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Monday, March 26, 2001
OUR PLANET EARTH
Bush ignores experts on climate change
The rubber has met the road and we now know that U.S. President George W. Bush is driving under the influence, his judgment impaired by fossil fuel lobbyists.
In a letter to Republican senators dated March 13, Bush said he would not impose "mandatory emissions reductions for carbon dioxide" on power plants. The position is a flip-flop on CO2 policy, and contrary to statements made earlier this month by Christine Todd Whitman, Bush's new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Bush decision could not be more out of step with reality and global consensus. Just two months ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, under the auspices of the U.N. Environment Program, issued a major report on climate change, confirming that "most of the warming trend over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities." Two hundred scientists from 120 nations drafted the report, before it was reviewed by 400 independent experts.
The IPCC report represents "humanity's combined knowledge on the impacts of climate change," according to WWF International, "and based on observations in around 3,000 scientific studies, puts an end to debate over whether climate change is occurring."
In January, over 100 governments represented on the IPCC accepted the report's conclusion that climate change is already having a "widespread and coherent impact" on the planet.
Forewarned is forearmed, however, and efforts are under way worldwide, albeit slowly, to deal with climate change. "Governments have accepted that global warming is already happening," says Jennifer Morgan, director of the WWF International Climate Change Campaign.
Well, some governments have. Bush, piloting the ship of state responsible for 25 percent of global CO2 emissions, and flush with the excitement of his new command, has been seduced by the sirens of the oil and coal lobby. Below are excerpts from Bush's letter, along with comments from climate specialists at the World Resources Institute, a respected environmental organization in Washington, D.C. The full letter can be found at www.usinfo.state.gov
"As you know," writes Bush, "I oppose the Kyoto Protocol because it exempts 80 percent of the world, including major population centers such as China and India, from compliance, and would cause serious harm to the U.S. economy. [A Senate] vote, 95-0, shows that there is a clear consensus that the Kyoto Protocol is an unfair and ineffective means of addressing global climate change concerns."
Dr. Nancy Kete, director of the Climate Program at WRI, finds this blaming of developing countries particularly disappointing.
"Opponents of the Kyoto Protocol always complain that the treaty doesn't include controls on developing country emissions," says Kete. "But they never seem to admit that U.S. emissions dwarf those from most other countries combined."
According to WRI, emissions of U.S. power plants exceed the combined emissions from 146 countries, about 75 percent of the world's nations. Combined national emissions of large developing countries, such as Korea, Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, Indonesia and Argentina, are less than U.S. utility emissions alone. In addition, the U.S. power sector generates roughly one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, double all emissions in India, and total U.S. emissions are more than double China's.
Bush continues: "A recently released Department of Energy Report . . . concluded that including caps on carbon dioxide emissions as part of a multiple emissions strategy would lead to an even more dramatic shift from coal to natural gas for electric power generation and significantly higher electricity prices compared to scenarios in which only sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides were reduced. This is important new information . . . especially at a time of rising energy prices and a serious energy shortage. Coal generates more than half of America's electricity supply."
Bush fails to mention that coal dependence and cheap energy costs are two of the primary culprits responsible for America's bloated carbon dioxide emissions. A shift to natural gas, which generates less CO2 than oil or coal, and higher electricity prices, which encourage energy efficiency, are two obvious steps the U.S. can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Unless, of course, the coal lobby has its way.
The day after the Bush letter became public, WRI responded.
"The haste of yesterday's decision reeks of a backroom deal with coal, oil and industry lobbyists," Kete said. WRI President Jonathan Lash called Bush's decision "stunningly short-sighted, a slap in the face to our allies who take climate protection seriously, and to the many companies that are taking voluntary steps to reduce emissions."
The myopia of Bush's policymaking is breathtaking.
"At a time when California has already experienced energy shortages, and other Western states are worried about price and availability of energy this summer," he claims, "we must be very careful not to take actions that could harm consumers. This is especially true given the incomplete state of scientific knowledge of the causes of, and solutions to, global climate change and the lack of commercially available technologies for removing and storing carbon dioxide."
With a flourish of his pen, Bush cavalierly dismisses hundreds of IPCC scientists and their thousands of hours of research -- experts who have spent over a decade confirming that climate change is in fact causing "widespread and coherent" impacts.
Bush's policy betrays both his own promise and his father's.
"Not only has the president reversed himself on an unambiguous campaign promise," notes Kete, "he is trying to nail the coffin on a commitment his father made in signing the 1992 climate protection treaty."
If Bush ever decides to seek counsel beyond the boardroom, a good place to begin would be U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Speaking in Bangladesh the day after Bush penned his letter, Annan shared some simple truths:
"It is said that we face a choice between economic growth and conservation, when in fact growth cannot be sustained without conservation.
"It is said that it will be too costly to make the necessary changes, when in fact cost-effective technologies and policies are available.
"And it is said that developing countries should focus on development, saving the so-called luxury of environmental protection for later, when in fact the environment provides many of the precious resources and capital that societies need today to develop and sustain themselves."
If only Bush had such vision.
E-mail Stephen Hesse at email@example.com