Top Five Reasons the Environment is Still Screwed by George W. Bush (in no particular order)

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5) The refusal to properly acknowledge climate change in a timely way. The repeated mantra by the right has stated that the science on climate change is “inconclusive” or “still under debate.”  Granted, in 2005 Bush finally conceded that, not only is the phenomenon real, but it is largely man-made and significant.  (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2005/jul/06/usnews.development).  The University of Illinois just released a study last month (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-01/uoia-ssa011609.php) outlining just how few scientists think that global warming is not occurring or that it is not significantly influenced by human activities. 97% of climate scientists believe that this temperature increase is occurring and is also largely man-made.

Such anti-intellectual attitudes as those purported by Bush, prior to his tacit admissions, give ammunition to industry to pollute all they want under a veil of uncertainty about the science.  This is still dangerous because about three in five Americans believe there is a controversy as to whether or not the science is “solid”

4) The systematic dismantling of environmental regulations.

The unilateral pullout from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 in the name of protecting jobs was one of the most frustrating moments in history for environmentalists, namely because the most significant environmental agreement in history was neutered.  This was devastating in two ways: As the current leader (at the time) in greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. would have been able to reduce the most emissions as a reduction in already existing pollution. Also, the potential for innovation and “leading by example” would have been extremely significant to prevent the exponential growth of emissions that is underway in China and India, and all those that follow with their own industrial revolutions.

Global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are the best predictor for average global temperature

Although China recently passed the U.S. as the top emitter, Americans dwarf the Chinese on emissions per capita

The delay of enforcement of domestic laws already on the books, including the Clean Air Act, provided industry with the right to maintain then-current levels of sulfur dioxide(SO2),  nitrogen, dioxide (NO2), nitrates (NO3), and mercury pollution.  With Republicans defeating EPA-backed measures in Congress and Democrats blocking the Orwellian-named Clear Skies Act, the Bush EPA still supported relaxed standards on all of these pollutants.  The legality of these actions is highly in question.  In addition, much of the regulatory enforcement reporting has been voluntary, and therefore ineffective.

3) The seats of power being filled by energy company figures. Corruption was rampant in the Bush Administration.  Everyone knows that Dick Cheney was the C.E.O. of Halliburton before he became vice president. Subsequently, the company was given no-bid contracts to carry out military logistics and oil extraction operations during the Iraq War and occupation.  Halliburton subsidiary KBR performed private security operations in Iraq.  Formerly known as Brown and Root, the subsidiary had close ties to Lyndon Johnson and was considered a prime example of the military industrial complex in the Vietnam War.  I’ll soon get to why military escalation is bad for the environment.

Prior to 2001, Condoleeza Rice headed Chevron’s committee on public policy and sat on the company’s board of directors.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (for Presidents Ford and Bush) personally lobbied Saddam Hussein in order to build an oil pipeline in Iraq for the Bechtel corporation.

To this day, the aforementioned ex-officials own significant portions of their respective corporations.

The precedent set by these political appointees bodes poorly for the future and the present.  President Obama is not immune from having the influence of Big Oil in his administration.  Former BP executive Sylvia Baca served as his deputy administrator for land and minerals management at the Minerals Management Service.  BP’s former chief scientist Steve Koonin serves as undersecretary of science to Obama’s Department of Energy.  In addition, Obama appointed William K. Reilly, who sits on the board of directors of  both ConocoPhillips and the chemical company Dupont, as a co-director on the commission to investigate the BP spill.

2) War for oil is bad in more than one way.

Even Alan Greenspan, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, admitted that “the Iraq war is largely about oil” in an appearance on ABC in 2007.  He had previously called the invasion “crucial” to the energy security of the U.S.

