Frank O'Donnell is president of Clean Air Watch, a 501(c)3 nonpartisan, nonprofit organization aimed at educating the public about clean air and the need for an effective Clean Air Act.
Political writer Fred Barnes’ new book, Rebel-in-Chief, includes a remarkable vignette. Barnes notes that early last year, Karl Rove arranged a private audience between the president and novelist Michael Crichton, whose novel, State of Fear , had portrayed global warming as an unproven theory publicized by whacko environmentalists.
“Bush is a dissenter on the theory of global warming,” Barnes notes. He and Crichton “talked for an hour and were in near-total agreement.” Unfortunately, Barnes’ anecdote carries the ring of truth.
The president actually does appear to buy into the “scientific” arguments put forth by a writer of fiction. (The White House press corps has not yet queried whether the president also believes there are dinosaurs running about a popular theme park.)
Shades of Nancy Reagan and the astrologers! This incident would be laughable if the consequences weren’t so dire.
The Crichton caper explains a lot about why the president and his administration have adamantly refused to take any steps to limit the heat-trapping emissions linked to global warming. This isn’t just a matter of the president opposing Kyoto. He and his administration have resisted literally any limit on global warming pollution and are even going to war against states such as California that are trying to limit those emissions.
The White House quickly tried to downplay the Crichton incident: The president really does believe in global warming, the White House insisted. He just questions how much humans contribute to it.
The problem here is that while the White House is busy formulating the day’s tiresome “spin” the president favors “technology,” blah-blah-blah—we may actually be nearing a planetary tipping point. Credible scientists are starting to warn that we may be heading toward the point of no return when it comes to global warming. Past a certain point, there may be no stopping the changes exacerbated by man-made emissions.
Just last week we learned, for example, that Greenland’s glaciers are melting faster than anyone expected —something that not only portends dramatically rising sea levels, but could set a chain reaction in motion. On Sunday, “60 Minutes” described the process now underway: “As snow and ice melt, they reveal dark land and water that absorbs solar heat. That melts more snow and ice, and around it goes.” It could, as ABC News put it last week, become “a slow-motion time bomb,” as even more greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere by thawed-out tundra. The grim—and increasingly obvious—results range from the potentially-endangered polar bear (which can’t survive if all the Arctic ice melts) to more catastrophic storms like Katrina, the storm fury fed by warmer waters.
Against this backdrop, there’s a tragic irony to the president and his aides touring the nation the next few days to tout “energy week.” In an effort to boost his poll numbers, the president and members of his cabinet will fan out to promote a package of energy initiatives first highlighted in last month’s State of the Union Address.
For example, the president will stop at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., to plug his proposals to speed the development of biofuels such as "cellulosic" ethanol made from wood chips or sawgrass. Most people interested in this non-corn-based form of ethanol see it as merely one element of a comprehensive strategy to reduce global warming pollution. Unfortunately, the president and his advisers appear to view it as a way to distract the public’s attention from the need for such a comprehensive strategy—a strategy that must begin with putting some sort of actual limit on global warming emissions.
As if to underscore the raw hypocrisy of the president’s approach, the renewable energy lab was forced to announce layoffs earlier this month—including in its ethanol research program—because of Bush budget cuts. To avoid the obvious embarrassment, the Energy Department re-hired the laid-off workers right before the president’s visit.
Karl Rove’s own global warming strategy has been motivated by cynical electoral politics and a reliance on fearmongering tactics. He has managed to snatch coal-heavy states like West Virginia away from the Democrats by scaring mining communities into thinking Al Gore and John Kerry would take their jobs away.
Bringing Crichton in to buck up the president may serve Rove’s purposes in the short term. But as long as the president himself falls back on works of fiction to provide the rationale for this policy of destruction, he does little but cement his place in history—as the 21st century Nero who fiddled while the planet began to burn and melt.