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Bush, Out in the Cold

June 19, 2005

By this time, believing that global warming is only a theory is akin to saying the same thing about evolution. And just as creationists shouldn't be allowed to remake schools' curriculum on fossils, naysayers on climate change cannot hide from the damage caused by fossil fuels. Both areas of study are backed by robust evidence accepted by scientists around the world.

June could almost be designated Greenhouse Month for the new urgency governments and businesses have expressed in recent weeks about controlling emissions -- mostly from burning oil and coal -- that contribute to global warming. In this climate, so to speak, it's disheartening to find President Bush clinging to his old ploy of calling for ever more research before doing something.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences and 10 similar groups from other nations called earlier this month for immediate action on global warming, saying world leaders must "acknowledge that the threat of climate change is clear and increasing." Two days later, a group of 23 multinational corporations similarly urged "action by both the private and public sector ... initiated now." The group included Ford and oil giant BP.

Some U.S. companies are pushing for tighter regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. This might be enlightened self-interest in part. Some can make money by selling less-polluting energy sources such as windmills; others fear that if they don't get involved, lawmakers will pass a hodgepodge of state regulations. That's fine. Their motivations don't matter as much as their recognition that the time for action has arrived.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger showed that industry-friendly Republicans can care about the environment too, announcing dramatic targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in California over the next 50 years. The proposal is longer on goals than on means, but the governor has made a start by supporting a solar-homes bill and a state rule requiring automakers to reduce tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases nearly 30% by 2016.

With all this activity, where was the Bush administration this month on global warming? Watering down scientific documents and international accords on the issue, mainly.

Bush last week accepted the resignation of a senior official of the White House Council on Environmental Quality whose tinkering with reports on climate change was revealed in the New York Times. Philip Cooney -- a former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, a major foe of greenhouse gas regulations -- reportedly edited U.S. scientists' reports on global warming to make the phenomenon appear more dubious and less serious.

Bush also rebuffed British Prime Minister Tony Blair's attempts to make him take the topic seriously. Blair plans to make more aggressive action against greenhouse gases a top priority at the July meeting of the Group of 8 industrialized nations. The Washington Post revealed last week that Bush administration officials have succeeded in weakening the G-8 plan for joint action, working behind the scenes to alter key sections.

During Blair's visit to Washington, Bush stuck to calling for voluntary reductions and more study (unedited, we hope, by industry flaks). "We want to know more about it," Bush said of climate change. We do too. But with this administration, extended research on global warming has become an excuse for inexcusable inaction.

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