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Climate Change: Standing Athwart History

As the threat of global climate crisis grows, the global mechanisms for averting disaster are being gutted.

MAY 29, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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CLIMATE CHANGE

Standing Athwart History

As the threat of global climate crisis grows, the global mechanisms for averting disaster are being gutted. A new report published by the National Academy of Sciences found that from 2000 to 2004, global industry emitted roughly 7.9 billion tons of carbon dioxide, millions more than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had projected “under its most extreme scenario.” Meanwhile, the world’s only international pact mandating cuts in carbon emissions, the Kyoto Protocol, is set to expire in 2012. With this backdrop, Bush administration negotiators met this week in Germany in advance of next month’s G8 summit of the world’s richest nations. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has “been pushing hard to get the Group of 8 to take significant action on climate change,” setting bold new standards to take the place of Kyoto. Virtually alone in resisting her is President Bush. “In unusually harsh language,” Bush administration negotiators rejected Germany’s proposal, complaining that it “crosses multiple red lines in terms of what we simply cannot agree to.” (For more, read the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s global warming blog, Climate Progress.)

BUSH BLOCKING PROGRESS ON EVERY FRONT: Bush’s drive to hobble the G8 climate change declaration was first uncovered two weeks ago, when reports showed that the United States was seeking to eliminate a section in the G8 draft that included “a pledge to limit the global temperature rise this century to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as an agreement to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.” (Scientists warn that an increase of more than 3.6 degrees this century “could trigger disastrous consequences such as mass extinction of species and accelerated melting of polar ice sheets, which would raise sea levels.”) Bush administration officials also tried to eliminate draft language that said, “We acknowledge that the U.N. climate process is the appropriate forum for negotiating future global action on climate change.” In response, 15 House committee chairmen wrote Bush urging him not to gut the G8 declaration: “The G8 Summit should be an opportunity to galvanize international support for addressing this looming threat, not an opportunity to prevent and undermine international action.” Bush ignored their message. Likewise, the Bush administration is blocking local progress on climate change, refusing to approve efforts by 12 states “to institute tougher standards for tailpipe emissions than US regulations require.” In an op-ed last week, Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) and Jodi Rell (R-CT) charged that Bush’s resistance “borders on malfeasance.

CLIMATE CHANGE EXASPERATING POVERTY CHALLENGE: Noting the focus on anti-poverty measures at recent G8 summits, the international development group Oxfam has issued a new report highlighting the “deep injustice in the impacts of climate change“: the poor nations least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global warming will bear the brunt of its devastating impacts. For Africa that means dramatic reductions in agricultural productivity, hundreds of millions newly exposed to water shortages, 5-10 percent loss in GDP in coastal countries, and an expanded range of malaria to exhaust already the deficient heath services. Global warming is already exacerbating poverty, yet methods and levels of development assistance around the world and in the United States have yet to take global warming into account. The World Bank estimates that 40 percent — approximately $40 billion annually — of development assistance and concessional financing is directed at activities that will be affected by climate change. Oxfam estimates that it will cost developing countries $50 billion a year to adapt to climate change.

A SYMBOL OF THE CLIMATE CRISIS: This weekend, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) led a bipartisan delegation to Greenland, where lawmakers saw “firsthand evidence that climate change is a reality.” (See photos from the trip.) Greenland is losing ice at an alarming rate of 100 billion tons ever year, twice as fast as it was five years ago. The melting is fundamentally altering the salinity of the world’s oceans (“What happens when a saltwater environment becomes more fresh lake?“), and fueling a potentially catastrophic rise in sea levels. Should all of Greenland’s ice sheet thaw, sea levels could rise by 21 feet and swamp the world’s coastal cities. (CNN’s Anderson Cooper reported live from Greenland last week; watch the video of his excellent report.) Pelosi then traveled to meet European leaders for climate talks, praising Germany for “its leadership on the issue” and saying “she hoped the Bush administration would consider a new path.”

