Wither United States Leadership

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Environmental issues have assumed increased salience as they reflect transnational or cross-national impact. For instance, actions taken by one country can have a regional or global effect ranging from coal-fired power plants in the midwest region of the U.S. affecting eastern Canada or greenhouse gases emanating from industrialized countries thus having a global impact. As Jacqueline Vaughn Switzer (2001:67) notes, a global approach to environmental issues didn't occur until the Nixon administration and the involvement of the U.S. at the 1972 UN Conference on the Environment in Stockholm. Several years later, the Carter administration produced the first-ever examination of global environmental issues in the Global 2000 Report to the President. As a foundation for long-term planning, the Report emphasized the following: "Environmental problems do not stop at national boundaries. In the past decade, we and other nations have come to recognize the urgency of international efforts to protect our common environment'' (U.S. CEQ and U.S. DoS 1982).

Despite research findings presented by American and international scientific bodies, the United States has become increasingly isolated from the international community for its failure to demonstrate leadership and vision on the combined global warming/climate change issue. Policymakers within the United States have argued over 1) the extent to which human activities as well as natural cycles are contributing to global warming and climate change and 2) what policy should be initiated in response to global warming. The most vocal and visible opponent of international collaborative efforts to address global warming has been President George W. Bush. He repudiated the Kyoto Protocol two months after moving into the White House. As a matter of fact, it was Vice President Dick Cheney who ''pushed Bush to abandon a campaign pledge to impose mandatory reductions on carbon emissions from power plants'' (Baker 2008:10). Moreover, government scientists have been required to receive clearance from the White House before they could speak with journalists.

We also know, for example, that fundamental partisan differences divide Congressional Democrats and Republicans over the issue of global warming. According to the National Journal's ''Insider's Poll conducted in February 2007, 95% of

House and Senate Democrats agreed that the "Earth is warming because of man-made problems'' compared to "84% of House and Senate Republicans" who disagreed with this statement (National Journal 2007: 6-7). Among the dissenters in Congress who have vigorously argued against the scientific community's research findings about global warming is Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican. In 2003, when Inhofe was chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee he stated that "Kyoto ... is an extreme approach'' and he has referred to global warming as a "hoax perpetrated by environmentalists on the American public'' (CBS News 2003). Moreover, as Chris Mooney informs us in a CBS News report, Senator Inhofe attacked the "hockey stick'' explanatory graphic proposed by climate scientist Michael Mann where Dr. Mann depicts a spike in warming in the 20th century and Senator Inhofe also used Michael Crichton's novel, State of Fear, as a scholarly example of the flaws put forth by proponents of global warming and climate change (Inhofe, 2001; Mooney 2005).

In addition to Inhofe, vocal dissenters include Senators Larry Craig of Idaho, Kit Bond of Missouri and David McIntosh of Indiana who have raised concerns about efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, during President Bush's first year in office, the Energy Information Administration housed within the Department of Energy (DOE) prepared a report at the request of Representative McIntosh who opposed mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that, in effect, "ignored the findings of the DOE's much more thorough report, "Scenarios for a Clean Energy Future,'' as well as input from independent reviewers and analysts at the Environmental Protection Agency'' (Hawkins 2001). Two years later, responding to the Senate's rejection of the McCain-Lieberman legislation that required industrial plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Senator Craig publicly opposed a "massive new regulatory process'' because he opposed the idea that carbon dioxide is a pollutant and therefore it "does not represent a direct threat to public health'' while his colleague Senator Bond argued that the bill would have a deleterious impact on the U.S. economy (CBS News 2003). In short, opponents of efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide, have criticized the science of global warming or have diminished the potential consequences of climate change.

The American political system is characterized by a variety of political actors that use their power resources in order to shape public policy. Among these actors are the presidency and the Congress that have important responsibilities related to public policymaking. The president has a variety of legislative and executive powers that can be employed in the policymaking process. For instance, the president can issue executive orders or proclamations as chief executive or sign or veto legislation passed by the Congress. Presidents can respond to environmental issues as an activist, in a symbolic way or as an obstructionist. Recent research on American presidents has found, for instance, that Democratic presidents including Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton had a much more favorable impact on the environmental agenda compared to Republicans including Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush (Daynes and Sussman 2007).

