That's show business

Published: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 10:56 p.m.

Somebody told President Bush that Al Gore's movie about global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," was nominated for an Oscar. So Bush went for his own nomination: Best performance by a politician pretending to do something about global warming.

Bush couldn't even bring himself to utter the words "global warming," in his State of the Union address. He barely managed to choke out "climate change." And his "solutions," reducing gasoline consumption by 20 percent in ten years and giving his administration the regulatory authority to set new vehicle fuel efficiency standards (in lieu of Congress mandating them), sounded good at first blush.

But they are pretend solutions. Team Bush is so solicitous of special interests groups like Big Oil and the auto lobby, that it isn't likely to set and enforce sufficiently tough fuel efficiency standards. As for curing America of its gasoline addiction, that won't happen without strong economic incentives.

Over the last year, the price of gasoline has dropped, in some places from more than $3 a gallon to under $2 a gallon. The cheaper gas gets the less incentive there is to either conserve or invest in alternative fuel research and development. Even if gas prices go up again, the roller-coaster nature of the market discourages sustained investment in alternatives.

If Bush had been serious about attacking the problem whose name he refuses to speak (global warming) he would have made two proposals that would have an immediate and substantial impact.

First, a carbon tax. A surcharge on any fuel (gasoline, coal, natural gas) whose consumption emits greenhouse gasses. A carbon tax would level out the roller-coaster nature of oil prices and provide an immediate incentive for consumers to conserve, producers to make more energy-efficient products and entrepreneurs to invest in non-fossil fuels development.

Second, mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions. Just this week the CEOs of 10 companies called on Bush to take just such a step in order to "slow, stop and reverse the growth" of greenhouse gas emissions "over the shortest period of time reasonably achievable."

Why would major industrialists ask for a potentially expensive new government mandate? Explains the Wall Street Journal, "Some see a lucrative new market in clean-energy technologies. Many figure a regulation is politically inevitable and they want to be in the room when it's negotiated, to minimize the burden that falls on them."

President Bush did a very good imitation of a politician pretending to get serious about global warming. But eschewing real solutions, like a carbon tax and mandatory emission caps, his speech was just show business.

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