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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


April 2007

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Editorial - Green in the U.S.A.

On 20 February, 250,000 people from more than three dozen countries watched “2010 Imperative,” a webcast twice as long as an average feature film that warned about the dangers of global warming and outlined the possibilities of using design strategies to reduce carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Less than a week later, An Inconvenient Truth, starring Al Gore, won the Oscar for best documentary against formidable competition—this at an awards ceremony that, according to actor Leonardo DiCaprio, had “officially gone green.”1

The day after the Oscars, 26 February, The New York Times headlined an article “A Buyout Deal That Has Many Shades of Green.”2 According to the article, Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense, and William K. Reilly, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (and before that president of the Conservation Foundation) brokered a deal: Reilly, representing two large equity firms interested in buying the TXU Corporation, a Texas energy company, would ensure that TXU would nix its controversial plans to build eight new but outmoded and heavily carbon-emitting coal-fired power plants. Reilly also promised that TXU would join other companies in instituting tight restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. In return, Krupp would help talk environmental groups into easing off their attacks on TXU—attacks that had actually brought the company’s stock down.

The opinion pages of The New York Times responded in turn on 28 February: An editorial, “A Green Deal on Coal,” cautiously acknowledged the deal’s political implications, and Maureen Dowd in her op-ed column called for Al Gore to run for president again and inject the issue of global climate change into the campaign.3

As the Times editorial noted, it is tempting to hail these developments as the sign of a new era, a new consciousness among the public and business leaders that something significant must be done. And it could very well be that this is the case. These signs, important in their own right, may also be an indication that we have turned a corner, that those of us concerned about climate change may have succeeded in convincing enough people in enough institutions that everyone must act. It would be wonderful, and a cause for great celebration, if that were indeed true.

However, it is also tempting to think, “Whew, the job is done; finally the country has woken up!” In reality, continued caution and watchful waiting, while keeping up the pressure on all fronts, is what is called for. So far, everything that has been proposed makes economic as well as environmental sense. However, if we believe climate change is as serious as the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report says it is, and if we truly want to address the problem, much more must be done. For many economists keeping tally, it is likely the price tag for what must be done will appear untenable—that is, unless the enormous costs of damage from and adaptation to unmitigated climate change are included in the equation.

Just as important, and missing in the current debate, is the attention that must be paid to that substantial portion of the population living in conditions of unacceptable poverty, hunger, and disease. All people must participate in the actions necessary to rescue the planet. Therefore, all people, not just the chosen few living in rich cities, must benefit from the movement to a sustainable economy. To accomplish this, we need to work to improve the infrastructure, markets, and general state of being in developing and least-developed economies. As always, the industrialized world must play a significant role—at home and in such impoverished nations. It is a tough task, but the signs of an improving attitude are growing stronger every day.

—Alan H. McGowan

1. W. Booth and H. Steuver, “‘Departed’ Arrives; Whitaker and Mirren Are King and Queen,” The Washington Post, 26 February 2007.
2. A. R. Sorkin, “A Buyout Deal that Has Many Shades of Green,” The New York Times, 26 February 2007.
3. “A Green Deal on Coal,” The New York Times, 28 February 2007; and M. Dowd, “Ozone Man Sequel,” The New York Times, 28 February 2007.

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