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Climate Change: What Did We Know and When?

01.30.2006 05:39 | DISPATCHES

"Climate change is the only thing [with] the power to fundamentally end the march of civilization as we know it, and make a lot of the other efforts that we're making irrelevant and impossible."
--Bill Clinton in Davos last week

No shit, Matlock. This statement was also true ten years ago, when Clinton actually had the power to do something brave. Instead, he let Kyoto starve unattended in a senate mop closet and treated runaway climate change like just another policy debate, even while claiming to understand the magnitude, and hence uniqueness, of the problem.

The classic Clinton climate change moment came in October, 1997, when the president hosted a pow-wow of blowdried TV weathermen from around the country. Essentially he asked them to stick their necks out by mentioning climate change during their nightly reports of freakish weather. It was a good idea that stunk of hypocrisy coming from a president carefully triangulating between the light greens in his cabinet and his foot-dragging industry allies.

  Clinton famously allowed himself to be photographed on Nantucket holding The Heat Is On, Ross Gelbspan's chilling and scientifically grounded 1997 crie de climat, but he never demonstrated any real sense of urgency on the issue. That would have involved taking risks, at the very least asking the country to engage in a sustained and serious discussion of runaway climate change, thus ensuring that the issue didn't just bounce on and off the radar. But bounce it did, and here we are ten years later looking straight down the barrel of the much-feared tipping point.

If in fact we're past that point, nobody can say we weren't warned. What did we know and when did we know it? Read it and weep.


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