There are politicians who are flat-out anti-environmental - they just don't buy the argument.
As long as they state their case plainly and honestly, we can at least respect their right to their opinion, however misinformed it may be. Others, however, have taken to deceit, crafting back-room deals that are a negative for the environment but then trying to sell the public on the new regulations by claiming they're an environmental improvement. We think that's a clear form of environmental hypocrisy and can be described as "listen to what I say, but don't watch what I do."
Let's go through a few examples.
In campaign speeches prior to the 2000 election, George W. Bush promised to do something about global warming if elected president. The insincerity of the promise was made clear shortly after he took office when he reneged on his pledge, claiming that joining the Kyoto protocol would hurt the US economy. In reality, doing something about global warming would hurt only some industries - notably Big Energy and Big Auto, both heavy contributors to the Bush campaign. Overall, delaying action on global warming will cost us far more in the long run. Making a promise to do something about global warming without any intention of keeping the promise it was a form of environmental hypocrisy.
Related to the global warming story is the administration's 2003 introduction of The Clear Skies Act, a piece of legislation designed to roll back the regulations associated with the Clean Air Act and help the electric power industry avoid fines and future costs associated with improving pollution controls on old, dirty power plants. Had the administration tried to justify their plan on the basis of our air being "too clean" and US energy companies being "too poor" - and, thus, air-quality regulations needed easing - they wouldn't have gotten very far in the public forum.
So, instead, they crafted a greenwashed program name - "The Clear Skies Act" - and tried to use the name as a euphemistic shield against public disapproval of their actions. Further, the administration told the public their plan would improve air quality in the future, which was true, but they conveniently left out the fact that their plan would improve air quality LESS than would the existing provisions of the Clean Air Act. In fact, while the Bush administration have been saying that they're doing what's necessary on climate change, they have pursued policies that have actually caused higher emissions of greenhouse gases in the US.
Further, they have done everything in their power to downplay the overwhelming scientific evidence that says clearly that we know global warming is a problem, we know we're the main cause, and we know that action needs to be taken sooner rather than later. They have even gone so far as to edit scientific documents in a way that unfairly changes scientists' opinions to be more in line with the administration's political views.
Vice President Cheney and others have used similarly dishonest rhetoric when supporting more drilling in the United States as opposed to conservation measures like increasing vehicle fuel economy. It's a geological impossibility that the US can find enough new domestic oil reserves to meet its ever-increasing thirst for vehicle fuel and other petroleum products.
Increasing the fuel efficiency of vehicles can, however, go a long way to solving the problem. For instance, raising the fuel efficiency of all US vehicles by 3 miles per gallon would save as much oil as could be pumped out of the pristine, much-contested Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. Cheney knows this, but he is an oil man, and there is no additional money to be made by the oil industry by having the public burn less of its product. So, he derides conservation as being inappropriate as a core part of a sensible energy strategy and instead promotes approaches that he knows can't succeed at anything other than making his energy-industry pals even richer.
Given the approaching peak oil crisis, we think that's a very dangerous instance of environmental hypocrisy. We admit that politicians justifying positions on environment or energy issues with arguments that reflect neither reality nor the politicians' real opinions is not an unusual tactic, but this article series is about exposing environmental hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle.
Those who govern must often take scientific results into account when making decisions. The appropriate way to do this is to...
1) let the scientists do their work and publish their reports.
2) read the reports and digest the facts; and then
3) determine an appropriate public policy based on the science and other, non-science factors.
If those in charge decide that non-scientific factors outweigh the facts of the science, they can say so when they announce their policy. Unfortunately, these days there is a dramatic trend toward suppression and alteration of science. Rather than saying they're overriding the science by making a political decision based on other factors, right-wing political appointees in the various federal agencies have manipulated the scientific process itself by inappropriately editing scientific language and results, with the end goal of intentionally making the science look like it supports their political position, even though it doesn't.
It would be easy for these folks to avoid such environmental hypocrisy - they just have to quit messing with the science and frame their arguments honestly, politically. But they know they will be less successful selling their ideas to the public if their policies are constantly being contradicted by scientific facts, so don't look for them to abandon this practice anytime soon.
James Nash is a climate scientist with Greatest Planet (www.greatestplanet.org). Greatest Planet is a non-profit environmental organization specialising in carbon offset investments.
James Nash is solely responsible for the contents of this article.