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Katrina Disaster May Stir US Awareness on Climate Change: Green Groups
Published on Wednesday, September 21, 2005 by Agence France Presse
Katrina Disaster May Stir US Awareness on Climate Change: Green Groups
 
Hurricane Katrina may encourage greater awareness of global warming in the United States, but the prospect of any policy shift by Washington can be ruled out in the near term, environmentalists say.


At present there is almost no talk in the United States about addressing the roots of the problem....In the mainstream media, no voices are heard that call for tougher gasoline efficiency standards or curbing carbon pollution spewed by coal and oil plants.

For the time being, Americans are understandably focussed on the human tragedy of the August 29 storm as well as its estimated 200-billion-dollar bill.

But Katrina may also sow the seeds of a debate on global warming's possible role in the disaster, on the deeper causes of climate change and on America's own responsibility for the problem, they suggest.

"There's certainly been a heightened level of writing and editorializing, but it's too early to tell" about its political impact, said Katie Mandes of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a Washington advocacy group.

"People are asking the right questions, but the focus right now is on short-term problems, on getting people settled."

Steve Cochran of the organization Environmental Defense said "there is a greater awareness" about global warming as a result of Katrina.

But it's "not clear yet" whether this awareness would eventually translate into political action, he said.

Global warming is deemed by environmentalists to be the biggest threat to the planet.

But tackling it has been a headache, for action entails weaning economies away from the fossil fuels that cause the problem, and this carries a cost.

By itself, the United States, a profligate energy user and where mobility is almost considered a right, accounts for a quarter of global greenhouse-gas emissions.

After taking office in 2001, President George W. Bush walked away from the UN's Kyoto Protocol pact to curb the so-called greenhouse-gas emissions, caused by burning oil, gas and coal, which trap solar heat and thus warm Earth's surface.

Bush not only questioned the scientific evidence for global warming -- he also said that pledges made by his predecessor, Bill Clinton, would be far too costly for the oil-dependent US economy to implement.

His actions made him a bogeyman to greens, especially in Europe.

No scientist would pick out Katrina, an individual event, as being caused by global warming, and many note that gaps remain in our knowledge of climate change.

But the mounting evidence is that global warming is already causing Earth's fragile climate to change -- and hurricanes, pumped up by warmer water in the tropical western Atlantic, may be becoming more vicious and possibly more frequent too.

That possibility has been given a wide airing in the US media and by US politicians in the past three weeks.

But at present there is almost no talk in the United States about addressing the roots of the problem.

Right now, the emphasis is on beefing up coastal zoning regulations and building codes and restoring natural wetland buffers in order to reduce the human toll to hurricane-prone areas.

In the mainstream media, no voices are heard that call for tougher gasoline efficiency standards or curbing carbon pollution spewed by coal and oil plants.

Americans are "geographically illiterate and historically illiterate," said Troyt York, president of the American Institute of Urban and Regional Affairs, which promotes sustainable development.

"If you talk to them about global warming, they have no idea."

Bush will remain steadfastly opposed to Kyoto's binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and promote his strategy of a voluntary approach.

He has been pushing this approach hard in international fora ahead of a critical meeting in Montreal in November that will start to shape the next pact on greenhouse gases after Kyoto runs out in 2012.

At the state level, some US states are pushing ahead with their own agenda on global warming in the absence of a more vigorous federal response, said Cochran.

But a long road lies ahead.

To curb America's addiction to cheap carbon-based energy requires political leaders who will inform the public about the dangers of climate change and encourage them to make sacrifices, for the global as well as the national good, said Cochran.

"What has been lacking is a strong sense of urgency that would push the political leadership into action. It's going to be a test of our country," Cochran said.

Copyright © 2005 Agence France Presse

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