Bush & Cheney–lame ducks or dangerous dinosaurs?

by on August 13th, 2008

Here’s a real-life scene worthy of a Hollywood thriller:

Three U.S. senators huddle over a document, closely watched by a team of White House lawyers. The senators have been granted a quick view of a zealously guarded report. They’re allowed to scribble a few notes before the papers are whisked away.

What could this eyes-only document be? A warning of an impending terror attack? The discovery of a killer asteroid plummeting towards Earth? The truth about UFOs?

None of the above. This scene, which took place in the U.S. Senate on 25 July, was just a skirmish in one of many battles that the Bush administration continues to wage as their final five months in power tick away–in this case furthering their program to derail any meaningful action on climate change.

For the lame ducks that they supposedly are, Bush et al. continue to show a lot of teeth and claws.

The much-fought-over document is a report on the impacts of greenhouse-gas-driven climate change on the U.S. It was grudgingly prepared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the agency to determine if greenhouse gas emissions threaten public health or the environment.

The study reportedly corroborates what most of the world has long accepted–that the world’s climate is changing in response to greenhouse gas emissions, that future emissions will exacerbate climate change, and that those changes will impact the U.S–not to mention the rest of the world–to such a degree that unchecked emissions are likely to endanger public welfare.

Those conclusions are far from radical today, but remain anathema to President Bush and especially Vice President Cheney–who has strenuously pushed the agenda of the most reactionary of the petrochemical and coal behemoths on energy and climate issues.

If the EPA findings were to become official policy, the agency could be mandated to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. To an administration that has done everything in its power to block public awareness of climate change in the U.S., and, a fortiori, official studies, recognition of the problem, or–heaven forebid–national or international action, the report had to be derailed.

So, when the EPA emailed the report to the White House in December of 2007, Bush et al. finessed the potential threat by the remarkable ploy of simply refusing to open the email. Remember those hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil monkeys?

That report is not the only casualty in the administration’s climate-and-energy war. Last October, for example, John Marburger, the President’s chief science advisor, reportedly gutted a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on the health effects of climate change. In December, Stephen Johnson, who heads the EPA, overrode his own staff recommendation, and scuttled California’s attempt to regulate its own greenhouse gas emissions. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA have also run into the administration’s climate-change firewall.

On the international front, this administration has consistently sabotaged attempts to limit greenhouse gas emissions and other meaningful steps to head off potentially catastrophic climate change at meetings of the G8 and at the UN climate summit at Bali, Indonesia, in December, 2007. As the world tries to craft a successor to the Kyoto accord, the U.S. continues to push any numerical caps to carbon dioxide production into the distant future.

The conventional wisdom in the U.S. and much of Europe right now has it that Bush and Cheney are lame ducks waddling towards the door, and that the world should look past them to a hopefully more enlightened administration.

That would be fine if action on climate change were not so urgent. A series of recent studies in leading science journals has made it clear that the pace of climate change is accelerating to a degree that is surprising and alarming to many climatologists. Runaway ice melt, carbon-dioxide-bubbling permafrost, methane-belching seafloors, and changing ocean currents are just a few of the dangerous tipping points that Earth’s climate could soon cross.

Testifying before Congress on 23 June, 2008, NASA climatologist Jim Hansen redlined six “tipping elements” that Earth’s climate is likely to crash through unless we cut atmospheric carbon dioxide from the current 385 parts per million to 350 or less. This is crucial, Hansen writes, “if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.”

Even economists have started to sense the same urgency. Rajendra Pachauri, an IPCC economist says–“If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.”

The community of nations is now preparing to negotiate the agreement that will replace Kyoto. That new accord, which needs to be in place by December of 2009, looks to be our last best chance to head off catastrophic climate change.

If this is in fact “the defining moment” for Earth’s climate, then the Bush administration’s continued determination to block or delay any meaningful domestic or international action until they are ushered from the White House makes them look a lot more like velociraptors than lame ducks.

The U.S. Congress needs to be encouraged to redouble its efforts to reign in this still dangerous administration and act forcefully on climate change, and the international community needs to do everything it can to ensure that the next president is committed to getting the U.S. up and running on this vital issue from his first day in the oval office.

If instead we let the dinosaurs continue to run the world, we should not complain when we find ourselves back in the Cretaceous.

Robert Adler

Robert Adler