Here. ...with each passing day, the gap between the US and the rest of the planet widens. To take the figure most often trotted out: Americans contribute a quarter of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. To meet the seemingly modest Kyoto objective of reducing emissions to 7% below their 1990 levels by 2012, they would actually (due to growth) have to cut back by a third. For the Bush White House, this is not even on the horizon, never mind the agenda. Why has the leader of the free world opted out? The first reason lies deep in the national psyche. The old world developed on the basis of a coalition - uneasy but understood - between humanity and its surroundings. The settlement of the US was based on conquest, not just of the indigenous peoples, but also of the terrain. It appears to be, thus far, one of the great success stories of modern history. "Remember, this country is built very heavily on the frontier ethic," says Clapp. "How America moved west was to exhaust the land and move on. The original settlers, such as the Jefferson family, moved westward because families like theirs planted tobacco in tidewater Virginia and exhausted the soil. My own ancestors did the same in Indiana." Americans made crops grow in places that are entirely arid. They built dams - about 250,000 of them. They built great cities, with skyscrapers and symphony orchestras, in places that appeared barely habitable. They shifted rivers, even reversed their flow. "It's the American belief that with enough hard work and perseverance anything - be it a force of nature, a country or a disease - can be vanquished," says Clapp. "It's a country founded on the idea of no limits. The essence of environmentalism is that there are indeed limits. It's one of the reasons environmentalism is a stronger ethic in Europe than in the US..." ...This issue is political dynamite, although not for quite the same reasons as in Britain. Almost every political group is split on the issue, including the far right (torn between overt xenophobes such as Pat Buchanan and the free marketeers), the labour movement and the environmentalists. The belief that the US is the best country in the world is a cornerstone of national self-belief, and many Americans still, wholeheartedly, want others to share it. They also want cheap labour to cut the sugar cane, pluck the chickens, pick the oranges, mow the lawns and make the beds... ...Not long ago I went for a walk in the Vallecito Mountains in California. After a while, I got myself into a position where the contours of the land blotted out everything and, after the noise of a plane had died away, there was no sight or sound at all that was not produced by nature. This lasted about a minute. Then, from somewhere, a motorcycle roared into earshot. Sure, there are still places in this vast country where it is possible to escape, but they get harder and harder to find except for the fit, the adventurous and those unencumbered by children or jobs. Most Americans don't live that way. And nowhere now is entirely safe from being ravaged, sometimes in ways that prejudice the future of the whole planet. Al-Qaida and the Iraqi bombers have no need to bother. America is destroying itself.