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Indiana Jones to the Rescue? (Note From A Worldwatcher).

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. And these times aren't just extraordinary. On the energy policy front, they're almost unbelievable. The United States, the most powerful and profligate country on Earth, has just re-entered the 19th century, six-guns blazing and smokestacks smoking. George W. Bush has just announced his new energy plan, and as the new president (with help from vice president Dick Cheney) sees it, the big goals for the future are to burn a lot more coal and oil and to do a make-over on nuclear power. Maybe he assumes that by now, most Americans have forgotten all about Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

So, not only is the new president evidently content to assume a "what, me worry?" stance regarding the global-warming impacts of burning ever-increasing quantities of fossil fuels; he also appears to be unfazed by the fact that the nuclear industry depends heavily on being propped up by the federal government--the very kind of government intervention that conservatives say they despise. If nuclear were left to fend for itself in the energy market, it would--if it were able to voluntarily maintain current levels of protection against radiation leaks, explosions, and thefts of nuclear materials--quickly go out of business.

What to do? The problem here is that Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney apparently do not read the reports of scientists who study such fields as climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental security. They seem to be surrounded by advisors and cronies who screen the information they receive for its ideological suitability. Among the reports that would apparently have been deemed unsuitable are the World Scientists' Warning to Humanity in 1992, or the World Conservation Union's Red List of Threatened Species in 1996, or the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2001, or any of the several other landmark reports that are telling us the time has come for a fundamental shift in the energy economy.

If the U.S. leaders shrug off science as though it is not really essential to the future technologies they seem to think will solve any problems we may encounter, what can we do to get through to them? Time is short; the Earth is warming; the sea is rising; the pressure on natural systems is building; and the stability of many societies is weakening. We've been wondering, along with concerned people all over the world, how can we connect?

Thankfully, it's no longer just scientists and environmental activists who are wondering this. Heads of other nations, religious leaders, people concerned with environmental justice, and many others are now alarmed. Even the U.S. mainstream media, which rely on heavy funding from fossil fuels (in the form of advertising revenue from oil companies and car manufacturers, as well as through the corporate consolidation of media ownership), are waking up to the realization that the consumer economy they depend on depends, in turn, on the health of a global environment that is now in serious jeopardy.

In the media, some of the strongest -- and perhaps most surprising -- efforts to wake up the world have come from Time magazine, which in the past couple of years has published a series of major investigations of such topics as corporate welfare and global warming. But even the most trenchant articles in Time don't always find their way into the presidential citadel. There's not a lot of reading going on in the White House, and even some of the publishers who are most tightly linked to the traditional economy, it seems, are beginning to feel a bit unsettled.

A few weeks ago, we got a phone call from Time editor Charles Alexander, who said he had an idea. If the president wouldn't listen to climate scientists and environmental analysts, maybe he'd at least pay attention to people who are famous. What if the editors at Time were able to identify some notable people who were interested in writing to the president, asking him to reconsider his evident disinterest in climate change, and urging him to take seriously the need to cut U.S. carbon emissions? If they were to collaborate on a letter, perhaps it could be published as the magazine's Essay for that week. It would be an extraordinary thing for a news magazine to do, but...well, could we recommend some famous but environmentally astute people who might be interested in participating?

We did some brainstorming. We felt rather inadequate at this task, because we are almost embarrassingly "out of it" when it comes to recognizing the major figures of popular culture, who constitute the lion's share of famous people in the United States. But we surmised that Mr. Bush might also be impressed by people who have been spectacularly successful in business (e.g., George Soros); by people made famous by high-profile scientific or explorations of planetary-scale phenomena (e.g., John Glenn); by political giants of the past century (e.g., Mikhail Gorbachev); or by scientists whose renown is so great that it might override the president's apparent distrust of scientific reports (e.g., Jane Goodall). We made up a short list and sent it off to Time. A few days later, we learned that eight of the people we'd recommended (Gorbachev, Glenn, Soros, Goodall, Walter Cronkite, Craig Venter, Edward O. Wilson, and Harrison Ford) had agreed to participate, along with others whom Charles had already selected (Jimmy Carter and Stephen Hawking). The letter was published in the April 9, 2001 issue.

We don't yet know whether it had an effect, but we know it sent out a widely circulated message that there is a growing moral and political pressure on the U.S administration to wale up and smell the carbon.
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Title Annotation:United States' energy policy
Author:Ayres, Ed
Publication:World Watch
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2001
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