Despite a flurry of media reports to the contrary, the Bush administration’s policy on climate change has not flip-flopped. The media frenzy followed the release of a U.S. Climate Assessment Report prepared for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The massive report, the third submitted by the U.S., is required periodically from nations that ratified the Convention on Climate Change, even though the U.S. has withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol. There is very little difference between this report and previous reports issued by the Clinton-Gore administration.
Most of the individuals who prepared the report are holdovers from the Clinton-Gore era, who are known proponents of the global-warming theory. It is also widely known that some of Bush’s high-level appointments are also proponents of the theory, even though Bush, himself, has expressed strong reservations. Release of the report was not intended to be an announcement of a change in policy – it was simply compliance with treaty requirements.
It was the media, fanned by a few environmental extremists, that found statements in the report that differ from Bush’s previous statements on global warming, and announced a 180-degree flip-flop on the issue.
Whether the inconsistent language in the report simply escaped the notice of White House reviewers or was deliberately allowed, is, or should be, a major concern to George Bush. The flap arising from the report’s release has been costly.
Conservative supporters are appalled by reports that Bush has flip-flopped on this important issue. Environmental extremists ridicule the administration for not imposing mandatory emissions reductions required by the Kyoto Protocol, after issuing a report that subscribes to the theory that human activity is causing global warming.
Yes, President Bush is preoccupied by a war on terrorism, continuing violence in Israel and the threat of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan. But someone in his administration should have a better handle on the information released to the world in the president’s name.
The draft report was released more than a year ago for public comment. There was plenty of comment. The report’s dire predictions were lambasted by scientists and by others who challenged the scientific basis for the report’s conclusions.
The release of this report does not signal a dramatic change in the president’s global-warming policy. It does, however, reveal an unacceptable failure by the president’s advisers, who allowed the report to contain language that is inconsistent with the president’s position and policy.
The president is walking on an extremely thin political high-wire on all environmental issues. On one hand, environmental extremists charge that he is trying to roll back the “gains” made during the Clinton-Gore administration. On the other hand, his conservative base charges that he has not moved decisively to undo the excessive restrictions imposed by his predecessors.
Public policies designed to appease everyone satisfy no one. Bush’s global warming policy, as ill-defined as it may be, rejects the unfounded, hyperbolic claims of catastrophic climate calamity. His policy recognizes that the climate is changing, as it has done throughout the history of the world. His policy favors voluntary action and adaptive, free-market alternatives, instead of reactionary global-government mandates.
This policy is expressed in the U.S. Climate Assessment Report to the U.N., but media coverage has ignored, or minimized, this position in order to exploit the inconsistent language which suggests a policy flip-flop. Mr. Bush must realize that there are holdovers in his government who do not agree with his environmental policy, and some who are eager to see him replaced by a more environmentally-sensitive Democrat.
The American people, and the international community, deserve a statement of policy on climate change and environmental issues that is as clear as the Bush position on the International Criminal Court, global taxation or international terrorism.
Bush’s popularity arises from the character on which his policy positions are founded and the clarity with which they are expressed. Confusion on climate change, land and resource use or any other social or environmental issues will only empower his opponents and discourage his supporters.
What America – and the world – needs is strong leadership, unaffected by media hype or extremists’ propaganda. We have seen glimpses of that leadership, but screw-ups, such as the release of the Climate Report, not only tarnish the president’s image but also create doubt and suspicions about his ability to control the people around him.
Mr. Bush, please fix this problem!