Visiting Taj Mahal, Clinton Criticizes Republicans on Environmentalism

By Suryamurthy Ramachandran | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - President Clinton visited the Taj Mahal on Wednesday and used the opportunity to raise environmental issues that he said were threatening the globe while criticizing the Republican-dominated Congress for blocking the ratification of a key environmental agreement.

"As the experience of the beautiful Taj Mahal proves ... we can no longer ignore man's impact on the environment," Clinton told a group of Indian environmentalists in Agra, location of the 17th century white marble structure.

Agra is one of the most polluted cities in India, choked by smog from nearby iron foundries, oil refineries and traffic, despite the fact that a number of pollution control measures were taken following Supreme Court orders in 1982.

"A constant effort is required to save the Taj Mahal from human environmental degradation, what scientists call 'marble cancer'," Clinton said.

"I can't help wondering [that] if a stone can get cancer, what kind of damage can this pollution do to children?"

Clinton praised India for "exercising leadership" while acknowledging that the United States was the world's biggest polluter.

He was critical of American lawmakers' refusal to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which requires developed countries to cut carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases" - which some scientists blame for global warming - by more than five per cent from 1990 levels, by 2008-2112.

Congress refused to ratify the pact as long as it exempts developing nations, which in turn are demanding technology transfers to help develop clean industries.

Clinton spoke of the need to convince critics that global warming is real, noting that some believed the phenomenon was "some sort of plot to wreck our economy."

Scientific consensus held that "the climate is warming at an unsustainable rate," he said.

In fact, it has yet to be conclusively proven that the earth had experienced any climate change as a result of human activity, and some scientists and climatologists differ on the matter.

The President also offered a series of initiatives to help India protect the environment. A $50 million USAID program will promote trade and investment in clean energy among India, Bangladesh and Nepal.

The agency will also fund a three-year extension of the "Greenhouse Gas Pollution Prevention" project, and credit will be provided for clean energy development projects in India.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Indian Minister of External Affairs Jaswant Singh signed an environmental cooperation agreement.

The two countries will set up a joint consulting group to increase cooperation on clean energy and the environment, American and Indian officials said in a joint statement.

In his speech to parliament earlier, Clinton joked that there were two groups of people in the world: "Those who have seen the Taj Mahal and those who have not."

He told lawmakers he was eager to "cross over to the happier side of that divide."

The jewel-studded white marble mausoleum, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a monument to his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died at 39 giving birth to their 14th child.

It took an army of 20,000 workers drawn from as far afield as Europe and Central Asia 22 years to construct the Taj Mahal.

Reflecting on his trip so far, Clinton told reporters he had been awed during a visit with Chelsea to the memorial honoring Mohandas Gandhi, the apostle of nonviolence.

"I was thinking about Gandhi's life, how he completely gave his life over to what he believed. If everybody had a fraction of that commitment, you could make peace in the world," he said.

Clinton said a monument of Gandhi would be erected in Washington, DC.