climate change

Opinion: Republicans have shifted insanely backwards since the Bush years


George W. Bush was unlike today’s Republican establishment no climate denier. Photo credit: The U.S. Army via Flickr.

By Anders Lorenzen 

There is no denying it, George W. Bush was never a climate change hero, but he wasn’t a climate change denier either.

As it is rumored that the US could exit the Paris Agreement this week it is worth looking at how insanely far backwards Republican’s have moved on climate change since W handed over the keys to the White House to Barack Obama, back in 2009.

Do you remember the Bush years? Do you remember how we lamented the Bush government for not doing anything on climate change, and of course refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol? But, retrospectively, at least W accepted scientific findings and acknowledged the problems existence. Even if he didn’t enforce any meaningful climate policies – he always stated it was a problem that we should take seriously. By today’s standards, apparently, this is of merit. More notable when remembering that is from a person who until he started his political career had spent his working life in the Texan oil industry.

Even John McCain, who ran against Barack Obama in 2008, didn’t run on a platform that questioned man made climate change. Yet today, mainstream opinion in the Republican party says climate change is a hoax. A view perpetrated by current president Donald Trump. It is also a view shared by speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, and Majority Leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell. The whole Republican establishment has been engulfed by climate change denialism, seemingly mirroring the extreme far right parties of Europe – a far cry from the Bush years. If you had suggested to W that he should get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and exit the US from UN climate programmes or restrict the scope of NASA’s research he’d have thought you were even worse at PR than those who would eventually orchestrate his end of office 22% approval rating. But these things are, nevertheless, exactly what Trump’s Republican government wants to do. Christine Todd Whitman, who served as EPA Director in the Bush government from 2001 – 2003, has slammed Trump’s new director of the agency, Scott Pruitt, for not accepting the science of climate change.

It is also worth remembering that it was during the presidency of Bush Jr’s father, that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was created. Though it is believed that Bush Sr played a vital role in calling for voluntary emissions cuts over mandatory ones. There’s no doubt that Trump wouldn’t have moved to establish the UNFCCC, rumours are that he wants to exit US’s participation in it.

I don’t want this inflated into a sudden endorsement of George W. Bush. Make no doubt about it, he was a bad president, especially when it comes to tackling climate change. But we do have to examine how the goalposts have moved in the US. While Democrats want to move forward with tackling climate change, Republicans are delaying the process, wanting to debate whether the climate is warming. This means in the current political environment any cross party agreement is not possible. At least during both the two Bush administrations, as well as the Clinton administration, bipartisan agreements were made on climate policies. But this stopped during the Obama years as Republicans had become too entrenched to even sit at the table and discuss climate policies with Democrats.

While we saw the Bush administration’s lack of action on climate change as a form of denial, we should be careful about such judgements. And we should distinguish between denial and lack of political action. But we can easily declare that today’s Republican establishment are nothing short of climate denialists. This is even more insane as our increase in scientific knowledge about climate change is today far more robust than it was during the Bush years. It appears the more robust the science become the more climate denialism spreads within the Republican establishment.


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