I meant last week to draw attention to Chris Mooney’s essay on the Bush administration’s inconsistent positions on climate change.

He cites James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, who said, “We are still working on the issue of causation, the extent to which humans are a factor” (flying in the face of scientific consensus).

Meanwhile, John Marburger says, "The climate is changing, the surface temperature of the earth is warming, there is a greenhouse effect, [carbon dioxide] is a greenhouse gas, it has increased substantially since the beginning of the industrial revolution, and it is caused by human activity."

As Mooney says, if this public inconsistency was happening around an issue the media actually followed, it would be big news.

As the climate issue blips onto and off of the media’s radar, the administration pays it as much attention as necessary. Then once the attention dies down, business as usual resumes. Episodic news coverage presents problems for any serious long-term policy issue, but nowhere more so than for something like global climate change, which represents, somewhat paradoxically, an extremely slow-moving disaster.

What Mooney doesn’t get into, but I think is worth saying, is that this tactic — and I think it is a tactic — is not unique to the climate change issue. It is standard operating practice for the Bush administration. It’s something they learned in the campaign: You don’t have to be right, or even make a persuative case, you just have to kick up enough dust, enough FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) to cloud the issue and cause the public’s collective eyes to glaze over. It’s too late for them to take global warming head-on, so they’re fighting a rear-guard action, gesturing this way and that, trying to keep public opinion from crystalizing.

It is by its very nature something that can’t work forever, but they’re sure good at wringing every drop out of it.

(See also this Mooney post)