Friday, June 17, 2005

Global Worming

Since the very beginning, many Republicans and some moderate Democrats have been in denial of global warming and its environmental ramifications. By rejecting the 1997 Kyoto Treaty in 2001, the Bush Administration has been clear where their allegiances are in the "War on Pollution": Big Business. In justifying his position, Bush had this to say:
We'll be working with our allies to reduce greenhouse gases. But I will not accept a plan that will harm our economy and hurt American workers.
It is true that in reducing greenhouse gases, companies would be forced to follow more stringent governmental regulations. But it surely does not follow that this would hurt the American economy, especially since the treaty was signed by 54 other nations.

Hurt American workers? Would companies actually increase the downsizing trends that were already developing thanks to globalization and off-shoring? It is doubtful that increased regulation would have caused industry-wide unemployment or wage reduction. Quite the contrary, more positions would probably have been created to follow those regulations.

There were some good arguments that the Kyoto Treaty alone would not have reduced greenhouse gases significantly, but there is no denying this was a good first step at worldwide reduction. Much evidence indicates there would have been at least slow down of global warming, even if a reversal was unlikely.

However, these were not the ones the Bush was considering. Based upon State Department documents leaked to the press, there was a larger reason the Kyoto Treaty was rejected: Exxon Mobil said to. That's right, the big oil giant was instrumental in US Environmental Policy:
In briefing papers given before meetings to the US under-secretary of state, Paula Dobriansky, between 2001 and 2004, the administration is found thanking Exxon executives for the company's "active involvement" in helping to determine climate change policy, and also seeking its advice on what climate change policies the company might find acceptable. Other papers suggest that Ms Dobriansky should sound out Exxon executives and other anti-Kyoto business groups on potential alternatives to Kyoto.
There were probably many other environmental policies fixed around Exxon Mobil's advice, including the misnamed "Clear Skies Act" (which attempts to weaken the existing Clean Air Act by lowering emission standards and introducing a pollution bartering system) and the special-interest triumph Energy Bill in 2004 (gives oil and gas construction companies a "free pass" to avoid clean water laws and more time to comply with reduced air pollution standards found in the Clean Air Act). The lengths the government was willing to go to appease the fossil fuel industry are astounding.

Since 2001, the Bush Administration, though admitting the reality of climate change, has consistently denied the impact from human activity. Rather than arguing to decrease the role of human activity by reducing pollution, the administration has preferred to attack the scientific evidence and promise to investigate it further. In June 2001, Bush summarized in his own way, the "findings" of the National Academy of Sciences:
The [National] Academy's report tells us that we do not know how much effect natural fluctuations in climate may have had on warming. We do not know how much our climate could, or will change in the future. We do not know how fast change will occur, or even how some of our actions could impact it.
Based on this statement, anyone would wonder how global warming is a science. If the only finding the National Academy of Sciences has was there is this thing called "global warming", then Bush should have dropped all of their funding. But that is the key: funding. The Bush mantra has always been: "If we give someone money, they should follow your orders." After all, that was what the fossil fuel industry was forcing Bush and company to do. Why not scientists?

James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, rejected that argument. Speaking at the University of Iowa in 2004, he had this to say about the administration's treatment of science:
In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it is now.
That wasn't the worst of it. Last week, Philip A. Cooney, chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality and most decidely not a scientist was discovered making alterations on many environmental reports, according to the NY Times. Between 2002 and 2003, Mr. Cooney edited these documents with the intent of creating more uncertainty within the official language:
In one instance in an October 2002 draft of a regularly published summary of government climate research, "Our Changing Planet," Mr. Cooney amplified the sense of uncertainty by adding the word "extremely" to this sentence: "The attribution of the causes of biological and ecological changes to climate change or variability is extremely difficult."

In a section on the need for research into how warming might change water availability and flooding, he crossed out a paragraph describing the projected reduction of mountain glaciers and snowpack. His note in the margins explained that this was "straying from research strategy into speculative findings/musings."

A sentence originally read, "Many scientific observations indicate that the Earth is undergoing a period of relatively rapid change." In a neat, compact hand, Mr. Cooney modified the sentence to read, "Many scientific observations point to the conclusion that the Earth may be undergoing a period of relatively rapid change."
Where is Mr. Cooney going now, after resigning? He is going to work at Exxon Mobil this fall. Now, that is what I call kickback.

Ahead of the G8 Summit, the Bush administration has even succeeded in lowering the official priority of global warming from "urgent" to "serious". The following alterations were also made to the accompanying report:
One deleted section, for example, initially cited "increasingly compelling evidence of climate change, including rising ocean and atmospheric temperatures, retreating ice sheets and glaciers, rising sea levels, and changes to ecosystems."

It added: "Inertia in the climate system means that further warming is inevitable. Unless urgent action is taken, there will be a growing risk of adverse effects on economic development, human health and the natural environment, and of irreversible long-term changes to our climate and oceans."

Instead, U.S. negotiators substituted a sentence that reads, "Climate change is a serious long- term challenge that has the potential to affect every part of the globe."
Again, the Bush Administration is trying to worm its way out of global warming. I wish I could claim shock and surprise at these findings, but they simply follow the same trends I have come to expect from this presidency.


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