Bush Views Shift on Climate Change

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President Bush has been vocal on the issue of climate change for years, but his stated views on global warming seem to have shifted several times.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

President Bush is a former oilman. He has resisted attacking global warming, but will he, too, now change his stance?

Here's NPR's Luke Burbank.

LUKE BURBANK: October 11th, 2000 was a warmer than average fall night in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. So, maybe it was only fitting that when then Texas Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore showed up for their second presidential debate, Mr. Bush was asked for his take on global warming.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I think it's an issue that we need to take very seriously.

BURBANK: Bush even called for new limits on how much carbon dioxide power plants could emit, a move that actually got him in trouble with some energy companies. Of course, Governor Bush ended up becoming President Bush. And when he got to the White House, he changed his mind on the whole power plant thing.

Pres. BUSH: We need new power plants. We need an aggressive, forward-thinking energy policy that balances the needs of our environment with the needs of the people of the country.

BURBANK: In 2001, while the new drapes were still going up in the Oval Office, President Bush decided to pull out of the negotiations for the Kyoto Protocol, a worldwide agreement to try to keep greenhouse gases down. Environmentalists were aghast. The president said he had his reasons.

Pres. BUSH: That I felt the Kyoto Treaty was unrealistic. It was not based upon science. The stated that mandates in the Kyoto Treaty would affect our economy in a negative way.

BURBANK: Not long after Kyoto, the president got the results of a study he'd requested from the National Academy of Sciences. The question he posed: Does global warming really exist, and are humans really to blame? The report's answer: yes on both counts.

Unidentified Woman: Greenhouse gases are accumulating in earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities.

BURBANK: Here's how the president responded.

Pres. BUSH: We do not know how much our climate could or will change in the future. We do not know how fast change will occur, or even how some of our actions could impact it.

BURBANK: And that was pretty much Mr. Bush's stock answer throughout his first term. Global warming was happening, but we just couldn't be sure why. Things changed, though, in 2005, as the president was on his way to Scotland.

Pres. BUSH: It's now recognized that the surface of the earth is warmer, and that an increase in greenhouse gases caused by humans is contributing to the problem.

BURBANK: The destination was the G8 Summit in Gleneagles. Phil Clapp of the National Environmental Trust says at that meeting, President Bush looked across the table at all the other developed countries and realized he was way outnumbered.

Mr. PHIL CLAPP (National Environmental Trust): And he could no longer credibly make the case that the science wasn't sufficient to act. So, he really began at that point to turn around and say, okay, there is serious science here. We're going to have to do a lot to do more research, and we are going to have to develop new technologies. And that was sort of his first step.

BURBANK: Has there been any action taken since he had that, you know, come-to-Jesus moment, as they would say?

Dr. CLAPP: I would call that moment is a come-to-Jesus moment in public. It wasn't a come-to-Jesus moment, I think, in his own mind.

BURBANK: In other words, says Clapp and many of his cohorts, the president was just paying lip service to the idea that climate change is the result of human activity.

Dr. MARLO LEWIS (Senior Fellow, Competitive Enterprise): I think President Bush is quite aware of climate change as an issue.

BURBANK: Marlo Lewis is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He says, yes, there is some global warming going on. But it's not the doomsday that many scientists are predicting. And he agrees mostly with how President Bush has handled things.

Dr. LEWIS: There are some people who would like you to believe that if you don't advocate energy rationing, that you've got your head in the sand. But that's a rhetorical trick. And it's not an accurate characterization of President Bush.

BURBANK: This week, both the House and Senate have convened panels on climate change, during which scientists have accused the White House of bending the data and intimidating researchers who are ready to sound the alarm on global warming. And the outrage has been kind of amazingly bipartisan.

Presidential candidates John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have all signed onto the same legislation, aimed at addressing global warming, which raises the political question: Can't the president continue to go his own way on climate change?

Dr. PHIL CLAPP (National Environmental Trust): If he does nothing on global warming, it will be the thing that future generations look back and blame him the most for.

BURBANK: Phil Clapp of the National Environmental Trust.

Dr. CLAPP: He has two years in which to really grow on this issue.

BURBANK: Do you see that happening?

Dr. CLAPP: There are no signs today that the president is doing anything more than stay the course on global warming.

BURBANK: Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute says, why would the president change course?

Dr. LEWIS: If the country believes in voodoo, should Bush become a witch doctor? And I would say, no. If Bush believes that the science does not indicate that global warming is a planetary emergency, then you should not pretend that it is.

BURBANK: An inconvenient truth for those hoping President Bush will bend to the pressure.

Luke Burbank, NPR News, Washington.

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