Undoing Bush: the environment

I mentioned yesterday the series of post-Bush Administration-themed articles being carried by Harper’s at the moment. One of them is: the environment.

In general,

One of the best things about the departure of the Bush Administration will be the end of headache-creating cognitive dissonance. It has taken over institutions ostensibly devoted to defending the natural world—the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Council on Environmental Quality—and turned them into organizations devoted to environmental degradation. And it has passed a set of anti-environmental laws that sound like they were dreamed up by wild-eyed nature lovers—the Clear Skies Act turns out to gut the old Clean Air Act, for instance, and the Healthy Forests Initiative has initiated a great deal of unhealthy deforestation. (“No Tree Left Behind,” someone quickly dubbed it.) We’ll not be in some new green nirvana when Bush finally leaves, but at least we might start trying to solve real problems.

On climate change, specifically (sorry, Jason),

Bush came into office promising that he would require U.S. power plants to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, and if he’d stuck to the plan, our country would already look quite different. Solar panels would have begun to sprout in real numbers, cars would be smaller, we’d be building more passenger trains. Instead, Bush repudiated the promise within a few weeks of taking office. He said he didn’t want to do anything that would raise the price of energy. His energy task force, chaired by Dick Cheney, barely even mentioned the possibility of global warming. It concentrated on new places to find fossil fuel, new pipelines to carry it, new refineries to refine it—and indeed, just as Cheney suggested, there are about 159 new coal-fired power plants in some stage of planning or construction around the country. Meanwhile, carbon-dioxide output has increased an average of 1.6 percent every year—and the average price for a gallon of gas has nearly doubled.

The author Bill McKibben also has unkind things to say about the Kyoto treaty. I belong to the other pariah state in this regard, however, I’m not sure he’s right. Kyoto, like any other treaty, only works as long as the big trouble-makers are onboard with it (see: trade). Kyoto probably wouldn’t have worked, probably not even as far as ratification in the houses of Congress. The crime is still there, however: the Bush administration walked away from it, poisened it, poisened the process, the people involved and the institution involved. We now see clearly where that toxicity comes from, but is seems to be a continuously renewable resource.

In short, this administration has made a mess. It has shit in its own nest, in our nests, in every nest it could find in government, and most of the nests it could get to overseas. How are we going to go about cleaning up? I hope the world is adult enough not to demand the next President spend half his or her first term travelling the world apologising for it (although I won’t hold my breath). First and foremost should be (i) the restoration of oversight, even the improvement of oversight. Particularly with regard to power generation (coal and nuclear plants), requiring them to install safety devices and anything that will clean up their emissions, and (ii) the restoration of adequate funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, National Parks – how about we just convence a taskforce and consult only land conservationists, hunting (but non-NRA) groups, Indigenous community groups, and the like? 

It’s amazing what these organisations can do when given the funding they require and left the hell alone from lobbyists and Vice Presidents. Their jobs, for example.


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