WASHINGTON - Washington is suddenly debating global warming this week, but the big
challenge remains outside the Beltway -- coaxing Americans to adopt new
technologies and change their energy-guzzling lifestyles.
While former Vice President Al Gore prodded Congress to act Wednesday,
activists in the Bay Area and nationwide were preparing a pressure campaign
that they hope will boost their movement's public support, which recent opinion
polls show to be respectable yet hardly overwhelming.
A crowd gathers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 20, 2007, during a rally against global warming. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Environmentalists say the attention brought by Gore and his Oscar-winning
documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," is a godsend.
"Things are changing fast, and most people in Washington believe that
there's more than enough public support now to enact federal legislation," said
David Hawkins, director of the climate program at the Natural Resources Defense
Recent polls, however, suggest that public sentiment is soft.
According to a Pew Research Center poll released in January, only 47
percent of respondents believe that human activities such as the burning of
fossil fuels are causing global warming, compared with 50 percent in July 2006.
In the poll, 55 percent of respondents said global warming is a problem that
requires immediate government action, a decline from 61 percent last year.
In a separate Gallup poll released earlier this month, a majority of
Americans say they are at least fairly worried about global warming, but it
ranked near the bottom of other environmental issues rated.
After his appearances in Congress, Gore will turn to organizing for his
next major goal, a worldwide series of concerts July 7. The concerts, dubbed
Live Earth, will take place on all seven continents -- even in the sub-zero
temperatures of midwinter Antarctica -- and will feature stars such as Snoop
Dogg, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters and Faith Hill. Organizers
estimate 2 billion people will watch the shows live, via television or on the
Concert proceeds will go to a new nonprofit organization, the Alliance for
Climate Protection, which will soon open its national headquarters in the Palo
Alto area. The group's executive director, Cathy Zoi, said it will wage a
three-year publicity campaign, running an extensive series of television ads
and working with companies to jointly promote energy-saving consumer products.
"The movie and other events have made people aware of the problem, and
that's excellent progress from a year ago, but we now have to go to the next
step in public awareness, to make people understand the urgency that as time
goes by, it gets costlier to shift to lower-carbon solutions," Zoi said.
Unconnected to Gore, a more anarchic, less glitzy series of global warming
actions is scheduled for April 14, dubbed Step It Up 2007. A total of 996
events large and small in all 50 states had been announced at last count,
largely self-generated by grassroots environmentalists.
In the Bay Area, Step It Up 2007's events tend toward the fanciful --
including a San Francisco road rally of electric cars, plug-in hybrids and
bicycles that will parade from the city north on Highway 101 to San Rafael,
where they will encircle a Hummer dealership. An Emeryville rally is billed as
the "Submerged Shopping Center Day of Action," taking place in the Bay Street
mega-store area, which scientists have projected may sit below sea level later
this century after polar ice caps melt and the oceans rise.
"Step It Up really has no business being particularly successful because
we have no money and not really any organization, but people are ready to act,"
said Bill McKibben, a writer and professor at Middlebury College in Vermont who
is Step It Up's lead organizer. McKibben spoke to standing-room-only crowds in
Berkeley, Corte Madera and Mountain View on Monday and Tuesday. "After 20 years
of absolutely nothing happening, things are breaking loose in the most amazing
kind of way," he said.
Environmentalists admit that persuading the public to change its
energy-wasting ways will be tough, even in the Bay Area. A central battleground
is Berkeley, whose voters approved in November the nation's first municipal
ballot measure to call for a detailed emissions reduction plan. Although
similar to a California law approved by the Legislature last year that called
for emissions cuts of 80 percent by 2050, Berkeley's plan must be drawn up and
ready for City Council approval by December, while state regulators are not
scheduled to announce a plan until June 2008, with an uncertain legislative
schedule to follow.
"If you live in the hills, or outside the range of easily convenient
transit service, it's extremely difficult to envision how you won't drive as
much," said Cisco de Vries, chief of staff to Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and lead
city official on the program. "That will be tough."
Zoi and others rejected opponents' charges that greenhouse gas cuts will
force Americans to adopt more spartan, less pleasant lives -- "putting on a
hair shirt," she said.
Shaping this message is still a work in progress, Zoi said.
"We haven't come up yet with a one-liner that sums it up and sells it,"
she said, adding that her group will have plenty of resources for high-profile
campaigning. "But this is a three-year exercise in public education, and we've
got huge momentum to start."
© 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.