United States

United States

Piling on the pressure

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Political pressure for climate change action is increasing in America, not least because of the heat wave which paralysed large areas of the country this summer. Vice President Al Gore made waves in early August by calling a White House briefing to review statistics that apparently indicate July was not only America's hottest month ever, it was the seventh month in a row hotter than the same month a year earlier. Many believe the unusually high temperatures were caused by global warming.

Despite this, a large body of politicians and elected officials are opposing the Clinton administration's package for meeting the goals of the world climate agreement signed last year in Kyoto, Japan. And the heat wave's warning signals were virtually being ignored in Washington DC, where the weather was apparently quite normal for the time of year.

Gore has several times spoken publicly to drum up support for action to curb global warming. To decrease emissions of heat trapping gases, the administration is pushing for more international pollution trading, more competition in the electric industry, more trees to absorb carbon dioxide, advances on newer energy technologies -- including clean sources such as power from wind -- and voluntary action by major US industries to up the amount of domestic emissions reductions.

At the end of July, the White House released optimistic figures that suggested that to meet the Kyoto protocol, Americans would only need to spend an extra $70 to $110 a year per household for energy, while the Union of Concerned Scientists put the price tag at almost zero -- or even with a saving. Groups representing energy hungry businesses and conventional fuels tend to cite far higher figures -- as high as $2000.

Even if the threat of climate change cannot shake the fossil fuel lobby, the dangers of relying on oil from the Middle East were brought sharply into focus by the US bombing of the Sudan and Afghanistan. The bombings immediately highlighted the instability of the Muslim world, the world's largest oil producing region. At the same time they delayed Bill Richardson, the new US Secretary of Energy, from taking up his post on August 24 because overseas issues proved to be too pressing for him to leave his post as ambassador to the United Nations.

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