The world’s most unlikely environmental champion

George W. Bush’s policies have the unintended effect of fighting global warming


Jurriaan Kamp | December 2005 issue

This may be the perfect political paradox: George W. Bush paving the way to do something about global warming. On the face of it, the Bush administration is doing everything wrong on issues like climate change and sustainable energy; it refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocol, it enacts energy policies that massively favour big oil, it puts minimal pressure on the American automobile industry to increase fuel-efficiency standards.

But with the continuing steep rise in oil prices—they have almost tripled since 2002—the unlikely scenario of Bush as a champion of sustainability is beginning to unfold. Here’s how.

It’s clear the United States can make no greater impact in curbing global warming than to ensure that its cars go farther on a gallon of gas. Forty percent of U.S. oil consumption—at 20 million barrels per day, 25 percent of total world consumption—goes to powering cars and trucks. Fuel efficiency is not simply a personal virtue, as Vice President Dick Cheney once put it, but the single most important American contribution to fighting climate change. In August, however, a White House energy bill was passed that primarily promotes new oil production over alternative energy sources.

Even the recently announced plans to overhaul fuel economy regulations for new cars fall far short of the mark: SUVs and light trucks are expected to be only 10 percent more fuel efficient in 2011. Since American cars today average a mere 13.5 miles per gallon, these new standards are not going to make much difference to the world.

Yet taking a closer look, George Bush is accomplishing exactly the opposite of what his policies intend. Bush may not force Detroit to produce more fuel-efficient cars, but American consumers soon will. With gas prices skyrocketing, polls now show half of Americans saying their next car will be more fuel efficient and a whopping nine out of 10 Americans supporting auto fuel-efficiency standards of 40 miles per gallon—almost twice the figure laid out in the Bush administration’s recently released proposal.

Consumer priorities could shift, of course, if oil prices come back down. But Bush’s actions make it highly doubtful that will happen. Unlike in the past (the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s or the first Gulf War) when high prices were a result of curtailed production, today’s prices are caused by increased demand from consumers—particularly Americans and their new economic competitors, the Chinese.

There are two possible ways to lower oil prices: raise production or curb demand. But in a world dominated by the policies of the present U.S. administration, neither will work. The president continues to run up an irresponsibly huge foreign debt and budget deficit. All that spending drives up U.S. demand for everything. And that demand, sooner or later, translates into higher oil consumption, because everything we do or buy leads to the use of energy. Under Bush, oil demand is bound to go up.

Raise oil production? The oil-exporting countries are already drilling at full capacity for the first time in history. Of course, there is one surefire way to accomplish this: Get Iraq, with the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves, back into full production. But a look at newspaper headlines nearly every morning makes it clear that’s not going happen any time soon. So despite his halfhearted pronouncement in the wake of three Gulf Coast hurricanes that federal employees ought to carpool or take the bus, Bush is guaranteeing that the world will be stuck with high oil prices for a long time to come.

And that is exactly the blessing the environmental movement needs. Continuing steep oil prices will not only stimulate fuel efficiency, but also open opportunities for many clean alternative energy sources. Where policies fail, the market will respond.

The world convenes in Montreal later this year to review progress on the Kyoto agreement. The international community would be wise not to pressure the American government to join their efforts to fight climate change again. Let George Bush go his own way: he is already an unwitting environmental reformer.

Solution News Source

The world’s most unlikely environmental champion

George W. Bush’s policies have the unintended effect of fighting global warming


Jurriaan Kamp | December 2005 issue

This may be the perfect political paradox: George W. Bush paving the way to do something about global warming. On the face of it, the Bush administration is doing everything wrong on issues like climate change and sustainable energy; it refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocol, it enacts energy policies that massively favour big oil, it puts minimal pressure on the American automobile industry to increase fuel-efficiency standards.

But with the continuing steep rise in oil prices—they have almost tripled since 2002—the unlikely scenario of Bush as a champion of sustainability is beginning to unfold. Here’s how.

It’s clear the United States can make no greater impact in curbing global warming than to ensure that its cars go farther on a gallon of gas. Forty percent of U.S. oil consumption—at 20 million barrels per day, 25 percent of total world consumption—goes to powering cars and trucks. Fuel efficiency is not simply a personal virtue, as Vice President Dick Cheney once put it, but the single most important American contribution to fighting climate change. In August, however, a White House energy bill was passed that primarily promotes new oil production over alternative energy sources.

Even the recently announced plans to overhaul fuel economy regulations for new cars fall far short of the mark: SUVs and light trucks are expected to be only 10 percent more fuel efficient in 2011. Since American cars today average a mere 13.5 miles per gallon, these new standards are not going to make much difference to the world.

Yet taking a closer look, George Bush is accomplishing exactly the opposite of what his policies intend. Bush may not force Detroit to produce more fuel-efficient cars, but American consumers soon will. With gas prices skyrocketing, polls now show half of Americans saying their next car will be more fuel efficient and a whopping nine out of 10 Americans supporting auto fuel-efficiency standards of 40 miles per gallon—almost twice the figure laid out in the Bush administration’s recently released proposal.

Consumer priorities could shift, of course, if oil prices come back down. But Bush’s actions make it highly doubtful that will happen. Unlike in the past (the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s or the first Gulf War) when high prices were a result of curtailed production, today’s prices are caused by increased demand from consumers—particularly Americans and their new economic competitors, the Chinese.

There are two possible ways to lower oil prices: raise production or curb demand. But in a world dominated by the policies of the present U.S. administration, neither will work. The president continues to run up an irresponsibly huge foreign debt and budget deficit. All that spending drives up U.S. demand for everything. And that demand, sooner or later, translates into higher oil consumption, because everything we do or buy leads to the use of energy. Under Bush, oil demand is bound to go up.

Raise oil production? The oil-exporting countries are already drilling at full capacity for the first time in history. Of course, there is one surefire way to accomplish this: Get Iraq, with the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves, back into full production. But a look at newspaper headlines nearly every morning makes it clear that’s not going happen any time soon. So despite his halfhearted pronouncement in the wake of three Gulf Coast hurricanes that federal employees ought to carpool or take the bus, Bush is guaranteeing that the world will be stuck with high oil prices for a long time to come.

And that is exactly the blessing the environmental movement needs. Continuing steep oil prices will not only stimulate fuel efficiency, but also open opportunities for many clean alternative energy sources. Where policies fail, the market will respond.

The world convenes in Montreal later this year to review progress on the Kyoto agreement. The international community would be wise not to pressure the American government to join their efforts to fight climate change again. Let George Bush go his own way: he is already an unwitting environmental reformer.

Solution News Source

SIGN UP

TO GET A Free DAILY DOSE OF OPTIMISM

Optimist Subscriber
Delivery Frequency *
reCAPTCHA

We respect your privacy and take protecting it seriously. Privacy Policy