From: James Quigley, Center for Sustainable Energy
Published June 7, 2005 12:00 AM

Followers Leading the Leaders

It was one of those great moments in history. Mohandas K. Gandhi had organized massive numbers of Indians to march to the sea to make their own salt in protest to a tax on the commodity. The Mahatma remarked to newsmen who had stopped him along the way, “my people are leaving and I must follow them for I am their leader.” Of course, Gandhi’s Freedom Party ascended as the tide of history swept British colonial rule from power.


Here, the people are leaving but their leader is not following because he is not a leader. This is at least what any objective citizen would have to conclude with respect to the absence of White House leadership on global climate change. It is old news that the Bush administration stubbornly clings to the notion that there is insufficient evidence to support claims of human-caused climate alteration, despite the myriad reports to the contrary by thousands of scientists all over the world. Nero fiddled while Rome burned, Dubbya prevaricates while world ice mass melts.


At least most of the industrialized world gets the picture. To date, 141 countries -- including Britain, France, Japan, Russia and Canada -- have ratified the Kyoto Protocol calling for a reduction in greenhouse gases. Notably absent from the list is the USA. But where the leaders won’t lead the people will. Last month a bipartisan coalition of 132 mayors representing some 29 million people in 35 states endorsed Kyoto. Among this group was republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York who also recently signed sweeping legislation to reshape the City’s vehicle fleets. According to the Mayor’s office, New York City now has the largest hybrid fleet in the nation and massive numbers of buses, sanitation trucks, and utility vehicles are using low sulfur diesel or are equipped to use compressed natural gas, thus substantially reducing emissions.


Even friends of Dubbya like Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and George Pataki of New York have seen the logic of reducing carbon dioxide and power plant emissions, initiating important actions in their respective states. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels worries about the loss of drinking water and hydroelectric power, while New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin knows that rising sea level will submerge his city. Growing numbers of institutional investors and industrial leaders are urging emissions reductions, most recently the CEO of General Electric. Meanwhile insurance companies continue with dramatic increases in deductibles for policies that insure against loss from natural disasters like floods and hurricanes, farmers are changing their planting and cultivation seasons as spring comes sooner and winter comes later, and native peoples in the Arctic are fleeing homelands that can no longer support the food chain on which they have relied for several millennium.


Why won’t our president take action? How can he remain so couched in his indifference? None are so blind as they who will not see. I must leave this where I started it, thinking of Mr. Gandhi. During his celebrated journey to London at the height of his fame, the great Indian leader was asked, “so Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of Western civilization?” He replied, “I think it would be a very good idea.”


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James Quigley, Ph.D., is Director of the Center for Sustainable Energy.


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