For years, Bush bristled privately at what he considered sky-is-falling alarmism by the liberal, elitist Hollywood crowd. The clatter over climate change, according to friends and advisers, seemed to him more like a political agenda than a rational response to known facts. But ever so gradually, they say, Bush’s views have evolved. He has found the science increasingly persuasive and believes more needs to be done, especially after a set of secret briefings last winter. A former aide said Bush’s staff even developed models for a market-based cap on greenhouse emissions.
Now Bush bristles not at the Hollywood types but at the notion that he does not care. At an end-of-the-year news conference, he spent more time answering a question on climate change than any other inquiry, outlining his approach in detail to dispel the notion that he does not have one. “I take the issue seriously,” he said, later repeating the phrase. “And we’re developing a strategy that will deal with it, and an effective strategy.”
The evolution has been evident over the past year. Bush cited the danger of climate change in his State of the Union address for the first time, proposed a plan to cut gasoline consumption and, by extension, greenhouse gases, and convened a conference of major world polluters to start crafting an international accord to follow the Kyoto Protocol. He even invited former vice president Al Gore for a 40-minute talk about global warming.
Many environmentalists dismiss this as cover for a do-nothing policy. Bush still rejects the one measure that they, and even many Republican corporate leaders, consider vital to reversing warming trends — a mandatory cap on carbon emissions. His negotiators infuriated counterparts at this month’s talks in Bali by resisting such a move. And just hours after Bush signed the energy bill, the administration invalidated an effort by California and 17 other states to impose tougher tailpipe emission rules, saying it makes more sense to have a single national policy.
“There’s no question the profile has changed in a pretty dramatic way,” said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and a leader of a coalition of corporations and nonprofit groups called the United States Climate Action Partnership, which has been lobbying Bush. “But the policy prescriptions haven’t changed at all.”
The coming year offers a final test of whether Bush is willing to move beyond the policies of the past seven years and embrace more aggressive measures, including a mandatory limit on carbon emissions with pollution credits that can be bought and sold — a system known as cap-and-trade. If presented such legislation by Sens. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Warner (R-Va.), supporters hope, Bush might sign it.
“They are more engaged in thinking about this in a way they were not before,” said Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense, an advocacy group, who talks with White House officials. “That leads me to think things are still fluid there. The current public position is not what it needs to be, but I don’t have the sense that it’s cemented into place.”