mark hertsgaard

Independent Journalist & Author


Calling Bush’s bluff

Will his fellow G8 leaders finally call George Bush’s bluff on
climate change when they gather next week in Germany for their annual
summit? Or will Tony Blair, Angela Merkel and other G8 leaders
continue to put diplomatic niceties ahead of the need to act now
against the accelerating climate crisis?


At each of the past two G8 summits, all of the assembled leaders
except for Bush were ready to sign an agreement requiring mandatory,
sizable cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The reason no such “tough
targets” were agreed to, according to Sir David King, the British
government’s chief science adviser, is that “we would not have got all
[eight] signatures on the document”. The Bush administration simply
refused to accept anything stronger than rhetorical expressions of
concern and non-binding calls for unspecified “action”. Rather than
isolate Bush, the other G8 leaders backed down.

Now, it appears that the White House is again trying to derail
progress. This time, as described in Bush’s May 31 speech, the US is
proposing to lead a separate round of international talks that will
seek to develop non-binding – White House environmental aide James
Connaughton calls them “aspirational” – targets for unspecified
emissions cuts in the distant future.

The other G8 leaders know full well that Bush’s proposal is a road to
nowhere. The question is, what are they going to do about it? Will
they go on the record next week in favor of a meaningful commitment to
reduce emissions – and dare Bush to oppose it in front of the rest of
the world? Or will they once again back down and let the White House
continue to weaken the fight against climate change?

Like Exxon-Mobil did a few months ago, the Bush White House is
desperately trying to convey a fresh, friendlier image on climate
change. The oil giant announced in February that it would stop funding
(some of) the climate deniers it had previously supported and it
pronounced itself eager to join discussions on Capitol Hill about new
legislation. It’s understandable that Exxon-Mobil would want a seat at
the table for such negotiations. To quote an old Washington saying,
“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu.”

The same goes for the White House, which finds itself more isolated on
climate change than it is even on Iraq. Domestically, both the biggest
city and the biggest state in America have launched ambitious programs
for mandatory greenhouse emissions cuts, led in each case by a
Republican: New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg and California’s
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Overseas, even Japan has dropped its traditional subservience to US
foreign policy. After strenuous lobbying by Blair and Merkel during
his first official trip to Europe, Prime Minister Abe recently came
out in favor of mandatory emission cuts of 50% by 2050. Previously,
Japan had publicly backed the White House’s Asia-Pacific partnership
on climate change, another non-binding effort apparently aimed at
delaying progress. Now, that fig leaf is gone.

Following the advice that celebrated rightwing pollster Frank Luntz
laid out in a 2003 memo for how Republicans could spin their
environmental policies to a suspicious public, Bush made a point of
invoking the value of climate science in his May 31 speech. But the
substance of his proposal ran utterly counter to the scientific
consensus, which calls for 60 to 80% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions
by 2050. Crucially, these cuts must begin sooner rather than later.
The momentum of the climate system — the fact that greenhouse
emissions remain in the atmosphere for years before dissipating

means that the longer we wait to cut emissions, the more temperatures,
sea levels and other impacts will rise. And since every attempt at
voluntary emission cuts has failed to genuinely cut emissions, these
60 to 80% cuts must be mandatory, as California and others have

In reporting on Bush’s speech, the New York Times speculated that the
White House was trying to burnish the president’s legacy on climate
change before he leaves office. But legacies cannot be won by phony
solutions dressed up with earnest rhetoric; they must be earned
through bold leadership and genuine breakthroughs. Next week, the G8
leaders have the chance, and the obligation, to hold Mr Bush to that



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About Mark

Independent journalist Mark Hertsgaard is the author of seven books that have been translated into sixteen languages, including Bravehearts: Whistle Blowing in the Age of Snowden; HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth; and A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of the Beatles. He has reported from twenty-five countries about politics, culture and the environment for leading outlets, including The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Time, Mother Jones, NPR, the BBC and The Nation, where is the environment correspondent. He lives in San Francisco.