Gore v. Bush

Saturday, October 13, 2007

FOR FORMER vice president Al Gore, sharing the Nobel Peace Prize with the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is vindication. He was green when green wasn't cool. For more than 20 years, Mr. Gore persisted in the face of intense skepticism and criticism with his warnings about the impact of global warming on the planet.

"He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted," the Nobel committee wrote.

His movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," about the effects of climate change, was a box-office hit and an Oscar winner. That achievement is impressive and important, notwithstanding factual misstatements and exaggerations such as the "nine significant errors" in the film cited by a British judge Wednesday. By also awarding the prize to the IPCC, the Nobel committee bolstered the more solid scientific assessments of the U.N.-sponsored organization, which served to strengthen Mr. Gore's message about the dangers of global warming while moderating some of his more questionable assertions.

The Nobel committee chairman said that awarding the prize to Mr. Gore and the IPCC was not meant to be "a kick in the leg to anyone." The White House said it didn't see it that way, either. But these denials are hard to take seriously from a group that has handed the peace prize to adversaries of President Bush in several recent years. Mr. Bush said, through a spokesperson, that he was "happy" for Mr. Gore. But there was no congratulatory phone call, and commentary around the world, particularly in Europe, took delight in a yet another perceived rebuff to the unpopular president.

When it comes to global warming, the ire is warranted. Mr. Bush's inaction on climate change is one of the major failings of his presidency. He squandered nearly seven years by questioning the science of global warming and undermining efforts to do anything substantive about it. His recent efforts to demonstrate leadership -- from finally recognizing global warming as real to hosting a climate summit with the major emitters of greenhouse gases -- are undermined by his insistence that nations pursue voluntary "aspirational goals" to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This is not the kind of leadership the world is looking for.

Fortunately, Congress is beginning to consider climate-change legislation. Support is growing for putting a price on carbon through a cap-and-trade system with mandatory emission-reduction targets. Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.) will introduce their climate bill next week. Mr. Bush could and should be an active and productive participant in the debate to follow. This is the stuff of legacy: He has the chance to transcend any talk of besting or being bested by Mr. Gore if he helps put in place concrete solutions to the problems so dramatically outlined in "An Inconvenient Truth." If the president continues to sit on the sidelines, not only the Nobel committee but history as well will judge him poorly.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company