Facing a backlash against his environmental policies that he did not foresee, President George W. Bush is now attempting damage control, California Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope said Monday.
“The Bush people are engaged in a major reassessment,” he said. “An administration which came in saying it wouldn’t do anything on these issues is now faced with scrambling to figure out what it should do.”
Bush leaves today to visit Europe, where he is expected to receive intense criticism for his rejection of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and other environmental policies.
Speaking in Washington before his departure, Bush said he agreed with a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences that found global warming was a serious problem. Previously Bush had expressed skepticism about the scientific evidence for that claim.
Bush called for millions of dollars for research on global warming’s causes and possible solutions. He also said he would seek an international global warming accord.
“The issue of climate change respects no border. Its effects cannot be reined in by an army nor advanced by any ideology,” Bush said, according to a White House transcript.
Speaking at a Hearst Foundation interview at the Palace Hotel, Pope said Bush’s statement might be an example of the administration soothing its rhetoric without significantly changing its policy.
The Bush administration, Pope said, came to Washington with the attitude that “while pollution may be a deplorable thing, and wildlife might be a wonderful thing, the government did not have a role in them in any significant way.”
Pope had met with Vice President Dick Cheney and his staff to discuss environmental and energy policy. He walked away with the impression that the Bush administration was “out of touch with the American people, out of touch with Congress and didn’t seem to have a very solid grasp on energy policy.”
Pope said the Bush administration, which has been given high marks for its discipline and management skills, failed spectacularly on environmental policy. Stung by the tough reception, the administration now wants to appear sensitive to environmental issues, he said.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., a leading critic of the Kyoto Protocol, disagreed. He applauded Bush’s call to study the problem further before imposing strict regulations that could damage the economy.
“I don’t see anything inconsistent here with what he said during the campaign or what he’s said since he’s been president,” Hagel said in a phone interview from Washington. “The fact is, what Bush has done here is to lay out a realistic way to approach this.”
Pope acknowledges that the Kyoto Protocol was “fundamentally flawed” and would not have been ratified by the Senate.
But he said the United States should push for a new treaty—and, in the meantime, search for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on its own.
New technologies, such as cleaner-burning fuels, would be both environmentally friendly and economically efficient, he said.
But with former oilmen serving as president and vice president, “this administration is the oil industry,” Pope said. He blames the failure to more aggressively pursue alternate energy strategies on the energy industry’s current clout in Washington.
“We’re not pursuing energy diversification because it’s unattractive to the oil and coal companies, which have been able to block action,” he said. “There are a whole lot of reasons to do this without an international treaty, and even if we didn’t have global warming.”
Nor are strong environmental policies certain to produce economic difficulties such as California’s current energy crisis, he said.
“What we’re facing in California is not a result of environmental standards,” he said. “What we have in California is a massive regulatory breakdown.”
Given the political skill Bush has shown in the past, Pope does not expect his current scrape over environmental issues to bring him to heel.
“He gets in a car wreck, and when the police arrive he’s no longer on the scene.”
Carl Pope relishes the role of environmental watchdog.
“As executive director, my job is to enable the Sierra Club to get done what its volunteer leaders want it to get done,” he said. “We want to hold American institutions accountable to the environmental values of the American people.”
Pope, who spoke at a Hearst Foundation interview at the Palace Hotel, believes that task is especially critical now. He says President George W. Bush’s administration is out of touch with the American people on the environment and energy policy.
Bush’s rejection of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, his removal of lower limits on acceptable arsenic levels in groundwater and other environmental decisions have not played well with the public, Pope said.
Europeans have criticized Bush vehemently, and a recent ABC News-Washington Post poll showed that Bush’s approval rating had dropped by about 10 points, in part because of distrust about his energy and environmental policies.
Pope says the time to act is now. He rails against those who are skeptical about global warming—those who say, as he puts it, “that we shouldn’t buy fire insurance until the house is burning down.”
In these circumstances, it is a great time to “shine a spotlight” on environmental issues, Pope said.
