What man has made, man can change.
— Fred M. Vinson, Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Day Speech, 1945
It was a confusing few days for the climate and those affected by it. On May 21, 2007, Robert Sullivan, the former associate director in charge of exhibitions at the National Museum of Natural History, said that a scientific exhibit on Arctic climate change at the Smithsonian had been toned down by museum authorities in order to avoid annoying Congress and the Bush administration. According to Mr. Sullivan, things that were perceived as possibly annoying were suggestions from scientists that there was a relationship such as cause and effect between people and global warming. The exhibit language was changed to minimize and introduce uncertainty into that concept. In addition to that change, Mr. Sullivan said that graphs in the exhibit were altered in order to show “that global warming could go either way”.
Responding to Mr. Sullivan’s criticism, the museum said the changes introduced objectivity to the exhibit by pointing out the benefits of global warming such as the ability to do more hiking, lower heating bills in the winter and an increased supply of hardwood (conifers being adversely affected by global warming.) No sooner was news of the censored Smithsonian exhibit made public than Michael Griffin, the head of NASA weighed in with his thoughts about global warming.
On May 31 Mr. Griffin said in an interview on National Public Radio that he was sure global warming existed but was not sure anyone needed to do anything about it: “I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with.” Continuing, he said: “I guess I would ask which human beings where and when are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that’s a rather arrogant position for people to take.” Mr. Griffin could have asked James Hansen, the longtime director of NASA’S Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Upon learning of Mr. Griffin’s statement Dr. Hansen said: “It’s an incredibly arrogant and ignorant statement. It indicates a complete ignorance of understanding the implications of climate change.” Continuing, he said: “It’s unbelievable. I thought he had been misquoted. It’s so unbelievable.” What he didn’t say was that Mr. Griffin sounded like the pre-May 31 President George Bush.
On May 31 Mr. Bush disclosed that he had undergone an epiphany. Using the royal “we” he said: “In recent years, science has deepened our understanding of climate change and opened new possibilities for confronting it. The United States takes this issue seriously.” That was quite a change.
In a speech on September 29, 2000, relying on statistics furnished by the Greening Earth Society, a think tank financed by seven coal-burning utilities, Mr. Bush said the Internet consumed 8 percent of all the electricity produced in the United States and, therefore, the country needed many new power plants including coal-fired generators. In June 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency put out a report that said human activities such as oil refining, power plants and cars are major contributors to global warming. When asked about the report Mr. Bush said dismissively: “I read the report put out by the bureaucracy.” In Trenton, New Jersey, on September 23, 2002, Mr. Bush said “we need an energy bill that encourages consumption.”
Displaying his “deepened understanding” on May 31, Mr. Bush said that: “The United States takes this issue seriously.” He went on, saying: “The new initiative I’m outlining today will contribute to the important dialogue that will take place in Germany next week.” He said that the United States was in the lead for having technology to meet the “challenge of energy and global climate change”. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the plan was a big step forward. Damning by faint praise, albeit unintentionally, he said: “For the first time, America’s saying it wants to be part of a global deal. . . . For the first time, it’s saying it wants a global target for the reduction of emissions.” Of course it’s not all peaches and cream.
Mr. Bush still wants everything to be voluntary. He doesn’t want any fixed deadlines for reducing carbon emissions. James Connaughton, the White House environmental adviser, said the Bush goal would be to get countries to set “aspirational goals.” “Each country will develop its own national strategies on a midterm basis in the next 10 to 20 years on where they want to take their efforts to . . . reduce air pollution and also reduce greenhouse gases, ” Mr. Connaughton said. Mr. Bush likes things that are aspirational rather than mandatory. It’s too bad he thinks that to have the air we aspirate be clean is nothing more than aspirational.