Mark Hertsgaard

New Documentary Claims Nuclear Power Can Save the Planet -- Should We Buy in?

Recently, acclaimed writer and activist Terry Tempest Williams alerted The Nation about a new documentary she had just seen that caused her to question her long-held opposition to nuclear power. Pandora’s Promise, which appears in theaters in June and will be broadcast by CNN in the fall, features five “converts” who argue that the dire threat of climate change requires humanity to embrace nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels. Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation’s environment correspondent, who has been covering the nuclear industry since investigating it for his book Nuclear Inc. (Pantheon, 1983), had a different reaction to the film. What follows is a dialogue between Williams and Hertsgaard about the film, the history of the nuclear industry and alternative solutions to the climate crisis.—The Editors

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Climate Activists Put the Heat on Obama

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Can Sandy Help Jolt America Out of Climate Change Denial?

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Did Mitt Romney and Rick Perry Make an Illegal Million-Dollar Backroom Deal?

This story originally appeared at Salon.

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Obama Needs to Spark a Global Green Deal to Create a Sustainable Economy

If human civilization is to have a realistic chance of surviving global climate change, President Barack Obama and mobilized citizens will have to lead a virtual revolution in America's approach to the issue. Because the hour is so late and America's role so central, Obama must lead, and be pressed to lead, on three fronts at once. First, the United States must commit itself to serious reductions in its greenhouse gas emissions and begin achieving them without delay. This will restore US credibility on the issue, paving the way for step two: encouraging the rest of the world, especially China, to cut its emissions dramatically. The United States and China together account for 40 percent of global emissions, making them climate superpowers: if they do not cut emissions, it won't matter how much other nations reduce. Finally, Obama must urge the United States and all nations to begin preparing for the sea-level rise, water shortages and other impacts of climate change that are inevitable, with special emphasis on assisting the poor, who stand to suffer first and worst despite having done nothing to cause the problem.

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Will the Tide on Capitol Hill Shift Enough on Global Warming to Ignite Real Change?

A day before Barack Obama clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, his colleagues in the Senate began preparing for the biggest global warming vote in Congressional history. America's Climate Security Act would for the first time impose large mandatory cuts on greenhouse gas emissions. The bill is not expected to become law, if only because of George Bush's promised veto. But the Senate debate could reveal a lot about how the next Congress and the next President, whether Obama or John McCain, will address the most urgent issue facing humanity.

In contrast to Bush, McCain and Obama recognize climate change as a top-priority threat that requires action now. Environmentally, Obama's proposals are stronger. The Democrat favors what science says is necessary: an 80 percent cut in emissions, from 1990 levels, by 2050. Obama would achieve this through a "cap and trade" system that sells corporations permits to emit greenhouse gases and then invests the revenue in green energy development and rebates to Americans hit with higher energy prices.

McCain, who co-sponsored the last important climate bill, in 2005, supports a 60 percent emissions cut by 2050. But it is doubtful that McCain's approach would actually deliver such large cuts, since his cap-and-trade system would give most permits away free, a provision environmentalists attack as a corporate giveaway. Obama, by contrast, proposes to sell all emissions permits at auction. Obama is also much less enthusiastic than McCain about nuclear power as a response to climate change.

The Climate Security Act -- whose cap-and-trade system aims to reduce emissions by 19 percent by 2020 and 71 percent by 2050 -- goes further than McCain's proposal but falls well short of Obama's. It also confronts both candidates with a political minefield. With gas hovering near $4 a gallon, politicians are wary of any measure that could raise prices even higher. Further complicating matters is an explosive new study that says that reversing climate change will require a swift end to burning coal. Neither candidate seems likely to endorse that idea (though Obama's website says he'll consider it) since it would all but doom his chances in Appalachia and other coal regions in November.

The coal ban recommendation comes from James Hansen of NASA, the dean of America's climate scientists. In April Hansen co-wrote a study that found that global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut much more sharply than anyone previously assumed if humanity wishes to avoid the worst scenarios of climate change. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now 385 parts per million and climbing 2 ppm a year. Alarmingly, Hansen's study concluded that 350 ppm is the maximum compatible with a livable planet. In other words, humanity is already in the danger zone and must reverse course rapidly.

"We need a moratorium on the construction of traditional coal-fired power plants by 2010 and a phaseout by 2030," Hansen told me. This farewell to coal "has to be global," he added, and include China and India, which insist that burning coal is essential to lifting their people out of poverty. Yet eliminating coal burning is not unthinkable. Already about sixty of the 150 US coal plants planned a year ago have been canceled and another fifty are being contested. Moreover, a recent article in Scientific American suggested that solar thermal power could supply all of America's electricity. A self-described conservative, Hansen blames "special interests" for blocking these and other green energy solutions. "There's no reason we can't make the changes necessary except that the fossil fuel industries are determining governments' policies," he said.

The Climate Security Act is a case in point, argue Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, which have urged defeat of the bill if it is not strengthened. Contrary to the bill's stated goal of 71 percent emissions cuts by 2050, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that it would deliver cuts of just 25 percent. Why? Largely because the bill gives away 49 percent of the emissions permits, thus reducing the incentive for corporations and consumers to switch to greener energy sources. Nevertheless, most environmental groups and former Vice President Al Gore support the bill while urging that it be improved.

At press time, it remained unclear what role Obama and McCain would play in the Senate debate. But whatever the outcome, the fight for a new policy on climate change is just beginning. The real showdown comes next year, when a new Congress and President tackle the issue afresh. Despite its weaknesses, the Climate Security Act marks a decisive shift; its rhetorical commitment to 71 percent emissions reductions goes well beyond what was considered politically realistic even a year ago. But the earth does not compromise. If Hansen is right, the government will have to take much larger steps, and soon, if we are to salvage a livable planet.

We Must Imagine a Life Without Oil

It used to be that only environmentalists and paranoids warned about running out of oil. Not anymore. As climate change did over the past few years, peak oil seems poised to become the next big idea commanding the attention of governments, businesses and citizens the world over. The arrival of $119-a-barrel crude and $4-a-gallon gasoline this spring are but the most obvious signs that global oil production has or soon will peak. With global demand inexorably rising, a limited supply will bring higher, more volatile prices and eventually shortages that could provoke -- to quote the title of the must-see peak oil documentary -- the end of suburbia. If the era of cheap, abundant oil is indeed coming to a close, the world's economy and, paradoxically, the fight against climate change could be in deep trouble.

Though largely unnoticed by the world media, a decisive moment in the peak oil debate came last September, when James Schlesinger declared that the "peakists" were right. You don't get closer to the American establishment and energy business than Schlesinger, who has served as chair of the Atomic Energy Commission, head of the CIA, Defense Secretary, Energy Secretary and adviser to countless oil companies. In a speech to a conference sponsored by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, Schlesinger said, "It's no longer the case that we have a few voices crying in the wilderness. The battle is over. The peakists have won." Schlesinger added that many oil company CEOs privately agree that peak oil is imminent but don't say so publicly.

One who does is Jeroen van der Veer, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell. Without using the term "peak oil," van der Veer warned in January, "After 2015, easily accessible supplies of oil and gas probably will no longer keep up with demand."

Of course, peak oil could arrive sooner than 2015; columnist George Monbiot has claimed in the Guardian that a Citibank report calculates the date at 2012. But even 2015 leaves a very short time in which to prepare, because modern societies were built on cheap, abundant oil.

"The world has never faced a problem like this," warned a 2005 study funded by George W. Bush's Energy Department. "Previous energy transitions (wood to coal and coal to oil) were gradual and evolutionary; oil peaking will be abrupt and revolutionary."

The United States, with its two-hour commutes, three-car families, atrophied mass transit and petroleum-based food system, is most vulnerable to an oil shock. But similar vulnerabilities exist in most industrial societies, not to mention the roaring economies of China and India, where oil consumption is rising faster even than GDP as newly middle-class consumers buy the cars they have long dreamed of.

At first glance, one might think that peak oil would help the fight against climate change. After all, less available oil should translate into less oil consumption and lower greenhouse gas emissions. But modern civilization, to borrow George W. Bush's term, is addicted to oil. If peak oil arrives before the addiction is treated, the junkie will seek even more dangerous ways to get his fix.

Indeed, this is already happening. In Canada, energy companies are mining so-called tar sands -- a mix of sand, water and heavy crude oil that can be refined into usable petroleum. But burning tar sands is about the worst thing to do if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change because the resulting petroleum has a much greater carbon footprint than conventional oil. Currently, a dozen such projects are under way; projects awaiting approval would quadruple the emissions those projects generate. One encouraging sign: in response to a lawsuit filed by Ecojustice, the top federal court in Canada has temporarily blocked a tar sands project proposed by an ExxonMobil subsidiary on climate change grounds. "This is something which will clearly apply to every single oil-sands project that comes before environmental assessment of any kind," said Sean Nixon, a lawyer for Ecojustice Canada.

More encouragement: some high-level government officials recognize the danger of peak oil and may be contemplating action. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband wants his country to consider creating "a post-oil economy." New York Governor David Paterson has spoken in detail about the imminence of peak oil and what government can do about it: invest in greater energy efficiency in the short term and new low-carbon energy sources in the medium to long term. Plug-in hybrid cars, for example, can get more than 100 miles per gallon -- double that of today's generation of hybrids. And if the plug-in hybrids rely on electricity generated by solar, wind or other green energy sources, they fight climate change and peak oil at the same time.

Finally, activists in scores of towns and cities around the world are trying to prepare their communities for the transition to a post-oil economy. Rather than wait for national governments and multinational corporations to save them, these ordinary citizens are examining how their communities can produce their own energy, food, buildings and other essentials using local resources rather than materials that arrive from afar via oil-based transport. "Economic relocalization will be one of the inevitable impacts of the end of cheap transportation fuels," argues peak oil theorist Richard Heinberg. In Britain this movement has taken the form of "transition towns," which seek, in the words of organizer Rob Hopkins, "to design a conscious pathway down from the oil peak." Drawing on the experience of his hometown of Totnes, in Devon, Hopkins has just published The Transition Handbook, which explains how other towns can also begin preparing for the post-oil future.

