Mud City Press

THE TWENTY-NINTH DAY

A Review of the Bush Administration's 2002 Climate Action Report
by Dan Armstrong

In 1992 George Bush Sr. signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This treaty requires technical reports from signatory nations every four years. The first two U.S. reports came from the Clinton administration. In May of 2002, the Bush administration sent the third of these Climate Action Reports to the United Nations. To the chagrin of President Bush and an administration that is heavily connected to the petroleum industry and has repeatedly questioned the validity and significance of climate change, the EPA's report articulated far-reaching and potentially devastating climatic effects resulting from the burning of fossil fuels. Though the report was written by the President's own people, he immediately distanced himself from its message, saying first that he had read it, then that he hadn't. In any case, the rift between the President and the EPA offers a critical insight into the Bush administration's environmental position and the real dilemma of climate change.

While the wording is necessarily cautious and technical, the magnitude and significance of global warming is clearly established in the report's sixth chapter Impact and Adaptation. Plain and simple, the report tells us that climate change has already begun. Even should we stop burning fossil fuels today, because of the "long lifetimes of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere, the momentum of the climate system are projected to cause climate to change for more than a century." In that period, temperatures "in the contiguous United States would rise 5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit." "The central tier of states would experience climate conditions roughly equivalent to those now experienced in the southern tier, and the northern tier would experience conditions much like the central tier." Soil moisture content across the grain belt would decrease by a third or more. Critical snowpack in western mountain regions would diminish, impacting reservoirs, flood protection, power production, and the sustainability of many mountain habitats. Some Alpine meadows in the Rocky Mountains would dry up and disappear completely. The sugar maple would migrate north out of the U.S., and changes in large-scale forest processes, "such as fire, insects, droughts, and disease, could put forest productivity in jeopardy." Though just a sampling of what the report anticipates with continued global warming, it amounts to a particularly dour environmental prognosis coming from a conservative republican administration.

Perhaps now, with our 9-11 baptism to global conscious, we've come of age. Perhaps now, with that larger, darker perspective, we are better prepared to understand the dead seriousness of the environmental facts of life that for so many years have been under publicized or denied. When fully considered, there is a grimness about the size of the planet and our industrial society that preludes from that September morning awakening. The six billion people living on the earth have tipped the natural balance of the biosphere. We've changed the dynamics of the weather. Though it sounds like B-grade science fiction or as improbable as American Airlines Flight 77 being flown deliberately into the Pentagon, Climate Change is real. It is a clear and present danger that with time will become more vast and invasive than terrorism. Our President's stance is that we can adapt with these changes and that free market forces will take care of each problem as it arises. Unfortunately, microbes, bacteria, and insects will adapt much more quickly to these changes than will we or our markets. With its cautious language, the 2002 U.S. Climate Action Report hesitantly elucidates a sobering vision of the twenty-first century and an inanely shortsighted response to the predicament. According to the Action Report, we will adjust to the warmer temperatures with "the increased availability of air conditioning." We will adjust to the increased number of violent weather events with more accurate meteorology. But, in general, we will adapt to the manifold challenges of global warming through the genius of capitalism, probably with the same kind of results achieved through the deregulation of the energy industry.

click to read entire essay as PDF