"George Bush has created a bubble where the U.S. believes it can live according to rules and understanding from the last century," says environmentalist Bob Massie. "That bubble may last another four years," he says, "but eventually America's charade that we live in some other time and place will come to an end. It could come to an end abruptly, as the result of some kind of crisis, or more slowly, as the realities of the rest of the world begin to penetrate our borders again." Massie is a senior fellow with Ceres (formerly called the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies), a group of socially responsible investment companies and advocacy groups. Working with business on climate change, Massie knows as well as anyone that many corporations are uncomfortable living in the Bush bubble.
Among some U.S.-based multinational companies, there is a growing sense that living in two different realitiesthe one here and the one prevailing in the rest of the worldmay be more trouble than it's worth. Several dozen firms, from Alcoa to Weyerhaeuser, have endorsed a set of principles proffered by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. The principles are hardly radical ("We accept the views of most scientists that enough is known for us to take actions to address" climate change.), but they're a far cry from Bush administration dogma.
"Companies have had a kind of forced schizophrenia put upon them," says Massie, who was one of the first environmentalists to work extensively with big corporations like Ford. "In the U.S. they're supposed to act as if it's not a serious problem, as if carbon will never have a price. But everywhere else in the world they're being asked to operate in an environment where carbon does carry a cost, where those who can increase their efficiencies will gain financially, both directly and because they'll have technologies people want to buy."
Some companies, he says, will do their best to take aggressive advantage of the administration's cheap-energy policies, "but others are already looking past the Bush term to where they want to be 5 or 10 years out." American Electric Power, the largest private producer of carbon dioxide on the planet, said recently that targets for carbon reduction "represent a common-sense approach that can begin the process of lowering emissions along a gradual, cost-effective path." As Massie explains, the company actually complained recently that "uncertainties over the cost of carbon" made it very difficult to make decisions about capital investment. That is, you don't want to build more coal plants if 10 years from now reality breaks through the nifty shield erected by the Wall Street Journal editorial page and you have to pay a hefty carbon tax on every ton of anthracite you burn.