I grew up in Washington, DC and have been surrounded by politics most of my life. From the outset in writing this blog I have endeavored to steer clear of political diatribes, but despite that intention I must now venture into the political realm. I have no choice. I can’t sit back and not comment on George Bush’s “plan” for addressing climate change announced last week – the “2025 Goals.” I will endeavor, however, to keep this civil.
Last week, with a fair amount of pomp and circumstance in the White House Rose Garden, President Bush proposed a new goal for addressing the climate change crisis: to halt the growth in US greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. So…what is wrong with this announcement? I mean, the headline sounds great right? When I saw “Bush Shifts on Climate Change” on the CNN homepage I thought “Yes! Here it comes, finally! He DOES care about his legacy, he DOES care about the planet, and he IS actually going to do something meaningful in his final year in office on global warming. Slowing down to a zero-growth emissions nation in 17 years is an ambitious, meaningful goal, right? Let the champagne pop!”
Oh how I wish it were so. But instead this “2025 Goals” announcement is troubling on a number of levels — and the net is that this is simply too little, too late from Bush. He has squandered a remarkable opportunity to set our nation and the world on a new course towards solving a problem that cuts across nations, cultures, economic strata, etc…and which threatens us all. Bush could have gone down in history as the President who issued a great global challenge to transform energy generation, production and consumption as we know it; as the man who lead civilization into a better, more sustainable future. He could have been a truly transformational figure, a true “uniter not divider” to use his own words. And all of this is made more poignant given the stark realities of 9/11, a tragedy not without its links to oil and energy, and hence climate change. Regrettably it is clear now that Bush is not a transformational figure, and that the Oval Office-level leadership necessary to guide us into a more sustainable future remains elusive.
So what is wrong with Bush’s “2025 Goals?” Among others, these three things:
1) For starters the dates are troubling. 2025? Really? The “big goal” is to be achieved 18 years from now? With Bush in office a mere nine more months? Note that this is not the first time we’ve been hoodwinked by dates. In 2002 Bush set similar reduction goals for 2010, 2012 and 2018 which we are nowhere near on track to meet. Read this announcement on the White House website from 2002. It all sounded great six years ago right? But where are the results? Setting goals without actually mandating change and measuring progress is a waste of time, particularly from a lame duck White House. To me this all feels more like “fluffy press event” than strong leadership in a time of crisis.
2) Second the “plan” talks about “slowing the growth” in emissions rather than actually reducing them. This speaks for itself in terms of being ineffective in actually solving the problem at hand…namely that the planet is getting hotter. We need to spend the next 17 years reducing and reversing rather than slowing.
3) Third, there are no teeth. Bush stated that he plans to achieve these reductions “with incentives, voluntary action and without mandates.” So rather than a new Marshall Plan for greenhouse gas reductions and environmental sustainability the Bush administration has chosen, as it has so many times in the past with regards to environmental issues, to punt.
My favorite response to the announcement was from Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times who said “Imagine if President Bush announced a plan for dealing with the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs that declared: They will cease accumulating nuclear weapons by 2025. We will accomplish this through incentives and voluntary action, and without mandates. I wonder how that would go over?” That about sums it up.
This all equates to a massive failure of leadership, which will be the topic of tomorrow’s post:
Part II: What Would Real Leadership Look Like?