Reactions speak louder than Bush climate speech

[Another post by Ken Levenson.]

UPDATE: Links should be fixed — very weird glitch!

If you’ve recovered from your hangover you may recall that the President made a “major” speech on global warming last week. While it was frighteningly predictable in content or lack thereof, some of the reactions were eye opening. Let’s start with

The Bush Administration itself: Because if anyone can understand what the President is saying, they can:

Bush’s chief adviser on climate change, Jim Connaughton, defended the U.S. position. “It was a speech directed at domestic audiences,” he said of the president’s address. Bush’s aides said it was aimed at heading off a “train wreck” of varying emissions legislation in the U.S. Congress.

For a domestic audience? While the Paris conference he set up is underway? The Administration cares even less about international opinion than they do that of Americans. Perhaps obvious but you’d think with American’s approval at below 30% he’d try to find refuge somewhere other than the Saudi Royal Family.

And what’s this about heading off a legislative train wreck? Of course there is the Lieberman-Warner Bill – named for the well known lefties John Warner Republican of Virginia and Joseph Lieberman Independent of Connecticut – seeking more than a 50% cut in US GHG emissions by 2050. Is there another climate/energy bill seriously contending for passage? Where’s the potential train wreck? Oh, right Bush doesn’t want ANY meaningful legislation. Another Bush alternate reality foisted upon us. A potential “first step” transfigured into train wreck (read temper tantrum)- these guys have no shame. Because if you don’t take a first step there can be no second step … brilliant.

New York Times Hydra starting with the Editorial Page: Nada. Really, for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 days. Then on the 6th day, Earth Day, the editorial page weighed in, concluding:

It is hard to find anything redeeming in this speech, though it contains two obvious truths: This president has no intention of addressing climate change. The next president will have no choice but to do better.

We waited six days for this? “DO BETTER.”!? “Do better” is a suicide pact. I wonder if anyone’s told them the planet’s on fire? Andrew, when you’re done blogging on the plankton please yell upstairs to the editorial desk – would ya? If they don’t know what the heck is going on maybe it’s not surprising the public isn’t so informed either.

Dot Earth: The [Annotated] Climate Speech was a nice approach with the blog form using reader posted comments for the annotations. But is it me or is Dot Earth feeling a bit like a climate change ghetto within The Times? Andrew Revkin produces a good number of posts on the subject, allowing, it seems to me, for the paper to rightly claim it is covering the subject in abundance while putting very little in the actual paper or in the A section where the public will read it in the context of its importance. I’d wager that the paper’s coverage of global warming sucks is inadequate* because of the success of Dot Earth. Ironic, No?**

Then there is Gail Collins: Bless her. While the editors can’t seem to find their own footprints and Andrew Revkin seems unable to articulate a strong opinion on key climate issues to his loyal blog devotees, Gail, as she does so often, speaks out in nearly*** perfect pitch.

Let us forget, for a second, that this is a man who’s only going to be in office for nine months of the 17 years in question. Furthermore, let us skip lightly over the fact that Bush did not give any hints whatsoever as to how this goal is supposed to be reached except to say that “the wrong way is to raise taxes, duplicate mandates or demand sudden and drastic emissions cuts.”

Since the president never suggests actual behavior changes on the part of American citizens, that leaves us with what? More efficient refrigerators?

Mr. Sulzberger, I understand there is much hand wringing going on now about how to keep the paper relevant My suggestion: Let Gail Collins run it.

Germany: Called it a Neanderthal speech. Another fine example of German technical precision.

China: Su Wei, China’s point main on climate change speaks for China.

Chinese participant Su Wei said it was good news that Bush was talking about emissions at all. But he added, “to take measures to slow down the increase in emissions is not enough.”

Mr. Su’s statement is the equivalent of a great power diplomatic scolding. If the Chinese aren’t seriously interested in tackling climate change they would have kept quiet, wouldn’t they? Of course the motives are complex and the path never a straight line, but to me, for Mr. Su to speak out like that, is a small yet clear indication that China is getting ready to step up to the plate, and are frustrated that Bush (the requisite lead hitter) keeps stepping out of the batter’s box. China’s leaders are rational (if despotic) and they understand our window of opportunity is fast closing.

Union of Concerned Scientists: Another moment of clarity.

“President Bush has stayed on the sidelines for the last seven years, and now he’s making one last desperate attempt to change the rules of the game. The Senate is poised to vote on legislation requiring a significant economy-wide reduction of U.S. global warming emissions by 2020. Meanwhile, other industrialized countries are moving forward with negotiations over deeper mandatory emissions cuts under the Kyoto Protocol. Instead of working with Congress and the international community, the president is trying to derail their efforts.

“The best science indicates that to avoid the worst consequences of global warming, we need to cut our emissions by at least 80 percent by mid-century. Unless the president is prepared to support binding emissions reductions of 15 to 20 percent by 2020 to get us on that path, he should do us all a favor and step aside.”

But America must lead. (Or perhaps Ireland.) It’s going to be a very long nine months.

