The Bush legacy will be driven by global warming concludes Kurt Campbell chief executive of the Center for a New American Security. Climate Progress has made a similar point, and I have my own column on how history will view Bush here.
Campbell has written an article on “The Inheritance on Climate,” in the New York Times blog. Campbell served in the Pentagon in the Clinton administration, in charge of Asia/Pacific issues. He also has a chapter in the same Center for New American Security and CSIS book as Pete Ogden and John Podesta.
Yet to my mind, the inheritance that in retrospect will carry with it the greatest regret and misgivings will be the lack of leadership of the United States over the last seven years on the issue of climate change. President Bush recently convened a summit of sorts among some sympathetic leaders and titans of industry on the matter of climate change to make clear that he now accepts climate change as an “issue of concern.” This effort was in many ways an alternative forum designed to avoid the likely public dunning the United States president would have been subjected to by the global community if he had instead chosen to participate in the concurrent United Nations effort on the same subject.
Still, the president found himself increasingly isolated from both the business community and some like minded politicians. Conservative leaders the world over from the Prime Minister of Australia to the Shadow Tory leader in Britain have come to appreciate the salience of the climate change issue in both national and global politics. Yet the Bush administration has steadfastly and stubbornly refused to regard climate change as a potentially globe-changing phenomena largely triggered by human induced carbon loading into the atmosphere — despite mountains of scientific data that would strongly suggest otherwise.
More recently, the president has instead referred to “our addiction to oil” and acknowledged that human activity has “probably” played a role in some climate dynamics, but he and his government have stopped short of any serious national level efforts to reduce carbon emissions beyond voluntary, non-binding steps. Indeed, his public statements suggesting a dawning of recognition about the potential threat of climate change have been largely rhetorical.
In fact, Bush administration officials stationed throughout the massive federal apparatus are vigilantly on guard for any scientific finding, expert report or climate analysis that would suggest climate change might already be having a negative effect on our weather or security today. Witness the most recent efforts of the Bush team to redact over half of a public report by the Surgeon General’s office about the likely negative health effects posed by climate change — including the likelihood of threats posed by an increase of uncontrolled wild fires very much akin those currently burning in California.
Meanwhile, there are literally thousands of spontaneous efforts across America aimed at reducing carbon footprints at the state and local level, among progressive business and finance groups, and on university campuses. The people are beginning to mobilize while Rome burns (oil and petroleum), literally. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to former Vice President Al Gore was taken by the administration as a clear snub and insult, and it has probably just caused the Bush team to stubbornly resist taking action all the more. So while the competition is intense and bad news from Iraq and Iran jockey for position among the pantheon of inherited horrors for a likely succession of future presidents to deal with, my money rides on our failure as a nation to take seriously the awful realities of climate change as the one issue that will in retrospect carry with it the most sorrow and regret from the Bush era.
Especially if we don’t stop catastrophic global warming — then the misery we have brought future generations will be a much graver concern to historians than issues like Iraq.