Located at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue is Congress where political power has been fragmented into committees and subcommittees that can promote, delay or oppose legislation. Jurisdiction over environmental affairs can be found among several different committees in the House and the Senate. Consequently, environmental affairs can receive critical support or fall victim to fragmented government. Moreover, partisanship can play a role in legislative affairs. For instance, research over the last three decades has shown that Democratic legislators are more likely to support environmental legislation compared to their Republican counterparts (Dunlap and Michael 1973; Kamieniecki 1995:146-167; Sussman et al. 2002:96-97).

While the global warming issue caught the attention of the Carter administration and was discussed in The Global 2000 Report to the President (U.S. CEQ and U.S. DoS 1982) prepared by the Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of State, Congress did not take action in a substantive way until 1988. In response to Congressional hearings during the 1980s held by Al Gore, Tim Wirth and John Chaffe, ''President Reagan reluctantly signed the Global Climate Protection Act... which obliged him to submit to the Congress a plan for stabilizing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere'' (Agrawala and Andresen 1999). During the 1988 campaign for the presidency, George H.W. Bush proclaimed himself an environmentalist in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt. After winning the presidential election, three noteworthy events illustrated his approach to the environment in general and global warming in particular. On the one hand, he used the power resources of his office in support of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments that were important in addressing transboundary air pollution. On the other hand, in 1992, in response to pressure from the fossil fuel industry and his concern about the state of the economy, he gave lukewarm support to the Energy Policy Act of 1992 and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. As Michael Kraft (2004) argues, although the legislation offered several items to improve U.S. energy efficiency, it ''did not raise [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] CAFE standards for motor vehicles, which was the top priority of environmental groups, nor did it do much to reduce the use of oil.'' Thus, the legislation did little to address the problem of increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

When Bill Clinton captured the White House in 1992, one of the first efforts he made was to push a deficit reduction plan early in 1993 that included a tax on energy production that, he believed, would result in less energy consumption thus reducing the use of fossil fuels and thereby cutting greenhouse gas emissions (Paarlberg 1997). Although the House of Representatives passed Clinton's legislative proposal, organized interests opposed to the energy tax succeeded in killing the proposal in the Senate Finance Committee.

Over a decade passed before Congress updated the energy bill. However, the 2005 Energy Policy Act ''emphasized greater production and use of oil, natural gas and coal and strongly boosted federal support for nuclear power'' while critics ''especially faulted the act's billions of dollars of subsidies and tax breaks for the oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries'' (Kraft and Furlong 2007:353). In effect, the 2005 Act actually encouraged increased production of greenhouse gases. Two years later, while several legislative proposals were being prepared to address global warming, George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that the president argued would "improve vehicle fuel economy and help reduce U.S. dependence on oil'' and "could reduce projected CO2 emissions of billions of metric tons'' (The White House 2007). While the new Act was notable for its effort to improve fuel efficiency it also provided billions of dollars in subsidies to the fossil fuel and nuclear industries, continued to push for oil exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and as reported in the Washington Post just "hours after Bush signed the energy bill, the administration invalidated an effort by California and 17 other states to impose tougher tailpipe emission rules'' (Baker 2008).

The fragmented political system in the United States promotes actions by organized interests due to multiple access points into the policymaking process. The environmental domain has been characterized by two types of organized interests. On the one hand, we find the umbrella "environmental movement'' comprised of a variety of groups committed to conservation and preservation values. Yet these groups are characterized by diversity in membership, resources, strategies and tactics. On the other hand, we find groups that are committed to developmental values. While some of these groups represent business and industry (e.g., fossil fuel industry, mining, timber) other groups are concerned about property rights.

