It's the Planet, Stupid

George W. Bush is not sure global warming and the greenhouse effect are a problem.

When it comes to global warming, George W. Bush has his head firmly up his tailpipe.

A couple of years ago, Bush said the "jury is still out" on the problem. Last March, he said: "I believe there is global warming" -- and added that he made up his mind on the matter after talking with experts in the field. So, what should be done to address the problem?, he was asked two months later. The reply: "I presume reducing N2O [nitrous oxide] and CO2 will help."

Last Thursday, David Letterman quizzed Bush about global warming, and Bush implied that burning more natural gas would help. He claimed that "the technology is not available" to do anything about global warming. "I'm a practical man," Bush said, observing that "we don't have enough refining capacity." He added that "the Arabs have us over a barrel."

Gore has repeatedly focused on the threat posed by global warming. And he has pushed for the U.S. Senate to approve the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, the 1997 treaty designed to reduce global output of greenhouse gases. Some 150 countries have approved the measure, which was signed by the Clinton administration but has not been ratified by the Senate. The treaty requires the U.S. to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 7% below 1990 levels by the year 2012. Bush opposes the treaty, saying it is "ineffective, inadequate, and ... a bad deal for America."

While many other conservatives are opposed to the Kyoto Protocol and argue that the treaty's goals will be difficult if not impossible to obtain in America, Bush appears unwilling to even discuss the matter. Shortly before Labor Day, when his communications director, Karen Hughes, was asked about global warming, she directed a reporter to the governor's press office in the Capitol. When told the inquiry was about Bush's plan for global warming on the national level, she referred reporters to the campaign Web site. But there is not a single mention of the issue on Bush's otherwise very good Web site. Nor is the word Kyoto found there.

Global warming has not been a major campaign issue because "it hasn't been in anyone's interest to talk about it," says Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change (www.pewclimate.org), an Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit. Gore has been careful to tone down his rhetoric on the matter. In particular, he's been running away from his 1992 book, Earth in the Balance, in which he called global warming "the most serious threat we have ever faced." During the campaign, Gore has promoted energy efficiency as one way to address the global warming problem.

But even though the candidates aren't discussing it, global warming is "a really important issue and will be for the next four years," Claussen said. The issue is already important in Texas. Although there is no definitive proof that recent droughts are related to global warming, the two dry spells that have occurred in Texas since 1996 have cost the state's agriculture sector an estimated $5 billion, according to figures from the Texas Agriculture Department.

The world's leading scientists are in agreement on global warming. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have predicted that Earth may experience the fastest warming in the history of civilization during the 21st century. The IPCC, made up of more than 2,000 of the world's leading climate scientists from more than 100 nations, believes the Earth may warm by 1.8 to 6.3 degrees Farenheit by the end of this century.

And even some of Bush's biggest supporters, including Enron CEO Ken Lay -- one of Bush's Pioneers, who each pledged to raise $100,000 for Bush -- have been outspoken about their concern over global warming. According to the Center for Public Integrity, Houston-based Enron is Bush's biggest career patron, having given him more than $555,000 over the course of his political career. Under Lay's leadership, Enron has undertaken a plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. And the company is now building a new headquarters building that it says will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17,000 tons per year.

They're not the only ones. On Oct. 17, Environmental Defense (www.environmentaldefense.org) announced a program under which British Petroleum, Shell International, DuPont, Suncor Energy, Ontario Power Generation, Alcan, and French aluminum maker Pechiney agreed to voluntarily reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. DuPont claims it has already reduced emissions by 60%.

But in a statement the Bush campaign released on global warming, the candidate said: "Scientific data show average temperatures have increased slightly during this century, but both the causes and the impact of this slight warming are uncertain." Claussen says Bush's statement is "just not true. The science is very firm on the basics" of global warming. The only questions that remain, she said, are "where the impacts will be found and when."

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