The Bush Administration’s credibility is melting faster than the polar icecaps. The administration’s hot air on any number of subjects – the war in Iraq, the Libby scandal, the Gonzales fiasco – is not by itself responsible for global warming, but its long refusal to acknowledge the emerging scientific consensus on climate change represents yet another failure of leadership. Indeed, the administration’s active attempts to suppress scientific findings (and silence government scientists) borders on criminal negligence.
When it comes to global climate change “The risks of inaction are greater than those of acting,” to borrow an infamous phrase the administration used regarding the alleged risks from Iraq. In hindsight, of course, the Bush Administration had it precisely backwards on Iraq: as Al Gore predicted the risks of regime were greater than those associated with containing Saddam. And it is increasingly likely the Bush Administration’s failure to recognize, prepare for, and mitigate the effects of global climate change will eclipse even its failure to connect the dots before 9/11.
Put simply, the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq – the pillar of its counter terrorism strategy – has increased the risks America faces while diminishing America’s capacity to withstand future acts of terrorism, natural disaster, and pandemics. This is because the administration has skimped on upgrading America’s ailing infrastructure – its antiquated power grid system, its aging road and railways, and its vulnerable levees – while pouring money into the self-defeating sinkhole that is Iraq.
As numerous historians have noted, great civilizations are not defeated from without; they rot from within. When the winds of Katrina blew through New Orleans, however, it exposed the underbelly of an increasing brittle nation. Improving levees, repairing roads, and upgrading public transportation are things no one wants to pay for when times are good; better a tax cut now than higher taxes to finance emergency preparedness for a disaster that may or may not come. This is the kind of hubris that undermines civilizations.
As national security expert Stephen Flynn notes in his book, The Edge of Disaster, we have become a “just-in-time” society. That is, we don’t have the resource or the foresight necessary to last a couple of days if we are hit with something out of the ordinary. This is true on the individual and the social level. To make matters worse, we are increasingly behaving in ways that court disaster, such as the over development of fragile costal regions that experts believe will be more prone to hurricanes made even more deadly by the effects of global warming.
Like a grade B horror film, where oblivious officials refuse to take reasonable precautions before an impending catastrophe, the Bush Administration is ideologically averse to investing in the kind of public goods that everyone takes for granted, until disaster strikes. It’s not much good at nation building, whether in Iraq or here. But like Nero, who fiddled as Rome burned, Bush knows the value of spectacle to keep the masses entertained and diverted, as his triumphal landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier to celebrate our “mission accomplished” in Iraq demonstrated.
The worst perils associated with global warming may never materialize. But taking steps to mitigate the effects of global warming will have economic, social, and national security benefits. First, regulating carbon emissions is certain to spur innovations as companies compete to create a new generation of energy efficient technologies we need to take us out of the fossil fuel age. Second, investing in our infrastructure will make us a more resilient nation, one better able to withstand the inevitable man-made and natural disasters. And third, reducing our dependence on Middle Eastern oil will mean less money for jihadists and more reform in the Arab world (The First Law of Petropolitics states that reform is inversely correlated with the price at the pump; the higher the price of gas the less incentive there is for reform).
When historians look back on the Bush era they will likely note the road not taken. Rather than taken prudent steps to address America’s energy woes, repair its infrastructure, and tap the ingenuity of its citizens the Bush Administration exploited a climate of fear, launched an ill-conceived war, and left America ill-prepared for the challenges of the 21st century. Bush has staked his legacy – and America’s fate – on his faith that global warming fears will prove unfounded and that the invasion of Iraq will prove to be the catalyst for a safer Middle East. It’s difficult to see how such beliefs will stand up to the storm winds of history.