George W Bush has abdicated the leadership role America once enjoyed. He has walked away from his international obligations, tearing up international treaties like the Kyoto Protocol and ABM treaty, which, however imperfect, have helped bring peace and environmental protection. The least we can say is that he has embarked on a dangerous journey. Why?
The answer is corporate payback. This has been the defining trait of President Bush's administration. His election was a straightforward capitalist venture for the energy corporations. Oil, gas, coal and nuclear companies are the power behind Bush; together, they donated more than $50 million dollars to put him in the White House. As soon as he was elected, it was payback time and Bush declared the Kyoto Protocol on reducing carbon-dioxide emissions dead and buried.
The message was: 'US corporations have the right to pollute the entire planet. The people and the environment don't matter.'
To come into force, the Kyoto Protocol needs to be ratified by 55 of the 180 or so nations that negotiated it. In addition, the countries which sign up must together be responsible for more than 55 per cent of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions. So, if Japan, Australia and Canada follow the US and don't ratify, as they are insinuating, the treaty is dead. Some argue that the treaty is dead anyway without the support of the US, by far the largest polluter.
That is unlikely to come. Bush still questions the scientific evidence that links fossil-fuel emissions to climate change. He calls the treaty 'fatally flawed', 'unworkable' and claims the targets are not based on science. He proposes more research, even though 1,000 of the world's top climate scientists already believe we are heading for disaster.
Is Bush aware that we face a life-threatening outcome if Kyoto is not ratified? If we were to follow his advice, we would become the only species on Earth to spend our last days monitoring our own extinction.
The report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is described as the most comprehensive study on the subject to date and warns of large-scale and irreversible climate changes, of devastating droughts, floods, violent storms in addition to the spread of cholera and malaria. Earth's temperature could rise by as much as 5.8 degrees C over the next 100 years.
All this carries less weight with Bush than his obligations to giant power conglomerates and particularly to the corporation that donated more than any other to help him win the presidency, ExxonMobil (Esso in the UK), which gave more than a million dollars. It has been the leading lobbyist, calling for the US to abandon Kyoto, running major advertising campaigns condemning the protocol and denying the link between burning fossil fuels and global warming.
ExxonMobil's chairman, Lee Raymond, has every reason to be pleased with Bush's decision to bury the protocol. I was present at its last shareholders meeting, where Raymond described the protocol as 'unworkable, unfair, unattractive and damaging to vital American interests'.
'Kyoto was too much too soon,' said Raymond. He forgets that it took five long years for the industrialized nations to reach agreement in December 1997 and set targets for reductions which different countries should try to reach by 2012.
America is the largest polluter in the world with 4 per cent of the world's population; it discharges 25 per cent of the world's carbon dioxide. If Bush is successful in sabotaging attempts to stop global warming, he will condemn us all to catastrophe. We do not have much time left.
That is why I have joined forces with Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to launch a boycott of ExxonMobil products. We believe that transnationals have an obligation to the global community on issues of social responsibility. ExxonMobil does not adhere to this philosophy; it believes that human survival may simply not be economic.
Its executives need to be made to understand that human survival must transcend shareholder interest. I will continue to call on the public not to buy any Esso products until ExxonMobil stops its opposition to the Kyoto Protocol and abandons its call to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling and invest in renewable energy.
We are at a crossroads - leaders of the industrialized nations must ratify the Kyoto Protocol or face disaster. The time to act is now or we will lose the battle. The treaty is hanging by a thread and Mr Bush is playing Russian roulette with the environment. Our lives and the lives of our children and their children are at stake. We must not allow Mr Bush to hold our future to ransom, condemning future generations to the ravages of global warming.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001