* If we look at the paper itself, sans Dot Earth (sometimes even with Dot Earth unfortunately), compared to the Washington Post‘s coverage, The Times coverage sucks is underwhelming. And I’ll be the first to claim that the Post‘s coverage isn’t what this existential global threat deserves. But, to name a few examples: from commentary in December on Hansen’s 350 to the escalating Antarctic melting to Juliet Eilperin’s coverage of Bush’s speech and their editorial on it – it seems like The Post has global warming prioritized several slots above The Times. So as global warming becomes “the issue” for even the comatose, may I suggest an up-tick in your coverage NY Times? Otherwise you might just be forfeiting the Pulitzers next year.

** To add insult to injury the “Earth day issue” of the NYT Magazine is a goddamn “catalog” about global warming — fetishizing and commodifying every conceivable aspect of the crisis.

*** David Roberts points out that Collins misconstrued the specifics of Bush’s original goal – while not distracting from the basic accuracy of he rargument.

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11 Responses to Reactions speak louder than Bush climate speech

  1. Ken Levenson says:

    Given my harshness toward The Times and the fact that they have an A1 article today, may I preemptively say: Yes, I’m very glad to see A1 coverage of climate change – obviously Earth Day can even shake the nonchalant editors to attention. No I don’t think we need to see it on A1 everyday. What kind of coverage from the NY Times would make even me happy?


    1. They should shift “the frame” of coverage from a crisis for the environment to a crisis for global humanity.
    2. The Times should bring a sense of purpose similar to what the paper did post 9/11. After all, we are at war with nature now. Our civilization’s future is threatened now.
    3. There should be several pages everyday, highlighted like “The War on Terror” or the “Iraq War” pages – in the International Section, called “Earth Climate Crisis” or some such thing.
    4. There should be articles covering the science, the business, the politics, the personalities and on and on – everyday. There is more than enough happening to fill the pages – (but you wouldn’t know it unless it happens to be Earth Day).

    To me, that would be a public service worthy of “The Trust”.

  2. Tom says:

    I have this line of thought I just can’t shake.
    George W and his oil buddies are well aware of the validity of AGW, but actually think it is a good thing. Of course they can’t admit this to the public.
    AGW will effectively remove all that pesky ice in the Arctic Ocean that currently hampers the drilling for oil and gas.
    All that hidden oil wealth in the Arctic will solve all the economic problems of the US for years to come. Oil solves all problems don’t ya know…
    All that other ice in Greenland and the Anarctic will take at least 100 years to show any “real” signs of melting and by that time “new tech” will replace oil and if all the refineries on the coasts are flooded, so what…
    All the other problems associated with AGW are merely minor problems easily solved…”Adaptabilty” being the key.
    Corporate mindset…..the end justifies the means.

  3. Earl Killian says:

    Ken, I for one would not want the NYT to lower its journalistic standards to the level “similar to what the paper did post 9/11” (e.g. its horrible WMD find of the week to justify the attack upon Iraq). The truth in the current climate crisis is bad enough; we don’t need to go inventing hobgoblins to make things appear even worse than they are.

  4. Ken Levenson says:


    I agree whole heartedly regarding Iraq and that whole dynamic – luckily Judith Miller no longer works at The Times.

    I don’t think they should lower standards – maybe raise them though. Sometimes it seems to me, they confuse indifference and objectivity.

    (I think Jim Hansen has proven, thus far, that the line can be walked.)

  5. Tom, I´m curious, has anyone seriously suggested a drilling ban in the arctic? Or even more radical: some kind of global reduction in oil and coal production? Do all solutions need to depend on reduced DEMAND? Would not regulating PRODUCTION automatically cap emissions? Just a thought at the end of a Swedish day.

  6. Earl Killian says:

    John Liungman, Ken Levenson did an excellent post a short time back proposing a Coal Non-Proliferation Treaty. Give it a read.

  7. Robert says:

    John Liungman, I have suggested your approach repeatedly on this blog. I have also been ignored repeatedly. I just don’t think Joe et al get it. A couple of months ago there was a very good piece on The Oil Drum suggesting that the only real way to limit CO2 emissions was for the major coal producing countries to agree to limit and then progressively reduce production, coal being a far bigger potential problem than all the oil and gas combined.

    The human race is doing what any species does when it can – increasing its draw on resources and growing its population within the limits of a temporarily inflated carrying capacity. If all we do is live more efficiently then our drive to increase carrying capacity (by mining fossil fuels at ever greater rates) will continue regardless. Not only will climate change continue to worsen but the hangover when fossil fuels inevitably deplete will be horrendous. Hard as it sounds, the world needs to take active steps to reduce the artificial and temporary increases in carrying capacity accruing from burning fossil fuel.

  8. ronald says:

    There is maybe something from this speech. does it have any influence at all from the denier crowd. anything?

  9. Thanks, Earl! I´m obviously not keeping up to date with the vigorous rate of writing going on in this blog… A good piece though! Like others, I´m awaiting Joe´s response.

  10. Jay Alt says:

    This editorial by Gail Collins in the NYTs provides clues to the president’s proposals –

    The Fat Bush Theory –

  11. Ken Levenson says:

    Interesting little article just out, that I dare say, may confirm my suspicions over China’s reaction:

    Not a major breakthrough but they seem ready to play ball. We can use all the little nudges we can get right now to just get the fight off the ground.