By David L. Brown
President Bush today made a speech in the Rose Garden on the administration’s policy toward climate change. At first glance from on-line news reports it sounds like too little, too late and politics as usual.
CNN.com headlines it: “Bush Shifts on Climate Change.”
FoxNews.com says: “Bush Unveils ‘Realistic’ Climate Strategy …”.
BBC.com plays it this way: “Bush Sets New CO2 Emission Target.”
None of these news sources gives the story very much play, and when you look at what Bush is quoted as saying there seems to be little substance. There seems to be much suspicion that the comments are aimed more at heading off action than calling for more, and apparently the administration isn’t even trying to cover up that fact. According to the CNN.com report:
The new goal for curtailing greenhouse gas emissions is an attempt to short-circuit what White House aides call a potential regulatory “train wreck” if Congress doesn’t act on climate change. The president’s speech is aimed at shaping the debate on global warming in favor of solving the problem while avoiding heavy costs to industry and the economy.
Commented the BBC after quoting Bush: “However, there was no indication of any new legislation to target emitters, and his statement warned Congress not to pass laws that could ‘impose tremendous costs on our economy and American families’.”
This is not a new approach but only continues the argument that nothing should be done that would cause undue inconvenience to America’s economy. There is a reason why Al Gore called his film and book “An Inconvenient Truth,” and that is his point. This situation is truly inconvenient, something that humanity can ignore only at serious risk. To wait-and-see while giving lip service to “solutions” that are economically neutral is not a realistic response at all. The threat of global warming is potentially an enormously serious threat to civilization and to continue to dither and pass the problem on to future generations is irresponsible and dangerous.
While not giving any details or a plan of action, the thrust of Bush’s comments was that increases in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions should be brought to a halt by 2025. He further suggested emissions from electric power plants should peak in 10 to 15 years, then decline.
And Bush gave himself a big escape hatch by suggesting that all the world’s major economies must agree to the same targets. According to the FoxNews.com report, he said “We’re willing to include this plan in a binding international agreement, so long as our fellow major economies are prepared to include their plans in such an agreement.”
Well, what does that mean? Does it mean that if every other country doesn’t get on board, the U.S. won’t follow through to reduce emissions? If so, it sounds like the same Mexican standoff game that we played with the Kyoto Accords. However, that facet of Bush’s speech does recognize the plain fact that climate change is a global problem and that we can no longer give emerging economies such as China a “get out of jail free” card on this issue, as Kyoto did. China it appears has now surpassed the United States as the world’s No. 1 contributor of greenhouse gas to the atmosphere.
Critics of the administration were quick to condemn Bush’s plan. According to the BBC.com report:
Carl Pope, the executive director of the largest US environmental group, the Sierra Club, said: “Under the president’s plan we’ll need a real miracle to save us from global warming.”
CNN.com quoted Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who said the proposal is “the height of irresponsibility,” and provided this statement from Tony Kreindler, a climate specialist at the advocacy group Environmental Defense: “The key is whether the president supports a mandatory cap on emissions. You never achieve any real reductions in pollution without legal limits. That’s what we’re going to be looking for.” So far, the administration position has been against cap-and-trade programs and has called merely for “voluntary” steps to reduce emissions.
That is like if the police were to take the radar cars off the streets and wait for drivers to voluntarily obey speed laws. In other words, it ain’t gonna happen, at least not without some external motivation.
Well, perhaps it doesn’t much matter what the President thinks or says, or what Congress may or may not do about climate change. The fact is that events are catching up with rhetoric like a freight train bearing down on a mouse. The developing story of world famine; quite “inconvenient” prices for oil; spreading desertification and loss of glaciers and ice sheets; the looming certainty of a new pandemic; the growing numbers of failed nations — all these and many more are the signs that the Earth is taking things in hand.
Perhaps Bush understands that if we do nothing now, Nature will soon straighten out the mess we humans have made of our planet. Or perhaps he knows that nothing we can do now will save us, because it is too late and too many tipping points have been or soon will be reached. I sincerely hope he does not have that knowledge, but it is not beyond possibility.