Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hot Politics: 20 Years of Bad Luck

Americans’ views of climate change seem to have shifted in just the last few years, with Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth really spurring a lot of the momentum. His movie and plenty of other factors have helped turn climate change from a controversy to something much closer to popular belief. Hot Politics, however, introduced us to a timeline of climate science strengthening and the United States’ failed attempts to address the issue—a timeline with a much longer life than I really expected. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been officially studying global warming for 20 years now. In 1988, James Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute testified about anthropogenic effects on world temperatures and U.S. presidential candidate George H.W. Bush spent time pledging to battle the “greenhouse effect.” Over the last two decades, the U.S. government has had plenty of chances to make progress on climate change mitigation. Elder Bush signed an international climate treaty promising carbon emission capping that ended up being not binding because the targeted caps were merely voluntary. Vice President Al Gore, in his time in office, committed the U.S. to the Kyoto Protocol, but the administration didn’t follow through. Finally, Baby Bush, after originally pledging to pursue mandatory emission cuts in his first campaign, reversed and withdrew our country from Kyoto all together.

So the topic of climate change has been on the table longer than I’ve realized and, politically, our leaders have missed opportunities and dropped balls like they’ve been wearing a pair of greased up boxing gloves. Personally, I’ve been politically indifferent for most of my life, until recently my engineer-trained-brain has been building a solid case for becoming more active and engaged in that arena. I’m even thinking about changing my Facebook Political View from ‘apathetic!’ What has happened? In essence, I’ve slowly realized the clout that comes with policy and its efforts to achieve rational results.

In Chapter 5 of Hot Politics, former EPA Directory Christine Todd Whitman is interviewed about Baby Bush’s overturning of his original mandatory carbon emission cap pledge. In regards to George W’s supposedly Cheney-induced climate change flip-flop in 2001, she says “with one stroke of the pen, the president has determined that there are more important things in the world than the rest of the world, basically—that the U.S. is more important and has other issues, that this is a minor thing.” What I take from that is the raw power in the stroke of a pen or the stroke of a keyboard. In policy analysis, impacts can often be boiled down simply to one word on a page—one misguided word or phrase can doom a policy from the beginning. The effects may be unintended, but are often just as important as any intended effects that stem from the policy itself. For example, in the case of Elder Bush’s climate treaty signature in 1992,no emissions were capped after implementation because of one poorly chosen word, “voluntary” instead of “mandatory.” The power of the English language is impressive and real, and our power lies in activism and vigilance.

Read the timeline of Hot Politics here.

Tally ho,

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