As a candidate for president in 1988, George Bush called for federal action to meet the emerging challenge of climate change, stating, “Those who think we are powerless to do anything about the 'greenhouse effect' are forgetting about the White House effect. As president I intend to do something about it.”1 Yet, by the final year of his presidency, his resolve had evaporated as he found the climate change issue to be fraught with economic and political peril. Buffeted by conflicting opinions within his own administration, he wavered for several weeks before agreeing to attend the 1992 United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. His position on climate became more cautious — emphasizing “economically sensible action,” as opposed to decisive actions.2
President Clinton was not appreciably more successful in tackling the problem. As a candidate, he repeatedly claimed that he would do what former President Bush would not — commit the United States to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases and assume a position of global leadership in response to this problem. In fact, his vice president, Albert Gore, had publicly called for a massive program to reduce the threat of global warming, modeled in scale and scope after the Marshall Plan, to rebuild Europe after World War II.3 But the policy finally proposed by President Clinton consisted of 47 programs, almost all of which were voluntary.4 Seven years into the Clinton presidency, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions had increased 11.2 percent from 1990 levels — the target each developed country had volunteered to meet.5
As former President Bush's son, George W. Bush, assumes the presidency, the United States finds its government divided and gridlocked on the climate issue and its public confused. Both the Congress and the Executive Branch acknowledge the seriousness of the problem, but have been unable or unwilling to construct a political constituency for action. Worried that a proactive response may be too costly, result in regional economic dislocations, and place the United States at a competitive disadvantage, U.S. officials are hesitant to act. Interest groups such as environmentalists, business groups, and labor have found little common ground. Thus, as the country enters a new millennium, there is no clear consensus on how it should respond to this problem, and no indication that a consensus is imminent.
The author and the Pew Center ore grateful for the research and input provided by liana Brito and the helpful
comments received from Sheila Cavanagh, Karen Filipovich, and Robert Stavins, and for the editorial assis-
tance provided by Kate Kennedy.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: Climate Change: Science, Strategies, and Solutions. Contributors: Eileen Claussen - Editor, Vicki Arroyo Cochran - Editor, Debra P. Davis - Editor. Publisher: Brill. Place of publication: Boston. Publication year: 2001. Page number: 116.
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