Back in the fall of 2000, while running for President against an environmentalist, George Bush’s campaign promised to establish mandatory reductions on power plant emissions of greenhouse gasses, including carbon dioxide, which contribute to global warming.
In 2001, over the strenuous objections of EPA director Christine Whitman and Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, and under pressure from the coal industry, the plan was sabotaged, probably by Dick Cheney (as documented in O’Neill’s tell-all book).
Nonetheless, high energy prices and alarming indications that global warming is pushing the planet’s climate to a perilous "tipping point" have spurred many Bush supporters and moderates to call on the President to act now to change our energy policy and reduce carbon emissions.
Thomas Friedman, whose NYTimes column is said to be taken seriously within the administration, on Friday called on Bush to announce a new energy policy in tonight’s State of the Union Address. He wrote (behind a firewall) a mock speech for Bush that began with a historic challenge:
President Kennedy was
worried about the threat that communism posed to our way of life. I am here to
tell you that if we don’t move away from our dependence on oil and shift to
renewable fuels, it will change our way of life for the worse — and soon —
much, much more than communism ever could have. Making this transition is the
calling of our era.
Why? First, we are in a war with a violent strain of Middle East Islam that
is indirectly financed by our consumption of oil. Second, with millions of
Indians and Chinese buying cars and homes as they join the great global middle
class, we must quickly move away from burning fossil fuels or we’re going to
create enough global warming to melt the North Pole. Because of that, green
cars, homes, offices, appliances, designs and renewable energies will be the
biggest growth industry of the 21st century. If we don’t dominate that industry,
China, India, Japan or Europe surely will.
Friedman added a threat: If Bush fails to act on the issue, "you can stick a fork in this administration."
Irwin Seltzer, a conservative economist who writes an insightful column for the "Weekly Standard," and who has advocated a tax on carbon, reveals that the administration is being lobbied (believe it or don’t) by an insider group that wants a tax on gasoline:
A third group of policy makers, which includes the former president of Resources for the Future, (and now dean of the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona), the widely respected Paul Portney, wants the president to announce that "the gas tax will be going up steadily for the foreseeable future to stimulate investment in all kinds of technologies without anointing any particular ones." The proceeds can be used to lower the tax on wages. The president may buy into a version of that proposal, asking Congress to set a tax on oil imports that cuts in only if crude oil prices fall below $35 per barrel.
Bush himself indicated that he will talk about changes in energy policy, in an interview with Bob Schieffer of CBS News.
"We have got to wean ourselves off hydrocarbons, oil. And the best way, in my judgment, to do it is to promote and actively advance new technologies."
Being naive and overly sincere (an occupational hazard among enviros) I read this and became a little excited. After all, polls consistently say that the public believes global warming is real and a threat; according to a poll taken last July, 73% of Americans believe that this country should join the Kyoto Protocol, and according to an ABC News poll published this weekend, over one-quarter of the public believes that global warming is the most serious issue facing this country today.
So I conducted a little poll of my own. Having minimal resources, it’s just one question long, and I sent it to a few dozen people I know have an interest in the issue (or at least, an interest in politics). Not everyone replied, of course, but the results are still interesting….and entertaining, actually. Lotta smart people in this world. Below the virtual fold are the responses to the question:
In his upcoming State of the Union address, will President Bush mention global warming in any way, shape, or form?
Roger Pielke, Jr., a political moderate who leads the Prometheus science policy site, a hotbed of discussion for global warming wonks, predicts that:
I’d bet heavily on energy policy, technology development, being in the
I’d be less confident that global warming would be mentioned, but general
"environment" may very well be.
Judith Lewis, the energetic and open-minded environmental reporter for the LAWeekly (and the nice person who sent me the Friedman column) predicted:
I say yes, he has to, but he won’t acknowledge that it’s anthropogenic.
Forrest Fleischmann, from the blunt and useful Forest News, said:
I doubt Bush will directly address global warming, however it does seem to be the elephant in the room that everyone knows needs to be dealt with. The war in Iraq, the hurricanes, energy independence – all of these are global warming issues.
At that site people are bidding on the question:
Will the phrase "global warming" appear in a State of the Union speech by 2008?
When the question was posted in early 2004, the mass prediction was nearly 80%; recently it’s declined to about 60%. When I wondered who these people making these bets/predictions were, Annan replied that "The players are a weird mix of futurologists, technology freaks
and me(!) so it’s not clear that their opinions are a representative
sample of the real world…but its history shows that most of its
predictions are not completely silly."
John Whitehead, a professor who co-edits the highly educational Environmental Economics site, responded:
My guess is that he won’t mention it.
Steve Benen, a journalist and former Clintonian, who runs the political insightful Carpetbagger Report, said:
I’d say there’s practically zero chance that Bush will mention global warming on Tuesday, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he made reference to the environment and the need for alternative energy sources. The president isn’t nearly bold enough to connect emissions with climate change, but I suspect his pollster encouraged him to give at least a little lip-service to the environment. It does well with soccer moms, and he’ll just go back to ignoring the issue once the speech is over.
Some of my favorite respondents thought outside the box, including Bill Patzert, a leading climatologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, who said:
I had a dream last night that I tuned into the President’s "State of the Union Address" and it went something like this: "My fellow Americans, the results from a Presidential Commission headed by Vice-President Cheney has determined that our continuing record breaking global temperatures are the result of human produced carbon emissions and the United States is the biggest culprit. Consequently, I will send to the Congress legislation that will reduce U.S. carbon emissions, with an emphasis on "car," by 50% over the next 10 years. Personally, I am trashing my gas guzzling pickup and buying a Prius for the ranch. Vice President Cheney has volunteered to be a champion of public transportation and will ride a bus to work every day. Finally, the White House will be fitted with a state-of-the-art solar power array. I encourage each and every American to follow our lead. Let’s all think more and use less energy. Good night, thank you and God Bless America and all the scientists."
Lance Mannion, who puts out a wonderfully unpredictable blog, responded:
Nope. Can’t imagine him bringing it up even to
dismiss the idea. It would be about as useful to him
as bringing up Jack Abramoff’s name.
David Roberts, who posts on the irreverent environmental Gristmill site from Seattle, responded to the poll question with hysterical laughter, and then calmed down enough to add:
He won’t talk about global warming. He’ll talk about the danger of "foreign oil," and he’ll use the opportunity to push for nuclear power and nebulous hydrogen research.
Dude is nothing if not predictable.
Along the same lines, Kevin Drum, who runs the level-headed and huge Political Animal, wondered:
Sounds like a trick question. The answer is no, isn’t it? Is there any reason to think otherwise?
Sadly, he’s almost certainly right. When asked what she expected from the State of the Union address, Arianna Huffington said on last Friday’s Left, Right, and Center:
I expect nothing. And I don’t think I will be disappointed.
So folks, there you have it. As I read this poll, it’s unanimous: Bush will not mention global warming in any way, shape, or form.