Some of the transition movement's ideas -- printing local currency, forming solar buying clubs, building "cob" houses made of mud -- may seem quaint, inconvenient or naïve. But nothing is more naïve than assuming that the endless oil that modern societies grew addicted to over the past fifty years will last forever. The day of reckoning appears imminent, and as Hopkins says, "it is better to plan for it than be taken by surprise."

Will Gore Get Arrested?

This post, written by Mark Hertsgaard, originally appeared on Mark Hertsgaard.com

Fresh from winning the Nobel peace prize for his climate change evangelism, Al Gore is apparently considering an invitation from a prominent environmental group to engage in civil disobedience against the construction of new coal-fired power plants.

Rainforest Action Network issued the invitation to the former U.S. vice president, according to RAN executive director Michael Brune. The San Francisco-based group has a twenty year history of protesting against destructive logging practices and other causes of climate change; it specializes in targeting corporations as much as governments.

"We came across a quote from Gore in an interview with [New York Times] columnist Nicholas Kristoff back in August, saying he didn't understand, quote, 'why there aren't rings of young people blocking bulldozers and preventing them constructing new coal-fired power plants,'" said Brune. "We thought, 'Great idea!' That's the kind of activism we do at RAN. So we decided to invite Gore to join us."

Brave New Enviros

The most interesting environmental leader in the United States right now is a former petrochemical worker from Louisiana's "Cancer Alley" named Jerome Ringo. As chairman of the board of the National Wildlife Federation, Ringo heads what is by far the nation's largest environmental organization, with 4 million members, not to mention one of its richest, with an $80 million budget.

It's unusual enough that a former union and community organizer would rise to the top of the NWF; traditionally, the group has belonged to the polite, apolitical wing of the movement -- more inclined to publish nature magazines for kids than to challenge corporate power à la Greenpeace or Rainforest Action Network. But what really sets Ringo apart, both at NWF and throughout the mainstream movement's leadership, is that he is black.

"I am the first African-American in history to head a major conservation group," he says. Environmentalism in the United States has been dominated by well-to-do white men since the late nineteenth century, when John Muir, Gifford Pinchot and Teddy Roosevelt first put the notion of preserving natural resources on the national agenda with their campaigns to establish publicly owned parks and wilderness areas. Alluding to this history, Ringo says the whiteness of today's movement isn't because of racism. It's simply that most environmental groups "were founded by people who fished to put fish on the wall, not by people who fished to put fish on the table. And for poor people, issues like ozone depletion have not been a priority, compared with next month's rent. But I tell people in Cancer Alley, What good is next month's rent if you're dying from cancer?"

Now Ringo wants to bring these varying constituencies together across class and racial lines to build a broader and more powerful green movement. His chosen vehicle, besides the NWF, is the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor unions, environmental groups, business leaders and elected officials that advocates a massive green jobs and development program for the United States. Apollo proposes investing $300 billion of public funds in green energy technologies over the next ten years. This investment would create 3 million new jobs and countless business opportunities, Apollo claims, while also fighting climate change and cutting US dependence on foreign oil.

The benefits to poor and working-class Americans of such an economic stimulus program are clear, but the idea is also business-friendly enough to have attracted support from prominent Democratic moderates and other centrists, including the group Republicans for Environmental Protection. "I had a phone call with the chief of staff of [New Mexico] Governor Bill Richardson just this morning," says Ringo, who assumed Apollo's presidency last September. "Several months ago I joined Hillary Clinton and [Pennsylvania] Governor Ed Rendell when the Democrats released their Energy Independence 2020 Plan, and one of the first items was an Apollo project. Apollo began five years ago as a vision. My goal is to turn it into action."

It's still too early to say, but if Jerome Ringo and the Apollo Alliance are representative of larger trends, green politics may at last be finding its voice again in the United States. In the past, most environmentalists did not bother to articulate much of an economic message. Perhaps because they tended to be economically comfortable themselves, they overlooked the fact that many Americans live paycheck to paycheck and thus need to hear that green policies can mean not only cleaner air but also more and better jobs. Indeed, environmentalists often failed to reach out to other constituencies at all; they stayed inside their own issue silo and assumed that having facts on their side was enough.

"Our movement has been apolitical," says Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth. "The idea was that politics is dirty and you don't want to get your hands dirty." Except for the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, environmentalists shunned electoral politics in particular. Green groups did not even turn out their own members to vote, much less boost turnout among ordinary citizens. When the outrages of the Bush Administration finally led some groups to consider taking a more active role in the 2004 elections, internal polling found that the 10 million members of national environmental groups voted at the same low turnout rates as the general population. "Some groups' members didn't even know there was much difference between Bush and Kerry on the environment," adds Blackwelder.

"No one feels the pain when they vote against the environment. They should," says Wendy Wendlandt, political director of the National Association of State Public Interest Research Groups. Noting that no politician, including Bush, wants to be seen as anti-environment, Wendlandt adds that the movement must "regain control over what it means to be environmentalist. We need to pick bright-line issues that define who is for you and who is against you and then hold elected officials accountable."

Bush's November 2004 victory jolted environmentalists, as did the nearly simultaneous release of Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus's essay "The Death of Environmentalism." First reported in The Nation, the essay argued that the movement was failing because it remained wedded to timid, technical-fix solutions that ignored potential allies and left ordinary people uninspired and confused.

In the ensuing storm of argument, many greens responded that they had been saying as much for years. Others pointed out that Shellenberger and Nordhaus defined the movement very narrowly, ignoring thousands of state and local, environmental justice, anti-corporate and other grassroots organizations. The essay "reads more accurately and less offensively" if one realizes that when "the authors use the words 'environmental movement' they are actually talking about large budget" national organizations based in Washington, DC, wrote John Sellers of the Ruckus Society and Steve Kretzmann of Oil Change.

Those groups were indeed "locked into a costly and near futile legislatively dominated strategy," they added, but small and medium-sized groups were still driving change through local organizing and protest. To support their case that change in Washington tends to come "only after a lot of noise has been made, and attitudes have changed in the field," Sellers and Kretzmann cited a study by Jon Agnone of the University of Washington, who analyzed Congressional passage of environmental laws in the United States from 1960 to 1998. Agnone concluded that shifts in public opinion did help get legislation passed, but only when accompanied by visible acts of grassroots protest.

What no one disputes is that the movement's glory days of the 1960s and '70s seem long ago and far away. Back then, mass awareness and targeted activism propelled Washington politicians of both parties to enact a series of landmark laws -- including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act -- that transformed America's ecosystems and were copied by nations around the world. Ronald Reagan began the environmental rollback in the 1980s, and the Clinton Administration regained little ground in the '90s. But it is George W. Bush's Administration, with its overt hostility to environmentalism, that best highlights an embarrassing paradox for the movement.

Opinion polls indicate that more than 70 percent of the American people think we as a society should do "whatever it takes" to protect the environment. And no one can say the environmental movement lacks financial resources; the budgets of local and national groups amount to an estimated $1.7 billion a year. Nevertheless, Bush and his Congressional allies have pursued the most anti-environmental policies in the nation's history -- and escaped without paying much of a political price. As popular and wealthy as the environmental movement appears, the Bush era has exposed it as something of a paper tiger.

Yet the Bush years may turn out to be the movement's salvation, for they have led even the national groups based in Washington to recognize that a new approach is needed. And political space has now opened around climate change in particular. Hurricane Katrina, combined with a relentless accumulation of scientific findings, has at last awakened both the public and elites in the United States to the gravity of the threat. How else to explain how Al Gore, a man the media mercilessly mocked as dull, pretentious and untrustworthy during his 2000 presidential campaign, is now being treated as one of the hottest politicians in America, thanks largely to his starring role in the climate change documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."

There are successes to learn from. The federal government is a dead end at the moment, but state and local environmental organizations are scoring solid victories in red and blue states alike. Meanwhile, years of pressure have led a surprising number of big-name corporations, including such longstanding villains as General Electric and Wal-Mart, to make and sometimes honor promises to change their operating practices -- thanks to a good cop, bad cop routine that offers them a choice between the in-your-face denunciations issued by groups like Global Exchange and Forest Ethics and the genteel green tutelage offered by the World Resources Institute and World Wildlife Fund.

Environmental justice groups like West Harlem Environmental Action are developing real political clout while proving that affluent white people aren't the only ones who care about clean air and water. And there has been an explosion of student activism, particularly around global warming, which Billy Parish, coordinator of the Climate Action Coalition, calls "far and away the biggest issue on campuses now, and not only for environmental groups. There are now 200 campuses purchasing substantial amounts of clean energy."

The successes have a number of themes in common, beginning with a focus on economically attractive solutions rather than downbeat warnings of disaster. "As scary as things look nowadays, we have decided to spend half of our time building the new -- showing how to solve these problems and have a better life in the bargain -- rather than always playing defense," says Betsy Taylor, founder of the Center for a New American Dream.

Another key has been reaching out to new and sometimes ideologically or culturally distant constituencies, and doing so in plain language that ordinary people can grasp (rather than the policy-wonk gibberish that environmentalists often utter). A third element has been an emphasis on sustained local organizing that grows the movement's base of support and seeks to build real political power -- a departure from many groups' reliance on activist insiders skilled in lobbying, litigation and other tactics aimed at the status quo.

One hesitates to dust off the cliché, but together the strategies recall the 1960s slogan "Think globally, act locally." The stress on organizing begins to correct a mistake that progressive movements made in the wake of the high-profile victories of the 1960s, argues Van Jones, executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. As grants from mainstream foundations began boosting budgets dramatically, says Jones, the civil rights movement became a civil rights bureaucracy, staffed with lobbyists and lawyers who increasingly tried to stand in for a demobilized black community. The same happened with other progressive movements, with the result, Jones adds, that over time "most of us spent more time writing grant applications and doing work that had nothing to do with building political power."

"The huge successes of the 1970s were built on decades of work, a lot of it done at the local level, around issues and concerns that then were taken national. We've been drawing down on these capital reserves ever since then without rebuilding them at the local level," says Buck Parker, executive director of Earthjustice and current chair of the Green Group, made up of leaders from thirty national environmental groups who convene regularly to discuss strategy and tactics.