Finally, to what extent is the citizenry informed and concerned about environmental issues? Moreover, to what extent should policymakers follow public opinion? Generally, it depends on how one examines public opinion. On the one hand, when asked specifically about the environment, American citizens exhibit strong views in support of protecting the environment. On the other hand, when the environment is one among several issues, it can be characterized as a latent issue as Americans show more concern about the economy, jobs, health care, Social Security among others. Having said this, when The Gallup Poll (2006) asked Americans their opinion about the environment, this policy domain elicited serious attention among citizens who expressed concern that the "government is doing too little to protect the environment,'' the "quality of the environment is getting worse,'' that "human activities rather than natural causes explain the rise in the Earth's temperature,'' and that the "effects of global warming are already manifest or will happen within five years.''

American public opinion data also indicates that U.S. citizens are increasingly concerned about global warming in general and its causal relationship to hurricanes in particular (Zogby International 2006). Not only do more Americans (74%) believe that global warming is occurring but this sentiment cuts across all socio-demographic characteristics including age, gender, race, religion, region of the country and partisan identification. More importantly, in terms of this study, seven out of ten Americans now believe that global warming has a "major or some influence'' on hurricanes. Consequently, global warming as an important transnational public policy issue remains problematic as policymakers in the United States face pressure from organized interests as they read public opinion.

All of these political actors play a role in foreign as well as domestic policy-making - a point not missed on political commentators who point out the important role of the U.S. as the dominant global power. For instance, as Paul Harris (2001:34) argues, ''Because the U.S. economy is so large, its diplomatic influence so great and its contributions to environmental problems so extensive . . . the United States must be part of international solutions to environmental change. Over the last three decades or so, the U.S. has played a relatively positive role regarding global environmental affairs. At the same time, as environmental issues become increasingly transnational in character and impact, domestic political factors have played an important role in shaping U.S. policy toward global environmental policy (Suss-man 2004). It is noteworthy, therefore, as global climate change assumes increasing salience in domestic and global politics that the U.S. offer guidance and leadership. Failure to do so can have serious consequences. As Beldrich Moldan, former Minister of the Environment of the Czech Republic lamented a decade ago, ''The United States is watched much more than Americans realize. As a European, you may like the United States or not like it, but you know it's the future. So when the United States refuses to reform, other countries will refuse as well'' (Hertsgaard 1998:288).

The issue of global warming gained prominence during the presidential administrations of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. What is noteworthy is how each president addressed the issue in a different way (see Table 2).

George H.W. Bush [hereafter Bush (41)] came into office stating that he would be an ''environmental'' president and indeed he used the power resources of the White House to ensure passage of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments that had languished during the administration of Ronald Reagan. However, when he had the opportunity to demonstrate leadership at the international level he failed in this regard. Bush (41) had two opportunities to take the lead in addressing global warming - namely, the 1990 World Climate Change Conference and two years later at the Earth Summit in Rio. The impact of carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere was discussed at the World Climate Change Conference where an agreement was obtained to stabilize the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere (Sussman 2004:362). The 1992 Earth Summit again focused on the issue of greenhouse gases and their impact on global climate. However, the president's lack of interest in addition to pressure from the fossil fuel industry, resulted in, in the words of political scientist Gary Bryner (2001:142), opposition to the "development of a global climate change agreement'' because Bush (41) believed that ''limits on emissions would require major changes in Americans' way of life and would threaten an already weakened economy.''

The behavior of Bush (41) regarding the Earth Summit's focus on global climate change affected the success of the international gathering. First, as Lawence Susskind (1994:39-40) informs us, the president attended the conference for only three days and had waited until a month before the summit whether to attend at all. Second, the resulting global climate change agreement required that the costs and technologies be shared by the signatories and most importantly that the guidelines and timetables would be mandatory. Bush (41), therefore, used his influence to

Table 2 Comparing Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and Global Warming

Bush (41)


Bush (43)


To be an environmental

Great green hope












Earth Summit, Rio,

3rd Session of the

3rd Session of the



COPS, Kyoto,

COPS, Kyoto,



1997; Bali

Conference, 2007


Convention on Global

Kyoto Protocol

Kyoto Protocol




Requirements of





Presidential and

Agreement signed by

Agreement signed



President and ratified

by President but

renounced by the


by the U.S. Senate

not ratified by the

President and

U.S. Senate

opposed by the

U.S. Senate


Basis established for

U.S. leadership

Kyoto Protocol

Kyoto Protocol

questioned due to

weakened due to

albeit with voluntary

lack of Senate

non- participation



by the U.S; Bali

effort weakened

due to continued

U.S. opposition to

explicit emission


revise the agreement so that it reflected voluntary rather than mandatory requirements in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, on the one hand, the U. S. was a signatory to the Global Climate Change Convention produced at the Earth Summit. On the other hand, the actions by Bush (41) created a problem for international cooperation and ignored the warnings of the scientific community regarding human-induced global warming.

