TCS Daily

Mutiny Is Her Bounty

By Nick Schulz - June 7, 2002 12:00 AM

Scenario 1: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, unveiling his Department's "Quadrennial Defense Review" in Brussels at a meeting of the NATO alliance, told America's European allies that the threat the United States faces from Russian ballistic missiles is enormous and that pursuing a national missile defense is likely to spark an arms race. The implications of the report are that the U.S. would be unwise to withdraw unilaterally from the ABM treaty and that pursuing a missile defense shield is inherently dangerous.

Scenario 2: Education Secretary Rodney Paige sent "The Nation's Report Card," his department's assessment of the state of American education, to the convention of the American Federation of Teachers. The assessment insists that the testing of all American schoolchildren will likely diminish the quality of American education by forcing teachers to "teach to the test" instead of concentrating on basic learning. The department's report puts pressure on the White House to reformulate its education strategy as it tries to earn the support of teachers' unions and suburban parents.

Scenario 3: Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels unveiled a draft of the federal budget before the Senate Finance Committee. Daniels outlined the administration's priorities with a report claiming that tax cuts are not a solution to help lift a sluggish economy and that massive increases of capital gains taxes would help jump-start the American economic engine.

The above scenarios have a few things in common. First of all, they all never happened. More importantly, they never would happen since all of those department and agency heads understand that, regardless of what they personally believe, if they ever issued reports that undermine explicit objectives and goals of the president and do damage to his reputation, they would all be on the first plane out of Washington. After all, that's the general rule with political appointees in an administration -- be loyal, work diligently, and don't hurt your boss.

Like all rules, however, there's an exception. And this administration's exception is Christie Whitman, head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Last week Whitman and her agency undermined the president when she released the "Climate Action Report 2002" and sent it to the United Nations.

The report states unambiguously that "greenhouse gases are accumulating in the atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing global mean surface air temperature... to rise." The report includes some caveats about how we need to know a little more about the science and need better scientific models, but is explicit in its indictment of anthropogenic global warming.

The report also states that "higher anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are a consequence of robust economic growth." There you have it: economic growth (and the generation of wealth that comes with it) is directly responsible for warming the planet. With this calculus now grounding the Bush administration's official policies, Whitman's EPA has put the president in an difficult bind.

Only the president (and some commentators) doesn't seem to know that yet: When asked about it, Bush acknowledged that he was aware of the report from "the bureaucracy." Now, this reaction was odd. His dismissal of "the bureaucracy" -- as if it was the U.N. Environmental Programme or the European Commission for the Environment and not his own EPA -- demonstrated that Bush is either not paying attention to what's going on in his administration or, to the extent that he is, he just doesn't care.

He then reiterated his opposition to the Kyoto treaty that is designed to limit "greenhouse gas" emissions by reducing energy use.

The president can reasonably oppose an energy suppression treaty like Kyoto for two reasons. One is that the science used to justify the treaty is inconclusive or shaky. Dr. Sallie Baliunas and several other prominent scientists have repeatedly pointed out just how shaky that science is. When I asked MIT climatologist Richard Lindzen about the claims in the EPA report, he called them "ridiculous."

But the Bush EPA no longer considers the 'big picture' questions of the science of global warming open for discussion: As far as this administration is concerned, warming is happening, it's dangerous, and mankind's appetite for energy is to blame.

So the only other reason to oppose Kyoto is on economic grounds, namely, that the treaty will at best produce insignificant benefits -- delaying for only a few years potential environmental catastrophe -- and at a cost too onerous to bear.

In abandoning the scientific debate, the Bush administration has now put all its argument eggs in that economic basket. Maybe it's because the White House feels stronger making economic points than bothering with the science. Who knows? Either way, there are problems with this approach.

First of all, they have abandoned their responsibility to be good stewards over public policy decisions by grounding them in the best available science. Secondly, they've abandoned one of the best defenses they have against Kyoto. As Lindzen pointed out to me, "The primary danger [with this report] is that the public will take the assertions seriously and demand mitigation."

He's right. What's a few hundred billion dollars in GNP when weighed against the potential of melting polar ice caps, catastrophic floods, and overall environmental degradation? People can touch and feel the environment around them, so arguments about it carry a heavy aesthetic and emotional weight. I can plan a camping trip with my family to the Colorado Rockies, not to my infinitesimal individual percentage of global GNP.

I asked the climate scientist David Legates at the University of Delaware about the administration's embrace of the theory of anthropogenic global warming and he said "the administration has failed us" by giving up on the science. "I see this as the first step. First we ceded Poland and then Czechoslovakia [in World War II]. ... It is the same idea. But in this case, giving up on the science gives one no room to argue for not taking action. If we know it is going to be bad, we do need to look for viable alternatives."

And with Christie Whitman, the president has a person spending every day looking for those alternatives. Despite not knowing "enough about the science to give up," Legates said, "Christie Whitman has been touting that the administration is going to do something about global warming. She was fairly adamant about it at a meeting [at the University of Delaware] in late April. I guess this is the start of it."

Lastly, the administration missed an opportunity to educate Americans about how, as Jude Wanniski once famously put it, "the way the world works." Lindzen points out that "climate almost certainly will change over the next century regardless of man's activities, so adaptive capacity -- usually referred to as wealth -- will be helpful regardless of the origin of any climate change."

But the administration's official position is now -- on paper before the U.N. -- that economic growth and the consequent creation of wealth are not only not "helpful," they are, indeed, responsible for harming the planet. After all, that's what the report from "the bureaucracy" says. And if the administration thinks economic arguments will keep energy and wealth suppression advocates at bay, all it has to do is wait until the UN's Johannesburg summit on "sustainable development" this summer to find out. A long hot summer it will be -- for this administration, anyway.

URL Next Door -- This week you should turn your attention to GeekPress. I look at scores of websites every day, and hundreds of different websites in a given week. I find more interesting, quirky, and fun things on the Web thanks to this site than any other. It's a pure gem.



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