Published on Saturday, March 24, 2001 in the Guardian of London
Europe Pleads with Bush to Show 'Political Courage' on Global Warming
by Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles
The European Union has warned President George Bush that the US must honour its agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions blamed for causing global warming.
The call to Mr Bush to show the "political courage" to stick to the deal made in Kyoto comes just as the president is dismaying environmentalists with his energy policies and as California plunges deeper into a power crisis.
A letter to the White House - signed by the European commission president Romano Prodi and Goran Persson, the prime minister of Sweden which currently holds the rotating EU presidency - stresses the importance of the 1997 United Nations deal that commits developed countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.
"The global and long-term importance of climate change and the need for a joint effort by all industrialised countries in this field makes it an integral part of relations between the USA and the EU," it said.
Attempts to finalise the details of the Kyoto agreement, which would require the US and other developed countries to cut their emissions of six greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2% by 2010, foundered last November.
Both Mr Bush and his vice-president Dick Cheney are from oil business backgrounds as are many of their heaviest financial supporters.
They have made it clear from the start of their administration that they are willing to waive environmental regulations in the pursuit of better energy supply. Mr Cheney has already said that he does not support the Kyoto approach.
The EU would have found a more sympathetic ear had Al Gore been elected president because of his commitment to environmental issues but it is already clear that Mr Bush feels no obligation.
The letter emphasises the role that the US has to play as the major consumer of energy in the world.
"Since a reduction in our dependency on fossil fuels goes straight to the heart of the functioning of our industrial societies, there is no doubt that this transformation will be difficult to achieve," it says. "It will require a vision, political courage, and an extraordinary effort of international cooperation."
On the home front, Mr Bush has made it clear that he believes that the current black-outs which have been affecting California this week are in part to do with the state's environmental policies, which impose strict guidelines on the creation of new power plants.
The blackouts have continued to affect the state and more are anticipated. This being Oscar week, there was particular interest in a power cut in a courtroom in Ventura north of Los Angeles.
There, a lawyer was listening to the charges that he personally had conspired to extort $310,000 from the legal worker Erin Brockovich by threatening her with tabloid exposure by falsely claiming that she was a bad mother. Suddenly, the power went out in the court building and the case was halted.
Ms Brockovich is the subject of the eponymous Steven Soderbergh film which starred Julia Roberts and Albert Finney. It is hoped it will scoop at least one statue at Sunday's Oscar ceremony. The lawyer facing charges, John Reiner, is accused of conspiring with Ms Brockovich's ex-boyfriend and ex-husband to blackmail her.
Lawyers for both sides had planned a multimedia presentation to the court but that was temporarily foiled when the rolling blackouts that have engulfed the state over the past week hit Ventura. All was silent until an extension lead could be found for an emergency generator.
The chances of the Oscars ceremony being blacked out are remote but throughout California there have been indications of what may be in store as the summer arrives and the air conditioners are turned on.
To the rest of the world it may seem that a power crisis in the wealthiest state in the union means only a sudden tumble on the treadmill or a loss of power while putting wheatgrass in the juicer for most Californians, but the blackouts are already having much wider effects on both a personal and political level.
"You look around you here and there are people with money falling out of their pockets, so much money they don't know what to do with it," said a media executive in Westwood on the second day of the blackouts. "And yet you have blackouts - it's mad."
The Governor, Gray Davis, is also mad - mad at the utilities companies whose actions have ultimately led to the blackouts.
One exacerbating factor of the crisis is that cash-strapped utilities companies have failed to pay smaller alternative generators of power via wind and solar panels, so they are not supplying electricity.
"It's wrong and irresponsible of the utilities to pocket this money [from consumers] and not pay the generators," Mr Davis said.
While the electricity crisis has caused political problems for Mr Davis, Californians are divided on its true causes.
Max, a Russian immigrant who works now as a driver in Santa Monica, is one of many who believe that the blackouts are all part of a conspiracy. "It's all just an excuse so that they can put our bills up and we won't make a fuss about it," he said.
"They can say 'Hey, do you want more blackouts or do you want to pay more?' They know what they're doing."
There are fears that water and natural gas supplies could be curtailed in the future. Attempts to persuade people to conserve power - or indeed anything - have been largely unsuccessful.
To rub salt into the wound, Vicente Fox, the Mexican president, has offered to supply energy from Mexico, California's poor neighbour.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001