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Derrick Z. Jackson

On climate, who will lead by example?

By Derrick Z. Jackson
Globe Columnist / September 20, 2008
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ANOTHER SOBER warning that we are mice preparing for our own drowning is on my desk. The more I read it, the more I laughed as to what politician would dare pay attention. We might be the mice of climate change, but the pols are the rats on a sinking planet.

The Center for Environment and Population, a consortium of university researchers and environmental advocacy groups, last week released a report on how the American lifestyle plays a direct part in climate change. Because of suburban sprawl and its obligatory lawns, malls, and roads, each American in effect takes up 20 percent more land than he or she did 20 years ago. Our world-leading use of household appliances is rising dramatically.

Then there is the nagging habit of humans wanting to live precisely where global warming will hit first. Fifty-three percent of Americans live within 50 miles of a coast, on only 17 percent of the nation's land. If we are not in pursuit of water, we head for the desert. Seven of the 10 fastest-growing cities in the United States are in arid Arizona, Nevada, or Colorado, and Nevada is our fastest-growing state.

"In response," the report said, "Americans must make strategic choices both in their individual lives and collectively as a nation - from the local community to national levels - in order to balance the increasing pressures of human activity and their climate change impacts."

This is the part that is almost a joke: Who will lead by the example of their own individual choices?

For sure, millions of ordinary Americans are not waiting for enlightened government to lessen their impact on the environment, from Priuses to public transit to produce from local farmers. But what leader, especially among those eco-warriors of the Democratic Party, is willing to eat his or her green political vegetables?

When you start with the fact Al Gore, despite his Nobel Peace Prize, still cannot explain his way out of the inconvenient truth of his 10,000-square-foot home, no matter how many solar panels he slaps on his roof, you know we're in the slim-and-none ballpark.

In Massachusetts, we have two of the loudest environmental advocates this side of Gore, Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. Both earned a 93 percent voting-record rating from the League of Conservation Voters. But they certainly are in no position to tell the masses to not live near the water, with the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port and Kerry's home on Nantucket. Kennedy is a NIMBY dude on the Cape Wind farm issue, and Kerry has refused for years to take a position on it.

Kerry also cannot divorce himself from polluted money. In the Center for Responsive Politics analysis of investments by members of Congress, Kerry was Capitol Hill's top investor in General Electric in 2006, to the tune of $3 million.

General Electric would have you focus on its wind turbines, clean coal, and their support of cap and trade programs for greenhouse gas emissions. What GE would have you forget is their decades of resistance to cleaning up PCBs in rivers in Massachusetts and New York, and their pushing of nuclear power, for which the United States is nowhere close to a solution for its radioactive waste. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Energy Committee chairman John Dingell, and House Transportation Committee chairman James Oberstar each had between $50,001 and $100,000 invested in GE in 2006.

Kerry also had investments totaling between $81,004 and $215,000 in ExxonMobil and BP. Jeff Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has investments in ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips totaling between $66,003 and $168,000. The top congressional investor in ConocoPhillips, at $500,001 to $1 million, is Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and self-proclaimed "leading advocate of farm conservation programs."

The Center for Environment and Population report asked, "What are we willing to change, or give up? . . . Is it the world's climate, as we know it? Plentiful water supplies? Land? Species? Or do we have to make different policy, lifestyle, business, or industry choices?"

From the private choices of our eco-warriors, we might as well give up.

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at jackson@globe.com.

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