Pope, who has been active in the environmental movement for nearly 30 years, has been executive director of the Sierra Club since 1992.
Of all his accomplishments, he is especially proud of California Proposition 65, The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic initiative. He co-authored the proposal, which passed in 1986.
Those who work with Pope say he is an unselfish leader with a steely determination to achieve environmental progress.
Megan Fowler, field media coordinator for the Sierra Club, said she was most impressed by Pope’s intellect and vision.
When he appears on shows like CNN’s “Crossfire,” Pope occasionally calls his staff just an hour before airtime asking for a set of statistics. In that short time, Fowler said, he can memorize all of them to use on the show.
More importantly, Fowler said, “he has led us back to our roots.” By focusing on the local impact of environmental policy, Pope has helped attract an all-time high of 700,000 members.
During the December 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization’s conference in Seattle, Pope had his first prolonged discussions with President Bill Clinton.
But Fowler said Pope was more pleased by the enthusiasm of the people in the street.
“He was excited and really energized by what happened in Seattle,” she said. “He felt it was a new world, a new dawn of people coming together—environmentalists, labor and all others who were concerned about globalization.”
But ideological foes say Pope does not hesitate to play hardball in the political arena.
Jerry Taylor, director of natural resources studies for the Cato Institute in Washington, frequently debates Pope on television shows such as “Crossfire.”
“My impression is that he is a generally well-read, well-informed fellow who, however, is more than capable of throwing whatever punches are necessary to advance his argument, fair or foul.” He said.
Taylor cited Pope’s treatment of a recent book that was critical of the environmental movement.
When the book came out, Pope wrote a letter to Sierra Club members warning that it would be used to discredit environmental groups. Taylor said Pope’s letter misrepresented the book’s arguments.
Sometimes Pope and Taylor come down on the same side. For example, both were critical recently of President Bush’s energy plan, especially its call for expanded nuclear power.
Pope’s passion for the environment comes from a few seminal experiences early in his life.
He served on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Commission in Arkansas during the Civil Rights movement. After graduating summa cum laude from Harvard College in 1967, he spent two years with the Peace Corps in Barhi Barhi, India.
“I came out of the ‘60s,” he said.
During his time abroad, he learned that different cultures see the world quite differently.
“Americans are very provincial, parochial, and smug about the way we view the rest of the world,” he said. “When you go abroad, you get the understanding that there’s more than one way to look at things.”
The experience helped him grow and led him into his next endeavor.
Pope “just sort of wandered into” the environmental movement, he said.
Originally he signed onto the Sierra Club as a one-year consultant, but as his responsibilities grew he became more enchanted by environmentalism.
“I was intrigued by the potential of environmental issues to bring Americans together,” he said. “We all breathe the same air and drink the same water.”
Decades later, Pope is at the pinnacle of the environmental movement. As animated as he is about Bush’s environmental policies, he is just as passionate about ways Americans can conserve resources on their own.
Pope drives a Ford Aspire that gets 41 miles to the gallon – “the only car,” he says, “that Ford never spent a dollar advertising.” He also recycles and uses compact fluorescent light bulbs.
He believes the country is teeming with ideas for conserving resources and protecting the environment.
If, for example, the government taxed the purchases of sport-utility vehicles or corporations responsible for excessive greenhouse gas emissions, a golden age of innovation in alterative energy would follow.
Hybrid cars, windmills, cleaner-burning fuels and more fuel-efficient vehicles would come into vogue with a little encouragement, he said. In the long run, he said, they would not cost much more.
As the world’s sole superpower, he said, the United States has a responsibility to lead those efforts.
“If we start driving hybrid cars, the rest of the world will follow,” he said.
Pope confesses one environmentally unfriendly weakness. He loves to eat shrimp, but he has tried to cut down since he learned about the environmental impacts of shrimp fishing.
Although Pope plans to take it easy on shrimp, he will do no such thing for politicians and corporations whose environmental positions are unacceptable to him.
