Political Tiddlywinks and Global Ecocide

4-12-06, 10:16 am

During the recent hurricane Katrina tragedy, many were distressed by the treatment of the poor of New Orleans who, flooded out and bereft of aid, were left to fend for themselves in a leaky sports stadium and storm-battered conference center. Yet again, the rot at the core of American capitalism was front page news. Yes, the bastion of 'democracy, freedom and economic prosperity' harbors the most unequal distribution of wealth amongst the top-tier industrialized nations and, yes, institutionalized racism is alive and well in the USA.

More than this, the sheer incompetence of the government response to the disaster, from the municipal level right up to the White House, was breath-taking. The penultimate symbol of dysfunction was Federal Emergency Management Administration chief Michael Brown who, based on his experience as Judges Commissioner of the International Arabian Horses Association, had been appointed by George W. Bush to a post he was incapable of managing. Caught like a deer in the headlights, Brown made a fool of himself by aggressively insisting FEMA aid was reaching the marooned in New Orleans when news media on location were broadcasting for all to see that it wasn't.

But then, denial of the obvious is the Bush administration's hallmark strategy when it comes to bluffing its way out of jams of its own making. Take Iraq. Current denials that the American occupation is going from bad to worse fall in line with past denials that the 'weapons of mass destruction' which justified the invasion were dreamed up in the first place. As the situation unravels, denials continue to spew forth in an escalating cascade of belligerent shout-downs from the press podium.

The Katrina and Iraqi debacles are bad enough, and we are right to be outraged, but they are political tiddlywinks compared to the ecological catastrophe looming ahead. Countries can recover from US incursions-look at Vietnam-and New Orleans may 'rise again,' however the state of the ecology is for keeps.

Sadly, you wouldn't know it from the Bush administration. Working in concert with Congress, Bush has been revving the denial engines full-throttle since coming to power. Campaigning against the UN-sponsored Kyoto treaty to reduce emissions that cause global warming during the 2000 presidential election, he denied that human activity had anything to do with the phenomenon. Once in the oval office, he promptly withdrew from the agreement. The next step was to attack the messengers. In 2001 Bush manufactured the replacement of Dr. Robert Watson, chief scientist of the World Bank and a stanch supporter of Kyoto, with the more malleable Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, known in international circles as the 'drag our feet on global warming' candidate.

In 2002, when his own Environmental Protection Agency issued a report concluding 'greenhouse gases are accumulating in the Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing global mean surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise,' Bush dismissed it as 'bureaucracy' clap trap. All references to the dangers of global warming on the EPA's 'National Assessment on Climate Change' web site were subsequently ordered removed or altered, just so no one got the wrong idea.

Still, denials can't change the facts. Over the past 200 years industrial activity has raised atmospheric carbon levels from 100 to 380 parts per million-a level last reached 650,000 years ago. In the late twentieth century we arrived at the tipping point, climatically speaking, and the earth began heating up exponentially. Since 1995, sea levels have been rising at an accelerated rate, thanks to melting ice caps and the thermal expansion of the ocean water itself. Rising oceans have been greeted with alarm the world over, as they threaten to swamp low-lying continental regions (Bangladesh and Holland, for example) and inundate several island nations.

And that is just for starters. Global warming of the oceans is also resulting in, amongst other things, more intense hurricanes. Katrina, for example, began as a Category 1 hurricane before traversing the Gulf of Mexico's overheated waters, where temperature differentials transformed it into a 175-mile-per hour behemoth. Nonetheless the White House cleaved to its party line, declaring there was 'no need for the administration to change its policies on global warming' in the wake of Katrina.

While George W. Bush stands in a corner with his eyes shut, the rest of the world is now in full-fledged panic mode. In January, 2005, at the World Bank's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Bush's own hand-picked eco-flunky, Dr. Pachauri, underlined the bottom line. He told representatives from 114 nations that 'the level of dangerous concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere' threatens humanity's 'survival.' 'Climate change is for real,' he continued: 'We have just a small window of opportunity and it is closing rather rapidly. There is not a moment to lose.'

How did Bush react? Fresh from his January inauguration to another four year term, he launched 'Clear Skies' legislation which would exempt a wide range of industries from any requirement to reduce toxic emissions. Old carbon-pumping coal plants could pollute away with no obligation to upgrade emission controls. Later that year, at the G8 summit in July, Bush successfully blocked any calls to action on climate change beyond a perfunctory acknowledgment that 'human activities . . . contribute in large part to increases in greenhouse gases associated with the warming of our planet.' Stating the obvious while failing to address it, he brought the politics of denial to a new level.

Perhaps Bush's intransigence has a rational explanation. Perhaps God has secretly assured him the entire world's population will be 'raptured' before the consequences really start kicking in. But we aren't betting on it.

--This editorial appears in the Spring 2006 issue of