It was self-deceptive for environmentalists to think they enjoyed support from 70 percent of the American public, argues Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. A keener analysis of polling data, says Pope, reveals that about 40 percent of the public are pro-environment but not pro-environmentalist. These 40 percent take green positions on policy questions (e.g., Do you support action on global warming?), but culturally "they see us as too extreme. They tend to be more rural and conservative but also include significant numbers of urban, nonwhite and less educated people. The right effectively split them off from us in the 1980s and '90s, and we did nothing to prevent this. We didn't build good relationships with churches, labor unions and African-American and Latino constituencies." Concludes Pope, "Our challenge is to reknit the environmental majority, because it's still there, it's just been artificially divided." The place to start is at the state level, where activists are passing "amazing legislation that we couldn't even talk about with the Democratic caucus on Capitol Hill. Idaho just enacted a two-year ban on coal-fired power plants. The Idaho governor, who is now Bush's new Interior Secretary, didn't want to do it, but the legislature rolled him. Maryland, with a Republican governor, has signed on to the Kyoto Protocol."

"In 2004 Kerry lost Colorado, but we won everything else here," says Elise Jones, executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition. Jones's group was a key member of a broader progressive coalition that, in a state with a majority of Republican voters, passed three progressive ballot initiatives, took back the state legislature and won the US Senate seat. "Seeing how the conservatives who orchestrated the Gingrich revolution [in 1994] went back to the grassroots made me realize that we needed to do the same thing," says Jones.

The key in Colorado was to "appeal to people across the political spectrum" by addressing their concerns as much as environmentalists' own. To pass the renewable energy initiative, progressives won over economically strapped farmers in the east of Colorado, who have traditionally voted Republican, by stressing how wind farms could help them pay their bills. Even the Farm Bureau, usually environmentalists' enemy, ended up backing the initiative, as did the Republican Speaker of the House.

A similar green upsurge has taken place in Michigan. "For fifteen years we counted it as a success if we could just protect the status quo," says Lana Pollack, president of the Michigan Environmental Council. "Now we actually move the ball down the field. And we have a Republican House and Senate and a Democratic governor, so we have to move things through both parties." Much of the change comes from implementing what Pollack concedes are Politics 101 tactics. "You have to work at the ground level. We turn out thousands of letters to get constituents informed and revved up. We don't put out dense reports but shorter, more newsworthy releases. We stopped looking at everyone outside the environmental world as the hostile, unwashed masses and saw them as distinct interests that on occasion might align with ours, including nurses groups, business groups and the Michigan Association of Realtors."

Leaders of national groups say they too are returning to the grassroots, mainly by collaborating more with state and local organizations. "It was critical to be in Washington the last few years to resist the [Bush] rollback, which we've done," says Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. But when the Administration proposed allowing inadequately treated sewage to drain into coastal runoff systems, Beinecke adds, NRDC "took the issue out of Washington to a state that would be severely affected by that proposal, Florida, and worked it there. We put local groups like the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs out front to raise awareness of the issue, and we got eighteen out of twenty-five members of the Florida Congressional delegation to come out against it, including very conservative members like Katherine Harris."

The successes in Michigan and Colorado might not have happened without deep-pocket local donors who supported such grassroots organizing, local activists say. But national activists complain that national funders, especially foundations, have resisted this approach in favor of quick-fix solutions. "Funders have very short time spans and want to see measurable results, and you can't build the kind of [movement we envision] in a short period of time," says Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. Carl Pope says the Sierra Club is now "in partnership with the United Steelworkers, the biggest industrial union in America, to go into a number of states and try to create a class-blind environmental movement." But foundations have declined to fund the initiative because it cannot promise specific policy outcomes within the next two years, says Pope, who adds, "I assure you, not a single important right-wing funder in this country thinks that way."

Some $2.8 billion is donated every year to progressive service and advocacy groups in the United States, according to Democracy Alliance, a group of nonfoundation donors and activists who are working to fortify the progressive infrastructure. Only $500 million of that money, about 18 percent, goes to groups that work locally. Within the environmental field, activist groups receive a total of $1.7 billion a year, of which only $187 million -- barely 10 percent -- goes to groups that work at the local level. (By far the largest portion of environmental funding goes to land trusts, which buy and protect land that is environmentally or aesthetically valuable.) "Those numbers show what is readily apparent when you look around Washington, DC," says John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA. "This is a top-heavy movement. You need lobbyists and experts, sure, but not as many as we have. Look at the National Rifle Association. They know that power is built in the field, so they focus on individual Congressional districts.... The difficulty is, organizing is not sexy. It doesn't get you headlines in the New York Times. It is scruffy, dirt-under-the-fingernails power building."

"In-depth organizing is a hard sell to national foundations," says Bill Roberts, president of the Beldon Fund, which underwrote the organizing in Michigan. Roberts does not bring up the following example but does confirm it when asked: After some environmental groups finally began to collaborate with other progressive organizations during the 2004 election campaign, Roberts tried to convince other funders to help him keep the best parts of the infrastructure in place for future work. His appeal was rejected. "Some funders were persuaded," he recalls. "But many others wanted to know what specific activities would be developed and implemented in 2005 before committing funds."

Joshua Reichert, managing director of the policy initiatives and environment program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, counters that it is unreasonable to ask foundations to underwrite long-term organizing. Arguing that the current state of the movement is "reasonably strong," Reichert charges that green groups are themselves responsible for any lack of grassroots organizing: "Most of these groups get more of their money from memberships [in dues] than they do from foundations. Groups can pour that money back into organizing, if they choose to. Foundations put money in when they're interested in a specific program a group is doing."

If working outside the Beltway is crucial to making environmental progress, environmental groups have to learn to talk in a way people outside the Beltway can understand. "What ordinary person knows what carbon sequestration means?" asks Peggy Shepherd, the founder of West Harlem Environmental Action. Sitting in her modestly furnished office above the fast-food and discount stores of 125th Street, Shepherd points out the window and continues, "We spend a lot of our time translating this stuff into language that makes sense to people living in that housing project over there. We've got to let people know that the environment is their home, it's their kids' school, so they can understand their connection to these global problems that seem so big."

Reaching out more will also require environmentalists to face issues of race and class -- issues they have long skirted, despite the well-known fact that poor and nonwhite communities are disproportionately victimized by environmental degradation. Fifteen years after the National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit put environmental justice on the green agenda, the top ranks of mainstream organizations remain dominated by white men. Of the thirty leaders in the Green Group, all but two are white; all but three are men. "Whenever I go to middle- or high-level environmental meetings, I'm always the only person of color in the room and, what's even more shocking, one of only two or three women," says Shepherd. "It's very surprising, because I know those women and people of color are out there."

"It is a bit tragic that people who are presumably progressive are so far behind on this," says Carl Anthony, deputy director of the Ford Foundation's community and resource development unit. "Take your average corporation, say Pepsi Cola; they're way ahead of the environmental movement in terms of doing at least lip service on this. Even George Bush's Administration has an African-American Secretary of State."

Diversifying the movement is not a matter of political correctness, Anthony emphasizes, but of effectiveness. "Look at what the environmental justice movement has taught everybody about toxics. In the 1970s environmentalists were saying if we don't cut back on toxics, such and such bad things would happen. But environmental justice folks were saying, 'It's already happening in our communities.' Unless we build this edge to our movements, we can't win."

More and more mainstream environmentalists agree, if only because they realize that middle-class white people are increasingly unrepresentative of twenty-first-century America. "The changing demographics of the United States mean that environmental groups, to succeed, have got to speak to Latinos, African-Americans and other new constituencies," says Bill Davis, director of the State Environmental Leadership Program.

Jerome Ringo knows from his years of organizing in Louisiana that bridging the divide won't be easy. "You can't just tell people in Cancer Alley that they should join conservation groups because they'll ask, What have you done for me lately?" he says. "And conservation groups don't have much of an answer for that. They have to step up to the plate and address the issues that impact minority communities."

Mainstream environmental leaders concede the problem and are working on it, says Bill Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society and coordinator of the Green Group's efforts on diversity. "I remember sitting at a table at one of the conferences we've begun holding to support this kind of work," he says. "Seated to my right was a woman from Florida who was very involved in environmental justice issues; she was opposing a coal-fired power plant. To my left was a CEO of an organization that worked on climate change. He was bemoaning that he didn't have the constituency at a local level that could push the McCain-Lieberman climate bill in Congress. She was complaining she didn't have the national visibility needed to stop that plant. Investing in building that kind of infrastructure, to make sure those linkages occur, is the most important work we can do in the next five years."

Robert Gottlieb, the author of "Forcing the Spring," a history of the US environmental movement, says outreach by mainstream green groups to environmental justice activists is "sufficiently widespread that you can't say it's just window dressing." But, he warns, "without a rootedness in local organizing, the full potential of this movement will not be realized."

Part of what makes Jerome Ringo interesting is that he personifies this potential to create an environmental movement that is broader and deeper than before -- to "reknit the environmental majority," in Carl Pope's phrase. As a former union organizer and community activist, Ringo is clearly sympathetic to the disadvantaged. But his years as a successful business owner enable him to reach out to the private sector, and as chair of the National Wildlife Federation he can also relate to the 20 percent of voters who describe themselves as hunters and anglers. Those people are usually assumed to be conservative. But a recent poll commissioned by the NWF found that 78 percent of them support renewable energy, perhaps because they recognize that fossil fuels are ruining their recreation areas.

"The glue that connects the dots" is the fight against climate change, says Ringo. In the past, green groups diffused their impact by working on too many different issues, he continues, but now every major green group "has recognized that global warming is the issue." Donning his Apollo Alliance hat, Ringo argues that environmentalists can best pursue this battle, and gain new allies in the process, by championing green energy and jobs.

It's a good time to be making this argument. Not only has global warming finally been widely acknowledged as an urgent problem, it is now undeniable that fighting it can be extraordinarily profitable. The more that conventional energy prices go up, the more profitable it will be to invest in green energy -- above all, in energy efficiency. It's not exciting, but energy efficiency -- doing more work with less fuel -- is and will remain for years to come the most potent and lucrative source of green energy. To paraphrase Amory Lovins, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, the greenest energy is the energy that is never produced in the first place.

Many corporations are already capitalizing on this opportunity. Over a three-year period beginning in 1999, energy giant BP invested $20 million to increase energy efficiency throughout its production facilities and offices. It ended up saving $650 million in fuel costs -- a stunning thirty-two-fold return on its original investment. But why let the private sector have all the fun? There is no reason state and local governments, schools and other public entities, community groups and individuals cannot cash in as well. At the moment, most of civil society is leaving this energy efficiency windfall on the table. But clever activists could change that. Bring together the key players -- public officials, energy planners, efficiency companies, unions, financiers and community leaders -- outline the opportunities at hand, and the economics are so compelling that the rest of the job should almost take care of itself.

