President George W. Bush once famously declared: "I'm the decider, and I decide what's best." But when it comes to environmental issues, especially global warming, Bush often sounds more like the dissembler than the decider.
Throughout his presidency, Bush's so-called leadership on global climate change has lurched from outright stonewalling in the early years, when he refused to discuss or even acknowledge the issue, to misdirection and political sleight-of-hand.
Speaking recently from the White House Rose Garden to consider new climate change strategies, the president set what he called a "realistic" national goal to stop the growth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
Unfortunately, the president offers no actual plan for achieving the new goal, instead calling on Congress to find some way to make it happen. More to the point, the goal itself falls far short of what many scientists believe must be done to prevent the most catastrophic effects of global warming, which is to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions at least 15-20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, not simply to stop emissions from increasing.
Bush believes that it is possible to protect the environment without hurting the economy, and said any new policies or legislation must strike that balance. Bush thinks advanced technology is the key to solving global warming and recommended incentives that would make it more cost-effective for businesses to adopt new clean-energy technology instead of sticking with old systems that emit more greenhouse gases. Again, he never offered a plan for how to get the job done.
Bush praises his administration for increasing the use of wind and solar power and called for continuing investments in renewable energy and carbon sequestration, but he points to nuclear energy and coal - including so-called "clean coal" - as the keys to America's "energy and economic security."
The president says his administration has provided "billions of dollars for next generation nuclear energy technologies" and "in 2009 alone, the government and the private sector plan to dedicate nearly a billion dollars to clean coal research and development."
Bush criticizes U.S. courts for applying what he considers narrow and outdated laws to a broad issue such as global warming. Specifically, he says "the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act were never meant to regulate global climate." He took a slap at the U.S. Supreme Court decision that the Clean Air Act gives the EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.
The president believes stretching environment laws "beyond their original intent" could force the federal government to act like a local planning and zoning board and to regulate a wide range of small energy users and producers - from schools and stores to hospitals and apartment buildings - which he says would have "crippling effects on our entire economy."
In discussing various vague strategies that might help fight global warming, the president rejects tax increases, tariffs, trade barriers, and regulations that might lead to higher costs for businesses. Instead, Bush recommends creation of an international clean technology fund "that will help finance low-emissions energy projects in the developing world" and called on all nations "to help spark a global clean energy revolution by agreeing immediately to eliminate trade barriers on clean energy goods and services."
Many concerned observers are unimpressed with the president's new strategy to address the problems of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.
"Unfortunately, President Bush retains the mantle of the most anti-environmental president in history," stated Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, in a telephone interview with The Guardian. Karpinski pointed out that Bush's 2000 presidential campaign promise to cap global warming pollution from power plants was never honored. "Since that time, all we've had is empty words but no serious action."
"This basically sounds like the same quarterback calling the same play," said Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, in an interview with the Washington Post. "It's just another way of Bush saying no."
President Bush believes that the strategy he has laid out shows faith in the ingenuity and enterprise of the American people - and that's a resource that will never run out. He is confident that with sensible and balanced policies from Washington, American innovators and entrepreneurs will pioneer a new generation of technology that improves our environment, strengthens our economy, and continues to amaze the world.
Let's hope so, because the only amazing thing about the president's strategy for greenhouse gas emissions and global warming is its lack of any real effort to address such serious problems.
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.