'Frontline' Scorches Political Parties for Global Warming

Article excerpt

Byline: Ted Cox

How did we get here, with global warming only grudgingly acknowledged by the mass public, now that it may well be too late to do anything about it?

The PBS investigative series "Frontline" goes back over the last three presidential administrations and lays out how it hasn't been the fault solely of the left or the right, but how it has been the legacy of politics as usual, with both Democrats and Republicans responsible.

"Hot Politics" airs at 8 p.m. today on WTTW Channel 11, and it actually begins in the Reagan administration, with NASA official James Hansen first testifying to Congress on global warming in 1988. Yet it would be four more years before it became a hot-button issue in presidential politics, with the first President Bush agreeing to go to the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit when pressed on the matter by Democratic challenger Bill Clinton. Rio produced voluntary pledges to reduce greenhouse gases.

Clinton nevertheless won that election, and was expected to be even more of an "environmental president," especially with Al Gore as his second-in-command. Yet the Clinton administration proved to be more attuned to declining polls than to rising global temperatures, and put the issue off a number of times.

Right away, in 1993, the White House proposed a BTU Tax as a way of discouraging production of greenhouse gases. Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, however, seized on that as proof of the Democrats' tax-and-spend ways, and Dems in Congress caved on it.

In 1996 in Berlin and the following year in Kyoto, Japan, the Clinton administration negotiated hard reductions in carbon emissions. Yet, with their rapidly growing economies trying to play catch-up with the West, China and India opted out of the Berlin treaty, and Congress used that as an excuse to refuse to ratify it. In the end, the Clinton administration didn't even bother to present the Kyoto Protocols to Congress for ratification, resulting in the resignation of Clinton negotiator Eileen Claussen.

"I thought it was dishonest to go and negotiate a treaty that you had no hope of getting ratified in the Senate," she says. "It's better to have good rhetoric than bad, but it's actually better to want to do something."

Don't get the idea that "Frontline" is easy on the Republicans. …