Gore Says Bush Lacks Moral Courage to Tackle Global Warming

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, February 16, 2005 (ENS) – President George W. Bush’s refusal to lead the global effort to combat climate change and endorse the Kyoto Protocol represents a "stunning display of moral cowardice," former Vice President Al Gore said Tuesday.

The evidence that humanity is changing the climate "continues to mount," Gore said, but instead of confronting the issue the president has chosen to "stick his head in the sand."

Gore slammed the White House for distracting the nation with "false crises" such as the Iraqi threat of weapons of mass destruction and the need to privatize Social Security, while "ignoring a real crisis unfolding right before our eyes."

"This issue desperately needs leadership from the President of the United States," Gore told reporters, "but his financial supporters in the oil and coal industry do not want him to attack it, so he pretends it does not exist."

The former vice president said the Kyoto treaty, which enters into force today, is a critical first step in confronting the "growing climate crisis."

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Former Vice President Al Gore was an architect of the Kyoto Protocol. (Photo courtesy Columbia University)
The accord legally binds 35 industrialized nations to reduce emissions of six greenhouse gases below their levels of 1990. In total, 141 nations have ratified the treaty.

Emissions of these gases from human activities – in particular the burning of fossil fuels – are causing the global climate to warm, a trend that could have dramatic effects on ecosystems across the planet.

The United States contributes more than a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Critics question the treaty’s effectiveness given the rapidly increasing rate of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, as well as the absence of binding commitments on the United States and the developing world.

Several nations, including Canada and Japan, have expressed doubts they can meet their targets by the treaty’s 2012 deadline and the United Nations estimates overall emission will be 10 percent above 1990 levels by 2010.

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Gore has been warning of the dangers of climate change while in office and ever since he left. Here he addresses students and faculty at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, October 8, 2003. (Photo courtesy ESIA)
And scientists estimate massive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions – on the order of some 60 percent – may be needed to stabilize the climate.

Gore, who lost the 2000 presidential election to Bush, acknowledged "far tougher measures are going to soon be required" to combat global warming.

But Kyoto is certain to have a positive impact on the overall effort, Gore said, and is a "great cause for hope."

The treaty "sends a very clear and powerful signal" that cutting greenhouse gas emissions must be part of the world’s future, said Gore, who helped to negotiate the accord in 1997.

He highlighted the economic benefits of the protocol’s emissions trading regime, which allows industrialized countries to buy and sell emissions credits amongst themselves.

This scheme is expected to unleash a multi-billion dollar trading market.

"The best way to solve a problem is making certain market forces are acting with you and not against you," Gore said.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan rejected Gore’s allegation that corporate interests are driving the administration’s climate change policy.

"The President is making decisions based on the best interests of the American people and that is what he will continue to do," McClellan told reporters.

Embracing Kyoto – or any form of mandatory greenhouse gas emissions cuts - would harm the U.S. economy, McClellan said, and has little support in the U.S. Congress.

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The Arctic is warming, glaciers are melting, and Greenland is getting wetter. (Image from Konrad Steffen and Russell Huff, University of Colorado-Boulder.)
Although the administration has repeatedly questioned the science behind global warming, McClellan said the president considers climate change "a serious matter" and is moving aggressively to address the issue.

The administration has earmarked billions of dollars to study climate change and has pushed forward with a voluntary program to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas intensity – the ratio of emissions to economic output - by 18 percent.

That plan represents "an unprecedented commitment to reduce the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in a way that continues to grow our economy," McClellan said.

"You have to factor those things into consideration when you look at these issues," he added. "There is a lot that we are still learning about the science of climate change."

Critics contend the President’s policies allow greenhouse gas emissions to continue to increase and show a lack of concern about the scientific consensus that global warming is a problem that must be addressed sooner, rather than later.

Many scientists say dramatic efforts are needed in the next decade if the world is to avoid the rising sea levels, agricultural losses, increased water shortages and widespread adverse health impacts expected from global warming.

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Los Angeles traffic (Photo credit unknown)
Last month two independent studies determined those impacts will likely occur unless the world can limit the average temperature rise to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the average level found prior to the industrial revolution.

And the world is close to the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) – the leading greenhouse gas - that will make that temperature increase inevitable; at current rates, scientists expect that level will be reached within two decades.

Gore says Bush’s rejection of Kyoto puts the U.S. economy "at risk by encouraging delusionary business decisions."

"Businesses lulled into a false sense that there is no problem are going to find themselves facing much tougher competition in the global marketplace from competitors who have adapted to the emerging reality that the world begins to embrace tomorrow," Gore told reporters.

The former vice president will give a speech tonight in Los Angeles urging automakers to drop a lawsuit challenging California’s bid to cut greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles.

U.S. passenger vehicles emit some 20 percent of the nation’s CO2 emissions, accounting for more emissions of that greenhouse gas than all but three countries in the world.

Gore said the speech would help launch a national effort urging automakers to "innovate and not litigate."

"They should stop suing the future and start building the future," he said.