Multinational Monitor

MAY 2001
VOL 22 No. 5


Rollback: The Corporate Regulatory Feeding Frenzy
Foreward by
Monitor Staff

Bush's Corporate Cabinet
by Charlie Cray

The Repetitive Motion Un-Rule
by Deborah Weinstock

Arsenic and Old Regs
by Lynn Thorp

The Roadless Tramelled
by Ned Daly

Bankrupt Policies
by Jake Lewis

Bush’s Hot Air
by Phil Radford

Mining Their Own Business
by Charlie Cray

Defending Contractor Irresponsibility
by Robert Weissman

A Regulatory Accident in the Making
by Charlie Cray

Cheney and Halliburton: Go Where the Oil Is
by Kenny Bruno
and Jim Vallette


The Politics and Law of Worker Rights
an interview with
William Gould


Behind the Lines

Challenging the Oiligarchy

The Front
Medical Privacy, For Now

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News



Challenging the Oiligarchy - Here we go again.

We are “appalled that the long-term interests of the majority of the world population are being sacrificed for short-term corporate greed in the United States.”

You know things are serious when this level of outrage is expressed not by a tiny environmental group, but by the European Parliament, in response to the Bush administration’s announcement that it was going to pull the United States out of the Kyoto Protocol, the international global warming treaty. In a resolution, the European Parliament added, “It would be socially and humanly irresponsible to squander the heritage of energy resources and a sound environment to which our descendants will rightfully lay claim.”

You also know things are serious when the U.S. Treasury Secretary criticizes the Kyoto Protocol for being too weak and having no more than a “trivial impact” on climate change — and yet the Bush administration announces its plans to withdraw from the Kyoto process on the grounds that its energy efficiency prescriptions are too onerous.

The decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol represents the nadir in the first hundred days of an administration that has worked very quickly to gut a wide array of environmental, labor and public health regulations, and to further tip the scales in favor of the rich.

To appreciate the outrageousness of the Bush action, it is worth reviewing both how certain the problem of global warming is, and how serious the potential consequences are.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a consensus-driven group of the world’s 2,500 leading climate scientists, tends to issue statements in somewhat bland language. But there is no denying its conclusion:

  • Global warming is happening now. “An increasing body of observations gives a collective picture of a warming world and other changes in the climate system,” the IPCC says. “Globally, it is very likely [meaning a 90 to 99 percent chance] that the 1990s was the warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year in the instrumental record, since 1861.”
  • Greenhouse gases are accumulating at an alarming rate. Atmospheric CO2 levels probably exceed levels of any period in the last 20,000 years.
  • The warming trends are not natural. “There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.”
  • Major jumps in global temperatures are coming soon. Average surface temperature is projected to increase in the range of 2.5 to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit from 1990 to 2100.
    The climate chaos induced by global warming is likely to create severe weather conditions, with major human health and environmental impacts — with the worst consequences borne, as usual, by the poor:
  • Weather disasters — including storms and flooding in certain areas, and drought and wildfires in others — are likely to surge.
  • Melting of the polar icecaps could lead to dramatic sea level rise, overwhelming low-lying coastal areas, and submerging small-island nations altogether.
  • Shifting weather patterns are likely to significantly alter the ability of different regions to grow food, and undermine many areas’ ability to grow traditional crops and maintain or achieve food self-sufficiency.
  • Climate changes also seem likely to lead to new disease patterns, including the potentially dramatic spread of tropical diseases such as malaria, and the evolution of new diseases and strains of disease.

Any remotely rational assessment of the evidence would conclude that immediate action is imperative to limit the damage. That the Clinton administration was so reluctant to embrace even pitifully inadequate measures, and that the Bush administration is willing to go even further and reject the minimalist Kyoto Protoco, is due to the energy industry’s powerful influence, and the very special ties between the Bush administration and Big Oil.

But the brazenness of the Bush administration also reflects the weakness of the U.S. environmental movement and its failure to mobilize a broad constituency around global warming.

Consider by way of contrast the issue of poor country access to HIV/AIDS and other essential medicines. Here, AIDS activists’ protests forced the Clinton administration to reverse its policy and stop applying pressure to developing countries that were seeking to make essential medicines affordable. The Bush administration, which is even friendlier to the drug companies than the Clinton administration and has drug company executives in important positions, decided to leave the revised Clinton policy alone. Why? In large part, because of fears of renewed protests.

In the global warming context, with a few exceptions, there has been little to rival the aggressive and strategically savvy interventions of the AIDS activists.

That must change if the United States, by far the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitter, is to begin to reduce its emissions. Environmentalists must reshape the climate change issue to be one that generates passion: They must move away from narrow debates about percentage changes in aggregate emissions. They should join the growing consumer revolt against utility overcharging, and push not just for cost-saving clean energy and energy efficiency, but for public control of power generating and distribution. (Public power would create the institutional structure to force the shift to clean production.) The environmental movement must also embrace the climate justice perspective, which demands analysis and response to global warming with an eye to impacts on the poor and minorities, both in the United States and around the world.

These are the approaches that will generate passion and build a movement, and galvanize the social forces to offset the political power — amplified in the Bush administration — of Big Oil and the rest of the energy industry.

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