NO SOLUTION IN COAL: Meanwhile, even as congressional leaders draft legislation to reduce greenhouse gases, “a powerful roster of Democrats and Republicans is pushing to subsidize coal as the king of alternative fuels.” Prodded by “intense lobbying from the coal industry,” lawmakers from coal states are proposing that taxpayers spend billions of dollars to subsidize the coal industry’s production of liquid diesel fuel. This is a dangerously backwards idea. Coal-to-liquid fuels “produce almost twice the volume of greenhouse gases as ordinary diesel,” and the production process of such fuels “creates almost a ton of carbon dioxide for every barrel of liquid fuel.” Congressional supporters of coal-to-liquids argue that “coal-based fuels are more American than gasoline.” But the only responsible way to achieve American energy independence is to create policies that also reduce global warming. That can be done with low-carbon, alternative transportation fuels, including American-grown biofuels.

UNDER THE RADAR

IRAQ — RIGHT WING PLAYS DOWN SEPTEMBER DEADLINE FOR IRAQ: The LA Times reports today that “U.S. military leaders in Iraq are increasingly convinced that most of the broad political goals President Bush laid out early this year in his announcement of a troop buildup will not be met” by September. “Enactment of a new law to share Iraq’s oil revenue among Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions is the only goal they think might be achieved in time, and even that is considered a long shot. The two other key benchmarks are provincial elections and a deal to allow more Sunni Arabs into government jobs.” Several conservatives, like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are coalescing around a troop withdrawal in September. But as progress in Iraq is more elusive than ever, the right wing is working to scuttle this deadline in favor of an open-ended commitment. This weekend, Fox News correspondent Brit Hume said the September deadline was “not helpful” and “probably unrealistic.” Fox military commentator Bob Maginnis said that “after September, there’s a lot to be done. … It’s going to take a while.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he is leading an effort to discourage his colleagues “from saying that September is some kind of seminal moment.” As prospects for broad progress in Iraq look grim, military officials are also helping push back against the September deadline, now saying they will instead “focus on smaller achievements that they see as signs of progress” this fall. With May being the deadliest month in Iraq this year, a troop redeployment from Iraq is necessary as soon as possible.

IMMIGRATION — BUSH ADMINISTRATION CONTINUES TO ‘BORROW’ IMMIGRATION SECURITY PERSONNEL: Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration has “doubled the number of officials granted Secret Service protection,” while it has hired only “about 20 percent” more “uniformed officers and support staff.” The Washington Post reports today that as a result, the Bush administration plans to “borrow more than 2,000 immigration officers and federal airport screeners” to meet personnel requirements during the 2008 presidential election cycle. Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) criticized the administration’s $1.4 billion 2008 Secret Service budget proposal as an attempt to provide Secret Service protection “on the cheap.” The Post’s report marks the second time in recent weeks that President Bush has planned to siphon off immigration security resources to meet foreseeable personnel requirements elsewhere in his administration. Last week, Govs. Janet Napolitano (D-AZ) and Bill Richardson (D-NM) were outraged to discover that the State Department plans “to hire away as many as 120 veteran Border Patrol agents” to serve as “mentors to train Iraqis” how to secure their own borders. In a joint letter to Bush, Napolitano and Richardson wrote that the plan “makes no sense” and that “we should be focused on supporting our nation’s security efforts along the Mexican and Canadian border instead of hampering [the Border Patrol] by sending our best agents to a war zone in Iraq.”

