As the World Warms, the White House Aspires

"The United States takes this issue seriously," the Bush administration said with a wink. (By Chip Somodevilla -- Getty Images)
By Dana Milbank
Friday, June 1, 2007

Yesterday, as the temperature pushed toward 90 degrees in the capital, global warming caused a meltdown in the Bush administration's message machine.

Just as President Bush was about to wheel out his "new international climate change framework," the NASA administrator, Michael Griffin, declared that there is no need to take action against global warming.

"Whether that is a long-term concern or not, I can't say," he said in an interview with National Public Radio, adding: "I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with." In fact, Griffin found it "rather arrogant" to suggest that global warming is a bad thing.

A couple of hours after the broadcast, Griffin's boss took the stage at the Ronald Reagan Building to endorse just such arrogance -- an initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gases. "The United States takes this issue seriously," Bush said.

This mixed message led to a rather cool reception for Jim Connaughton, the president's adviser on the environment, as he briefed reporters on the plan at noon.

"Will the new framework consist of binding commitments or voluntary commitments?" asked CBS News's Jim Axelrod.

"In this instance, you have a long-term, aspirational goal," Connaughton answered.

Aspirational goal? Like having the body you want without diet or exercise? Or getting rich without working?

"I'm confused," Axelrod said. "Does that mean there will be targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions, and that everybody will be making binding commitments?"

"The commitment at the international level will be to a long-term, aspirational goal," the Bush aide repeated.

Axelrod had his answer. "Voluntary," he concluded.

"Well," said Connaughton, "I want to be careful about the word 'voluntary.' "


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