Illustrating that Republicans need not be blind to this logic, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has pushed some of the greenest energy policies in the nation. "The Governor's Green Building Initiative is designed to reduce the state's energy use in state buildings 20 percent by 2015," says Terry Tamminen, Schwarzenegger's top environmental aide. "We're doing audits right now on all the state government buildings and finding that if you put in energy-efficient lighting, you can earn your investment back in eighteen months." At Schwarzenegger's direction, the Public Utilities Commission has also approved a Million Solar Roofs program, which will spend $3.2 billion in the next eleven years to subsidize installing solar energy for new buildings. "That $3.2 billion will generate four times that value in jobs, according to the California Energy Commission," adds Tamminen. "And those jobs will be here in California, where much of the research and development for the next generation of solar energy is happening."

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson is an unapologetic Democrat in what may be the reddest state in the nation. But he has implemented serious green policies during his five years as mayor -- and won not only re-election but plaudits from the local business community. "When I can get up in front of the Salt Lake City Rotary Club, which is by and large conservative businesspeople, and get a standing ovation after talking about the kinds of changes we're making here, that says a lot," Anderson says. His city government committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent from 1990 levels (i.e., more than Kyoto requires). By the end of 2005 it had already exceeded that target while boosting city revenues, thanks to dramatic increases in energy efficiency and methane recovery from its wastewater and landfill facilities. The city then shared its lessons with local businesses and citizens via so-called E2 programs -- energy and environment. "We show them how they can do the same and generally save money as well," says Anderson, who adds, "It's important to have a positive message. People respond so well to the sense that, yes, we have these [environmental] challenges, but we have a can-do spirit and we can do the right thing and come out ahead."

At Anderson's invitation, Ringo spoke about the Apollo program at the National Conference of Mayors in June and got a standing ovation, too. The Apollo message is ready-made for municipal governments; 235 mayors have committed their cities to meeting or exceeding the greenhouse-gas emissions reductions mandated by the Kyoto Protocol. And many cities are already sold on green development plans, says Keith Schneider, a former New York Times reporter who is deputy director of an environmental group, the Michigan Land Use Institute. "Cities have become the great incubators of sustainable ideas and policy in the United States, and are generally much farther ahead than any state government and certainly farther ahead than the federal government," Schneider notes, adding that local leaders think such efforts are "as vital to their community's well-being as fighting crime and improving public schools."

Environmentalism teaches that everything is connected. Yet when it came to politics, environmentalists ignored this truth for many years -- until now. By going local, talking plainly, promoting solutions and working with a broad range of stakeholders, environmentalists could drive the next great wave of economic growth in this country while also addressing the single gravest threat to our collective future. Making such an end run around the federal government will not make George W. Bush irrelevant. But it will leave him behind, as the rest of the world has already done on climate change, and return environmentalism to the American mainstream, where it belongs.

Weathering the Crisis

George W. Bush may not know it, but one influential part of his government is finally taking global climate change seriously. An extraordinary new report by an elite Pentagon planning unit has declared that climate change is a national security threat of the greatest urgency and demands an immediate response.

Directly contradicting Bush and other right-wingers, the Pentagon report maintains that climate change is not only real, it could strike sooner and with much deadlier effect than is usually thought. By 2020, when babies born today will be in high school, climate change could unleash a series of interlocking catastrophes including mega-droughts, mass starvation and nuclear war, as countries like China, India and Pakistan battle over river valleys and other sources of scarce food and water. If the climate's tipping point is reached, change could come abruptly, within a span of three to five years, and ironically result in another ice age. A frozen northern Europe would become all but uninhabitable. The American Midwest would be rendered a dust bowl. Southern California would go thirsty. The risk of such outcomes is uncertain and "quite possibly small," the Pentagon report notes before adding,"but given the dire consequences, it should be elevated beyond a scientific debate. Action now matters."

Bush and his allies in the fossil-fuel and auto industries will find these conclusions hard to accept but also hard to ignore. The naysayers' usual defense -- that climate change is more a theory favored by liberals than a reality proven by data -- won't work against Andrew Marshall, the brain behind the Pentagon report. At 83, Marshall is a legendary figure who has done "big picture" strategic planning for the military for decades and been a trusted associate of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld since the 1970s, when the two men were among the earliest advocates of missile defense, the right wing's holy grail.

It's not known whether Rumsfeld has read the climate change report, but either Marshall or someone close to him made sure it didn't get buried: A copy of the unclassified study was given to Fortune, which published a measured yet terrifying summary in its February 9 issue. Placing the report in such a respected, widely read business publication may have been Marshall's way to do an end run around the White House and send a message to US business leaders: Wake up to climate change's dangers and work to shift civilization's course.

One immediate effect may involve the World Bank, whose board of directors is expected to vote by April 15 on a controversial recommendation to stop all funding of coal and oil development, the two fuels most responsible for the carbon dioxide emissions that propel climate change. The vote poses a dilemma for World Bank president James Wolfensohn, for the recommendation comes from an advisory commission he himself appointed to show that the bank was open to input from civil society.

The so-called Extractive Industries Review commission was chaired by Emil Salim, a former environment minister of Indonesia and former board member of a coal company, and it featured representatives of industry, labor unions, Third World governments, nongovernmental organizations and indigenous peoples. Citing the dangers of climate change and the often punishing human rights and pollution effects on local people, the review urged that the bank halt all coal loans immediately and all oil loans by 2008. It also recommended that the bank increase renewable energy loans by 20 percent a year and grant local peoples the right to veto projects they don't want.

These changes would amount to a virtual revolution in the World Bank's operations, so it's not surprising that bank management has resisted them. "The bank has been one of the world's leading public investors in climate change," says Daphne Wysham, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, who monitored the Extractive Industries Review. Wysham notes that the World Bank's energy lending is lopsidedly biased, with 94 percent of total funds underwriting fossil-fuel projects and only 6 percent supporting renewables like wind and solar.

According to a draft response, World Bank management wants the board to reject nearly all the commission's reforms. Rather than halt coal and oil loans, management urges $300 million to $500 million a year in new funding. Fossil fuels, reasons the draft, are the cheapest energy available and thus promise to speed Third World countries' ascent from poverty.

But the Pentagon report makes it harder for defenders of the status quo to sustain such arguments. What good is it to ascend from poverty into a world descending into weather chaos and social breakdown? Such reasoning is unlikely to sway George W. Bush; progress in the United States will have to wait until after he is replaced as President. But at the World Bank, the board of directors will soon make a fateful decision: Either back management's call for more coal and oil or lead the way to a post-carbon future. If board members take the trouble to read the Pentagon's warnings in Fortune, it's hard to see how they could vote the wrong way.

Mark Hertsgaard is an independent American journalist and the author of five books, including "The Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World."

The Greening of the Beat-Bush Movement

Who says George W. Bush never did anything for the great outdoors? His running for reelection could be the best thing to happen to the U.S. environmental movement in years. The threat of four more years of Bush has provoked a significant rethinking of the movement's tactics, according to interviews with movement leaders, their financial supporters, and political advisers. Not only has it energized activists as never before, it has also produced unprecedented expressions of unity within the movement and beyond -- specifically with labor unions, feminist organizations, and civil rights groups. While the short-term goal is a new president in 2004, some environmental leaders hope the Beat Bush campaign will help these groups build working relationships that could give rise to a broad-based progressive movement in the United States.

"George W. Bush said when he was running for president that he would be the great unifier, not the divider, and damned if he hasn't been the greatest unifier of the environmental movement since I've been in it," says John Passacantando, the executive director of Greenpeace USA. "And that's true within the entire progressive movement and beyond. From tongue-studded anarchists to business-oriented think tanks, we've all come to realize that Bush represents the greatest threat to all that we hold dear."

One manifestation of this new unity is America Votes, an alliance of 20 citizens groups that was organized earlier this year by leaders from environmental, labor, and women's organizations. Members include the AFL-CIO and other unions, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and MoveOn.org. The environmental movement is represented in the coalition by the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters.

America Votes will exercise electoral clout through a so-called 527 group named America Coming Together. (Organizations registered under section 527 of the federal tax code are permitted to engage in voter education and turnout work but not outright advocacy for candidates.) ACT has raised $35 million to spend on the 2004 campaign, $10 million of which was donated by George Soros, the currency trader and philanthropist. The group hopes eventually to raise $75 million.

"It's actually easier for us to work together on elections than on policy work," Deb Callahan, the executive director of LCV, says of her allies within ACT. "On a policy issue like logging or mining, we might be on the opposite side of the fence from, say, a labor union. But an election puts those kinds of differences in the background, because it presents a simple choice: Do you elect this candidate or not? And we all agree that four more years of Bush would be a disaster."

"The environmental movement traditionally hasn't focused many resources on electoral work," observes one prominent funder of environmental organizations who declined to be named. "The Sierra Club and LCV spent $16 million during the two-year cycle leading up to the 2000 election. But that's dwarfed by the annual budgets of groups who do public education and policy work, such as the National Wildlife Federation [$100 million per year] and Natural Resources Defense Council [$50 million per year]. America Coming Together gives environmentalists the prospect of real electoral impact and, for the first time, real coordination with other progressive groups."

Exactly what this new progressive unity will mean on the ground remains to be seen. The ACT groups are only beginning to find their way, cautions the funder quoted above: "To borrow a scientific analogy, this collaboration began in a gaseous state and has now progressed to a liquefied state, but it is still far from a solid state." But the groups' leaders talk about coordinating messages and communication schedules -- for example, to make sure that a given household doesn't get deluged with five pieces of anti-Bush mail on a single day and then receive nothing during the next two weeks -- and dividing up outreach responsibility for certain battleground states to assure the most efficient use of all groups' electoral resources.

And those resources, they promise, will be unprecedented. "The scale of the commitment is phenomenal," says Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "Over the next 13 months, we are committed to doubling the number of volunteer activists we have in the field and the number of households we contact, and my sense is that the other organizations in America Votes are doing the same."

