Looking-Glass Solution on Climate Change

Nearly seven years into his presidency and George W. Bush remains disconnected from reality. Whether we are talking about the war in Iraq or the war on terror, the uses of science or the impact of his tax cuts, the Bush administration has opted to find ways to reconstitute fact into fiction and to rewrite circumstance to fit its own preferred narrative.

The president entered his own personal twilight zone again at the end of September, when he announced at the end of a two-day meeting of 16 major carbon-emitting nations that the US would "set a long-term goal for reducing global greenhouse-gas emissions," but wouldn't commit to the kind of binding targets that the rest of the world and many here in the US know are necessary to make a difference.

The president's plan called on "each nation" to "decide for itself the right mix of tools and technologies to achieve results that are measurable and environmentally effective." He proposed the creation of an international clean technology fund. He also called for an expansion of nuclear energy (an energy source that remains a hazardous gamble) at home, and committed to an unrealistic reliance on future technologies and tax credits to encourage the driving of hybrids.

All of this sounds real nice -- aside from the nuclear power -- but it will do little to address the real problems facing the planet, a fact that the world leaders in attendance pointed out.

"We could have another 20 years of talking about talking," John Ashton, special adviser on climate change to the British foreign secretary, told the New York Times. "We need to start deciding about doing."

Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense, a green advocacy group, called the conference a "lost opportunity."

"America needs to lead," he told the Times, "and we can lead, but now the spotlight shifts to Congress because the president has refused to accept the only path that's ever solved an air pollution problem -- and that's mandatory legal limits."

And the limits have to be pretty tight, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The UCS released a report in September that called for the United States to cut its emissions by at least 80% below 2000 levels by 2050 and to begin as quickly as possible.

"The cost of delay is high," Michael D. Mastrandrea, research associate at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University, said in a UCS press release. "If we wait until 2020 to start emission reductions, we'll have to cut twice as fast than if we start in 2010 to meet the same target."

Tackling the problem won't be easy. A mix of solutions, including both technological and lifestyle changes, will be necessary, many of which are interrelated:

We need to burn less energy -- by driving less, by using low-energy light bulbs, for instance, or keeping it a little warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter. These won't solve the problem, but every little bit helps.

More importantly, we can make significant improvement by adopting tailpipe emissions similar to California's, raising vehicle fuel-efficiency ratings and applying them not only to cars but to small trucks and SUVs. We also need to change our approach to land-use planning so that we concentrate growth and development in central areas. This not only will place jobs and homes closer together, but preserve trees and other green spaces that help filter out pollution.

None of this will be easy -- Americans are in love with our cars and many of us dream of the big house on the big lot in the suburbs -- but we have stepped up before. In the 1970s, we started buying cars that got better gas mileage and, while we could have done better and still can, the average car goes farther on less fuel than it did 35 years ago.

And in the 1980s and 1990s, when we -- especially those of us in the Northeast -- were faced with diminishing landfill space, we took up recycling. There was the expected grumbling -- I remember both my father and father-in-law moaning about it at the time -- but it has become a normal function of life to separate the bottles, cans and newspapers from the rest of the trash.

But we have to make the environment a priority. Until we do, we will continue to let people like George Bush, who speak like environmentalists when its convenient, but who refuse to do anything to ensure we have a healthy planet well into the future.

Hank Kalet is a poet and the managing editor of the South Brunswick Post and The Cranbury Press in central New Jersey. E-mail See his blog, Channel Surfing, at

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2007

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