June 19, 2002 | Commentary on Energy and Environment
Yet, on June 4, less than 15 months later, his administration submitted a report to the United Nations that blames human activities for climate change and predicts environmental doom unless consumers significantly change their ways.
Why the about-face? There's been no significant scientific
breakthrough on climate change since last year. Those responsible
for ensuring the report reflects administration policy remain in
And it's not like the White House can claim someone slipped the
report to the United Nations. According to The New York Times, top
brass at the Environmental Protection Agency, possibly including
EPA head Christine Todd Whitman, examined the report before it was
released, as did officials at the White House and unspecified other
Yet, when asked about the document, President Bush seemed to try
to distance himself from its findings. He confirmed he had "read
the report put out by the bureaucracy," but added that the
provisions of Kyoto "would seriously damage the American economy,
and I don't accept that."
All of which begs the question: What is the president's policy
on global warming? Do human activities cause or exacerbate it, or
not? If so, how bad is the problem, and what does the president
plan to do to reduce America's contribution to this global menace?
If not, why are other administration officials-people who work for
him-releasing reports that contradict his policies?
Did Whitman simply do this on her own to upstage the president,
as some media reports suggested? She's had her differences with him
on approaches to environmental problems before. But not this time,
according to her office. The report, said her spokesman, contains
nothing new. And anyway, Whitman "agrees with the president that
his plan is the best approach to dealing with greenhouse
Is that last month's plan? Or is some new plan in the
No new plan, says President Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleisher, who
stressed the "remaining uncertainties of climate change" and
reiterated that the administration's opposition to the Kyoto
Accords has not waned.
No new policy? No new plan? No change in position? What's going
The fact is, the report-so long as it is not disavowed-does
represent a significant change in administration thinking. Not for
nothing did conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh, after learning
of the flip-flop, refer to the president as "George W.
Algore"-suggesting he had adopted former Vice-President Gore's view
that man plays a major role in producing global warming.
Scientists have yet to establish how much, if any, humans have
to do with causing climate change. Global-warming theorists claim
man-made gases, such as those released from burning fossil fuels
for energy, will warm the Earth's temperature to dangerous levels
and endanger life on the planet within the next 100 years absent
drastic action, particularly by developed countries.
The Kyoto treaty attempts to address this by requiring
significant cuts in fossil-fuel emissions by developed countries,
especially the United States. In the past-as in no more than a
month ago-President Bush opposed the Kyoto approach because, he
said, "it would harm our economy and hurt our workers" to undertake
the drastic changes necessary to comply and because it asks little
of developing countries, often the worst polluters.
To cut carbon emissions to the levels mandated by Kyoto,
Americans would face huge increases in costs and cutbacks in
supplies of energy. Which would be closer to acceptable if there
was any evidence our suffering would do much good.
However, The Wall Street Journal reported that Professor Bjorn
Lomborg, former Greenpeace activist, devoted environmentalist and
author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist," says the scientific
documentation supporting Kyoto says earth's temperature will rise
1.2 degrees Celsius by 2100 with the treaty or by 2094-a mere six
years earlier-without. And that's if-as seems most unlikely-no
alternative to fossil fuels emerges.
Americans elected President Bush because they wanted clear
thinking on issues such as this. They wanted a president committed
to the environment and to providing adequate energy. They didn't
want double-talk designed to appease environmental alarmists or
renegade aides making national policy on their own.
And they certainly didn't want to pay millions of dollars in
higher energy costs on the basis of questionable science.
Charli Coon is senior policy analyst for energy and the environment for The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.