In the aftermath of publication of the "IPCC report." today, the Bush administration is taking credit for playing a "a leading role in studying and addressing global climate change." In a press release posted to the web, U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman said this:
"The Administration welcomes the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which was developed through thousands of hours of research by leading U.S. and international scientists and informed by significant U.S. investments in advancing climate science research. Climate change is a global challenge that requires global solutions. Through President Bush's leadership, the U.S. government is taking action to curb the growth of greenhouse gas emissions and encouraging
the development and deployment of clean energy technologies here in the United States and across the globe.
"EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson chimed in with his own self-congratulatory remarks: "Through our commitment to sound science and innovation, the Bush Administration has built a solid foundation to address the environmental challenges of the 21st Century."
The press release goes on to claim that the U.S. "leads the world in advancing climate science and addressing our impact on Earth's climate," thanks to $29 billion in "climate-related science, technology, international assistance, and incentive programs — more than any other country."
It seems that Bush has gone from saying that we couldn't do anything about climate change because we didn't know enough about it to saying that we've been doing a huge amount all along. In reality, what obviously has happened is that the politics of the issue has shifted profoundly. With the change in power in the Congress, corporate support for action on climate, and ExxonMobil's recent decision to admit that climate change is real and we ought to be doing something about it, the administration no longer has any cover for claiming that the issue needs further study. Of course one could argue that action was justified years ago, even before Bush became president — as an insurance policy against something we could never be absolutely certain would happen but which has long looked likely enough to warrant a significant policy response.
The IPCC report explicitly recognizes something that climate scientists like James White here at the University of Colorado have been saying for quite some time now: Warming and sea level rise will "continue for centuries due to the timescales associated with climate processes and feedbacks, even if greenhouse gas concentrations were to be stabilized." In other words, no matter what we do now, we should expect significant change for a very long time to come.
Issues for journalists to address:
What is included in the $29 billion the administration is claiming to have spent on climate science, technology, incentives and assistance? In the technology area, does this include so-called "clean coal" and nuclear power, and how much do those expenditures compare with spending on energy efficiency and renewable energy? I think we all know the answers, but they should be documented.
And now that the IPCC has explicitly said we should expect our planet's climate system to change significantly no matter what we choose to do now, what should we do about this? (How do you spell "adaptation"?)
Lastly, journalists really should hold the administration accountable for its actions (suppressing and misrepresenting climate science) and inaction (failure to take climate change seriously until now — if it is, in fact, taking it seriously now).
Given a statement today from Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, some might argue that the administration is not being serious enough. According to an "AP report", Bodman continued the administration's opposition to mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases, saying this would hurt the economy. He claimed that the United States is "a small contributor" to greenhouse gas emissions. For the record, as a country the United States is the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and overall we are responsible for about 27 percent of all emissions. Does that sound like "small" to you?