With the ebbing of the cold war, the environmental issue is moving
up on the international agenda.
And it is also moving up on the corporate agenda, as
demonstrated by the Exxon stockholders' meeting in Houston at which
a series of environmental initiatives were defeated even as top
management insisted upon its commitment to environmental protection.
Is the environment a ``motherhood issue''?
Indeed, one problem in dealing with the topic is everybody
insists he or she is devoted to preserving the environment, but
there is intense conflict over how to do it and at what cost to
taxpayers, business or national economic interests.
Last week at Harriman, N.Y., the American Assembly, a forum
founded by Dwight D. Eisenhower when he was president of Columbia
University, brought together 76 leading scientists, economists,
business executives, political scientists and politicians,
international officials and environmentalists from 19 countries to
tackle the environmental problem.
After four days of debate, the participants concluded the danger
of global warming was so severe the United States should take
immediate action to lessen it.
That conclusion came, as the assembly statement noted, ``just
days after a White House conference on the same subject at which the
president and other administration officials refused to acknowledge
that the risks of global warming are sufficiently clear to merit
In sharp contradiction to the administration's position, the
assembly declared, ``There is a scientific consensus that rising
concentrations of greenhouse gases will cause global climate change.
Therefore, the earth is set to experience substantial climate change
of unknown scale and rate.
``The consequences are likely to include sea level rise, greater
frequency of extreme weather events, disruptions of ecosystems and
potentially vast impacts on the global economy.''
It made specific recommendations on how to reduce those dangers.
Warning of the ``irreversibility'' of some threats to the
environment unless prompt action was taken, it called for a 20
percent reduction by the year 2005 in global carbon dioxide
emissions from burning gasoline, coal, oil and other fossil fuels.
And it recommended the United States enact a ``large, phased-in
increase in the federal tax on gasoline and the adoption of a carbon
dioxide emissions fee applicable to the uses of fossil fuels.''
While a large majority of the participants wanted all countries
to impose such taxes on carbons, they insisted the United States,
which has lower gasoline taxes than other industrial countries,
should act at once on fuel taxes.
But there was no consensus on whether to restrict the use of
funds raised from taxes on gasoline and other carbon fuels only for
developing safer technologies and other environmental purposes,
rather than for other purposes. …