When it comes to global warming, George W. Bush has his head firmly up his tailpipe.
A couple of years ago, Bush said the “jury is still out” on the problem. In March of last year, he said “I believe there is global warming” and that he made up his mind on the matter after talking with experts in the field. Two months later, when asked what should be done to address global warming, he replied, “I presume reducing NOx [nitrous oxide] and CO2 will help.”
Last Thursday, when quizzed about the matter by David Letterman, Bush implied that burning more natural gas will help reduce global warming and that “the technology is not available” to do anything about it. “I’m a practical man,” Bush said, adding that “We don’t have enough refining capacity” and “the Arabs have us over a barrel.” (Start laugh track here). Letterman, clearly disappointed in Bush’s answer, had earlier joked that something would have to be done about global warming or else all of us would soon be “water skiing at the North Pole.” Alas, while the polar ice cap shrinks, Bush smirks. And his lack of a coherent statement on global warming – or even the willingness to admit there is a problem – is perhaps his most striking difference from Al Gore when it comes to the environment. Bush’s refusal to acknowledge the importance of the issue also clashes with the stance taken by some of his biggest backers and some of the most powerful business leaders in America.
Gore has repeatedly acknowledged the threat posed by global warming. And he has pushed for the United States Senate to approve the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, the 1997 treaty designed to reduce global output of greenhouse gases. The measure, which was signed by the Clinton Administration but not ratified by the Senate, has been approved by some 150 countries. It requires the United States to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012. Bush opposes the treaty, saying it is “ineffective, inadequate, and … a bad deal for America.”
While many other conservatives oppose the Kyoto Protocol and while the treaty’s goals will be difficult if not impossible to obtain in America, Bush appears unwilling even to discuss the matter. Shortly before Labor Day, when Bush communications director Karen Hughes was asked about global warming, she directed a reporter to the governor’s press office in the Capitol. When told the inquiry was about Bush’s plan for global warming on the national level, she referred reporters to the campaign’s website. But there is not a single mention of the issue on Bush’s otherwise very thorough website. Nor is the word Kyoto found on the site.
Global warming has not been a major campaign issue because “it hasn’t been in anyone’s interest to talk about it,” says Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, an Arlington, Virginia-based non-profit. Even though the candidates aren’t discussing it, global warming is “a really important issue and will be for the next four years,” Claussen said. The issue is already important in Texas. Although there is no definitive proof that global warming is related to the recent droughts, the two dry spells that have occurred in Texas since 1996 have cost the state’s agricultural sector an estimated $5 billion, according to figures from the Texas Department of Agriculture. The world’s leading scientists are in agreement on global warming. The United States’ National Academy of Sciences and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have predicted that Earth may experience the fastest warming in the history of civilization during the 21st century. The IPCC, made up of more than 2,000 of the world’s leading climate scientists from more than 100 nations, believes Earth may warm by 1.8 to 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century.
While Bush has ignored global warming, Gore has been careful to tone down his rhetoric on the matter. In particular, Gore has been running away from his 1992 book, Earth in the Balance, in which he called global warming “the most serious threat we have ever faced.” During the campaign, Gore has promoted energy efficiency as one way to address the global warming problem. Some of Bush’s biggest supporters, including Enron CEO Ken Lay, who is one of Bush’s Pioneers (a group of individuals who each pledged to raise $100,000 for Bush), have been outspoken about their concern about global warming. According to the Center for Public Integrity, Houston-based Enron is Bush’s biggest career patron, having given him more than $555,000. Under Lay’s leadership, Enron has undertaken a plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The company is now building a new headquarters building that it says will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17,000 tons per year.
In a move that Bush would presumably applaud, other business executives are following suit. On October 17, Environmental Defense announced a program under which British Petroleum, Shell International, DuPont, Suncor Energy Inc., Ontario Power Generation, Alcan, and the French aluminum maker Pechiney, voluntarily agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. DuPont claims that it has already reduced its greenhouse gas releases by 60 percent. But in a statement on global warming released by Bush’s campaign office, the candidate said, “Scientific data show average temperatures have increased slightly during this century, but both the causes and the impact of this slight warming are uncertain.” Claussen says Bush’s statement is “just not true. The science is very firm on the basics,” of global warming. The only questions left on global warming, she said, are “where the impacts will be found and when.” Bush’s refusal to acknowledge the reality of global warming is even more striking when seen in light of his latest television commercials. Shown to reporters in mid-October, one ad, called “Expect More,” begins with Bush asking a question. “How come the hard things don’t get done? Because they’re hard,” he answers. Global warming is a hard thing. But it appears Bush’s head is even harder.