“If we can make it through the next 379 days without getting into nuclear war, historians writing 100 years from now will begin their assessment of George W. Bush, not at all kindly, by identifying him as the United States president who caused the world to lose eight years in getting started with serious efforts to save the planet and the inhabitants thereof from the deadly consequences of global warming”.
The above is the verdict of Waldo Profitt (yes, that’s a real name), former editor of the Herald-Tribune in the US. He was commenting on the extraordinary situation whereby a Republican Governor (Arnold Schwarzenegger in California) is taking the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to court in a bid to force it to sign a waiver allowing California to enact emissions regulations on cars and trucks that are stricter than those required by the Federal Government.
And yes, it is bizarre that the EPA, an agency nominally charged with improving environmental standards in the US, would actually block states attempting to do exactly that. But US politics since January 2001 has been a bitter experience for anyone with the slightest interest in the environment. The EPA has been politicised with Bush placemen who do the bidding of their corporate/political masters.
For a detailed exposition of the Bush record on the environment, see ‘Crimes Against Nature’, a book by Robert Kennedy Jnr which sets out in vivid detail the accomplishments of the man Kennedy says: “will go down in history as America’s worst environmental president”.
Americans have both the very worst and best record on environmental issues. It generally depends on who’s in power at the time, and what’s the prevailing public mood. Even ultra-right wing Republican president, Richard Nixon went with that mood in 1970 when he signed the Clean Air Act into law. His successor and his ruling cabal have set their faces firmly against facing the overwhelming scientific consensus on the climate crisis.A hundred years ago, another US president, Theodore Roosevelt was so disturbed by the high toll a century of rapid and relentless industrialisation had taken on the US that he placed some 230 million acres of land in the permanent protection of the government by the creation of vast National Parks, Forests and other conservation projects.
We already met one classic Bush climate stooge, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. In 2005 he told the US Senate: “The threat of catastrophic global warming…is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”.
The Bush presidency has for the last seven years orchestrated a climate denial campaign, aided and abetted by right wing newspapers, TV stations and in particular, talk radio, an unusually powerful force in US public life. Its objective was to throw enough mud that eventually the public, dazed and confused by the apparent ‘conflict’ would simply tune out and get back to shopping and working.
This campaign has been hugely successful, and contrary to JFK’s famous dictum, it was beginning to look like you could indeed fool all the people, all the time. But Americans seem to be slowly coming out of their trance and waking up to the fact that this is a problem that isn’t going away.
But it is all too late? James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, wrote: “The Earth is close to passing climate change ‘tipping points.’ Greenhouse gases released in burning fossil fuels are nearing levels which will set in motion dangerous effects, many irreversible, including extermination of countless species, ice sheet disintegration and sea-level rise, and intensified regional climate extremes.”
Hansen recently told the American Geophysical Union conference: “The evidence indicates that the safe upper limit for atmospheric CO2 is no more than 350 parts per million.”
The catch here is that CO2 is already at 385 parts per million, and is headed almost unstoppably for 550 ppm in the next couple of decades. We are already heading into entirely unchartered terrain. What the world has desperately needed in the last number of years was a strong US presidency that could bring its moral and political leadership, as well as its economic and media/cultural muscle to bear on tackling the toughest challenge human civilisation has yet faced. Instead, we got George ‘Crisis, what Crisis?’ Bush.
Still, the end is nigh. At least it is for this presidency. Let’s hope that’s not yet the case for the rest of us.