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The Planet
January/February 1999 Volume 6, Number 1

Curbing Global Warming

Climate Change (Usually) No Laughing Matter

by Steve Pedery

Humor can be a great tool for educating the public.

Just ask the Club's Global Warming campaign activists, who held a tongue-in-cheek "Name That Gas Guzzler" contest in 1998 to come up with a name and slogan for Ford's four-ton sport-utility vehicle.

The contest was a hit, garnering media attention - and public awareness - from New York to Seattle when it released submissions posted on its Web site. The winning entry - "Ford Valdez: Have you driven a tanker lately?" - was submitted by a School of Mines student in Colorado who wished to remain anonymous.

The bemused Seattle Times commended the Club for its efforts "to transform the image of the popular sport-utility vehicles from that of sporty, go-anywhere family transportation to environmental menace."

Aside from the successful contest, the Global Warming campaign is celebrating major accomplishments in the public education program, some progress on the legislative front and concessions from the auto industry.

For example, General Motors, long known as an eco-thug on global warming, shifted gears and announced plans to produce a high-efficiency "hybrid" gasoline-electric car and a vehicle powered by clean fuel-cell technology. Ford Motor Company, while still guzzling ahead with the "Valdez," pledged to make future SUVs that emit no more smog than cars. In August, activists in more than 25 cities helped to release "Storm Warning," a map and report on global warming and extreme weather. Among them was Jim Dennison of Fort Collins, Colo., who drew reporters to a press conference to ensure the map got local exposure, and Mississippi Chapter Chair Deborah Dalkins, who used the map as an organizing tool. And in Maine, where it's hard to get good press coverage on any environmental issues, staffer Matt Sease garnered press on a local release of the map. The nationwide release reaped major press coverage, including a two-page spread in the New York Times Sunday magazine. In 1999, the Sierra Club will partner with several other environmental organizations for a global version of the map.

During the summer, Club activists engaged in a major battle over "stealth" global-warming budget riders. Grassroots pressure forced anti-environment lawmakers to back down in their assault on increased funding for energy-efficiency programs. Jane Clark of the Iowa Chapter rallied activists to make phone calls to members of Congress who were supportive of the Club's position. Activists also helped de-fang the worst aspects of the infamous "global warming gag order," which would have barred government scientists from simply educating Americans about the issue.

Looking to 1999, the top legislative target will be to defeat the budget rider that freezes fuel-efficiency standards. If we increase miles-per-gallon standards, we can take a big step toward curbing global warming.

We'll also be working on a new Clean Car campaign. Pollution from America's cars and light trucks not only warms the globe, it fouls the air we breathe. The Environmental Protection Agency must draft new standards for auto pollution, and we'll be working to ensure that they're strong ones.

Activists who collected postcards, wrote letters to the editor, called lawmakers and held press conferences were key to 1998 victories. In 1999 the campaign will work to expand its network of activists with new materials and an activist training academy. Working with local activist leaders, the Club will seek to recast the global-warming debate, focusing on environmental effects in local communities - flooding, higher temperatures, air pollution - and demanding action from our leaders.

And, of course, we might name a few new cars.

For more information: Contact Steve Pedery at (202) 547-1141 or Visit the Global Warming campaign's Web site at

Go on to the next article, "Student Stars"
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