Their Roots Are Showing

Not only are enviros and other progressives spending more on the 2004 election, they are also spending differently. Thirty-second television ads, whose astronomical costs devoured budgets in the past, are being abandoned as ineffectual because voters are no longer moved by them. Instead, says Pope, electoral strategists of all ideological persuasions recognize that "what works is talking to people one on one, and especially having them hear your message from their friends and neighbors."

"Unions showed in 2000 that grassroots organizing led to a higher turnout of their members, which made the difference in a number of key races," Callahan says. "The Republicans applied that lesson successfully in 2002, and I expect the White House will do the same in 2004. Our movement's focus traditionally has been grassroots organizing, and we've got to get back to that. Two-thirds of my 2004 budget is for grassroots organizing. In 2002, it was only 20 percent."

Grassroots organizing is critical; if environmental groups simply get their own members to vote, it could make all the difference in 2004. Some 11 million Americans belong to environmental organizations. Yet surveys reveal that in recent elections, those members have voted in no greater proportion than other Americans. In the 17 states expected to be the decisive battlegrounds in 2004, the Sierra Club alone boasts more members than the margins of victory in the 2000 election. "Had every Sierra Club member voted in 2000, not only would Al Gore be president but Tom Daschle would be Senate majority leader and Dick Gephardt would be speaker of the House," says Pope.

What environmentalists haven't done is endorse a particular candidate for president. Partly that's for legal reasons: Only so-called (c)(4) groups (registered under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code), like LCV and Sierra Club, are allowed to advocate voting for or against candidates, using funds garnered from non-tax-deductible donations. But America Votes, as a 527, is precluded from such advocacy. So are the 501(c)(3) groups that comprise the majority of the U.S. environmental movement; they are restricted to public education and policy work, giving them access to tax-deductible donations (which is why their annual budgets are typically much larger than those of (c)(4) groups).

"We can't take part in the 2004 electoral work, but our public education efforts will inform that work," says Rodger Schlickeisen, the chair of Save Our Environment, a coalition of 20 (c)(3) and (c)(4) groups that have pooled resources and coordinated strategies to resist Bush administration policies. SOE members include Defenders of Wildlife (where Schlickeisen is president), Friends of the Earth, Environmental Defense, the Wilderness Society, Greenpeace, NRDC, LCV, and Sierra Club.

A second reason no candidate endorsement is imminent is that environmentalists want to unite behind whoever emerges from the Democratic primaries to challenge Bush. "Any of these Democrats is better than Bush on the environment, so we're not going to endorse any one of them yet," says Callahan, whose organization awarded Bush the first-ever "F" on its annual "report card" on environmental voting records. "Instead, we're building on-the-ground infrastructure that will kick into gear for the nominee once the general election begins."

But in their zeal to get rid of Bush, will environmentalists let Democrats off easy?

"It's important not only to make Bush's and the Republicans' stand on environmental issues clear, but also to hold Democratic candidates to a much higher standard than Bill Clinton and Al Gore were," says Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, another (c)(3) group precluded from electoral activities. "For a long time, Democrats have talked a good game on the environment and then failed once in office to put their political capital on the line for it. ... A campaign that simply reiterates horror stories about Bush's policies won't accomplish its goals. Americans want to see a vision of what needs doing over the next four years to extend 30 years of environmental progress. That's the bar environmentalists should hold all the candidates to."

White Flags, Green Futures

All this, insiders admit, is a marked shift from the infighting that has often afflicted the environmental movement in recent years.

"The various groups used to scuffle over who would be the one quoted in media reports about whatever the environmental rollback of the week was," says Passacantando of Greenpeace. "How dumb is that -- fighting to get credit for a battle we're losing!" The new unity, Passacantando argues, stems not only from the Bush threat but from the decline in donations groups have suffered in the face of a recession and a weak stock market. "Having less money has forced each group to focus on what it does best. So now you see the grassroots groups doing grassroots organizing, the lobbyists doing lobbying, and so forth. We're stronger for it."

Environmentalists also take heart from the knowledge that, as leading Republican strategist Frank Luntz wrote in a memo that was leaked to the New York Times earlier this year, "the environment is probably the single issue on which Republicans in general -- and President Bush in particular -- are most vulnerable." With Bush's poll numbers dropping thanks to a faltering economy and growing unease about Iraq, environmentalists are convinced that he can be defeated in 2004 and that their issue can help make it happen.

"There is no question that the president and all of the Democratic candidates have spotlighted the environmental issue as key to reaching certain constituencies," says Clapp. "The environment is an issue that matters in the swing states that each side wants: Oregon, Washington, Florida, the industrial Midwest. The president left his ranch in Crawford three times this summer to do events to promote his Clear Skies rollback of the Clean Air Act. And for Democrats, the environment is one of the three or four issues each candidate lists as a key difference between him or her and the president."

Questions remain, however, about what kind of practical results all this high-minded talk will produce in 2004. After all, the environmental movement is relatively inexperienced in electoral work, and it is gearing up operations very fast. Can the Sierra Club, in a mere 13 months, really double the number of activists it has on the ground (to 20,000) and the number of households these activists will reach (to 800,000)? Can Save Our Environment groups that remain largely focused on inside-the-Beltway concerns shift to talking in plain-spoken terms to the millions of ordinary Americans whose votes will decide the outcome on Election Day? And after years of internal bickering and distance from other progressive groups and issues, can environmentalists really walk the walk of unity and cooperation?

"It's nice people are working more together now, but the old ego and turf battles haven't gone away," says one movement insider. "All the old incentives against collaboration remain in place; groups still have to get media coverage and other forms of credit for their accomplishments in order to maintain funders' support and survive."

On the other hand, the environmental movement's motivation is growing stronger by the day, fueled by the Bush administration's continued assault on ecosystems and the laws meant to protect them. And looking toward the long term, some environmental leaders say the Bush threat may finally force environmentalists and other progressive organizations to learn how to work together and thus begin building the kind of broad-based movement that could yield real change in America.

"It's self-interest that's bringing us together," says Callahan of LCV. "If we don't cooperate, we'll certainly fail to put a progressive in the White House in 2004. But if we succeed, we can build relations and trust that will continue beyond the election and result in something much larger than ourselves. Look at how the right wing took power in this country -- by following a long-term vision of building a movement of like-minded organizations. It's been my dream for a long time, and we're now finally doing the same."

Mark Hertsgaard, a commentator for NPR's "Living on Earth" show, is the author most recently of "The Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World" and "Earth Odyssey: Around the World In Search of Our Environmental Future."

Conflict of Interest for Christine Todd Whitman?

The ombudsman for the Environmental Protection Agency says he was punished by administrator Christine Todd Whitman after he opposed an agreement to sharply limit the amount of money financial titan Citigroup -- a principal investor in Whitman's husband's venture capital firm -- would have to pay in a controversial Superfund cleanup case.

EPA ombudsman Robert J. Martin, who functions as the agency's public interest advocate, alleges that Whitman ordered his office reassigned within the EPA bureaucracy and stripped of its independence after he opposed a nuclear-waste cleanup settlement with Citigroup that would limit its liability to a fraction of the cleanup cost.

Martin made the conflict of interest charge against Whitman in a lawsuit filed Jan. 10 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The suit sought a temporary restraining order to prevent the ombudsman's duties and investigative files from being transferred to the EPA's Office of Inspector General, an agency Martin has clashed with in the past and is currently investigating. Through a spokesperson, Whitman denied Martin's charges.

Martin won a crucial legal battle Friday, when Judge Richard W. Roberts ruled in his favor, delaying his reassignment until Feb. 26. "Before the hearing I said that I was cautiously optimistic," Martin said. "I now rejoice that truth has prevailed and justice has been done."

Martin is opposing, among other EPA moves, a pending agreement that will limit Citigroup's liability to $7.2 million for cleaning up a nuclear waste Superfund site in Denver. Officials in EPA's Region 8, which includes Colorado, reckon the cost of cleaning up the Citigroup-owned Shattuck site will be $22 million to $35 million.

Martin's own analysis separately concluded that a proper cleanup of the site, which is located in a working-class neighborhood and contains a 15-foot tall mound of radioactively contaminated soil, would cost as much as $100 million. Limiting Citigroup's liability to $7.2 million would therefore transfer as much as $93 million of the cleanup's cost to taxpayers, Martin alleges.

Whitman's actions, the ombudsman charged in his lawsuit, will "have the immediate effect of muzzling the voice of accountability within the EPA that has been, and would otherwise continue to be, the primary source of information about the inadequacy of clean-up plans of highly toxic waste sites affecting the public and the environment."

Historically, the ombudsman has not wielded decision-making authority at EPA, but has responsibility for investigating complaints about the agency brought by citizens, local governments and corporations. The role has caused friction between the ombudsman and the rest of the EPA before, but this is the sharpest conflict to date.

Whatever the reason for Whitman's move -- and Martin has not produced evidence that she intervened to benefit Citigroup -- the reassignment could well de-fang an office that has been a sharp critic of industry and an advocate for tougher environmental protection. Coming at the same time as the widening Enron scandal, the lawsuit is one more headache for the Bush administration, which stands accused of being more concerned about its corporate patrons than the public interest. Whitman's move against Martin has been harshly criticized on Capitol Hill -- with the strongest opposition coming from Western-state Republicans.

Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., wrote to Whitman Jan. 8 asking that she delay the transfer until Congress can analyze it. "She's decided to put him in the Inspector General's Office, and the way I understand the way it's set up ... he does not maintain his independence," he says. Allard praises ombudsman Martin and his chief investigator, Hugh Kaufman, for reversing what he calls EPA's mistaken approach to the original cleanup of Denver's Shattuck site, and for being the first representatives from the EPA who listened to his constituents' concerns about radioactive waste. Kaufman is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Whitman.

Allard declined to express an opinion on the validity of the financial conflict-of-interest allegations against Whitman. "The charges of conflict of interest by the ombudsman, I think, need to be reviewed," said Allard, who added, "If the courts determine that there is an improper settlement [in the Shattuck cleanup] because of conflict of interest, I think that they will deal with that."

Judge Roberts' Friday ruling means that Martin will remain ombudsman at least long enough for him to challenge the Shattuck cleanup settlement in court and for Congress to hold hearings on Whitman's attempt to reassign him.