To add to the appearance of a corrupt conflict of interest, the Bush Administration appointed two former Unocal (formerly  Union Oil of California) to the top positions in a fledgling post-invasion Afghan government. They are the former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and current Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

It has been a desire for decades for U.S. oil companies to build a pipeline from the Caspian Sea to the Arabian Sea while bypassing Iranian territory. These companies were to have their chance under a friendly Afghan government. Plans are under way for this, but security is obviously lacking for such an operation to be successful.

Corrupt influences from the energy industry keep the American addiction to fossil fuel going strong.  It follows that the local and global environment will continue to suffer from pollution and greenhouse emissions.

What is more, war itself is the single most environmentally destructive activity possible. The combustion of munitions, destruction of infrastructure that will need to be rebuilt, and the “carbon footprint” of transporting material and personnel thousands upon thousands of miles all provide a monumental source of air pollution. Not to mention the oil fires set by the Iraqis. See this satellite photo of Iraqi in 2003:

1)Industrial farming and food production.

Americans consume more meat than any other nation. We also produce more. The industrialization of our farming sector is not only making our farmers poorer and our food supply less safe (see inhumane conditions and hormone use), but it is polluting our land, air and water.

http://www.factoryfarmmap.org/

Concentration of factory farms in U.S. -- 2007 (see link for detail)

In 2008, the Bush Administration allowed these confined animal feeding lots (factory farms) to be exempt from obtaining water pollution permits. In addition, the EPA refused to tighten controls on the pathogens released by these, well, shit farms.  The growth of this industry screams out for the need of such regulation because of the disease that runs rampant in the animals and their waste, which ends up in the groundwater, waterways, and neighboring crop fields.  Again, a violation of the rule of law (Clean Water Act).

Also, I should mention that methane from cattle, uh, metabolism has become a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions, 5.5 million tons per year in the U.S. (source: EPA).

President Obama may or may not be able to effectively turn back the clock on some of these issues, but what is done is done.  Triage is what is going on now, and by surrounding his administration with many similar (if not the same) corrupt influences as his predecessor, the future is grim.

Next time, I hope to touch on corn subsidies for ethanol (it doesn’t make sense energy-dynamics-wise) and the relationship to the global food crises.

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About Joe Doolen

I am a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. My aim is to write on science and international issues with a focus on environmental policy and justice. Topics range from local and domestic politics to international communications and culture, and anything cool about science really!!
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3 Responses to Top Five Reasons the Environment is Still Screwed by George W. Bush (in no particular order)

  1. Erin Podolak says:

    Interesting post Joe, I give you credit for tackling a topic that draws politics and policy into science. I would be interested to learn more about what Obama is or at least can do to try to reverse or as you say triage some of these unfortunate circumstances.

  2. Deborah Blum says:

    Of course, I partly love this post because I agree with it, Joe. And this is a charming and smart way of doing list. I especially agree with the point about linking past policies to current dilemmas. Be interested to read your corn piece.

  3. Lew Weingarth says:

    Global Climate Change isn’t really anything to debate. The fact that it was going to happen was known beyond doubt by 1960, and proven beyond doubt by 1975. The only discussion is what we are going to do in response.

    Where the Regressives really hurt the planet is their continuous lying. Nixon was the first Regressive President to realize that most Americans are clueless about anything but sports. Every Regressive since Nixon has done nothing but lie, it’s policy now. Making things worse, the Regressives own ALL THE MEDIA, which they use to spread their lies, while jokingly calling themselves the “liveral media”. The Democrats are starting to realize that facts require research, and favorable results require action, it is much easier to just make up lies like the Regressives. It isn’t going to help if the Democrats become as big a bunch of liars as teh Regressives. I will never forget the debate between W Senior and Clinton back in 1991. Clinton had told the public of one of W Sr’s crimes, which was the first time a Democrat ever played dirty. W Sr took offense, and insulted Clinton. Clinton then made the second best statement of the campaign (his best was “it’s about the economy stupid:). He turned to W Sr. and said “I will offer you a deal, George, if you quit lying about me I will quit telling the truth about you!!!!)

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