Of all the reasons to resent the tortured outcome to the 2000 election mess in Florida with its hanging chads, strong-arm politics and less than convincing Supreme Court decision, the absence of presidential leadership on environmental issues is one of the biggies. This morning’s Washington Post details the Environmental Protection Agency’s convoluted relationship to scientific evidence these past eight years as well as Al Gore’s new challenge to convert most of America’s electricity production to renewable sources within 10 years.
Perhaps it should not be surprising that a White House led by two oil men has been inalert to the dangers of global warming and the role of fossil fuels in that danger. And, perhaps it should not surprise that the rising price of oil has been met with equanimity by many of the people closest to the President. There was little in the way of outrage over the namby-pamby approach to global warming taken at the G-8 summit last week, when all the promises of sacrifice were made on behalf of futures generations and no targets were set for the short-term.
Still, it is shocking to read that in an article that the EPA is warning of the dire consequences to human beings of the trends in global warming and that “last week, the agency decided not to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, at least not until after President Bush’s term ends.” Evidently, while the agency was prepared to go forward with such regulations, the White House’s political wing stepped in at the last minute to thwart them. Why anger the oil industry when you are about to start fundraising for the Bush Presidential Library?
Gore’s speech here in Washington struck a different note. Not only must we face the challenge of global warming, but in one specific area, generating electricity, we can make significant changes in the next ten years. It would not be easy, of course. Experts were quick to point out that the manufacturers of wind and solar equipment are already back-logged on fulfilling their orders. But, that is a ridiculous point. At a time when the economy is sputtering along under the weight of high-oil prices, why shouldn’t the nation embark on the kind of industrial re-tooling that turned car and trunk manufacturing plants into tank and plane manufacturing plants at the start of World War II? This would create new jobs now and for the future. Someday, China, too, will need to break its thirst for fossil fuels and America should be leading in the technology that permits such a break.
“We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet,” Gore told a standing-room only crowd at George Washington University. “Every bit of that has to change.”
He’s right but will any of the politicians running for election embrace Gore’s bold ideas? In one sign of hope, although the Post put the article on page A13, this morning’s AOL Homepage led with Gore’s challenge. Politicians and the press who live in D.C. may be somewhat insulated from the ups-and-downs of the economy and from the full effects of $4 per gallon gasoline, but AOL knows its readers. And, the campaigns should know that those readers are also voters. As Shakespeare wrote, “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves.” So does the remedy.
Michael Sean Winters