Kyoto Protocol: Green Activists Warn U.S. Firms Of Boycott Backlash

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

London ( - Environmental activists have sent letters to the heads of the largest companies in the United States, giving them one week to distance themselves from President Bush's decision to abandon the Kyoto Protocol on "greenhouse gas" emissions, or face a worldwide consumer revolt.

While American voters could express their views at the ballot box, the international environmental group Greenpeace said Friday, critics elsewhere could only do so with their pocketbooks.

Bush caused an uproar late last month when he confirmed he would not accept a treaty he said would "harm our economy and hurt our American workers."

The European Union has led protests, sending a high-ranking delegation to Washington this week. After what she called "depressing" talks in Washington, EU environment commissioner Margot Wallstrom said Thursday Europe would not allow Washington to block the process, although she added that it was too early to talk of punitive steps against the U.S.

An EU team is visiting Moscow Friday, and then Iran, China and Japan over the next few days to gauge views on how to proceed in the absence of U.S. support.

Greenpeace has sent letters to the top 100 U.S. firms on the new Fortune 500 list, topped by Exxon Mobil Corp, one of the companies environmentalists accuse of pressuring Bush on Kyoto.

The CEOs are being asked four questions - whether their company supports the ratification of the Protocol, whether it supports Bush's opposition to Kyoto, whether it will support efforts of other countries to bring Kyoto into force without the participation of the U.S., and whether it accepts the view of an international climate change panel on the reduction of greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels.

Many scientists believe an increase in these gases is causing "global warming," which proponents believe is leading to rising sea levels and severe weather patterns. Other experts disagree.

"Greenpeace believes that consumers around the world want to know where your company stands on these questions, in order that their opinions can be fully informed when they exercise their options via the marketplace," says the letter.

'Caving in'

Greenpeace International executive director Gerd Leipold said in a related statement that while U.S. citizens could register their opinions at the ballot box, the rest of the world could only do so "via the marketplace."

"A wide range of national governments have already condemned the Bush administration for caving in to oil, coal and gas interests," he said. "We're seeking to provide means for an angry public to respond, in Europe and around the world."

Greenpeace spokesperson Susan Cavanagh said Friday the organization had yet to receive a response from any of the companies, but "certainly" expected a "positive reaction" from some.

"This has caught us all by surprise, Bush walking away from the Protocol," she said by telephone from the Netherlands. "We've jumped into gear and we're moving on the run right now. We've had a lot of calls to our office and other national offices by members of the public and other groups who are concerned.

"What we can do is facilitate their choice in the marketplace by letting people know which companies are in support of Bush and which aren't. From the level of interest we've received so far, I can imagine that people will vote with their wallets."

Cavanagh said numerous existing groups were working on a reaction to Bush's decision, while new campaigns were also forming around the Kyoto issue - "the latest one I heard about is a group in the UK called FAB - Families Against Bush."

"Some are looking to Greenpeace, others are getting out on the streets themselves."

Attempts to get reaction from Exxon Mobil Friday were unsuccessful.

The Texas-based oil giant has not hidden its antipathy for Kyoto. In a statement issued last month in reaction to Bush's decision not to cut carbon dioxide emissions, it said there were "many gaps in scientific understanding" concerning climate change.

It was time to "move beyond Kyoto and to focus on technology research and development, fundamental gaps on climate science, economically sensible voluntary actions and an international approach that addresses all of the world's people, not just the fraction covered by Kyoto," it said.

Anger, concern

Greenpeace, meanwhile, has been active on another front Friday: Six of its members occupied a U.S.-owned oil rig in the North Sea to protest Bush's Kyoto stance.

Attaching a yellow survival pod to the rig's platform, the activists vowed to stay there as long as they could, "to stop it drilling for oil and fuelling dangerous global warming which is threatening the lives of millions and flooding homes," Greenpeace UK said in a statement.

One of the team painted "Oil Kills" in large letters on one of the rig's legs.

Elsewhere, feelings have also been running high this week. Reaction has ranged from a personal attack on the president by French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, to an open letter by 10 prominent personalities, including former U.S. and Soviet leaders Jimmy Carter and Mikhail Gorbachev, urging Bush "to develop a plan to reduce U.S. production of greenhouse gases."

In Britain, a lawmaker from the Liberal Democrats said of Bush: "Not content is he with killing Texas prisoners by lethal injection, he now wants to kill thousands or millions around the world by lethal pollution."

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol calls on almost 40 industrialized countries to cut their carbon dioxide emissions by an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels, by 2012.

The administration opposes Kyoto because it does not bind developing nations to curb their emissions. Only industrialized countries would have quotas, but fast-developing countries like India and China may one day produce emissions that rival those of the U.S.

No industrial country apart from Romania has yet ratified the treaty, which will only take effect when nations representing 55 per cent of greenhouse gas producers do so.

Many international bodies hope Kyoto will be in force by the time a major Earth Summit is held in Johannesburg, South Africa in September 2002.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow