Friday, July 11, 2008

Did the President Really Say That?

The question is not “What was George Bush thinking?” Rather it is “Why wasn’t George Bush thinking?”

After all, it had only been three days, and the last gathering had just ended. Leaders of the G8 – the group of the world’s most highly industrialized countries (Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation, and the United States) – seemed satisfied with their discussions and with their meetings with representatives of India and the People’s Republic of China on global warming.

This G8 summit hosted by Japan at Hokkaido had been about the environment. Two major issue clusters were on the agenda: global warming-energy sources-pollution, and the effects of the growing diversion of food harvests to biomass for use in fuel on the cost and availability of food to meet the needs of people living in drought or flooded environments.

For a Texas “oil man,” none of these was particularly exciting. Only when new sources of oil were brought up (possible new profits) or cutting back emissions (costing industry money for filters) would the president evince interest. Bush’s answer to the energy problem has always been to expand off-shore drilling and open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for “exploration” (read “exploitation”). And I doubt he ever heard a proposal for generating electricity by burning more coal and extracting oil from shale for transportation – two resources the U.S. has in abundance – that he could not support.

When discussions turned to pollution and greenhouse gases, one could easily imagine Bush’s eyes simply glazing over. In fact, if you closed your eyes and concentrated just a bit, it is possible to imagine Bush morphing into MAD magazine’s Alfred E. Newman, saying “What me worry?”

The last day, the last meetings, the last words of this G8 meeting were history. Then, as Bush emerged from a private discussion, he said clearly and audibly (no hidden microphones needed here): “Goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter,” followed by a hand and arm signal normally interpreted as “So there too—I’m through with this (BLEEP) subject.”

I would normally characterize such adolescent behavior as pre-meditated, except that would imply deliberate planning on the president’s part. He might have been bored; he may not believe the environment is deeply troubled by human activity. But as the president representing the United States, whatever disdain he might feel for the issues and the people concerned with these issues, he ought to be in sufficient control of himself to wait until out of the public eye to express his view.

But this also rekindles previous allegations about Bush when he was in the Texas Air National Guard: he doesn’t finish what he starts. As a fighter pilot, all he had to do was land safely and taxi to the ramp. It’s more complicated if you are president of the United States; you cannot just simply wake up one morning and decide you are going to do something else. .

It’s going to be a harrowing six more months.


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