Martin and Kaufman are not newcomers to controversy. In the early 1980s, it was Kaufman's whistleblowing that led to the resignations of President Ronald Reagan's EPA administrator, Anne Gorsuch, and Superfund program administrator, Rita Lavelle, over a scandal involving diversion of EPA money to Republican Party political activities. Kaufman was then the chief investigator of EPA's Hazardous Waste Management Division.

Kaufman argues that his current dispute with Christine Todd Whitman involves even more serious public interest concerns. "If Whitman doesn't back down on this, we may as well kiss representative government as we've known it goodbye. Because it means that a top government official can rule in cases that directly benefit her financially, get called on it, tell her accusers to get lost, and get away with it."

No one has proven that Whitman made her decision with the specific intention of benefiting Citigroup. But the company is the first one listed on the public financial disclosure report that Whitman filed upon being confirmed as President Bush's EPA administrator. She and husband John Whitman are listed as owning between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of Citigroup stock, but the couple's ties to Citigroup go much deeper. John Whitman worked directly for Citigroup from 1972 to 1987 and reportedly received a year-end bonus from the company as recently as 2000. Today, he is a managing partner in Sycamore Ventures, a $550 million venture capital firm whose Web site explains that it was "spun out of Citicorp Ventures, Ltd. [in 1995]. Today we continue to enjoy the backing of the worldwide network of Citigroup, which remains one of our largest investors."

Whitman declined, through agency spokesman Joseph Martyak, to be interviewed for this story. Deriding the ombudsman's charges as "specious allegations," Martyak says that "the administrator, of course, is concerned that these kind of accusations are being raised because they're totally unfounded ... The conflict of interest that's being proposed here simply doesn't exist, because she's been up front about what her involvement is with Citigroup." He claims that the terms of agreement between the EPA and Citigroup were first reached in December 2000, under the Clinton administration, and before Whitman even took office. The administrator's reassignment of the ombudsman, Martyak emphasizes, is a "totally separate decision" from the Shattuck case, and one that he says will give the office greater independence.

John Whitman was unavailable for comment, but another managing partner in Sycamore Ventures, Peter Gerry, called the conflict of interest accusations "far-fetched, convoluted, self-serving and contrived." Gerry, who said Whitman and the other founding partners of Sycamore Ventures had trained and worked together at Citigroup, added, "I'm not going to deny that [Citigroup] is a big investor of ours. We treasure our relationship there. But we have lots of other big investors, too."

Gerry declined to specify how much of Sycamore's investment capital came from Citicorp, but he said Sycamore was "not on the radar screen of Sandy Weil [Citigroup's CEO and chairman], and I'm sure whoever is doing the cleanup in Colorado is absolutely unaware of this coincidental relationship [with Whitman]."

Richard Howe, a spokesman for Citigroup, said, "Citicorp Venture Capital has had a financial relationship with Sycamore Ventures for many years and still does. Never have there been any discussions between us and anybody at Sycamore on any matter of public policy."

Whitman's responses to questions about her potential conflict of interest on the Shattuck cleanup site have changed over time. When the issue was first raised in a Denver Post article last March, EPA spokeswoman Tina Kreisher said such concerns were irrelevant because decisions about local Superfund sites are made not by the administrator but by regional EPA officials. Then, in a Jan. 3, 2002, interview for this story, EPA spokesman Dave Ryan said that Whitman had recused herself from the Shattuck case, but Ryan could not produce Whitman's recusal form.

In a Jan. 9 interview, EPA's Martyak noted that Whitman is not obliged to sign an individual recusal form. He pointed out that the federal government's Office of Government Ethics (OGE) stipulates that a two-step process for government officials -- declaring one's financial interests and avoiding substantial participation in decisions that could affect those interests -- is sufficient to comply with one's ethical obligations.

A spokesman at OGE said separately that officials who wish to document their non-involvement in forbidden matters can either sign formal recusal forms or send letters to colleagues directing them not to refer such matters to them. Whitman apparently has not taken either step. Nor has she placed her assets in a blind trust, another common option for wealthy government officials, such as Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Vice President Dick Cheney.

But Martyak insists such steps are irrelevant, because Whitman hasn't been part of the Shattuck Superfund deliberations. "The fact of the matter here is that the administrator has not been involved in the decision-making on this case," said Martyak. "The terms of the agreement [between EPA and Citigroup] on the Shattuck case were reached [in] December 2000, before the administrator was even nominated for this position. What's in the works right now is simply finalizing the documents on that settlement."

Kaufman argues that Whitman's attempted muzzling of the ombudsman is itself participation in the Shattuck case, because it effectively prevents Martin and his office from challenging the agreement the EPA has negotiated with Citigroup.

"The reassignment of the ombudsman's office limits the ability of the ombudsman to do his job as it relates to the Shattuck case," says Kaufman. "And Mrs. Whitman knew that at the time that she made the decision. She also knew that she has a conflict of interest on cases that Mr. Martin is presently in the middle of investigating. And that's a violation of the civil and criminal statutes of the United States." Martyak, speaking for Whitman, dismisses those charges.

Martin and Kaufman's lawsuit cites another instance where Whitman may have engaged in prohibited participation in the Shattuck case. According to an internal EPA e-mail of March 16, officials in Region 8 were preparing materials to brief Whitman about the Shattuck cleanup. Martyak says he can't confirm that Whitman was briefed on the case, but adds that a briefing, if it did occur, does not amount to substantial participation in a government decision.

As for Martyak's contention that the EPA's approach on Shattuck was decided before Whitman took office, Kaufman insists "there were lots of options [for Shattuck] being discussed under Clinton. But once she became the administrator, Christine Todd Whitman had to decide if she wanted to give Citigroup the same sweetheart deal. And the first signatures on the [Shattuck] agreement came in October 2001, eight months after Whitman took office."

The pending agreement between the EPA and Citigroup cannot take effect until it is approved by a federal judge in Colorado, following a 30-day public comment period that begins the day the agreement is printed in the Federal Register, which is expected to happen within the next few days. Martin and Kaufman had planned to organize public hearings in Denver about the agreement and present their findings to the judge. They complained that this would be impossible if they were reassigned as Whitman proposed.

When Whitman announced her reassignment of the EPA ombudsman on Nov. 27, she said the move was intended to increase his independence and improve accountability. Citing a report by the General Accounting Office (GAO), Congress' investigative agency, that urged greater independence for ombudsmen throughout the federal government, Whitman said that shifting the EPA's ombudsman from the Solid and Hazardous Waste Office to the Office of the Ispector General would ensure "an effective, impartial and independent ombudsman."

In a Dec. 27 letter to Sen. Allard, Whitman insists she is committed to maintaining the ombudsman's independence. But in response to specific questions from Allard, Whitman makes it clear the ombudsman will not control his budget, staff or what cases he investigates. "Assignment of staff resources, including hiring, is a responsibility retained by each Assistant Inspector General," Whitman's letter states. As for whether the ombudsman will remain able to select his own investigations, the letter says that "no single staff member [within the Inspector General's Office] has the authority to select and prioritize their own caseload ..."

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, says that reading Whitman's Dec. 27 letter led him to request that Whitman not reassign the ombudsman. "The [Bush] administration has time to delay this decision and work with us in Congress to assure a truly independent position for the EPA ombudsman," says Crapo, who adds that he thought the EPA bureaucracy tried to muzzle the ombudsman in a previous Superfund case in Idaho concerning the Coeur d'Alene Basin, a mining area suffering from severe toxic pollution. He said he made his request in a Jan. 10 meeting with Gary L. Johnson, EPA's assistant inspector general.

Aside from the opposition in the Senate, a bipartisan group of House members led by Florida Rep. Michael Bilirakis, a Republican, had urged Whitman before Christmas to withdraw the reassignment plan until congressional hearings could be held. Lawsuits opposing the reassignment have also been filed by local governments in Idaho and Pennsylvania and by a citizens group in Florida. They argue that preventing the EPA ombudsman from doing his job will injure their rights to due process in environmental investigations underway in their states.

"I don't know of any decision that's been made where categorically the ombudsman is not going to be allowed to do anything further on Shattuck," said EPA spokesman Martyak, who argued that putting the ombudsman within the Inspector General's Office is the best possible location "because the Inspector General is independent of EPA. It does not report to the EPA. It does file a report to the U.S. Congress on its activities. I can't underscore enough the independence of the Inspector General. That office gets its appropriations directly from the Congress; we have no say in that; it has its own staff, in which we have no say."

But Martin and Kaufman have tangled with the Inspector General's Office on numerous occasions. They charge in their lawsuit that their investigation of the Marjol Battery Superfund site in Pennsylvania, with whose contractor, Gould Electronics, Citigroup has a $1.5 billion business venture in Idaho, was "obstructed" in 2001 by Assistant Inspector General Johnson (who is slated to become the ombudsman's boss in Whitman's reorganization plan). And last week, the ombudsman opened an investigation into the Inspector General's Office itself.

"Right now we are investigating the EPA inspector general doing a cover-up in Denver, Colo., on air pollution in people's homes -- not just in Denver but all over the country," says Kaufman. "That investigation will be closed down once we go to the Inspector General's Office. Because we can't investigate the inspector general."

Martin and Kaufman have tangled with Whitman and Citigroup at least indirectly in at least one other case. The financial giant also owns Traveler's Insurance Co., which faces numerous medical claims from people living or working at New York's ground zero in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. After the EPA performed testing at the site, Whitman announced, "I am glad to reassure the people of New York ... that their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe to drink." But the Washington Post reported Jan. 8 that area residents and rescue workers have suffered an epidemic of respiratory illnesses, possibly linked to toxic exposure at the site from contaminants such as asbestos, mercury and other metals. And on Jan. 9, the ombudsman announced he would investigate the EPA's testing at ground zero.

"Mrs. Whitman said the air is safe [at ground zero]," says Kaufman, the ombudsman's investigator, "when in fact the documentation of test results show the air has not been safe and people are being made sick. All of the two dozen cases that we're doing around the country will now lose a public advocate because Mrs. Whitman wants to protect the financial interest of the Citigroup Co. that she has had a longstanding and ongoing financial relationship with."

Regardless of whether Whitman tried to protect Citigroup specifically, Martin and Kaufman's defenders say she's clearly acting to muzzle two staunch advocates for the environment, who've been a thorn in the side of industry before. When she was New Jersey governor, Whitman eliminated the state's environmental ombudsman and sharply reduced related regulations, critics say.

