Montreal - The Bush admin's chief negotiator, Exxon-endorsed Harlan Watson, opened the UN climate change conference now underway in Montreal with another middle-finger gesture to the world.
Except for a brief respite during the Clinton years, the U.S. government has invoked the great American ethos of individuality and freedom to justify its refusal to enter an agreement with the world community - even though the White House signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the 92 Earth Summit in Rio.
True to form, Watson ruled out making pledges to fight global warming beyond 2012, the year that Kyoto expires, saying, "The United States is opposed to any such discussions."
Luckily, the rest of the U.S. has begun to take Bush to task. On Monday, 24 U.S. senators signed a letter condemning the admin's reps for " blocking or obstructing such discussions amongst parties to the convention."
The letter reminds the reps of the "legal obligation to participate in the COP [Conference of Parties, shorthand for the UN climate meets] negotiations in a constructive way." It goes on to say that "a deliberate decision by the administration not to engage in such discussions, solely because they may include the topic of future binding emissions reductions, is inconsistent with the obligations of the U.S. as set forth in the UNFCCC treaty."
Unfortunately, the balance of power at the federal level still rests with the president, though a majority of Americans have started to tune him out. A recent survey conducted by the global- warming-skeptical Fox News network showed that 60 per cent of Americans describe climate change as either "a crisis or major problem."
"In a lot of ways the country has stopped listening to Bush," says Kim Teplitzky, national energy coordinator for the Sierra Student Coalition, one of hundreds of activists who made the trip north for the climate conference. "We are trying to get around the feds by pushing other levels of government to take action."
Their concerns are not going unheeded. "In the absence of federal progress, state and local governments have emerged as key arenas to address global warming," says Jim Marzilli, a Massachusetts state legislator and head of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. Marzilli has been one of the main proponents of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), an agreement among nine northeastern states to reduce their emissions by 10 per cent by 2020.
"The RGGI agreement sends an important message to the rest of the world that just because Bush is hellbent on destroying Kyoto, they should not walk away from this process.
"The White House has been taken over by a mix of oil men and fundamentalists who are living in a fantasy world. Once you get outside Washington, there is a growing consensus," Marzilli continues, "even among Republicans, that something must be done about global warming."
Some 28 states have produced plans to tackle climate change. Another 21 have enacted a renewable portfolio, requiring that a certain portion of renewables be used as part of their jurisdictions' total energy mix, a standard left out of the recent federal energy bill. In Massachusetts, individuals can receive tax credits for solar panels as well as energy-efficiency devices.
Jeff Walter, a student activist at Principia College in Illinois and delegate at the Montreal conference, engages students across the U.S. through the Cool Campus campaign, a commitment by colleges across the country to reduce their GHG emissions by 80 per cent over the next 40 years. "In a true democracy, the government represents the will of the people, and the people have shown a true commitment to stop this global threat," says Walter. "Our government just hasn't caught up to us."
Economists fear America is going to be left out of the global carbon marketplace. "[Bush] is selling our country short by saying that we can't tackle climate change. He should be embracing American ingenuity," says Teplitzky.
A national campaign called Jumpstart Ford is trying to show the company how reducing emissions will ensure its economic survival. Says Teplitzky, "It's time for Ford to hire engineers to build innovative cars, not lobbyists to weaken environmental standards."
"The American people no longer think our nation is invincible," says Marzilli. "They've seen the economy go down the tubes. The way we are going to regain the lead in the world is through the manufacture of environmentally sustainable products."