Big business, once the big enemy of efforts to curb global warming, is now embracing initiatives to reduce the amount of fossil fuels pumped into the atmosphere.
In a trend that environmentalists find heartening, many large companies are disengaging from the chief lobbying effort set up to fight government controls related to climate change.
The latest to jump ship from the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) is Ford Motor Co. Formed in 1989, the Washington-based coalition represents electric utilities, railroads, transportation, manufacturing, mining, oil, and coal.
It has been a chief opponent of the 1997 Kyoto treaty limiting emissions of greenhouse gases, and its members have contributed more than $63 million to federal candidates and national political parties, according to Common Cause.
Ford's action follows similar moves by BP Amoco and several other large companies, and it comes against the backdrop of new evidence that temperatures are rising at unprecedented rates. Folks in snowbound portions of the country may not believe it, but the National Research Council recently reported that warming of the earth's surface is "undoubtedly real."
In his recent announcement pulling Ford out of the GCC, William Clay Ford Jr., chairman of the nation's second-largest automaker, said his firm intends "to move forward in progressive and constructive ways to address environmental issues." "While my great-grandfather [Henry Ford] was a leader in the first industrial revolution," Mr. Ford says, "I want Ford Motor Co. to be a leader in the second industrial revolution - the clean revolution."
Ford's move comes as a blow to the GCC, which still asserts that "existing scientific evidence does not support actions aimed solely at reducing or stabilizing greenhouse-gas emissions."
"What is most disappointing about Ford's decision is that it seems to be driven by a campaign of misinformation by fringe environmental groups ... who disregard the serious nature of this debate with scare tactics, half-truths, and outright distortions," says Glenn Kelly, executive director of the GCC.
If that's the case, Ford is not the only company being hoodwinked by global-warming activists. Among others that have withdrawn from the GCC are the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, Dow Chemical Co., and DaimlerChrysler Corp.
Similarly, 21 major corporations (most of them members of the Fortune 500) have formed the Business Environmental Leadership Council to address climate-change issues. The council works with the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in Arlington, Va. Among its members are United Technologies, Sunoco, DuPont, Boeing, Weyerhaeuser, Lockheed Martin, Enron, and CH2M HILL.
"We accept the views of most scientists that enough is known about the science and environmental impacts of climate change for us to take actions to address its consequences," business council members state. "Businesses can and should take concrete steps now in the US and abroad to assess opportunities for emission reductions, establish and meet emission-reduction objectives, and invest in new, more-efficient products, practices, and technologies."
Such actions come in response to public concern about the environment, including climate change.
"When we asked people whether they associated energy and oil with the word progress or with the word pollution - almost half said pollution," John Browne, CEO of BP Amoco said at the recent Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility in London. "We make mistakes. But we try to learn from the mistakes, and we're gradually building a track record of performance in line with our objective."
BP Amoco has pledged to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2010 - double the level agreed to by the world's industrial nations in Kyoto, Japan. (The United States Senate has refused to ratify the treaty.)
The latest scientific evidence of global warming came earlier this month from the National Research Council, which is affiliated with the National Academy of Sciences. The panel reported that temperatures in the past two decades rose "at a rate substantially greater than average for the past 100 years."
Skeptics note that data collected in the atmosphere about five miles from the earth's surface indicate little if any warming. But "the differences between the surface and upper-air trends in no way invalidate the conclusion that the earth's temperature is rising," says John Wallace, chairman of the panel and professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.
The 1990s was the hottest decade ever recorded, and each year of that decade is among the hottest 15 years since temperatures began to be recorded in 1880. Whether this is tied to natural climate patterns or to manmade causes is the essence of the global-warming debate.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society