Most people who despise the policies of George W. Bush did so long before he invaded Iraq. Why? I wish there was a polite way to put this, but there isn't. Our environmental policies are killing people. Thousands have died from unprecedented heat waves due to global warming, skin cancer caused by ozone depletion, unprecedented storms, respiratory ailments and more, and the potential exists for millions to die from nuclear annihilation and deepening effects of global warming. Bush refuses to change such policies except to make them mostly worse. He's by far the worst environmental president we've had.
Across a spectrum of issues, Bush has shown contempt for our mother earth and the creatures who draw sustenance from her, including you and me. From the creation of new generations of nuclear weapons to a practice of coal extraction known as “mountaintop removal,” from lies about the air at ground zero to putting our rivers and forests at risk, Bush has embraced the most contemptible policies that politics permit. I'll focus on the two most obvious here, then come back to others in later columns.
* Bush's nuclear policy is the biggest environmental evil, because it threatens life on Earth. The president's lack of concern over nuclear weapons stockpiles in the former Soviet Union should be a scandal. In the first debate, when John Kerry pointed out it would take 13 years at the present rate to secure Russia's leftover nuclear stockpiles and weapons grade materials, and keep them safe from terrorists, Bush had no answer. But the liberal Kerry isn't the only one questioning the Bush approach. Esteemed conservatives like Sam Nunn and Sen. Richard Lugar long ago urged Bush to act while it's still possible. Instead, Bush went adventuring in Iraq.
What's worse, he's working to create new nuclear weapons in this country. Even as our government tries to persuade other nations to abandon their own nuclear programs, Bush would create whole new classes of “low yield” nukes for use on the battlefield, especially for penetrating underground bunkers, even though they're forbidden by existing treaties. “Low yield” is misleading. These bombs would pack about half the punch of the ones that obliterated Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The new nuke program has been spelled out in lots of media. A long, reader-friendly version was in the July 7, 2003 issue of “USA Today.” More recent ones abound.
Meanwhile, Bush advocates more spending on reactors for energy. Despite years of government subsidies and federal limits on liability, the nuclear power industry still can't turn a profit. So much for free-market capitalism. Meanwhile, countries like Iran, Pakistan and North Korea use so-called “peaceful” nuclear technology as cover for producing nuclear weapons. Some day, when half the earth is contaminated enough to set Geiger counters chattering, heaven forbid--we'll rue the day Bush was selected president.
* Equally perverse is the president's policy towards global warming. Despite a virtual consensus among independent scientists, Bush's position has changed (flip-flopped?) constantly. First he says global warming is unproven. Then he says, OK, we know it's real but we don't know the causes. Then he declares we know the causes but can live with the results. He's declined to mention global warming in some state of the union addresses, and has stricken the phrase from annual environmental reports and other documents.
Not only that, he pulled this country out of the Kyoto Accords that would've set limits on greenhouse gas emissions for most nations. Yes, the Kyoto pact was flawed, but it offered a framework we might've modified to make it work. Instead, Bush contemptuously tossed it in the face of more than 80 nations that have signed on, including most of the world's democracies. How mean-spirited and ignorant we must look to them.
More than 10,000 French died of unprecedented heat waves in 2003, likely caused by global warming, according to numerous sources. Mountain climbers and geographers note the famous mountaintop Snows of Kilimanjaro in Africa will be gone in 20 years. The polar ice cap is thinning and shrinking around the edges. Lakes and ponds worldwide are freezing later each year and thawing earlier, records show, and scientists have documented shifts in animal migration patterns towards the north in England and elsewhere. These phenomena are well documented. The National Research Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists and many other organizations have put their prestige on the line in asserting their truth. Yet Bush embraced a lie-about-it policy in preparation for this year's political campaigns. According to the April 4, 2004 “London Observer” and others, the Bush campaign circulated a “talking points” memo that urged campaigners to deny global warming. “The scientific debate is closing but not yet closed,” the memo stated. “There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science.” In other words, soon the debate will be over and everyone will be forced to admit global warming is a reality, but we don't have to admit it THIS election year, the memo suggests. You tell me, at what point does denial, cover-up and lying amount to conspiracy?
And at what point does declining to prevent your country's industries from killing innocent strangers amount to… I dare not say the word. It would be too impolite.
Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist for The Knoxville News-Sentinel, as well as a freelance journalist, short story writer and the founding editor and publisher of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. His writing awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Michigan Journalism Fellowship, a Golden Presscard Award and Malcolm Law Journalism Prize. He is finishing a novel, ORACLE OF THE ORCHID LOUNGE, set in his native Tennessee. His book of selected journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes, the Best Writings About People by Don Williams, is now available for pre-ordering. For more information, you may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit the NMW website at www.mach2.com.