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Commentary: Bush Inaction on Global Warming

By Walter Simpson

Buffalo, NY – I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. There was the President of the United States, George W. Bush, on his working vacation, running around in presidential gym shorts leading a pack of huffing and puffing secret service agents. This video clip was followed by images of the President driving his presidential pick-up truck. He stops in the middle of nowhere and he and his aides, who are presumably on the federal payroll, begin the important task of clearing brush. All this takes place in 100 degree heat on a God-forsaken piece of scrub land in Crawford, Texas, which our President calls his ranch.

Is it any wonder Bush has not tackled global warming? First of all, he hasn't had time with all that brush to clear. And secondly, our President likes the heat and apparently can't see anything wrong with turning the whole country into Crawford, Texas.

While the President was gone out of his way to show he likes a good sweat, this summer delivered too much hot weather for many Americans -- as heat waves baked much of the United States. New York City and much of the Northeast spent many uncomfortable days near 100 degrees. Temperatures in Oregon approached 110 degrees while huge forest fires blazed there and in other Western states. One half of the United States is suffering from drought. This July was New York's second driest on record. August wasn't much better. In Buffalo, leaves started falling off our trees two months early.

Climate change is happening and it isn't good. The floods that nearly washed away Prague and parts of Germany this summer were fueled by El Nino, a global weather phenomenon which occurs with greater frequency and power when ocean surface waters heat up. And they are heating up. In the last ten years, global average temperatures have broken one record after another. We even saw evidence of global warming last winter when Buffalo was buried by seven feet of snow in a week because of unseasonably warm autumn weather and an ice-free Lake Erie.

Sadly, global warming is an implicit criticism of our way of life, its affluence, its waste, its near total dependence on fossil fuels. Who could believe that those tiny invisible carbon dioxide molecules released by burning oil, natural gas and coal are causing the planet's climate to change? But since 1995 scientists have been nearly unanimous in telling us that this is so. We also know that our impact is disproportionate. Americans represent less than 5% of the earth's population but we are responsible for 25% of CO2 emissions.

Our impulse is to deny the problem and our own daily complicity. But denial is only making things worse. We need to save energy in all aspects of our lives. If you think cutting back and getting out of your gas guzzler is a sacrifice, consider the sacrifice and suffering we will be imposing on our children, our grandchildren and the rest of creation if we continue on our wasteful ways.

But this is not just a lifestyle thing. It is deeply political and requires political action. We must insist that the White House and Congress shed their ties to the oil and coal industries and begin implementing an energy policy based on conservation, efficiency, and clean renewable energy. This monumental task is made more difficult by manipulations of the war on terrorism.

We all want our government to prevent terrorists from killing innocent people. Many of us would also like to see changes in U.S. foreign policy so we stop hurting people who end up hating us and stop supporting countries which breed terrorists, like oil-rich Saudi Arabia. But the Bush Administration's war on terrorism is as much about politics as it is about stopping terrorism.

Beating war drums heightens fears and rallies the public around the president. The President has promised a perpetual war against Al Qaeda, against Saddam Hussein, against any number of possible enemies in a script which is right out of George Orwell's 1984. The drum beat distracts and mutes criticism, allowing the Bush Administration to push the rest of its far right wing agenda with minimal resistance. At a time when we desperately need federal action to stop global warming, the Bush Administration is waging a war on the environment behind the smoke screen of its war on terrorism -- gutting the Clean Air Act, opening up public lands for oil and natural gas drilling, suspending rules on coal mining, blocking improvements in fuel economy and appliance efficiency, and actively seeking to undermine the Kyoto Treaty.

Which takes us back to Crawford, Texas. Want to live in Crawford? I don't.

Walter Simpson is Energy Officer at the University at Buffalo.