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Bush Shows No Surprises on Climate PDF Print E-mail
By Andy Mannle | Tuesday, 05 February 2008

As he enters the last year of his presidency, President Bush faces approval ratings dropping into the thirties, a deeply unpopular war in Iraq, and the country entering a recession. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Bush will seek to capitalize on the one issue that could possibly turn things around for him: Climate Change.

Think of the benefits. By tackling a global threat the Pentagon predicts could be greater than terrorism, offering the environmental leadership the world is clamoring for, improving national security in a meaningful way, and creating millions of new jobs, the President has the potential in his last year to overcome lame-duck status, and salvage some credibility for his administration. Despite the rhetoric in his State of the Union speech, however, an uneventful Major Economies Meeting in Hawaii proves that this administration is unlikely to change course. 

State of the Union

Although Bush’s message was optimistic when speaking about Iraq and the economy, his speech was "late and lame" on climate change, according to an editorial in the New York Times. Despite announcing his support for renewable technologies, and claiming that the “United States is committed to strengthening our energy security and confronting global climate change,” Bush offered no changes in policies that are intentionally obstructionist at worst, and footdragging at best.

According to a press release issued by Clean Energy Advocate Bernadette Del Chiaro and Global Warming Advocate Jason Barbose of Environment California, "The President failed to outline support for key policies that would actually put America on a path to solving global warming and forging a clean energy future."

In particular, they noted five areas where the president has fallen short of his promises:

  • Last year, Bush threatened to veto legislation that would have established a national renewable electricity standard and extended crucial tax incentives for the renewable energy industry. These measures were stripped from the Senate's Energy Bill, while billions of dollars in subsidies for fossil fuel industries were retained.

  • The President stopped short of calling for a mandatory U.S. cap on global warming pollution, even though such a cap is essential to achieving the pollution cuts scientists say are needed in order to protect future generations from the worst effects of global warming. This position was confirmed again at the Major Economies Meeting, despite pressure from countries around the world for the US to take action.

  • The President highlighted the signing of legislation that will require cars to achieve 35 miles per gallon by 2020.  But he failed to mention that on the very same day he signed the energy bill into law, the U.S. EPA denied California and twelve other states the right to regulate greenhouse gases from vehicles, which had overwhelming public support.

  • Bush continues to encourage the construction of new nuclear plants. Despite security concerns and nuclear waste issues, and the fact that nuclear facilities cost billions of dollars to construct and take decades to build, nuclear is being touted, ironically, as a 'carbon free' technology. But, says Environment California, "Serious action to combat global warming will mean investment in the cleanest, cheapest and quickest ways to reducing carbon emissions—renewables and energy efficiency."

  • The President also endorsed further investment in so-called “clean coal.” But "clean coal is a myth," says Environment California, "Coal is an inherently dirty fuel that pollutes our air, our water, and our pristine places." Turns out it's an expensive myth too. The FutureGen project, the government's billion-dollar project to test whether carbon could be sequestered, and was cancelled last week in the face of skyrocketing costs.

    Determined, the President will ask Congress for over $600 million in next year's budget to continue finding a way coal can be burned more efficiently. But even that will not stop the dangerous, dirty work of mining coal, which has devastated Appalachia and resulted in  record-breaking environmental lawsuits against coal companies. 

Given the President's oil background, and his pro-business approach to the environment, these policies come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his administration. If there was a surprise it was that Bush was even talking about "an international agreement that has the potential to slow, stop, and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases.”

According to the President, such an agreement would be “effective only if it includes commitments by every major economy."

Major Economies Meeting
Just days after his State of the Union speech however, it became clear that major economy most unwilling to commit to reducing greenhouse gases is the United States.

Ministers at the Major Economies Meeting in Hawaii described the sessions as urgent, and anxious. Secretary Yvo de Boer spoke for many when he said, “There is no time left the world can lose. All efforts now must be focused on getting the negotiations on a climate change deal off the ground to be ready by 2009.”

Yet despite global consensus that mandatory reductions are the only effective way to curb carbon emissions, the White House obstinately refused to commit to actual reduction targets. Dismissing the anxious pleading of leaders from the EU, the UN, Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, and Britain, White House spokesman James Connaughton said, "We have our own views on the issue."

Changing Views, not Positions
In fact, the White House views have actually changed, and ministers welcomed the new approach. Instead of denying the global warming exists, or questioning whether it is even is human-related, they have now agreed that this is an "urgent issue," and are open to the idea of holding more meetings. In other words, they have agreed to talk. While this is a start, it falls far short of Bush's claim that America is “leading the way toward the development of cleaner and more energy-efficient technology."

Instead of agreeing to mandatory caps, US officials argued instead for a free-trade approach, and programs to eliminate trade barriers for climate-beneficial goods and services. On the issue of transferring technologies to developing countries, James Connaughton, said at a press conference that unlike 25 years ago, developing countries “are in a good position to leap ahead, as well…China has some of the smartest innovators in the world, who themselves are developing new technologies.”

Connaughton's suggestion reveals that far from "leading the way" the Bush administration is content to wait and let the Chinese and other developing nations take that role.

Looking to the Next Administration
With scarcely more than a year left to complete negotiations, officials are worried that without the United States adopting aggressive emissions measures quickly, they will not be able to meet their targets. Yvo De Boer, UNFCCC executive secretary, said there is still a chance, “"If countries represented at the meeting manage to take the Bali decisions to a next stage, process can be accelerated and the ambitious deadline of 2009 can actually be met," he added.

But the Bush administration shows no signs of changing its position. And while the rest of the world is waiting with baited breath to see who the next President will be, Bush spokespeople insisted that any major change on climate policy would have to be based on strong bipartisan support. Governor Schwarzenegger and John McCain, however, who recently joined political forces at a solar plant in California, are showing the world that it's not impossible for Republicans to support clean technology and greenhouse gas reductions.

Thus, whoever the next President is, the odds are slim that they will be as adamantly opposed to climate solutions as this one. In the meantime, the G8 and the Major Economies will continue to have meetings, but according to Elliot Diringer, director of international strategies at the Pew Center for Global Climate Change, expectations for progress are low.

"As other governments see it, this is not the means for cutting a final deal" on climate, he says, "nor is this the administration to cut it with." 


Image courtesy of US Department of State 

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