"Administrator Whitman says she's making this reassignment in the spirit of the General Accounting Office report," said Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, a public interest group in Washington that is representing Martin and Kaufman in their suit against Whitman. "But nothing could be more contradictory to the report. Instead of beefing up the ombudsman, she has abolished the concept. Thanks to Judge Roberts' ruling, Whitman's fait accompli has been thwarted."

Mark Hertsgaard is the author of "Earth Odyssey," and a contributor to Salon.com, where this article first appeared. This story is an investigative collaboration with the National Public Radio show, "Living On Earth."

The Real Price of Oil

Perhaps it's a sign of politics inching back toward business as usual: Congressional Republicans are exploiting the Sept. 11 terror attacks to push the Bush administration's plan for an all-out increase in energy production.

Lawmakers first proposed making the administration's controversial plan -- which includes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- part of a federal anti-terrorism bill. Though that amendment failed late last month, drilling advocates are likely to continue invoking terrorism fears as they argue for more oil development.

Bush, of course, has long maintained that his energy plan will increase America's "energy security" -- meaning the nation's access to relatively inexpensive electricity and fuel. To that end, he has proposed a package of measures intended to encourage greater production of oil, along with other fossil fuels and nuclear power. In a victory that surprised even Republicans, the House of Representatives in August endorsed much of Bush's approach, including $33 billion worth of tax incentives for oil companies.

It's questionable, however, whether these steps will in fact guarantee stable energy prices. Given the power that OPEC and the international oil companies have to manipulate production, the usual rules of supply and demand don't apply to the oil business. And even if Bush's approach works, it will affect the price of oil only in a narrow sense: what a barrel of light crude fetches on the London spot market, what a gallon of gasoline for the family automobile costs at the pump.

What matters more is what should be called the real price of oil. This is comprised of two elements: petroleum's market price, plus the many indirect costs that its production and consumption impose on nature, public health, and future generations.

Under Bush's plan, for example, the real price of oil will soon include not only those $33 billion in subsidies, but the potential destruction of Alaskan caribou calving grounds. Increased production also means a growing possibility of more oil spills like the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, as well as continuation of the less-publicized release of an average of 10 million gallons of petroleum into the oceans every year from tanker accidents.

Further raising oil's real price will increased air pollution made possible by Bush's relaxation of environmental regulations. Already, diseases stemming from car exhaust kill some 30,000 Americans each year, according to a 1995 Harvard University study. And back in 1993, the Worldwatch Institute estimated the damage to human and environmental health from vehicle emissions at $93 billion a year.

For the world at large, the most serious consequence of continued reliance on oil and other fossil fuels will be accelerating climate change in the 21st century. Though a number of factors contribute to the greenhouse effect, oil remains a major culprit. Some 40 percent of America's greenhouse gas emissions stem from automobiles.

Scientists have noted that already -- after a mere one-degree increase in temperatures over the past century -- glaciers are melting and catastrophic storms becoming more severe and frequent. They expect the planet to warm an additional 4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit in the 21st century, bringing yet more violent weather, flooded coastlines, killer droughts and social havoc. One insurance industry study projects that climate change will impose $304 billion of additional direct costs on the global economy every year.

Bush has rightly been criticized for rejecting the Kyoto accord on global warming. But the truth is, America has never been shy about expecting the rest of the world to support its oil habit. Presidents and Congresses of both US political parties have for decades affirmed military and diplomatic policies aimed at guaranteeing American access to overseas oil; the CIA-assisted overthrow in 1953 of Iran's prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh -- who had advocated nationalizing the country's oil supplies -- is but one example.

According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, an eco-think tank that analyzed Pentagon and Department of Energy spending data for the mid-1990s, federally funded research and development provided at least $300 million annually in subsidies for the fossil-fuel industry. And at least $50 billion of the US annual military budget during those years paid for forces whose primary purpose is to safeguard Middle Eastern oil fields and shipping lanes -- and whose presence, especially in the Islamic holy land of Saudi Arabia, provokes bitter resentment in much of the Muslim world.

Economists use the term "externalities" to refer to costs that are not included in a commodity's market price, but are borne by society as a whole. Society, of course, also has benefited from the past century's increase in oil consumption: The US economy underwent an extraordinary expansion during the 20th century, when cheap oil fostered first the automobilization of the nation and, after World War II, its suburbanization. Oil also made possible a transportation system built around individual mobility and personal convenience that in many respects remains the envy of the world.

But the impending threat of climate change suggests that our reliance on oil has reached a point of diminishing returns. It's time for a new strategy -- a shift to energy efficiency in the short term and to solar and other renewable energy forms in the long term. Such a Global Green Deal would not only reduce ecological damage, but yield substantially more jobs, profits and economic prosperity than today's system does. Investments in energy efficiency create two to ten times more jobs per dollar than investments in oil and nuclear power -- a crucial concern as the economy slides into recession.

Bush is betting that the nation is willing to pay whatever it takes to keep oil flowing, and he may be right. In the House of Representatives, the president's plan was supported by Democrats and Republicans, labor and corporate interests. In the Senate, much will depend on what kind of pressure is brought to bear on its members.

Americans may ultimately agree with Bush that maintaining their oil habit is worth any price. But we should at least acknowledge the full cost of such a decision -- not only for Americans, but for the six billion people we share the planet with. What do you think?

Mark Hertsgaard, author of Earth Odyssey: Around the World In Search of Our Environmental Future, is at work on a book about America and why it fascinates, infuriates, and bewilders the rest of the world.

A New Green Deal

George W. Bush has handed his opponents a golden political opportunity with his energy plan, and if they use it wisely they can block his anti-environmental agenda and perhaps even disable his presidency, much as Bill Clinton was undone during his first term by the health care issue. So far, environmentalists and Democrats have correctly pointed out that Bush's emphasis on drilling at any cost will increase pollution and reward his former colleagues in the oil business. But name-calling, no matter how accurate, will not be enough to win this fight.

White House strategists are betting that Americans' immediate economic concerns about electricity blackouts and rising gas prices will trump any unease they feel about the environmental consequences of the administration's energy plan. Bush's opponents can triumph, therefore, only if they put economics at the heart of their message. They must take the offensive and offer Americans a clear, compelling answer to a genuine challenge facing the nation: how to keep the economy strong without trashing the planet.

Toward that end, those who oppose Bush's plan should join in calling for a New Green Deal: a government-led, market-based plan that will solve the nation's energy problems while also yielding economic returns and addressing the most urgent environmental hazard of our time, global climate change. Such a deal would be green in both senses of the word: it would clean up the environment and make money for workers, businesses and communities. In essence, the New Green Deal would do for clean energy technologies what government and industry have already done so well for computer and internet technologies: help launch their commercial take-off.

Under a New Green Deal, the government need not spend more money, only redirect current subsidies more intelligently. By championing energy efficiency and shifting government spending away from fossil and nuclear fuels to solar, wind and other renewable sources, the New Green Deal would foster the biggest jobs and business stimulus program of our time. Investments in energy efficiency yield two to ten times as many jobs per dollar invested as do investments in fossil fuels and nuclear power -- not a minor consideration during an economic downturn.

The political advantages of a New Green Deal are nearly as great as its economic benefits. Since both business and labor stand to prosper from it, it should appeal across the political spectrum. Can anyone say the same for Bush's plan? Free-market rhetoric is all very well, but ultimately business leaders want results, and Bush's plan will do nothing to prevent electricity blackouts this summer in the economically crucial states of California and New York.

The new oil fields, power plants, gas pipelines and other supply sources that Bush advocates will take years to get up and running, even if he succeeds in slashing environmental regulations. But it would take only weeks to implement meaningful efficiency reforms. The city of San Francisco, for example, recently gave away 2,000 energy efficient light bulbs for free to anyone who turned in an old, inefficient bulb. The Pacific Gas & Electric company was asked to donate the bulbs, and citizens lined up around the block to participate.

By handing out bulbs to each of its 300,000 households, San Francisco could cut its residential power consumption by 4.5 percent. If the program were expanded to include, say, half of California's 38 million people, the state would save roughly $375 million worth of electricity at wholesale prices. Whether those 19 million light bulbs are bought by PG&E or the state government, at an average of $10 apiece they would cost roughly half the value of the power saved, making for a 100 percent return on investment. Apply the same policy to big industrial users -- subsidizing their replacement of old-fashioned lighting and electric motors with high-efficiency models -- and the savings could soon multiply enough to prevent blackouts in the Golden State.

Vice President Dick Cheney still believes that energy efficiency is about doing without, when it's really about doing more with less. It's odd that he remains confused, because the advantages of better efficiency are becoming increasingly well-known in corporate circles. As Joseph J. Romm, an assistant secretary of energy in the Clinton administration, documents in his book Cool Companies, Xerox, Compaq, 3M, Toyota, Shell, and many other blue-chip firms have enjoyed returns of 25 percent and more from investments in better lighting and insulation, smarter motors and building design, even as they have cut their greenhouse gas emissions in half.

If the private sector can employ energy efficiency to make handsome profits for shareholders, shouldn't the public sector be doing the same for its shareholders, the taxpayers? A New Green Deal would encourage environmental retrofits of schools, hospitals, government offices and other public buildings. Destination Conservation, an environmental group headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, has helped organize such retrofits at some 3,000 schools across Canada, typically cutting energy bills by 20 to 30 percent. The money saved is then plowed back into the schools: to reduce class size by hiring more teachers, for example, or buying new computers. The economics of saving energy (rather than producing more of it) are so attractive that the retrofitter often guarantees lower utility bills for the school or pays the difference.

Because government at all levels is responsible for approximately 17 percent of the United States' gross domestic product, changing its practices can not only save energy directly but drive market decisions that transform society as a whole. Last year, the federal government bought 189,000 new cars for official use. Under the New Green Deal, Washington would tell Detroit that from now on the cars have to be hybrid-electric or hydrogen fuel-cell cars. Detroit would doubtless scream and holler, but if Washington stood firm, Detroit would comply, and soon carmakers would be climbing the learning curve and offering the competitively priced green cars that consumers say they want.

We know this model of government pump-priming works; it's the reason so many of us have personal computers on our desks today. America's computer companies began learning to produce today's affordable systems during the 1960s, while benefitting from long-term subsidies and guaranteed markets under contract to the Pentagon and NASA. Thirty years later, the US is still reaping the benefits: the digital revolution, despite its recent slowdown, has fueled one of the most extraordinary economic expansions in history.

