‘Bush Will Go Down In History As Possibly A Person Who Has Doomed The Planet’ — Or Has Obama’s Inaction Saved W?

So, Very Serious People are re-evaluating George W. Bush on the occasion of the opening of his Presidential Library.

For instance, did you know that “George W. Bush is smarter than you.” Well, that only proves you aren’t as smart as you think!

Still, Bush merits re-examination on the climate issue, at least if we are grading on a curve. In the light of Obama’s failure to pass a domestic climate bill or negotiate an international climate treaty, maybe people have been too harsh on Bush.

In December 2008, for instance, I wrote a post with the headline quote, “Bush will go down in history as possibly a person who has doomed the planet.” That judgment came from “Saleem Huq, a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report on adaptation,” in a 2008 Greenwire (subs. req’d) article on Bush’s legacy.

My piece opened:

Some people just don’t think President Bush has done a terribly good job on climate change.

But just because he single-handedly stopped any international action on climate and reneged on his 2000 campaign pledge to regulate CO2 and stopped California from regulating tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions and muzzled climate scientists and forced Congress to drop almost all non-oil-related provisions to cut GHGs from the 2007 energy bill — that’s no reason to think the FHA (Future Historians of America), having previously named Bush the Worst President in American History will award him one of their rare Worst Leaders of All Time Awards, alongside such notables as Neville Chamberlain and Nero.

Okay, that was harsh. But then, most people who rate Bush almost as harshly — say, “A historically bad president, honestly, in terms of damage done to the country and the world and even in terms of even achieving his own goals and the goals of his party and ideological movement” — don’t even bring up climate change, what with torture, failure to stop 9/11, Katrina, Iraq reconstruction, and that whole economic collapse thing.


So it’s safe to say Bush doesn’t have a shot at Mount Rushmore. That said, back in December 2008, the assessment of his record on global warming was of this sort:

“A blank page,” Stephanie Tunmore of Greenpeace said. “That’s the charitable view. If I were him, I’d be very ashamed to admit to all the negative things that he’s done and the positions he’s taken — which has meant that, since Kyoto, this process has not moved forward very far at all.”

Artur Runge-Metzger, head of a climate change division at the European Commission, tried to be diplomatic. “They have delayed the process for a long time,” he said.

And Keya Chatterjee, deputy director of the U.S. climate program at the World Wildlife Fund, faulted Bush for spending two terms fighting mandatory curbs on domestic greenhouse gas emissions while censoring scientific evidence linking man-made emissions to global warming.

The last eight years have been pretty difficult for the science community at large, but particularly the climate science community, who have felt largely ignored,” she said. “It’ll be a real relief for people to feel like they’ve been listened to.”

Sound familiar?

It’s not like Obama moved the international process forward in a meaningful fashion. And domestically, well, we have no climate bill (or have a chance of one for the foreseeable future), and, as we reported, team Obama launched the inane strategy of downplaying climate change back inn March 2009. The entire climate community still feels largely ignored — see, for instance, the 2011 post by Robert Brulle, who argued, “By failing to even rhetorically address climate change, Obama is mortgaging our future and further delaying the necessary work to build a political consensus for real action.”


No, I’m not saying Obama is anywhere near as bad as George W. Bush. Nor am I even saying Obama deserves very much blame for the climate inaction of the past few years (which mostly should go to the anti-science, pro-pollution ideologues as well as the fossil fuel companies, the feckless media and so on).

I’m just saying future historians, indeed future generations, won’t be grading any of us on a curve because the climate doesn’t care if we meant well but failed. As I wrote on the eve of Obama’s reelection victory:

Obama’s legacy — and indeed the legacy of all 21st century presidents, starting with George W. Bush — will be determined primarily by whether we avert catastrophic climate change.

If we don’t, then Obama — indeed, all of us — will be seen as failures, and rightfully so. As a new PricewaterhouseCoopers report makes clear, anything other than aggressive efforts to slash carbon pollution starting ASAP likely means 7°F to 11°F warming globally. That would cause substantially higher warming over most of the U.S. and leave much of the “breakbasket of the world” in Dust Bowl conditions much worse than this nation has ever known (see “We’re Already Topping Dust Bowl Temperatures — Imagine What’ll Happen If We Fail To Stop 10°F Warming“).

Bottom Line: Bush is not the only one who “will go down in history as possibly a person who has doomed the planet.” If current trends continue much longer, he’s going to have a lot of company.