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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 May, 2005, 22:57 GMT 23:57 UK
America's Right goes green
Stephen Evans
By Stephen Evans
BBC North America business correspondent

There is a conventional view that partisans of the Right have little time for environmental issues.

The stereotype paints the Left as "tree-huggers" of a liberal persuasion in contrast to the All-American patriot who associates big vehicles with the very essence of the US of A.

Hummer cars
Patriots join "tree-huggers" in the attack on gas-guzzlers

It ain't true.

People at the heart of two constituencies crucial to President Bush are expressing concern about the environment.

Some Christian groups have said for some time that caring for the earth is caring for what they see as God's creation.

Now some neo-conservatives, not necessarily Christian, are also sounding alarm bells about gas-guzzling vehicles on "national security" grounds.

Not safe

The former director of the CIA, James Woolsey, for example, drives a Toyota Prius, the Japanese hybrid that's powered by a combination of a battery and a conventional petrol engine.

Soldier patrols burning Iraqi oil field
Reliance on oil from the Middle East is dangerous, say critics

Earlier in the spring, 31 national security experts, some of whom had advised President Reagan and the first George Bush, wrote to the current President Bush calling for government action to promote vehicles that use alternatives to burning gasoline.

Frank Gaffney who runs the conservative Center for Security Policy told the BBC that his concern was that oil was imported from areas on which the United States did not want to depend:

"Most of the places we import from have regimes that are at best unstable and at worst openly hostile to the United States," he said.

"What are we doing giving all this money to the people who are trying to kill us?"

No longer treason

The conventional stance of American industry since global warming first surfaced as a concern has been to deny any connection between it and the burning of oil.

Car and oil companies have been reluctant to admit any scientific link (in contrast, for example, to British Petroleum, which accepted the link and tried to re-brand itself as an "energy company" seeking to husband existing stocks of oil and find new non-carbon sources of energy).

There are signs now that some in the American car industry at least feel they may be missing a trick.

General Motors, with its commitment to cars that devour gasoline, is now rethinking, and looking for ways to get into the market for cleaner cars that the Japanese are starting to dominate.

In Detroit, the United Auto Workers, fearful of its members' jobs, wants the federal government to help the car-makers develop new, cleaner technologies - and this from a union that once seemed to see any environmental talk as a treasonable attack on American jobs.

Market forces

The swing has been energized partly by a study conducted at the University of Michigan that indicated hundreds of thousands of local jobs would be under threat if the industry in Detroit didn't become more environmentally friendly.

Christ on the cross
Many Christians feel global warming equals blasphemy

In that sense, the changes in attitude are being driven by the market.

Car workers want to make cars that people buy and the American consumer is increasingly buying cleaner cars that are not made by their employers.

American consumers are also increasingly buying cars that aren't powered by a fuel that is rising in price.

Join this self-interested concern with that of some Christians and you might have political momentum.

Last year, Christianity Today ran an editorial saying: "With each passing year, we lose the ability to slow and minimise the effects of global warming.

"This is our Father's world, and it is filled with our brothers and sisters".

If Christians and neo-cons start turning green, the reverberations could generate change in the White House.


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