“We believe we are in a unique position to help hold institutions accountable for their positions on the environment.”
James Millican looks like someone who would have thrived in the Haight-Ashbury district’s heyday.
Decked from head to toe in blue-and-white, tie-dye shirt and pants, sporting a scraggly beard and ponytail, Millican looks like the hippies who flocked to the Haight-Ashbury district in the 1960s calling for peace and free love.
But on Sunday, he visited the neighborhood for the first time to attend the 24th annual Haight-Ashbury Street Fair. He was not altogether pleased.
“Forgive me if I wonder out loud,” he said, “whether most of these people care for their fellow human beings, or whether they’re just out for another block party.”
The annual street festival, which extended for miles along Haight Street, was a chance for ex-hippies to reminisce, for tourists to explore and for people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds to sample the variety of arts, crafts, clothing and other wares on sale.
For people like Millican, it was a chance to ponder just how the spirit of the 1960’s might be relevant today.
In a sense Millican is a child of the ‘60s. That is, he was born in the ‘60s. Millican, a 36-year-old native of El Paso, Tex., was too young to experience the hippie movement of that era, and for him this is a source of profound grief.
“Boy, did I miss out,” he said, burying his face in his hands over coffee in All You Knead, a café on Haight Street.
In 2001, Millican straddles two worlds.
In one world, he reminisces about the mostly lost ideals of the ‘60s. Peace. Love. Understanding. Social activism. And yes, drugs and free love.
In the more immediate world he is caught up in a modern-day upheaval in the Bay Area: the rise and fall of the high-tech industry.
For all his hand-wringing about commercialization, Millican, a trained linguist, went to work as a “knowledge engineer” for a tech company in the Bay Area around Memorial Day last year. On Friday, he joined the roll of thousands of high-tech workers who have been laid off amid the industry’s precipitous crash.
As he looks for a new job, he plans to attend street festivals and “look and see what’s left of that spirit, what’s left of that set of ideas.” As he gazed out on the endless rows of money tables, he was not optimistic.
“we live in a different day and age,” he said. “Most of this is just about making money.”
“You pay through the nose for tie-dyes here. Hell, you should just buy a white T-shirt and make your own.”
Millican’s lament resonated with a more authentic hipster.
Jack, who would not give his name, is a haggard, middle-aged man with graying, unkempt hair that falls nearly to his waist. As a resident on the 1960’s, he was one of the people who helped make Haight-Ashbury the epicenter of the hippie movement.
On Sunday, he returned for the first time in 15 years. He said he was not a bit nostalgic.
“A lot of people here today are not really seeing the Haight as it was,” he said.
He remembers the neighborhood as “a little bubble where you could get away with things.”
Back then, Jack and some friends lived in a garage behind one of Haight’s famous Victorian homes. Beneath the garage was a secret basement where Jack and his friends kept liquor “and other things.”
But on Sunday, Jack was a little fed up, especially with the “yuppies who took the hippies’ ideas and cashed in on them.”
“I see too many hippies turned yuppies,” he said, shaking his head. “They just come in and join the party.”
Millican and Jack both point to commercialism as one of the culprits that brought an end to the Haight-Ashbury of old.
One piece of evidence can be seen at Haight-Ashbury T-shirts, situated on the corner of those two famous streets.
The store bristles with 1960s relics, including posters of the Grateful Dead and bumper stickers that read, “Thank you for pot smoking.”
But just as Millican warned, tie-dyed T-shirts start at about $18 and run as high as $30.
The owner, Paul Marti, 54, is himself a child of the ‘60s. Although he graduated from college, always held a job and “didn’t really drop out,” he marched in protests of the Vietnam War.
Marti sees no contradiction in making his living selling products full of anti-capitalist, anti-authority symbols.
“I think the artists charge the retailers so much, and the retailers charge the customers so much,” he said, “It’s pretty much standard retail procedure.”
“It hasn’t slowed business.”
More evidence of commerce’s inexorable creep into Haight-Ashbury are the skyrocketing rental rates.
