Green and right

November 02, 2007

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is showing the Bush administration how to be a conservative for conservation.

With former Vice President Al Gore at his side, the center-right French leader, whom President Bush regards as something of a kindred spirit, unveiled last week a sweeping program of environmental measures meant to catapult France into the forefront of the fight to curb global warming.

His proposal is not sweeping enough to quiet skeptics, or even to catch up with European neighbors. But it's bolder than much of what's on the books in this country, and sets an example for Mr. Bush and other conservatives that protecting the Earth's resources should not be an exclusive exercise for liberals.

France is already ahead of the United States because it has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by specific deadlines. Mr. Sarkozy, speaking at the conclusion of a lengthy conference among activists, farmers, unions, businesses and government officials, outlined a campaign to achieve these goals that he called "an ecological New Deal."

He wants to phase out incandescent light bulbs, fortify drafty buildings and charge extra for driving gas-guzzlers - even beyond the rising cost of gas. He proposes to drastically scale back highway construction while expanding high-speed rail service with another 1,200 miles of tracks.

Mr. Sarkozy stopped short of endorsing a controversial carbon tax on goods and services that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, though he urged a study of the issue. He also disappointed some environmental groups by refusing to reverse France's reliance on nuclear energy, arguing that the fight against climate change can't be won without it.

But the showcase he gave to the global warming issue was nonetheless much more than hot air. Perhaps most meaningful was that this dynamic new leader, who has quite a flair for the spotlight, considers protecting the environment - in deeds as well as words - a popular cause.

Mr. Bush and the lawmakers of both parties in Congress who have their doubts would be well advised to take his cue.

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