This week’s hot story (literally) in the press is the Global Warming Conference in Kyoto, Japan, where heads of state are arguing about who will cut greenhouse gas emissions and by how much. What’s noticeably missing from the press coverage is any report about the main causes of greenhouse gas emissions.
Global warming is an accepted fact by scientists in every nation, except for the United States, which has the highest rate of carbon dioxide emissions of any nation in the world (see Stump Talk, ETS! vol. 2, #11). Conservative estimates conclude that the global mean temperature will rise by six degrees and ocean levels will rise three feet if nothing is done to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The global climate is a delicately balanced system–small changes can trigger enormous problems, including massive drought and starvation in one part of the world, while excessive rains, flooding, and soil erosion plague another region.
All too often, the mainstream press only reports specific natural disasters, but never the underlying causes of an increasing string of hurricanes, floods, and drought. Carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, is produced by the burning of oil, coal and gas in electrical power plants, and the burning of gasoline in automobile engines. This summer U.S. drivers burned up 356 million gallons of gasoline per day in the month of July. Overall U.S. gasoline consumption averaged a record 336 million gallons per day during the first eight months of 1997. Drivers are not entirely to blame for this trend; automakers are pushing more expensive minivans qnd sports utility vehicles, which are heavier and more fuel-hungry than older model cars. Congress refuses to appropriate funds for mass-transit and is considering a move to either privatize or close down Amtrak and sell off its assets, leaving travelers with no other options than to fly in fuel-hungry 747s or take to the road.
Global corporations also profit from destroying the one resource that can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere: forests. Massive clearcutting continues. Plantation farming takes over cleared land and burns the remaining brush, releasing enormous amounts of carbon into the air, and causing choking clouds of smoke over nations like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brazil. Locally, new research on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest shows that Pacific Northwest old-growth forests, with their long growing seasons and high volume of organic matter, are the most efficient forests in the world for trapping and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, yet they’ve also been targeted for logging (see Stump Talk, ETS! #51 and #45).
Other solutions to global warming exist. A fierce battle over mass transit is taking place all over the country (not just in Seattle), while press and politicians everywhere try to sweep it under the rug. Automakers and the oil industry discourage mass transit, but also refuse to market fuel-efficient cars–while they admit to having the capability to make electric cars, solar-powered vehicles, and hydrogen engines.
Conservation of electricity is no longer debated in the media. With the current push to privatize public utilities, government funds for conservation programs and advertising is fast disappearing. Once privatized, utilities will search for the cheapest, dirtiest methods of generating power to maximize profits.
In short, it’s going to take major, binding legislation to force industries to change. Yet, in Kyoto, Bill Clinton has made the weakest proposal for cutting greenhouse gas emissions of any nation at the conference; if any agreement is forthcoming, it will be too little, too late–and it will contain few, if any, penalties for corporations that fail to comply. However, this won’t stop Clinton from declaring a victory if and when a toothless agreement is signed, and it won’t stop the press from ignoring the main issues. It’s up to us to not be fooled by this posturing or lulled into complacency; we are responsible for global warming, and it’s occurring right now. We need to change our habits, push for an end to our dependence on oil and, most importantly, integrate this fight with other struggles going on over labor issues, human rights, free trade, and social justice.