In 1989, Elizabeth Kirchner, 48, fulfilled a longtime dream by moving into an apartment on Clayton Street in Haight-Ashbury.
Back in the 1960s, when she used to frequent the neighborhood, that apartment would have cost about $125 per month. Now the monthly rent is close to $1,000. That makes it difficult for authentic hippies to have their “crash pads” there. She said.
During the Vietnam War, Kirchner and her friends used to go to Berkeley to protest the war. About a dozen of her high school classmates were killed in Vietnam less that two weeks after arriving, she says.
In Berkeley, she and her friends tried to block trains that were transporting soldiers destined for Vietnam.
“We did a lot of protesting in Berkeley, but this is where the parties were,” she said.
She remembers Haight fondly. She speaks warmly of David Smith, the doctor who started a free medical clinic to treat “overdose, freak-outs and people with VD.”
She especially liked those crash pads, where strangers were always welcome.
“Usually there were no strings attached,” she said. “And if there were, they were not altogether unwelcome, if you will.”
Kirchner is more charitable about the current state of the neighborhood than Millican and Jack. She says she still feels the spirit of the ‘60s here. But it has lost some of its charm to the forces of greed, she said.
“I’m kind of disconcerted by some of the changes in attitude here, “ she said. “It’s gotten more like, ‘I’ve got mine, too bad if you don’t have yours.”
For some people who attended the street festival, including many young people, those laments rang hollow.
Maggia Paola, 25, moved to San Francisco from New York seven months ago. She is trying to get a job as a fashion designer, and in the meantime she hawks her wares at street festivals like the one in Haight-Ashbury.
Each one of her self-designed, hand-dyed T-shirts is unique—a different design on one, a different cut on another. For her, street festivals like the one in Haight are a chance to make a little extra money and enjoy the atmosphere.
“It has a nice vibe to it,” she said. “It’s eclectic and funky, and everyone has their own style.”
Her parents lived through the 1960s, and Paola believes that would have been a tough time for young people. Although she admires the “laid-back” attitude of the hippies, she disagrees with those who say the street fair is nothing but a capitalist sell-out.
“I think it’s more,” she said. “it’s not just making a buck. It’s people coming out and displaying what they’ve made. I believe it’s all about making art.”
Jenny Cortez, 26, visited the street fair for the second year in a row on Sunday. She said she went to shop around and see if anything piques her interest. The people are nice, she said, “because they’re high.”
Although she enjoys an occasional diversion into hippie culture, for her it’s simply a “novelty.” The hippie lament from people like Millican, Jack, and Kirchner, she said, is childish nonsense.
“To be perfectly honest, for people to hold onto that way of life decades after it happened is alittle pathetic,” she said.
Millican is resigned to the end of the ‘60s. He also acknowledges the era’s dark side. For all the talk of love, peace, and understanding, the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont—where Hell’s Angels security guards killed a concertgoer—is a “more accurate image of the ‘60s,” he said.
But he rejects out of hand any arguments that hippy values contributes to family breakdown, drug abuse, crime, declining educational achievement and other social pathologies. He says conservatives who make those arguments would have supported Oliver Cromwell’s regime in Britain and the Puritan era in North America.
The key for latter-day hippies, he said, is “not just to worry about the next party, but to worry about where’s the next enlightenment.”
Millican laments the commercialization of things like the Haight-Ashbury street Fair. But he is mindful that he wants to re-enter the business world soon himself.
The world of commerce may threaten the ‘60s values, he said, but people like himself who are hippies in spirit can get by if they “treat human beings as the come, not as people be marketed to.”
“Helping take care of people, doing things right and expanding your consciousness without getting f—ed up—those are still very valid points that we desperately need to do,” he said.
In All You Knead, Millican agonized over how to reconcile idealism with reality—“OK, God, how much naïve romanticism is coming out,” he said – but he holds onto hope.
“As stupid and snappy as it sounds,” he said, “maybe there’s a spark still left somewhere. Maybe people will catch it and it will set on fire.”