Environmentalists Point Beyond Global Warming

Public awareness of climate change has grown dramatically in just a few years, in large part because of Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth. Most of Gore's fellow environmentalists support his work to focus attention on global warming. But some wonder whether a new focus on that issue may be too much of a good thing.

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Public awareness of climate change has grown dramatically in just a few years, in large part because of the guy collecting that Nobel Prize today, Al Gore, and his movie "An Inconvenient Truth." Most of Gore's fellow environmentalists support his work but some wonder whether so much attention to that issue can be too much.

NPR's Neda Ulaby has this report.

NEDA ULABY: "An Inconvenient Truth" was an adrenaline shot into the heart of the environmental movement. Al Gore made global warming immediate and personal.

(Soundbite of "An Inconvenient Truth")

Vice President AL GORE: Each one of us is a cause of global warming but each of us can make choices to change that.

ULABY: In "Inconvenient Truth" changed the conversation about environmentalism in America. Previously, global warming was just part of an undistinguished green lineup with pollution and endangered species. It had little heat. Maybe now it has too much, says Chris Baskind.

Mr. CHRIS BASKIND: Everything seems to be being reduced to how much carbon dioxide am I producing, or what kind of greenhouse gases we should be finding a way to sequester.

ULABY: Baskind works for a green publishing company called Vida Verde Media. He posted an essay online last June, complaining that global warming was gobbling up all the environmental attention. It got over a million hits.

Mr. BASKIND: There's actually some concern within the green community that the issues of climate change are getting out in front of everything else.

ULABY: Baskind can give endless examples of how preoccupation with climate change distracts us from other environmental dangers.

Mr. BASKIND: We're talking about coal-fired power plants a lot right now because they emit a lot of carbon dioxide. But you know, they also emit a lot of mercury, which ends up getting into our water and then back into our food chain.

ULABY: And speaking of food, Baskind says eating local has gotten nearly as trendy as eating organic because people care about their dinner's carbon footprint. The fate of polar bears weighs on our collective conscience more than pandas because of melting ice caps. Baskind supports Al Gore, and he's thrilled about the documentary success, but he worries that every environmental argument has to be framed by global warming.

Frances Beinecke is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Ms. FRANCES BEINECKE (President, Natural Resources Defense Council): Climate is upfront and center in everything.

ULABY: Beinecke's group works with grassroots environmental organizations all around the country. She says no matter their focus, global warming is now part of their campaigns.

Ms. BEINECKE: I see that as an additional, important, and very, very significant long term issue that can really add urgency.

ULABY: So, for example, if you've been working for the past 20 years on behalf of trout streams or fresh water fisheries, you might never have talked about global warming until a few years ago. Now it's a crucial part of your cause.

Ms. BEINECKE: And you want people to know that, that, you know, it's not only what's happening along the riverbanks and whether it's silt or deforestation, but also just changing temperatures are going to have long term consequences.

ULABY: Al Gore's message about global warming has helped advocates of everything from solar energy to arboreal forests, and rightly so, says Beinecke. She says climate change affects everything in out tightly-packaged ecosystem.

For his part, Chris Baskind wishes Al Gore would do a movie about the deteriorating nuclear systems all over the globe.

Mr. BASKIND: There's still about 20,000 active nuclear warheads. And in the course of an afternoon, that could rather radically affect the environment.

ULABY: Still, global warming's place in the zeitgeist is only good for all environmental issues says Frances Beinecke. Increased environmental literacy, she says, means more hope for meaningful change.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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