Carlsbad, CA, and Washington, DC -- I began the day at the PC Forum conference in California, and ended it on Capitol Hill with a conversation with Leo Gerard, the President of the United Steelworkers. These are, in a sense, opposite ends of the American economy. The Steelworkers represent what remains of industrial America -- not just steel but also mining, rubber, chemicals, atomic, and paper. PC Forum is, of course, a buzz of new-economy startups and venture capitalists having conversations I cannot begin to fathom -- it appears there is an important difference between the various uses of the term "authentication" on the Web, and entire businesses are being created around these different definitions. (Then again, I wouldn't know how to upgrade a coke oven, either. I'm equally out of my depth in both economies!)
But what strikes me is that these disparate, highly economically focused groups are united in their perception that climate change is a major threat, and that America's current energy policy is a disaster and a scandal. At PC Forum, dozens of people come up to me wanting top know how they can get involved in heading off global warming. Everyone, it seems, gets it except America's national leaders.
Cell phones, for example, are widely used in the rest of the world as a means of social networking and activism -- Ajit Balakrishnan, the head of Rediff, India's cell phone leader, explains how far ahead of the U.S. countries like India are in this respect. And yet he's worried -- he thinks that India has a huge problem because of the inefficiency with which it uses energy, worse even than the U.S., he reports -- but he's also clear that this is understood to be a major national challenge. I remember that, after last summer's catastrophic floods in Mumbai, three million residents received text messages on their cell phones asking them to sign up for an environmental lawsuit was assembled to protest mismanagement of the city's drainage system. They became the largest set of legal plaintiffs in history.
So if the new economy gets it, is the problem that the old, industrial core is holding us back? Not based on my conversation with Leo Gerard later in the day.
We've met to talk about the issues facing American paper mills that his union represents. Many of the workers in the mills have had past conflicts with environmentalists over logging and water pollution issues -- but he tells me that his younger members are focusing on a new, huge threat to their industry -- energy costs. We're getting ready to announce our formal alliance with the Steelworkers, and it's clear that a major focus is going to be a joint effort to energize Americans behind the principle that as long as we remain, in President Bush's phrase, "addicted to oil," we will keep losing jobs and face an increasingly insecure future. And, according to Leo, getting action to find diverse and renewable energy sources for paper mills will be the key to keeping those mills going in the U.S.
Here's what the Steelworkers' new environmental policy says about global warming:
So if the leaders of both the old and new economies agree that we need to act now on global warming, and that this is essential for purely economic reasons, what is slowing our leaders down? What is Washington, DC doing about the problem this week? Getting ready to vote yet again on drilling the Arctic Wildlife Refuge!
"Our original report identified global warming as the single most important environmental issue of our lifetime and warned about the risks of doing nothing. During the last 15 years the U.S. government, in particular, has failed to take meaningful steps and today, global warming has emerged as a significant threat to the stability of steelworker jobs and communities in the coming years. We can no longer be content with simply identifying problems and issuing warnings. A strategic response to environmental challenges like global warming is key to our union's long-term survival."
It's not just sad. It's pathetic.