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Environmental Leadership
Volume 4, Number 32: 8 August 2001

It has become the mantra of nearly everyone worried about potential global warming: leadership.  Just last Thursday (2 August 2001), the most recent worthies to decry what they view as a lack of this virtue in the Bush White House issued a call for U.S. power plants and industries to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide.  Said Arizona's Sen. John McCain, as quoted in the next day's Washington Post, "the United states has a responsibility to cut its emissions of greenhouse gases," adding that "the current situation demands leadership."  Likewise, saying he had been "extremely troubled by the failure of our government to engage on this crucial issue," Connecticut's Sen. Joseph Lieberman claimed "this failure abdicates the United States' position as a leader in environmental affairs."

Nothing could be further from the truth.  In leveling these derogatory charges against the president and his administration, the two senators substitute a form of name-calling for the more substantive discussion one would have hoped to receive from them.  If President Bush had allowed U.S. negotiators in Bonn to join with the rest of the world in seeking ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, for example, he would have been hailed as a great leader and more: he would have been heralded as an environmental savior.  So, it's not lack of White House leadership the senators decry, it's the direction that leadership might possibly take the nation that disturbs them; and, hence, their claims that the U.S. administration is not leading on the issue are an affront to reason and sensibility alike.

When the situation is more objectively considered, in fact, an even better case can be made for the proposition that the two senators are the ones who are lacking in leadership on the global change front.  Particularly in the case of Sen. McCain is this fact evident.  During his unsuccessful challenge of Bush in the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, McCain was pretty much lukewarm to the idea of global warming.  Only over the past few months has there been what the Washington Post describes as "a dramatic evolution in his thinking" on the subject, most likely fueled by the senator's realization there is much to be gained by "greening up."  In this transformation it seems clear he is only following what his nose tells him are greener political pastures on campaign trails to come.  Ditto for Lieberman.

To wax slightly more philosophical on this point, it is pertinent to note that great leaders do not use coercive tactics to force the masses to go where they want them to go; they use reason to encourage them to go where they truly believe they should be.  Education, not legislation, is thus the key to real leadership.  Yet what do we have from the media-knighted leaders of today?  Scientifically-unfounded and economically-unsound proposals for treaties and laws that would bind, obligate and enforce us to abide by a host of rules and regulations designed to reduce anthropogenic CO2 emissions in a massive global program for which many scientists believe there is no compelling rationale.

This abdication of one of the most basic principles of leadership cuts across all party lines.  The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for example, recently voted 19 to 0 to urge the administration to go to the next international climate change conference in Morocco in November with a plan for ensuring U.S. participation in "a revised Kyoto Protocol or other future binding climate change agreements."

Note that word binding.  It's the primary characteristic of what is being sought; and that is why the nations of the earth -- except for the freedom-loving United States -- were willing to accept such a watered-down Kyoto Protocol in Bonn: it's binding ... and it's a foot in the door to future egregious binding.  It's also the chief ingredient of the plan of Senators McCain and Lieberman, who intend to introduce legislation later this year to set an economy-wide cap on U.S. CO2 emissions.  And that's exactly what it will do: put a nation-wide cap on our economy.

It remains unclear what President Bush intends to do about the matter.  There are continual comments from people high in the administration that he considers potential global warming to be a serious issue.  Just two days ago (5 August 2001), for example, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said the administration would likely have a fresh set of proposals to present at the Morocco meeting.  Talk continues to center on voluntary and market-based initiatives; but it will be difficult for even President Bush to resist the massive pressure being brought to bear upon him.  He still has the opportunity to remain a great leader on the issue; but he may well decide to be deified.  If he does, heaven help us!

Dr. Craig D. Idso
Dr. Keith E. Idso
Vice President