A Tiger By The Tail
And now for a wild prediction. Within 12 months President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and all their backers in the oil industry will be begging - begging - to revive the Kyoto protocol on climate change, the accord Mr. Bush yanked America out of after taking office.
Why, you ask? Well, look what's happening in England. A group of celebrities there have joined with environmentalists to launch a boycott against Exxon Mobil gas stations, which in Europe go by the name Esso. Bianca Jagger, the pop star Annie Lennox and Anita Rodrick, founder of the Body Shop chain, helped launch the boycott because, as Ms. Jagger said, "This is a way to tell Esso that it's not right for them to be claiming that there is no connection between CO2 emissions and climate change."
People connected with Exxon reportedly contributed more than $1 million to the Bush campaign. Exxon is a key supporter of research and advertisements that try to cast doubt on the seriousness of global warming and its link to fossil fuel emissions. Exxon was a big backer of President Bush's decision to pull the U.S. out of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which called for industrialized nations to steadily reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. Exxon is also a major force behind the Global Climate Coalition, a business lobby that opposed Kyoto.
The "Stop Esso Campaign" is asking British drivers to shun Esso stations until the company supports Kyoto see http://www.StopEsso.com The campaign recently spread to France. What's funny is that probably none of this would have happened had Mr. Bush not bowed to the oil companies and pulled the U.S. out of Kyoto. That may turn out to be his greatest gift to environmentalism.
You see, as long as everyone was discussing how to implement Kyoto, no one wanted to take any radical steps. Governments could say they were working on the problem, but that negotiations were hard. Corporations could mumble nice words about environmentalism, but not worry anything serious was going to happen. And environmentalists could feel their cause was being advanced, even though implementation was far off.
"As long as Kyoto was there, everyone could avoid real accountability and pretend that something was happening," says Paul Gilding, the former head of Greenpeace and now chairman of Ecos, one of Australia's leading environmental consulting firms. "But now George Bush, by trashing Kyoto, has blown everyone's cover. If you care about the environment you can't pretend anymore. Emissions are increasing, the climate is changing and people can now see for themselves that the world is fiddling while Rome burns."
The result: Environmentalists refuse to sit on their hands anymore. Instead, the smart ones are mobilizing consumers to fight multinational polluters on their own ground. You have to admire it. It's so Republican ó using the free market.
If I were Exxon, I would be worried ó especially when U.S. college students come back to campus in the fall. Remember Monsanto? It was going to sell genetically modified food to Europeans. But environmentalists in Europe ó worried, rightly or wrongly, about the safety of what they were eating ó mobilized the weakest link in the value chain: consumers. Consumers demanded "G.M.O.-free" food. So supermarkets demanded it from their suppliers, suppliers demanded it from farmers and farmers demanded it from Monsanto. Goodbye, Monsanto.
This is real globalization activism. "The smart activists are now saying, `O.K., You want to play markets - let's play,' " says Mr. Gilding. They don't waste time throwing stones or lobbying governments. That takes forever and can easily be counter- lobbied by corporations. No, no, no. They start with consumers at the pump, get them to pressure the gas stations, get the station owners to pressure the companies and the companies to pressure governments. After all, consumers do have choices where they buy their gas, and there are differences now. Shell and BP-Amoco (which is also the world's biggest solar company) both withdrew from the oil industry lobby that has been dismissing climate change.
What Mr. Bush did in trashing Kyoto was to leave serious environmental activists with nowhere else to turn but the market. The smart ones get it. You will be hearing from them soon - at a gas station near you.