You’ve thrown the worst fear… that can ever be hurled… afraid to bring children… into the world… and for threatening my baby… unborn and unnamed… you ain’t worth the blood that runs in your veins… Let me ask you one question… is your money that good… will it buy you forgiveness… do you think that it could?… I think you will find… when your death takes its toll… all the money you made will never buy back your soul… — Bob Dylan, “Masters of War”
In May 2007, the White House published a photograph of Lynne and Dick Cheney proudly introducing their sixth grandchild to the world. The question is: When Samuel David Cheney grows up, how proud will he be of his grandfather?
A year later, the White House published photos of President George W. Bush with his daughter, Jenna, at her wedding – the first of the Bush twins to take a husband. The question is: When they come of age, what will Jenna’s yet-unborn children think of their grandfather?
It is almost certain that the world of Cheney’s and Bush’s grandchildren will be a far different place than the world we enjoy today. The experts tell us it will be a world of violent weather, more disease, less biodiversity, more suffering, and greater instability in many of the world’s most volatile regions.
A climate that’s less hospitable for our children and grandchildren will be great for terrorists, who will capitalize on misery to recruit more suicide soldiers by blaming the Great Satan and lesser infidels for the selfish, carbon-intensive materialism that will have wrought so much suffering.
The history books that inform the Cheney and Bush grandkids aren’t likely to place all blame on their grandfathers. Greenhouse gas emissions are the atmospheric effluvia of generations of consumers who participated in the industrial revolution. Many captains of industry and world leaders, including a long line of American presidents, could have rallied their publics to solve the problem.
But in the rogue’s gallery of climate villains, none will rank as high as George Bush and Dick Cheney. Never had the science been so certain and the evidence so apparent, and never had the urgency been so great. Yet both deliberately used the power of their offices not just to deny climate change, but to willfully, even gleefully, obstruct high-level action in the United States and the international community. They thumbed their noses at the U.S. Supreme Court, the largest panel of scientists ever assembled by the world community, the United Nations, corporations that asked for federal regulation of carbon to standardize a patchwork of approaches emerging among the states.
From the moment Cheney first closed his door to plot energy policy in secret with the captains of the fossil industries, he played puppet-master in suppressing climate science and subverting any meaningful effort to slow greenhouse gas emissions. He became obsessed with secrecy, presumably because he wanted know historic record of how he allowed greed to trump the well-being of his grandchildren and profit to take precedence over posterity.
George Bush, faced with the opportunity to become a planetary hero, chose to be not the decider, but the pretender. With empty little phrases over the years, he kept hope alive that he would finally acknowledge and do something about the problem. But in his last meeting with the leaders of developed nations, his pretending done, he said goodbye by happily calling himself “the world’s biggest polluter”. It was no joke. While Bush was waving goodbye to the opportunity for global leadership, his people in Washington D.C. acknowledged there would be no change, ever, in this Administration’s commitment to inaction.
But with the fog of denial and deceit dissipated, history will tell the Bush and Cheney grandchildren that the eight years of their grandfathers’ Administration were the most critical years of all in the developed world’s destruction of a climate hospitable to civilization. Not only did they deny the problem and stand in the way of solutions; they left the nation with a massive national debt and an intractable war, with the nation’s unity and its economy in shambles, and with an emasculated federal science capability — an array of disabilities that would make it nearly impossible for a President Obama or President McCain to lead the world back from the brink of a ruined planet in the seven short years that leading scientists estimated were all that remained to transform the global carbon economy.
Without Karl Rove and Frank Luntz to mask their policies with Orwellianisms, history will judge Bush and Cheney harshly. So will their progeny, most likely. It’s too late for their redemption.
But it’s not too late for the rest of us, or for the climate. With each passing day of carbon emissions, the solution to climate change becomes more difficult and expensive. But even Jim Hansen says there’s time, just barely, to prevent the worst consequences of global warming.
The question is: What will our grandchildren say about us?
– Bill B.