ETHICS — TOP ROVE AIDE CONNECTED TO U.S. ATTORNEY SCANDAL RESIGNS: The Washington Post reported yesterday that Sara M. Taylor, the White House political director and a close aide to Karl Rove, had quietly resigned last week, claiming a desire to “take her skills to the private sector.” Taylor, who was one of the first people put on the payroll of President Bush’s 2000 campaign, was intimately involved in the U.S. attorney scandal. According to Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Taylor directly promoted efforts to appoint attorneys without Senate confirmation. She then got “upset” when the Attorney General ultimately rejected the plan to permanently install former Rove aide Tim Griffin as the Arkansas U.S. attorney, without Senate confirmation. In her appearance before the House Judiciary Committee last week, former Justice Department liason to the White House Monica Goodling “suggested Taylor had signed off on the plan” to fire the U.S. attorneys. Rumors of Taylor’s resignation first circulated on March 30, the day after Sampson mentioned her multiple times in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. On April 25, the House and Senate Judiciary Committees approved subpoenas for her testimony about the U.S. attorney scandal.

THINK FAST

Eight U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq on Memorial Day yesterday, “making May the deadliest month of the year for U.S. troops in Iraq.”

Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has withdrawn his name from consideration for World Bank president.” Former Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick has emerged as the frontrunner to replace Paul Wolfowitz.

Even though “major Hispanic groups broke with other civil rights organizations and supported Alberto R. Gonzales’s nomination for attorney general” two years ago, those same groups are now calling for his resignation. Janet Murguia, head of the National Council of La Raza, called Gonzales “a follower, not a leader.”

Announcing new economic sanctions against Sudan’s government, President Bush this morning called the bloodshed in Darfur a “genocide.” The administration’s measures are considered “too weak and too unilateral to significantly alter the calculations of the government of Sudan.”

War critic Cindy Sheehan, who rose to prominence when she camped outside Bush’s Crawford ranch in Aug. 2005 to seek an explanation for her son’s death in Iraq, wrote in a diary entry on DailyKos yesterday: “This is my resignation letter as the ‘face’ of the American anti-war movement. … I am going to take whatever I have left, and go home. I am going to go home and be a mother to my surviving children, and try to regain some of what I have lost.” 

Climate change is a global problem that requires unity and “multilateral” agreements if it is to be defeated, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said on Tuesday. On Monday, Pelosi led a congressional delegation to Greenland, where lawmakers saw “firsthand evidence that climate change is a reality.” (The Gavel has photos of the trip.)

A USA Today analysis finds that the federal government “recorded a $1.3 trillion loss last year — far more than the official $248 billion deficit — when corporate-style accounting standards are used.” Every U.S. household owes an amount roughly equal to $516,348.

And finally: Summer’s here! CNN’s Ed Henry said he’s excited because he gets to finally “take my children to Disneyland in Anaheim as well as LEGOLAND.” An “anonymous” political editor said that House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner’s (R-OH) year-long tan will begin to “blend in with everyone else.” An unnamed Republican Senate staffer added that summer “means the heat causes John McCain to become more irritable.”

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GOOD NEWS

The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City is honoring the designs of inventors who are dedicated to developing inventions for “the billions of people living on less than $2 a day.”

STATE WATCH

CALIFORNIA: Almost 90 percent of parents statewide support comprehensive sexual education for their children.

ILLINOIS: “Low-income Chicago neighborhoods are showing a seven-fold increase in staph infections that occasionally turn deadly.”

ENVIRONMENT: School districts across the country are joining the “green school” movement.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol: President Bush “was furious” over the New York Times’s report of a 2008 withdrawal from Iraq.

DAILY DISH: Vice President Cheney attacked both the Geneva Conventions and the Constitution in his West Point commencement speech.

WASHINGTON NOTE: Iraq War architect Doug Feith rejected a Pentagon job applicant because the applicant spoke Arabic well.

RAW STORY: On Memorial Day, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace underestimated the number of U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq.

DAILY GRILL

“I’m pleased that finally the board did accept that I acted in good faith and acted ethically.”
— World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, 5/28/07

VERSUS

“World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz broke bank rules in arranging a hefty compensation package for his girlfriend, a situation that has caused a ‘crisis in the leadership’ at the institution, according to a report released…by a special bank panel.”
— AP, 5/14/07