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The Planet

December 1997, Volume 4, number 10

Pre-Kyoto Hot Air, Cold Feet


"Global warming is no longer a theory," declared Al Gore in September. "It is reality. And it is time to act."
The vice president made that observation at Montana's Glacier National Park -- a real-life global warming laboratory where glaciers are fast disappearing. By 2020, park scientists predict, there may not be a single glacier left in the park.

At his Oct. 6 global warming conference in Washington, President Clinton echoed the theme of urgent action. "I think we all have to agree that the potential for serious climate disruption is real," he said. "It would clearly be a grave mistake to bury our heads in the sand and pretend the issue will go away."

Then he did just that, fumbling what he described as "a golden opportunity to conquer one of the most important challenges of the 21st century." In spite of his bold rhetoric, the president unveiled a global warming strategy that struck many environmentalists -- as well as U.S. allies abroad -- as a weak blend of hot air and cold feet.
Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope likened the Clinton plan to "fighting a five-alarm blaze with a garden hose." Dan Becker, director of the Club's Global Warming Campaign, said the proposal "does too little and starts too late."

"It's a feeble response to a staggering environmental crisis," Becker said. "The world's sole remaining superpower is rapidly developing a reputation as the world's greatest superpolluter."

Clinton seeks merely to return U.S. emissions of global warming pollutants to 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012 -- a goal his administration has already committed to achieve by 2000. The new Clinton plan stands in stark contrast to the proposal of European nations to cut greenhouse emissions to 15 percent below 1990 levels by 2010. It also bodes ill for international treaty negotiations in Kyoto, Japan, Dec. 1–10.

The Clinton plan hinges in large part on a risky pollution trading-and-borrowing scheme. It would give U.S. polluters the right to increase emissions within U.S. borders in exchange for creating pollution reduction projects in developing countries, an idea Pope rejected as ineffective. "Putting companies like Exxon and General Motors on an honor system to cut global warming pollution won't protect our kids," he said.

Polluting industries like Exxon and GM are flexing their muscles in a 13-million-dollar ad campaign aimed at scaring the American people into believing that action to curb global warming means economic doom. The Sierra Club, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Information Center, took on their ad with a pro-environment TV spot that urged Americans to stand up to the polluters by calling the White House and urging Clinton to take real action. This winter the Club will release a series of TV public service announcements using irony and humor to educate the public about the dangers of global warming.

Sierra Club activists are working hard on the Club's global warming campaign, pressuring Clinton and informing their communities about this serious environmental issue.

In Florida, the efforts of activist Anna Peterson have netted several new signers to the Club's state and local letter to President Clinton on fuel economy standards. Utah activist Terri Underwood has scored major successes by publishing letters to the editor in the Salt Lake City Tribune and distributing global warming postcards. From rallies in Colorado to a global warming debate in Alabama and campus "dorm storming" around the country, activists committed to protecting our environment and future generations have made enormous contributions to the effort.

Between now and the treaty talks in Kyoto and beyond, the Sierra Club will be working to make sure future generations -- and our environment -- don't pay the price for today's pollution.

To take action: Help inform people in your community about the need for action to curb global warming by getting involved in the Sierra Club's television PSA campaign. Contact your local TV station and ask if it's running the Sierra Club climate change spots, or call (202) 547-1141 or e-mail steve.pedery@sierraclub.org to
find out more.

Write a letter to the editor of your local paper on global warming and the need for urgent action. Be sure to mention the biggest single step we can take to curb global warming -- improving the fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks.

For more information on the Club's position on global warming, see the July/August Planet or visit our Web
site at www.sierraclub.org/globalwarming/


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