William Clay Ford Jr., chairman of the auto maker bearing his name, announced that he is pulling his company out of the Global Climate Coalition. Though the announcement came quietly in a letter sent Monday, it may well be the kind of strong and clear statement that can end the debate over global warming.
The GCC is a group of fossil fuel producers, energy providers, car companies and trade associations whose singular goal is to spread confusion about global warming. When 2,500 scientists agreed on a statement that global warming is a real and urgent phenomenon caused by humans, the GCC drummed up a small handful of dissenters.
Spending millions on advertising, lobbying and other efforts to discredit the best science, the group's small clique has had a huge presence. They've allowed political leaders to hide behind the false notion that there is disagreement about global warming in the scientific community. They've provided ready sources for journalists who, under the guise of objectivity, lazily assume that "another side" to the science should be presented in each story on the topic.
The Ford Motor Co.'s withdrawal exposes this deception. Ford is tacitly admitting that it is folly to continue clouding the debate and that discussions instead should focus on policies and products that can stop or slow the warming trend. In walking away from the GCC, the auto giant has pulled back the curtain to show that science has never clouded this debate. It was the sophisticated advocacy and self-interest of panicked industrialists that did so.
The decision, of course, does not make Ford a green enterprise. Quite the contrary. The company's current offering of sport utility vehicles, for example, includes the category's two worst polluters. And they have yet to embrace immediate-term steps that can address the climate crisis.
Still, the company has embarked on a promising path. Next year, its entire SUV fleet--the one currently on assembly lines--will meet the low emissions vehicle standards for selling cars in California. And it has invested heavily in fuel cells--nonpolluting components that produce energy from hydrogen, a renewable substance. The fuel cells are many years from showing up on assembly lines, but Ford's plan for them is good news.
Perhaps more interesting than the changes at Ford, the company, are the inclinations of Ford, the person.
Bill Ford's letter, coming less than a year after he assumed control of the company, took no small amount of personal courage to write. It is part and parcel of Michigan politics that all must rally round the auto industry. The industry's powerful congressional champion, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), has on countless occasions stymied efforts to raise corporate auto fuel efficiency standards and has fought improvements in the Clean Air Act. Now, supported by the GCC, he claims the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that calls for the U.S. to significantly reduce its fossil fuel emissions in the next decade, will bust the American economy. With his standing in Congress and legendary presence, Dingell commands loyalty. One can be certain he will not take this challenge from Ford lightly.
Bill Ford appears to have the kind of steady compass and personal stamina to withstand such a face-off. At 42, he has both the energy and time to transform a company as massive as Ford. If he sticks to his conservationist tendencies, he may find new and capable allies.
The timing of Ford's letter is propitious, though, given recent weather patterns, this statement would be true at almost any time in recent years. The BBC has reported that a document to be issued next year by the International Panel on Climate Change--the lead scientific body focusing on this issue--states that the global-warming crisis may be far more immediate than was thought only five years ago.
Earlier this year, Ford noted his grandfather's role as "a leader in the first industrial revolution." Borrowing a phrase many use to describe the steps toward a sustainable economy, he said, "I want Ford Motor Co. to be a leader in the second industrial revolution--the clean revolution."
With his letter, he took a quiet, but important, step along that path. From a once-clouded debate emerges a potential silver lining.