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Bush's Climate-Change Feint

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, June 1, 2007; 2:04 PM

The White House yesterday showed that it still knows how to play the American press like a harp.

President Bush yesterday put forth a new proposal on climate change that is most newsworthy for its attempt to muddy the debate about the issue and derail European and U.N. plans for strict caps on emissions. Bush's proposal calls for a new round of international meetings that would nearly outlast his presidency. The purpose of the meetings would not be to set caps on emissions, but to establish what the White House -- uncorking a bold new euphemism -- calls "aspirational goals."

But a change in rhetoric was enough to generate some headlines about the administration's attention to the issue: Bush Proposes Goals on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, reads the New York Times headline. Bush Proposes Talks on Warming, says The Washington Post's front page. Bush offers to take climate lead, proclaims the Los Angeles Times.

For a more pointed view of Bush's statement, let's travel across the Atlantic, where the style of journalism is less constrained than in the States.

Rupert Cornwell, writing in the Independent, described it like this: "In a last ditch -- and almost certainly unsuccessful -- bid to fend off international criticism of his climate change policies, President George Bush has called on 15 of the world's biggest polluting countries, including China and India, to agree on a target for reducing greenhouse gasses by the end of 2008. . . .

"Mr Bush's vague promise yesterday to work with other countries for 'a new framework for greenhouse gas emissions for when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012' will do nothing to satisfy critics.

"The American plan places its faith in free-market mechanisms and technology to solve the problem. . . . Under his scheme, individual countries would establish 'midterm management targets and programmes that reflect their own mix of energy sources and future energy needs'.

"But for critics, Mr Bush's proposals were simply more of the same -- a transparent attempt to create the impression that the US was not dragging its heels."

Cornwell's colleague Andrew Gumbel then launches into a heroic attempt to explain what Bush really meant:

"From the President's speech in Washington yesterday:

"'In recent years, science has deepened our understanding of climate change and opened new possibilities for confronting it.'

"Translation: In recent years, my refusal to acknowledge the reality and seriousness of global warming has turned me into a laughing-stock and contributed to my record low poll ratings. So now I have to look interested.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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