Bush (41)'s successor, Bill Clinton, did not bring "environmental" credentials with him when he assumed the presidency of the United States. However, he did make important "green" appointments to important positions within his administration. For instance, former Senator Al Gore who published Earth in the Balance in 1992 was selected as his Vice Presidential running mate, Carol Browner was chosen to head the Environmental Protection Agency and former Arizona Governor, Bruce Babbit, became Secretary of the Interior.

In 1997, delegates from industrialized countries met in Kyoto, Japan to formalize agreements made in Berlin two years earlier to address the problem of greenhouse gases and global climate change. Delegates were successful in securing agreements on two important issues. First, signatories accepted mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. In doing so, different countries were given different target levels since they produced different amounts of greenhouse gases. Second, the industrialized countries were willing to excuse developing countries from the requirements of the agreement although China and India, in particular, were increasingly adding greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. On the advise of Vice President Al Gore, President Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol thus committing the U.S. to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

Clinton was faced with two problems, however. First, an alliance consisting of the fossil fuel industry and organized labor opposed U.S. adherence to the agreement. Second, Clinton was confronted with two legislative obstacles - namely, a Republican-controlled U.S. Senate that was obstructionist with regard to environmental initiatives making it clear that the protocol would not receive Senate ratification and a Senate that through passage of the Byrd-Hagel Resolution made it clear that any international environmental agreement that did not include developing countries would be opposed.

Despite the fact that the Kyoto Protocol remained in limbo in the United States, delegates from industrialized countries continued to meet - in Buenos Aires in 1998, in Bonn in 1999 and in the Hague in 2000 - to continue the debate about human contributions to global warming. Moreover, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences continued to warn the global community about the effects of greenhouse gases on climate change.

George W. Bush [hereafter Bush (43)] occupied the White House in January 2001 and in a fateful decision only two months into his presidency he renounced the Kyoto Protocol. In doing so, the president argued that the international environmental agreement was flawed, it needed to include developing countries, especially China and India, and it would have a negative impact on the U.S. economy. While his rejection of the protocol had global impact since the U.S. was and remains the major emitter of greenhouse gases, President Bush (43) also refused to attend the global warming conference eight months later in Morocco (Cable News Network

2001). The following year, the American president reported to the United Nations that countries should adapt to the changes resulting from global warming (Revkin

By 2004, a sufficient number of signatories to the Kyoto Protocol had ratified the agreement to put it into effect. However, without the participation of the United States, the effort to address greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change remains problematic. Ironically, according to President Bush (43)'s own Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA 2006a):

For over the past 200 years, the burning of fossil fuels... [has] caused the concentrations of heat-trapping 'greenhouse gases' to increase significantly in our atmosphere.. Most of the warming in recent decades is likely the result of human activities.. Scientists are certain that human activities are changing the composition of the atmosphere, and that increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases will change the planet's climate.. Scientists have observed that some changes are already occurring. Observed effects include sea level rise, shrinking glaciers, changes in the range and distribution of plants and animals, trees blooming earlier, lengthening of growing seasons, ice on rivers and lakes freezing later and breaking up earlier, and thawing of permafrost. Another key issue being studied is how societies and the Earth's environment will adapt to or cope with climate change ''human health can be affected directly and indirectly by climate change..

Despite the warnings of the scientific community and poll data results of American public opinion, by 2007 the Bush (43) administration has yet to take substantive action regarding this most important global environmental problem. While some observers of the Bush (43) presidency have argued that his legacy is linked to the war in Iraq, it is clear that his legacy is also closely tied to the inaction of his administration in response to global warming and climate change.

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