Investing in energy efficiency makes sense on pure profit grounds, but the project gains extra urgency from the looming threat of global climate change. Already, the world's glaciers are melting and catastrophic storms like Hurricane Mitch are becoming stronger and more frequent. One of the world's leading insurance and banking companies, Munich Re, has projected that climate change will impose $304 billion of additional direct costs on the global economy every year. The Bush administration's studied disregard for what is probably the most serious problem facing the human species is an act of appalling irresponsibility, but it opens the door to a potent counter-attack from opponents.

The climate challenge also illustrates why the New Green Deal must eventually be expanded to other nations as well. Already, China is the world's largest consumer of coal and second-largest producer of greenhouse gases. But China would use 50 percent less coal if it installed the efficiency technologies now available on the world market. Under a globalized New Green Deal, governments in Europe, America and Japan could help China buy these technologies (rather than the coal-fired power plants we now subsidize through the World Bank), creating lots of jobs and profits for workers and companies back home.

First things first, however. The United States is poised for a great debate this summer as the Bush administration labors to pass its energy plan on Capitol Hill. A New Green Deal is unlikely to be embraced by such confirmed oil men as Bush and Cheney, but opponents can derail the administration's plan by offering an economically and environmentally superior alternative and daring members of Congress to vote against it before facing their constituents in the 2002 elections. Notwithstanding the White House's claims about an energy crisis threatening our standard of living, Americans tell pollsters that protecting the environment is more important than boosting the economy. But the truth is, we need not choose between the two.

Not the quickest calf in the pasture, George W. Bush seems to have forgotten that he is no longer governor of an oil-producing state but president of the entire nation. Opponents can show him the error of his ways by uniting behind a New Green Deal. What do you think?

Mark Hertsgaard is the author of four books, including Earth Odyssey: Around the World In Search of Our Environmental Future, and a commentator on NPR's "Living On Earth" program.

A Global Green Deal

The value of the World Bank's work is best measured not by abtruse statistical analyses but "by the smile on a child's face when a project has been successful."So says the Bank's president, James Wolfensohn. Since assuming his post in 1995, Wolfensohn has cultivated a public image as a compassionate, fresh-thinking leader. He has acknowledged the Bank's previous mistakes and promised it would do a better job of serving the world's poor and respecting the environment.Nevertheless, Wolfensohn is the target of protesters this week in Washington, where the World Bank and its sister organization, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), are holding their semi-annual meeting. Thousands of environmental, labor, human rights and anti-poverty activists from across the country are converging on the capital, hoping to build on their protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle last December. Calling themselves the Mobilization for Global Justice, the activists pledge to engage in non-violent civil disobedience and street blockades. But the prospect of violence by fringe groups, and thus a repeat of Seattle's street ruckus, has local police, if not the bankers themselves, nervous. At least 1,500 officers are being trained to maintain order.Why is it that environmentalists are so riled up about the Bank? After all, the Bank's mission is to alleviate poverty and promote sustainable development. In nations where private capital is too cautious or greedy to tread, the Bank is supposed to step in and fund basic development: water and sewage systems; ports, roads and transportation infrastructure; electricty and communications networks; health and education facilities -- the foundations of a modern economy. Helping the poor while respecting the earth: surely that's the kind of work the activists, social justice types all, should applaud.The problem is, the Bank often has not lived up to its lofty rhetoric. Time and again, it has financed gargantuan, ill-conceived projects whose anti-poverty effects are indirect at best and whose environmental consequences are downright disastrous. Like the IMF, the Bank often attaches conditions to its loans that force countries to reduce badly needed social spending in order to repay banks in the wealthy North. Likewise, Bank-funded projects often do more to subsidize Northern corporations than to fight Southern poverty.Right now in the western African nation of Chad, the Bank is trying to fund the development of a vast oil field and pipeline that will extend 650 miles through Cameroon to the Atlantic Ocean, ravaging the ecosystems and human settlements in one of Africa's great remaining rainforests. The Bank is loaning or guaranteeing some $540 million of the project's $3.5 billion total cost, but the profits will go to its private partners, Exxon-Mobil and Chevron, and the notoriously corrupt governments of Chad and Cameroon.The Bank claims that the project's environmental impact will be minimal and the wealth generated will lift living standards of the local poor. But the Dutch government has twice rejected the Bank's environmental impact assessment as unconvincing. The Bank's "Revenue Management Plan" to keep kleptocrats in Chad and Cameroon from pocketing its loan money has been ridiculed as naive and unworkable by Harvard Law School's Human Rights Project. Perhaps most disturbing are the parallels between this project and Royal Dutch Shell's operations in neighboring Nigeria. As in Nigeria, where Shell's development of oil in the south overwhelmingly benefitted the nation's more prosperous north, leading to protests that resulted in the execution of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Bank's project in Chad will extract oil from the south without delivering benefits to the local community. Thus the Economist's "Intelligence Report" estimates at fifty-fifty the odds that the project will re-ignite civil war between northern and southern Chad.The Chad project is, in short, corporate welfare at its most naked, and it makes about as much environmental sense as incinerating nuclear waste. This is all the more true considering that the project's purpose is to bring to market more oil that humanity can't afford to burn anyway -- not because of prices at the pump, but because of rising temperatures and fiercer weather around the world. Our longstanding fossil fuel use has already begun changing the global climate, so doesn't environmental prudence suggest that the Bank should be leading the transition away from fossil fuels and toward solar and other non-carbon energy sources?The Bank agrees -- at least on paper -- that better energy efficiency and deployment of solar power are the best ways to deliver electricity to the estimated two billion humans who still live without out it. Nevertheless, the Bank remains one of the world's leading financiers of climate change. In the six years since the Earth Summit of 1992, the Bank spent twenty-five times more funding fossil fuel development than promoting clean and renewable energy sources, according to a study by the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington-based research group. The IPS study, "Changing the Earth's Climate For Business," found that between mid-1992 and 1998 the Bank spent $13.6 billion to fund development of oil fields, coal mines and fossil fueled-power stations in developing nations and the former Soviet bloc; most of the money went to developing oil in Russia and coal in China. Over the course of their thirty to fifty year lifetimes, the Bank's projects will release a staggering thirty-six billion tons of carbon dioxide. That is substantially more carbon dioxide than the twenty-four billion tons the entire world annually emits. And although the Bank's funds are ostensibly devoted to aiding the world's poor, nine out of ten of the projects subsidized such giant corporations as Exxon, Chevron, and British Petroleum.To paraphrase Cheever, what do you do with a Bank like that, oh, what do you do? By allowing its laudable public purpose to be hijacked by private interests, the Bank has forfeited its claim to the moral high ground and invited the wrath of environmental and development activists the world over. Yet the Bank is too important a potential force for good in the world to write off as irredeemable. Its battered reputation might still be restored, if it is ready to undergo a comprehensive reform of its attitudes and behavior.Instead of financing rainforest destruction and climate change, the Bank should support a Global Green Deal: a program to renovate human civilization environmentally from top to bottom while truly fighting poverty. And make no mistake: poverty is central to humanity's environmental predicament. Four billion of the planet's six billion people endure deprivation inconceivable to the wealthiest one billion whose lifestyles are advertised as the global ideal. As the poor strive to improve their lot in the years ahead, humanity's environmental footprint will inevitably grow. To accomodate this mass ascent from poverty without ruining the natural systems that make life on earth possible in the first place will be an enormous challenge. But the World Bank is uniquely situated to jump-start the environmental revolution needed to meet it.Imagine what the Bank could accomplish if it diverted the $540 million it wants to spend subsidizing Exxon in Chad to genuinely sustainable development initiatives. It could provide solar panels and cookers to villages throughout the region. Or, in keeping with the Bank's preference for macro-solutions, it could provide the financing needed to bring industrial-scale solar power to market. A recent study -- led by British Petroleum experts, no less -- found that photovoltaic solar power would be competitive with coal and oil-fired electricity tomorrow, if only someone built a photovoltaic solar factory large enough to capture the economies of scale that come with mass production. BP likes to talk green, but it has declined to build that factory, presumably because it prefers to keep solar off the market in deference to its core business of oil production. But the World Bank could finance that factory, whose projected cost happens to be approximately $540 million.Bringing photovoltaic solar on line while increasing energy efficiency could be the single biggest step humanity could take to fight both poverty and climate change, for it would allow developing nations to increase energy consumption without relying on the coal and oil they now use in such abundance. A Global Green Deal would pursue these kinds of technological transformations not just in energy but agriculture, transportation, construction and all facets of civilization. Such global environmental retrofitting would generate an enormous amount of economic activity. Best of all, this activity would be labor-intensive; investments in energy efficiency yield two to ten times more jobs as investments in fossil fuel and nuclear power. In a world where over one billion people lack gainful employment, creating jobs is essential to fighting the poverty that retards environmental progress and wounds human dignity.Consider China, the world's largest consumer of coal and second largest producer of greenhouse gases. With its huge population and grand economic ambitions, China could doom the world to severe global warming if it keeps expanding coal use. But China would use fifty percent less coal if it simply installed the energy efficiency technologies -- better lights, motors and insulation -- now available on the world market.Under the Global Green Deal, the World Bank (as well as governments in Europe, America and Japan) would help China buy these technologies, rather than promoting further coal development. This approach would reduce the ghastly air and water pollution now responsible for nearly one of every three deaths in China but without sacrificing the energy consumption needed to fight poverty. Northern governments would also benefit, for they could address climate change while creating jobs and profits for their own workers and companies; they would also learn the advantages of adopting similar principles at home -- a good thing, for the Gobal Green Deal cannot be credible or successful unless both North and South participate. For its part, the Bank would have the satisfaction of finally matching its rhetoric with concrete achievements on the ground.James Wolfensohn says he wants his institution to put smiles on poor children's faces, but at the moment it's the executives of Big Oil who are laughing all the way to the bank. If Wolfensohn truly wants to change that, he should direct his bureaucrats to stop funding abominations like the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline and get behind the Global Green Deal. Either that, or get used to more demonstrations like this coming weekend's.Mark Hertsgaard is the author, most recently, of Earth Odyssey: Around the World in Search of Our Environmental Future.

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