NEW YORK - Environmentalists say they are running out of patience with what they see as the snail's pace of climate change legislation moving through the U.S. Congress.The weekend saw thousands of people taking to the streets, parks and beaches in towns and cities across the United States, amidst calls for Congress to pass a law that would require 80 percent cuts in climate-changing carbon emissions by 2050.
Saturday's rallies and actions, held in all 50 states, were part of the nationwide "Step It Up 2007" campaign by scores of grassroots organisations.
Organisers of the campaign who declared Apr. 14 as the "National Day of Climate Action" said they were pleased that people from all walks of life, including students, peace activists, and religious leaders, participated in more than 1,400 actions nationwide.
"This is a wake-up call to legislators," said one of the campaign leaders, Bill McKibben, environmentalist and author of several books and articles on climate change.
>From the east coast to the western shores, demonstrators gathered at hundreds of iconic locations that are considered vulnerable to the devastating effects of global warming.
"My older daughter organised a group of kids from her school to join us. My younger one has helped to make signs," said Nancy Kricorian of CODEPINK, a women's peace organisation, who took part in the downtown New York rally.
Kricorian and other organisers said they chose downtown for protest because it is widely feared that it will become the new tide line if the sea level rises a few feet as a result of global warming.
In explaining why she got involved in the campaign, Kricorian said that as a mother of daughters aged 10 and 14 she could see their generation is genuinely concerned about climate change.
According to Kricorian, two weeks ago when the weather in New York hit an unseasonably warm 21 degrees Celsius, "my 14-year-old who had seen 'An Inconvenient Truth' (the award-winning documentary on climate change) with her class last spring, looked at me dolefully, and said, 'The Polar bears are drowning.'"
The weekend's protests took place at a time when the U.S. Congress is already engaged in discussions over several legislative bills dealing with climate change and its impacts.
Currently, there are five bills awaiting congressional action. Though they have plenty in common, they do reflect significant differences in terms of practical approaches and the varying levels of stringency of greenhouse gas emissions caps.
Observers say differences in regulatory approaches are likely to have deep impact on the cost of programmes to cut emissions and the distribution of those costs across households and businesses.
The 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change requires the adherent industrialised countries to reduce emissions by 2012 to an average of five percent below 1990 levels.
Although the United States is responsible for at least 25 percent of total carbon emissions in the world, it has no obligation to meet that requirement, because it is not a signatory to the treaty.
In 2001, the George W. Bush administration rejected the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that achieving such cuts in emissions would harm the U.S. economy. The United States instead demanded reductions from poor but fast-growing economies like India and China.
Over the years, the Bush administration has continued to assert that more research is needed into the science of climate change.
Contrary to the administration's position, international scientists continue to warn that climate change is indeed a real threat and have called for urgent action.
UN experts, releasing a major report in Brussels this month about climate change impacts, said billions of people could face shortages of food and water and increased risk of flooding.
"It's the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit," said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In addition to the UN research, a study released by the U.S. Navy last week concluded that the consequences of global warming could pose a threat to U.S. national security.
"Unlike the problems that we are used to dealing with, these will come upon us extremely slowly, but come they will, and they will be grinding and inexorable," Richard J. Truly, a retired vice admiral and former administrator at NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), said in the report.
The effects of global warming, according to the study, could lead to large-scale migrations, increased border tensions, the spread of disease and conflicts over food and water. All could lead to direct involvement by the U.S. military.
Considering the fact that the United States continues to be the world's largest emitter of carbon gases, the protesters urged Congress to adopt immediate and effective legislation on climate change.
"We are the poster child for carbon in the atmosphere," said McKibben. "If we get our own house in order, then we can rejoin the rest of the world in dealing with this problem."
With full backing from major environmental groups and support from some leading lawmakers, the campaigners are now planning to hold another nationwide protest in August this year.
Observers say the momentum of the campaign is likely to grow further in the next few weeks -- and so will the pace of discussions in the Senate.
In addition to the "Step It Up," campaign, activists around the globe have also planned worldwide events to increase awareness about climate change.
Organisers of the "Live Earth" concerts, for example, said this week they planned to hold the final performance in the United States in July this year.
"Capping Live Earth with a blockbuster show like this will ensure we meet our challenge of building a mass audience to combat global warming," said Live Earth founder Kevin Wall, describing Live Earth as a "monumental event both in terms of entertainment and in turning the tide against global warming.
The global concert on climate change will start in Sydney on Jul. 7 and will continue across the continents, concluding with the U.S. show.
"We hope the energy created by Live Earth will jump-start a massive public education effort," said Live Earth co-chair and former U.S. vice president Al Gore.
"It will help us reach a tipping point that's needed to move corporations and governments to take decisive action to solve the climate crisis," he added in a statement.
Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service.