"Whether or not Marie Antoinette actually said, 'Let them eat cake," she inspired change that reverberated far beyond Europe. Likewise, when George W. Bush says we can't act on global warming until we "fully understand the nature of the problem,' we can use his callous disregard as a rallying cry." This is the conclusion of "The Thirteen Tipping Point," Julia Whitty's cover story in the current issue of Mother Jones, which describes 12 climate tipping points that terrify scientists and explores--using clues from vampire bats to game theorists--what it will take for humans to get past denial and deal with global warming.
Evidently, the political implications of global warming have finally pierced the White House bubble. Yesterday, in response to U.K Prime Minister Tony Blair's statement that global warming poses a dire threat not only to the global environment, but to the global economy, White House spokesman Tony Snow that President Bush "has, in fact, contrary to stereotype, been actively engaged in trying to fight climate change and will continue to do so."
This is demonstrably false. For starters, in 2001, Bush reneged
on a campaign promise to regulate carbon emissions and withdrew the U.S. from the Kyoto treaty, which seeks to slow global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Meanwhile, at an event yesterday for the Asia-Pacific Partnership Paula Dobriansky, the undersecretary of state for global affairs, said the U.S. has invested more than $20 billion over the last five years in research and technology development on the issue. "Our approach comprises taking actions now. We put significant money into actions now," she said.
A year ago, a Mother Jones expose about how ExxonMobil funds global warming deniers (reporting which has led to Senators Olympia Snowe and Jay Rockefeller to recently demand that
the company "come clean about its past denial activities") reported on the ties between sisters Paula and Larisa Dobriansky and Exxon Mobil.
"Larisa Dobriansky, currently the deputy assistant secretary for national energy policy at the Department of Energy--in which capacity she's charged with managing the department's Office of Climate Change Policy--was previously a lobbyist with the firm Akin Gump, where she worked on climate change for ExxonMobil. Her sister, Paula Dobriansky, currently serves as undersecretary for global affairs in the State Department. In that role, Paula Dobriansky recently headed the U.S. delegation to a United Nations meeting on the Kyoto Protocol in Buenos Aires, where she charged that 'science tells us that we cannot say with any certainty what constitutes a dangerous level of warming, and therefore what level must be avoided.'
"Indeed, the rhetoric of scientific uncertainty has been Paula Dobriansky's stock-in-trade. At a November 2003 panel sponsored by the AEI, she declared, 'the extent to which the man-made portion of greenhouse gases is causing temperatures to rise is still unknown, as are the long-term effects of this trend. Predicting what will happen 50 or 100 years in the future is difficult.'
"Given Paula Dobriansky's approach to climate change, it will come as little surprise that memos uncovered by Greenpeace show that in 2001, within months of being confirmed by the Senate, Dobriansky met with ExxonMobil lobbyist Randy Randol and the Global Climate Coalition. For her meeting with the latter group, one of Dobriansky's prepared talking points was "POTUS [President Bush in Secret Service parlance] rejected Kyoto, in part, based on input from you." The documents also show that Dobriansky met with ExxonMobil executives to discuss climate policy just days after September 11, 2001. A State Department official confirmed that these meetings took place, but adds that Dobriansky "meets with pro-Kyoto groups as well."
The White House can just keep spinning their way out of dealing with global warming, but they do so at their own political peril.
According to an MIT survey, "Americans now rank climate change as the country's most pressing environmental problem--a dramatic shift from three years ago, when they ranked climate change sixth out of 10 environmental concerns."
"Almost three-quarters of the respondents felt the government should do more to deal with global warming, and individuals were willing to spend their own money to help."
Americans are primed to do something about global warming. Whitty's article outlines how we can leverage people's instinct for survival to slip from selfishness toward altruism, transforming what we perceive as the Tragedy of the Commons into something more like a triumph.
Now if only we had some leadership.