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Evil Bastards

BY ALEXANDER ZAITCHIK
03.24.2001 | ENVIRONMENT

I promised myself I wasn't going to write about American politics until May. I was going to take a break from the life-force sucking hobby of railing against beady-eyed Republican ranch owners and their fork-tongued trophy wives. I've wasted enough Chi lately driving down that dead end lane. When Dick Cheney became de facto President of the United States, I figured it was a good time to start meditating again, work on my languages and begin a self-taught course in Russian literature.

So much for that. The news keeps coming in, and keeps getting worse. For a while it seemed that Colin Powell and Christie Whitman at State and EPA might temper extremist tendencies in the two key areas of foreign policy and the environment. But it's now clear that both have been outflanked by hardliners in the Defense and Energy Departments. The bell tolled with Powell over Korean policy, and then with Whitman over carbon dioxide taxes. Double Whammy.

Of course the news that the White House doesn't consider carbon dioxide pollution fit for taxation or regulation shouldn't have shocked anyone. This government is a fossil-fuel industry mutual-aid society and everybody knows it. And yet Cheney spokesman George W. Bush awoke our slow-witted but darling hopes during the campaign when he said that he was concerned by climate change. He raised them further when he said that he would tax and regulate emissions of carbon gasses coming from US power plants. Maybe, just maybe, the GOP had finally seen beyond the short-term profit logic of their unctuous patrons and realized how catastrophic continued faith in their medieval science will be for their grandchildren.

Those hopes, so sad in retrospect, are now more dead than Dick Cheney in 2003. What everybody already knew is now official: this administration is up to its monogrammed tie-clips in coal and puts away barrels of crude like lemon-lime Gatorade. Dick Cheney and Spencer Abraham are dictating energy policy like 19th century school marms, and the only lessons on the board are exploration, production and non-taxation. The Kyoto Protocol is looked upon like some bong left on the Oval Office desk by the Clinton team, to be sneered at and tossed away. Let the pinko Europeans and those pissant little island nations squeal all they want. It don't matter none. Yes sir, right away Dick.

The Bush White House says that carbon dioxide should not be taxed because it is not listed as a pollutant in the Clean Air Act. So it isn't. But one needn't be a legislative ninja or constitutional law professor to know that in America laws are changed and federal acts routinely amended by Congress. Mr. Bush could push to enlarge the mandate of the Clean Air Act, as his father admirably did in 1990. For the Cheney team to use a literalist interpretation of the existing law as its first line of excuse--followed by non-sequitors about the California crisis and summer energy bills--is nothing less than a grinning slap across the worried face of the entire international community, the overwhelming majority of which is justifiably terrified at the prospect of a five degree temperature leap in the next century.

In his letter explaining the decision to Senator Chuck Hagel, Bush also repeated one of his favorite one-liners about how 'before any action is taken on climate change more evidence must be gathered.' No doubt the dumbest leader in the industrialized world has already devoured the two massive volumes produced by the authoritative UN Panel on Climate Change and has found their warnings unconvincing. Or perhaps he is conducting his own private research into the complex science of global warming. Or maybe the onetime fratboy is just waiting to find the perfect nickname for the life-on-earth threatening phenomenon.

May I suggest 'Slugger'.

About the Author
Alexander Zaitchik co-founded Freezerbox in 1998. He has reported from more than a dozen countries for publications such as the International Herald Tribune, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Wired, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Believer, and many others. He lives in New York City.
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