The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Activists ‘Step Upâ€TM Challenge to Climate Change

by Shreema Mehta

Feb. 5, 2007 – With public awareness about climate change approaching a tipping point, environmentalists are elevating their push for immediate steps to curb global warming.

On April 14, as part of a new campaign called Step it Up, activists in at least 47 states plan to rally simultaneously at different locations to demand that US carbon emissions be reduced by 80 percent over the next 40 years.

Actions will be held in hundreds of locations, including at landmarks such as the Hollywood sign and the Grand Canyon. Activists in Jacksonville, Florida, plan to hold "ask a scientist" sessions and are trying to partner with hardware stores to pass out compact fluorescent bulbs. Protesters in Evansville, Indiana will march to the headquarters of utility company Vectren, to protest its plans to build a new coal power plant in the region.

According to the campaign’s website, there are already 542 actions being planned, and they expect hundreds more.

Step it Up spokesperson and Middlebury College senior Phil Aroneanu said the campaign is organizing the local rallies instead of a big protest in Washington, DC to allow activists to connect with others in their communities. He added that holding a rally in Washington and having protesters fly or drive long distances itself would contribute to global warming.

Environmentalists have been working for decades to avert catastrophic global climate change, and in recent years, they have convinced state and local officials to adopt measures to curb carbon emissions. To date, 393 cities have signed on to the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement – a pledge for individual municipalities to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. And seven states in the Northeast formed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in 2003 to bring down carbon dioxide emissions.

"We try to do things on the grassroots, local level and put our money where our mouth is."

But now activists are putting renewed pressure on the federal government, which they say has ignored the issue for too long.

Last week, the Campus Climate Challenge, which mobilizes college students to call for green initiatives on their campuses, held a nationwide "week of action," during which students from schools such as the University of New Mexico or Miami Dade College held screenings of An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s documentary on global warming. Other actions included letter-writing campaigns and mobilizing students to, among other initiatives, pressure college administrations to reduce their schools’ greenhouse-gas emissions.

In addition, various local activist groups plan to hold vigils, marches and other actions throughout the year to raise awareness on global warming, according to the Massachusetts-based Climate Crisis Coalition, which will publish a calendar of these events.

"US climate change activists are saying, ‘does it make sense, in the best-case scenario, to have one million people showing up in Washington?" said Raya Ariella, the Coalition’s director. "Imagine all that travel and [carbon dioxide]. We try to do things on the grassroots, local level and put our money where our mouth is."

"We’re taking the world’s most momentous challenging environmental problem and expecting the market to solve the problem the market has created."

Four environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the World Resources Institute, have partnered with corporations to create the US Climate Action Partnership (US-CAP), which is calling for mandatory, federally mandated reductions in emissions of the greenhouse gases linked to global warming. Participating corporations include DuPont, General Electric and BP America.

"We think that finding common ground with major companies, including major emitters of pollution… can be used to reduce emissions and provides a very strong political push towards getting legislation enacted," said Daniel Lashoff, a senior scientist at the NRDC.

Other groups interviewed by TNS, such as Greenpeace, support the plan, saying that corporations have the resources to push for significant legislation on carbon emissions, and arguing that US-CAP’s market-based approach can counter opponents who say global warming legislation would disrupt the economy.

But other environmental groups refuse to work with corporations, saying that approaches approved by the corporate world will not go far enough to reverse the effects of global warming.

"We’re taking the world’s most momentous challenging environmental problem and expecting the market to solve the problem the market has created," said Daphne Wysham, a director with the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, a branch of the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank.

Wysham said her group advocates a carbon tax on emissions to reduce the incentive for companies to pollute, instead of carbon trading programs, which she said offers no incentives to reduce polluting, since companies can simply buy credits to offset their pollution. The group is also calling for more cuts to government subsidies for fossil-fuel companies.

"Climate change is probably the overarching number-one issue. It’s pay now or pay later. If we decide to pay later, it might not even be possible."

But she added that even programs like carbon taxes should be pursued carefully to avoid influence from the nuclear industry, which could stand to benefit from policies helping corporations that shy away from fossil fuels.

Wyshman said projects such as US-CAP are ways to achieve smaller progress at a quicker rate. But she added that she preferred to call for big changes

"There are some people who feel more comfortable working more closely with industry because they feel that’s the way to get things done," she said. "My feeling is that as an environmental organization, what we need to be is the moral conscience for society on environmental matters. And that means keeping our standards as high as can be and leave it to the public, via their politicians, to work out compromises."

Ariella of the Climate Crisis Coalition stressed the importance of not only lobbying government officials and corporations, but also getting more of the public involved in fighting global warming. "Climate change is probably the overarching number-one issue," she said. "It affects food supply, water supply, health, illness, the spread of disease, extreme weather events. It’s like, pay now or pay later. If we decide to pay later, it might not even be possible."

This article is the first in a two-part series. The second installment will evaluate goals set by anti-climate-change campaigners to see if they are strong enough to counter global warming.
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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Shreema Mehta is a staff journalist.

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