According to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Bush administration has been quietly lobbying members of Congress and state governors to oppose California’s strict greenhouse-gas emissions rules for cars. In December 2005, the state submitted a request to the U.S. EPA for a waiver it needs to implement its standards. Since then, the EPA has been stalling, promising a ruling that’s been nearly two years in the making. Waxman’s committee uncovered emails between officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation and the White House Council on Environmental Quality and conducted interviews of …
Global warming makes wildfires more likely and more destructive -- an amplifying climate feedback that releases more carbon into the atmosphere. The full committee of the Senate for Energy and Natural Resources is having a hearing on the subject today. You can get live video here -- click on Live Webcast. I'm looking forward to this hearing since one of the witnesses is Dr. Thomas Swetnam, Director of the Laboratory of Tree Ring Research and Professor of Dendochronology, University of Arizona. He coathored the August 2006 Science cover story, "Warming and Earlier Spring Increase Western U.S. Forest Wildfire Activity" ($ub. req'd). The abstract is viewable online -- here is the conclusion:
Al Gore's address to the U.N. General Assembly today was a much darker affair than I assumed it would be. Given that the stated goal today is to lay the groundwork for international institution-building and unity of vision, I expected he'd take a more inspirational approach. Instead, about three-quarters of his speech was a thorough enumeration of the effects global warming is already having on the planet. Included in his litany of woes: The faster-than-expected melting of Arctic ice, the million of years it will take for the caps to reform if they melt entirely, and the pressure the melting puts on the Greenland shelf. The potential six-meter rise in sea levels associated with such melting. Glaciers retreating all over the planet. The total disappearance of Lake Chad. Stronger typhoons, cyclones, and hurricanes making landfall worldwide. Record floods in India, Bangladesh, and elsewhere. 35,000 people killed in 2003 European heat wave. Goodness.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, who gave a rather good speech today here at the U.N. climate summit, is famously attempting to cut California's greenhouse-gas emissions. Now come accusations that the White House is behind a lobbying effort to get the U.S. EPA to reject Schwarzenegger's plan to regulate GHGs from cars and trucks. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chair of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, got wind of the situation. Writes Jesse Lee in "The Gavel," Speaker Pelosi's blog: Chairman Waxman has obtained internal e-mails which show that Transportation Secretary Mary Peters personally directed a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign approved by the White House to oppose EPA approval of California's landmark standards reducing greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.
Bush may be hosting a climate summit this week, but "what he will not do, officials said, is chart any shift in policies." Specifically, the Washington Post reports: Top Bush administration officials said the president is not planning to alter his opposition to mandatory limits on greenhouse gases or to stray from his emphasis on promoting new technologies, especially for nuclear power and for the storage of carbon dioxide produced by coal plants. This is straight from the Frank Luntz playbook on how to seem like you care about the climate when you don't: Technology, technology, technology. Yada. Yada. Yada. Delay, delay, delay.
Here at today's U.N. Climate Summit in New York, everyone seems to agree that bringing America into a leadership role on climate change is a necessary condition for forestalling the climate change crisis. From my perspective, then, the success or failure of this summit should be judged by its ability to make progress on that front. We've heard from -- among others -- Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and Federal Chancellor of Austria Alfred Gusenbauer, both of whom delivered passionate speeches about the pressing need for mitigation but without really explaining why countries (and America in particular) are hesitant to mitigate their emissions or how to upend that hesitance. We've heard about California's inspiring example, without hearing how crucial it is for that example to influence the greater United States. And on and on.
Bush is blowing off the U.N. climate meeting happening this week, choosing instead to focus on his parallel international climate meetings. I ask you to savor the multiple absurdities embedded in this paragraph in the NYT: Mr. Bush’s aides say that the parallel meeting does not compete against the United Nations’ process — hijacking it, as his critics charge. They say that Mr. Bush hopes to persuade the nations that produce 90 percent of the world’s emissions to come to a consensus that would allow each, including the United States, to set its own policies rather than having limits imposed …
Sunday night, I along with some other writers attended a U.N. Foundation dinner designed to bring the U.N.'s climate change directors into better contact with members of the online media. As far as accomplishing that goal, I suppose the dinner was a huge success. I and other members of the online media came into contact with some important employees of the U.N.! As to bringing American political writers and U.N. officials to a common understanding of the political problems of climate change, it was frustratingly unproductive. The evening started out quietly enough. The guests of honor were Yvo de Boer, executive director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and Nick Nuttall, spokesperson for UNEP, the United Nations Environment Program (or Programme, if you prefer). For a while we all exchanged banal pleasantries: They wanted to better understand online media and blogger outreach, and we told them a bit about it; we asked them what to expect at Monday's big U.N. climate meeting, and they provided answers. Everybody enjoyed the free food. About halfway through the evening, though, Nuttall, a British journalist cum climate advocate with a gentle disposition, grew a bit agitated about what he regarded as the other guests' insouciant approach to the issue at hand. That's where progress slowed.
I channel surf (I'm a guy). I find something of interest and as soon as a commercial hits, I move on. I landed on Keith Olbermann's show, Countdown, just as he was launching into Bush. I sat there shaking my head in awe. When Olbermann lets loose, he is intelligent, courageous, and articulate -- the polar opposite of Glenn Beck, the smarmy bobblehead clown who also has a show that attempts to mix humor with news. One show is funny, the other comical. There's a difference. One show is for smart guys, the other for dummies. Everybody is covered. Here's Olbermann: Here's Beck, doing what he does best (from earlier this year). If television had existed when Darwin published The Origin of Species, Beck would have been right there poking fun at a man who claimed we were descended from monkeys. The intellectual chasm is vast: