Thursday, April 17, 2008

The President, the Pope, and climate change

As President Bush nears the end of his 2nd term, he is finally—in Bush administration terminology—“confronting” climate change. Although he will be passing this issue onto his predecessor after making little or no real progress, it is interesting to see how far he has come.

On Wednesday, the President gave a speech on his proposed strategy for dealing with climate change. His climate change speech immediately followed a speech by and personal visit with Pope Benedict XVI. I took some time this morning to read both speeches, and wanted to share some thoughts. I thought perhaps the Pope would have some words for the President that would trickle through to his climate speech, but such is not the case.

The Pope gave his speech in the late morning. Nothing controversial; the speech focused on themes of freedom, truth, and Democracy:

Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation.

After a short personal visit with the Pope in the Oval Office, President Bush shifted gears and jumped into his climate change speech. The overarching theme was technology and the economy:

The right way is to adopt policies that spur investment in the new technologies needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions more cost-effectively in the longer term without placing unreasonable burdens on American consumers and workers in the short term.

There are plenty of flaws and shortcomings in the President's strategy (and lack of real action, as pointed out in the previous blog posting), but in the end, my biggest concern is that the President defaults to technology as the savior:

The growth in emissions will slow over the next decade, stop by 2025, and begin to reverse thereafter, so long as technology continues to advance.

Yes, technology is a critical component of the solution, but it is not THE solution. We can not ignore the need for more personal responsibility and the need for a general shift in our societies’ ways. The status quo of American living does not mix with aggressive actions to deal with climate change. This is where Bush’s speech definitely clashed with the Pope’s wise words:

Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience – almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate.

At no point in his speech does the President ask Americans’ to exhibit “self-discipline and sacrifice for the common good” or “a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate”. Urging American’s to take on some individual responsibility (particularly when it comes to energy) has never resulted in the bolstering of a politician’s career, but, at this point, what does the President have to lose?

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