Volume 74, Number 31 | December 08 - 14, 2004

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Bill Clinton gave the keynote address at N.Y.U. conference on energy.

Clinton at N.Y.U. says climate on emissions must be changed

By Ed Gold

Speaking as if he were in the middle of an important campaign, former President Bill Clinton told an enthusiastic audience in Greenwich Village on Monday that the struggle against greenhouse gases that endanger the environment “is everyone’s business,” and that no one had a right to stand on the sidelines.

This was the third in a series of forums sponsored by his Foundation in cooperation with New York University. Clinton was introduced by Carol Browner, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator during his administration. As in the previous forums, the former president received a rousing standing ovation when he was introduced.

Keynoting the forum on “New Thinking on Energy Policy,” Clinton told approximately 800 listeners at N.Y.U.”s Skirball Auditorium on LaGuardia Pl. that people cannot wait for government to take necessary action, but that every individual has to play an active role in creating a cleaner environment.

He urged support for charities and nongovernment agencies that are working to reduce greenhouse gases, adding that “you can have an impact, in your business, on vacation, even in your own home.”

Providing a household example, he suggested it would help to reduce waste “if you spent a little extra on light bulbs which last three times as long as the ordinary bulbs you’ve been using.”

We are, he contended, “destroying the environment” and “we need a correction.”

He gently chided the Bush administration for failing to support the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. “Of course,” he said, “Kyoto wasn’t perfect,” but it moved us in the right direction. He suggested that the U.S. had a special responsibility since “we create 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases.

To emphasize the need for action and an end to doubletalk on the energy crisis, he cited one of his “down home” stories to make his point: “This bar had a sign that it was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. And the sign said ‘Free Beer Tomorrow.’ You never got a free beer. So it’s time to get rid of that sign.”

Many people in “polite society” now understand that we have a global problem, he continued, and they give lip service to its importance, but then they just “go off to dinner” as usual.

A sticky issue is that many countries in the world don’t believe they can be prosperous without putting substantial amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. They need convincing and Americans must join organizations and support campaigns that insist that businesses can be profitable at the same time the air is made cleaner.

While he noted he was no longer in government, Clinton asserted that his administration had helped the environmental cause. During his eight years, he noted, he had “promoted clean energy alternatives through research and development of solar, wind and other renewable sources.” He contended that during his administration energy consumption in the U.S. had declined by 30 percent.

Browner was also moderator of a panel that dealt with “The Practical Realities of Governing and Energy Policy.”

She was joined by Senator Joe Lieberman, who with Senator John McCain is sponsoring the Climate Stewardship Act in the Senate, which would cut greenhouse gas emissions. The bill has had rough sailing with only 42 senators currently backing it, Lieberman noted.

Also on the panel were James Wolfenson, president of the World Bank Group, and Leonel Fernandez, president of the Dominican Republic.

Lieberman decried the lack of discussion of environment and energy issues during the recent presidential campaign. He argued that when people were asked by pollsters whether they worried about global warming, a solid majority answered yes.

Both Wolfenson and Fernandez, from very different perspectives, were disheartened by the inability of governments to meet the basic energy needs of their people. They blamed in part outright thievery in the sale of energy and inept regulatory efforts. Fernandez noted that regulation was still an “alien concept” in Latin America.

Browner indicated that people in all parts of the world were actually “ahead of their governments” in recognizing the reality of climate change and the need to take action.

Despite all the qualms, the panelists indicated optimism about future progress in energy policies during their lifetime. Lieberman said his view was based on having a very long life, which got a hearty laugh from the audience.

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