. Bush, bomber and embargoer of rogue states, gives every impression that he is one. This week he unilaterally gutted global environmental policy by declaring that he would not support the 1997 Kyoto Agreement outlining measures to reduce greenhouse gasses.

His rationale is that it is not in the economic "national interests" of the United States, though according to the U.S. Department of Energy report, "Scenarios for a Cleaner Energy Future," new technologies to reduce emissions could actually lower consumer energy bills.

The only endangered interests are those of the oil rich Bush family and friends, and of the energy industry which has been investing a portion of its profits in making Republican friends. According to the Centre for Responsive Politics, the coal industry, which would have been hurt most by new emissions standards, gave more than $3.4 million to Republicans in the last election cycle, only $0.4 million to Democrats. Oil and gas companies bought $10 million worth of GOP influence, which they've used to lobby against the Kyoto Agreement.

So brace yourself for a warm century. To have any substantial effect on global warming, the already moderate Kyoto Agreement needed to be implemented by countries representing at least 55 percent of emissions in 1990. This is nearly impossible without the United States which, with only 5 percent of the world's population, emits almost a quarter of the world's carbon dioxide, the main climate changing gas. The average American consumes twice as much energy as the average European. The emission of greenhouse gasses is also about twice as high per capita in the United States as in Europe, where they're already experiencing the effects of global warming.

George W. Taliban
In the European press, Bush's glib environmental destruction is eliciting comparisons to the Taliban, and to isolationist Americans who stood by while Hitler rose. European politicians, who met Saturday at a previously scheduled conference in Sweden, were somewhat more polite.

Dominique Voynet, France's minister for the environment, merely called Mr. Bush's decision "completely provocative and irresponsible" and warned the United States against "continuing the work of sabotage" if other countries pursue the Kyoto Agreement on their own. Unchecked, American companies benefiting from easier environmental rules, may try to shut out compliant European companies who will face higher expenses.

In an attempt to gain some U.S. concessions, a delegation led by Margot Wallstr–m, Europe's commissioner for environmental affairs, will meet on Monday with Christine Whitman, the nominal head of the Environmental Protection Agency. They shouldn't expect much. The moderate Republican has been eating a regular diet of crow since Bush began his environmental rampage several weeks ago, shortly after she told the G-8 Environment Summit that Bush was committed to reducing CO2 per his campaign promise. She's also had to justify policy changes on arsenic levels in the drinking water, and opening public lands to logging and drilling.

The delegation is also expected to visit China, Russia, Iran, and Japan to assess whether it would be possible to carry through on the Kyoto treaty without the United States.

Fiddling While Africa Burns
Unfortunately, Sweden, current holder of the rotating European Union presidency, made clear this weekend that the EU would not retaliate against Washington with trade sanctions. Instead, they would mobilize their diplomatic corps, try to forge other alliances, and hope for the best when global environmental talks resume in Bonn in July.

But without action by individual nations, or activist groups there won't be any leverage against the United States in Bonn. Gerd Billen, executive director of Germany's biggest environmental group, Naturschutzbund Deutschland, which has 350,000 members, along with other environmental leaders, is pushing for a boycott against American companies, particularly oil companies that have extensive gas stations chains in Europe.

"It would be a citizens' action, and if it is done right, it could really put pressure on the oil companies," said Alexander de Roo, deputy chairman of the European Parliament's environmental committee. "I don't think that begging will be very effective. I think they will only listen to powerful arguments." There is also hope pressure will be applied from the World Trade Organization, which includes environmental health as part of the principles of sustainable development.

In the U.S.A.
Tellingly, no European mentioned grassroots organizing in the United States, though, in fact, most Americans also wish Bush would do something about global warming. According to a CNN-Time poll released Sunday, three-fourths of Americans consider global warming a serious problem—probably the same three-fourths that say they believe emissions of gasses like carbon dioxide are causing global temperature increases. Most would like legislation forcing companies to make more efficient cars and trucks. And half would be willing to pay 25 cents more per gallon for gasoline to reduce pollution and global warming.

Green groups in the U.S. like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace have experienced a spike upwards in membership after the controversial nomination of Gale Norton as Secretary of the Interior. Martha Marks, president of Republicans for Environmental Protection said, "We've had several hundred more members sign up in the last two months. Maybe as many as 1,000."

Despite their efforts, the problem of unfettered consumption of fossil fuel in the United States may be more intractable in the long run than other difficult problems grassroots activists work against, like racism, for example, or homophobia. At the center of the American myth is democracy, equality, fair play. We can, eventually, let a black woman rise to the top of a corporation, or give queers the right to marry: it is fair, it is equal, and we lose nothing. To each their own.

The New Civil War
But the fight over the environment, like the fight over slavery, has higher stakes than most people admit, because in it, American culture and economy are bound together.

White America was founded not only on the myth of equality, but on that of the pioneer, of self-sufficiency and self-interest, of conquering and expansion. We expand our cars, our lawns, our suburbs, our websites, our waistlines. Immigrant, and black and brown America is wrapped up in this myth, too. We must give our children the things we never had, show the neighbors we made it in the only language we all understand—stuff.

For decades, this consumption and this display of cultural peacockery has driven our economy until a fractional drop in consumer spending throws the Dow into frenzies. Like in the Old South, you can't get rid of slavery without bringing down King Cotton, hoop skirts, and Miss Scarlett.

The energy industry knows it. You lobby for laws to regulate Texaco, you'll have secessionists. You'll have Bush—who knows if you begin conserving energy in Los Angeles, his oil cronies may become mere billionaires, instead of multi-billionaires. And unions and their Democratic allies fear consumer moderation will put workers in Peoria out of work; no one will be building new houses, eating in McDonald's and the thing spirals down from there.

I think it will take a kind of war to incorporate us as honorable citizens in the global community. Not a war with bullets, hopefully, but with money, when the rest of the world, especially economically strong Europe, and soon, big developing nations like Brazil, India, and China, hit the U.S. where it counts, in the industrial pocket book.

Help America kick the cheap energy habit. Bring on the boycotts.

Related links:

For what you can do go to the EPA's Concerned Citizens.

For a European view of The President who bought power and sold the world.

For the almost tongue-in-cheek solution to the rogue Bush see This means war.

For Global Change—A Review of Climate Change and Ozone Depletion.

For the ubiquitous Greenpeace International.

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