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Political Hot Air and Global Warming

Forget the World Cup soccer matches. If you really want some good sporting entertainment try tuning into the global warming scrum going on between the White House and its Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Late last week the EPA joined the common sense club by issuing a report to the United Nation’s acknowledging that global warming was, indeed, a reality and a problem. That position, believe it or not, is out of step with the Bush White House, which has been chirping the corporate tune that global warming is a mere fantasy cooked up by starry-eyed greens.

So when the Bush brass saw the damage this new report was doing to their relationship with its coveted right wing, they sent Bush himself out to deliver one of his snide comments and a smirk to boot.

“I read the report put out by the bureaucracy,” Bush declared — with extra emphasis on “bureaucracy” — to reporters yesterday in an overly staged little exchange. Then he gave his customary smirk, all but rolled his eyes, and effectively cut the legs out from under the EPA’s report.

The right wing cheered. The Wall Street Journal, in fact, leads its editorial page with a bruising attack on EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman for what it calls another attempt to “sandbag her boss again.” To read how the Journal depicts Whitman you’d think she was Rachel Carson, not a conservative who’s towed the line on the Bush administration’s peripatetic attempts to dismantle the nation’s environmental laws.

“Whether it was sloppy language, a runaway EPA, or truly a change in position,” opines the Journal, “you’d think the Administration would know better than to hand the green lobby such an easy target.”

Don’t worry, fellas, the “green lobby” has plenty of targets. This is about the reality of the single biggest environmental problem plaguing the world. In fact, while the Journal editorial writers were busy hacking away at Whitman’s EPA for merely hinting at the existence of global warming, the Japanese government announced that it was signing on to the Kyoto Protocols.

After months of debate and intense lobbying by Japan’s largest polluting corporations, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made this level-headed statement in support of international action on global warming: “In order to ensure the effectiveness of measures against global warming, it is essential that all countries make efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Kiozumi also pledged to lobby the U.S., the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases and, currently, the staunchest opponent of meaningful solutions to the problem. Bush, for example, still advocates “voluntary” emissions reductions for corporations.

The Bush administration’s spokesman, Ari Fleischer, gave the Japanese and the rest of the world a sobering reminder of just how difficult it would be to convince them to do anything on this issue. Fleischer fell back on the administration’s standard rhetoric on the issue by declaring that “there is considerable uncertainty” with regards to global warming. While considerable uncertainty may be the case within the White House, the rest of the world has long since come to grips with problem.

The more cynical among us may believe that Bush was just trying to have it both ways with global warming. First, his administration would release the EPA report acknowledging its existence, thus giving greens something to cheer about and at least momentarily quell the growing distaste for Bush abroad. Then, the administration would flip the right wing a bone by sending their main man out to throw water all over the cheering greens.

If that was the plan, it was a clumsy plan since Bush has now managed to alienate both side of the debate. The more likely scenario is that, like the intelligence snafus surrounding 9/11, the right hand of the Bush team didn’t know what the left hand was up to. Not exactly the buttoned-down business style Bush promised to bring to the White House.

The New York Times reported that Rush Limbaugh, the right wing’s looniest and loudest mouth, spent considerable time on the Bush team’s handling of the global warming issue during his show on Tuesday. Limbaugh sided with the cynical theory and believed the Bush White House concocted the whole affair to steal some green thunder from the Democrats.

“All of this takes Al Gore’s No. 1 issue away from him,” Limbaugh told his ditto-head audience. Limbaugh also told his listeners that he thought the presidential wannabe Democrats were “banging their heads against the wall” because Bush stole an issue from them.

Other conservatives didn’t see it the Limbaugh way. Christopher Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute told the Times that he thought Bush’s team realized they were caught in a jam after the release of the report and had to do something to correct the incongruities.

“It was obvious to him that it’s not tenable to say yes, we’re aggressively killing the planet and then not do something aggressive about it,” Horner told the Times. “Our fear was that he would have to take severe action.”

And what a fear that must have been.

Michael Colby is the editor of Wild Matters. He can be reached at mcolby@wildmatters.org.