SAN FRANCISCO - The movement to combat global warming kicks off its grassroots activist season today with a series of events that highlight the dynamism -- and growing pains -- within the ranks of green advocates.Across the Bay Area and in about 1,350 demonstrations in all 50 states, people will rally to pressure Congress to take action on legislation that would reduce emissions believed to contribute to global warming 80 percent by 2050.
Activists will take a caravan of "clean" cars -- electric, biodiesel, plug-in hybrid and solar vehicles -- from San Francisco to a protest at a Hummer dealership in San Rafael. At a "Sunken Shopping Center" rally in Emeryville, people will line up at a projected new sea-level line to show the area that some scientists say will be inundated after glaciers melt and the oceans rise. Elsewhere, protesters will recite passages by Henry David Thoreau in Concord, Mass., and will form a human chain across Boston Common.
The events -- dubbed Step It Up 2007 -- will demonstrate the newfound strength of the global warming movement. Yet they also will reveal the emerging fault lines within the movement between former Vice President Al Gore and other activist factions.
Although support for legislative action to fight global warming has never been stronger, there's little agreement on how to sell the concept to Americans who might not readily part with their energy-guzzling lifestyles.
Some, like Gore, emphasize the broad dangers of global warming; others suggest a big federal spending increase on green technology; still others say businesses should be free to adopt profit-making, energy-saving technology. Traditional environmentalists, meanwhile, make their familiar lament that the American way of life is too wasteful.
Organizers of Step It Up say the battles over the science of global warming have been won, so the main challenge is to make Americans think of changes in their routines as pleasant rather than painful.
"The odds now are very good that Congress is going to act, because of public pressure," said Michael Kieschnick, president of Working Assets, the principal organizer of today's Hummer protest.
"So now it comes down to fun and a lighter touch. The Bay Area is very supportive. ... Here, people can take their hair shirts off and have some fun. Though my teenage kids are embarrassed, I'm going to put on a polar bear suit and demonstrate in front of a Hummer dealership."
The anti-environmentalist crowd -- little in evidence in the Bay Area, but still with power in more conservative parts of the country -- say they will fight to cast the global warming movement as a frontal attack on American prosperity and happiness.
"The American public has become convinced that global warming is a problem, and they say, 'Of course we should do something about global warming.' But many people haven't yet become aware that the kinds of recipes that will be talked about Saturday would cause a horrible impact on American lifestyles," said Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank that is partially funded by energy corporations.
Ebell cited a poll conducted in March 2006 by ABC News, Time magazine and Stanford University, which found that although there was strong agreement that global warming was a problem and that the government should take prompt action, Americans roundly opposed any moves that would pinch their pocketbooks.
Of the 1,002 people questioned in the poll, respondents opposed a tax on gasoline by 68 percent to 31 percent and opposed an electricity tax by 81 percent to 19 percent. Instead, they favored less painful alternatives, such as tax breaks for companies to acquire wind and solar power technology, by 87 percent to 12 percent.
"They're willing to pay a couple of dollars a week, but not willing to seriously impact their lifestyles," Ebell said.
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Backers of today's demonstrations deny that any of the five bills pending in Congress would impact the routines of Americans. The bills would create various kinds of so-called cap and trade programs, under which industries would be given limits for their greenhouse gas emissions and would be able to buy credits for additional emissions from firms that have a surplus to sell.
"Energy and global warming is the uber-issue that will define the new progressive politics," said Daniel Seligman, national campaign director of the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor unions and environmental groups in Washington. "It offers a unifying message bringing together clean energy, the environment, jobs, security -- issues crucially important to a huge majority of Americans. There's a political synthesis crying out to be made."
The Apollo Alliance, whose members range from the AFL-CIO to the Sierra Club, has proposed a $300 billion program over 10 years to encourage energy efficiency and eliminate the nation's dependence on imported oil.
The plan, modeled on the Apollo space program, is intended to stoke the same public enthusiasm as the moon shots in the 1960s that enthralled millions of Americans with gee-whiz technological idealism.
The anti-global-warming movement has received a big boost over the past year as many corporations that formerly opposed action on climate change moved to support cap-and-trade legislation in Congress.
A milestone was passed last month when ConocoPhillips, the nation's second-largest oil refiner and a prominent opponent of global warming initiatives, reversed its stand and gave its former enemies a bear hug.
ConocoPhillips joined the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a group of businesses (including major greenhouse gas-emitting companies such Alcoa, Caterpillar and DuPont) and environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (one of the co-sponsors of today's anti-Hummer rally in San Rafael).
The more pro-business activists, however, wince at the liberal-sounding talk of federal spending on green technology.
"Many environmentalists fall into that trap -- is it a big cost or a small cost," said Amory Lovins, who for the past 30 years has been the nation's foremost proponent of energy-saving technology, using materials such as ultralight, ultrastrong plastics.
"I am a huge fan of Al Gore, but I wish he would put equal emphasis on the good news, that what we need to do is extremely profitable, rather than just the sacrifice," said Lovins, chairman of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a think tank in Snowmass, Colo.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, author of one of the global warming bills under debate in Congress, agrees that major spending programs won't fly.
"I think that rather than put taxpayer dollars into a lot of projects that may not pan out, we should make use of technologies that are available now," he said. "We need to drive new technologies by making industries internalize the costs of pollution they are putting into the atmosphere."
E-mail Robert Collier at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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