by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
February 19, 2005
THE BUSH STYLE OF CRISIS MANAGEMENT
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Disingenuousness is the stock in trade of the Bush White House, but there are times when it gets to be just a bit much.
President George W. Bush is running around the country saying that Social Security is bankrupt. He says this even though by most reputable estimates, a funding problem will not exist for at least 40 or 50 years if absolutely nothing is done, and if problems appear then, it would be only if every worst-case economic scenario came true.
At the same time, in that 40-to-50 year span before a possible shortfall in Social Security, there is a very high probability that our planet's climate may be changed drastically enough to threaten the lives and livelihoods of us all.
What is the Bush White House response to this? There's no proof that global warming is a threat, but just in case it is, it should be studied some more.
Therein lies the difference between a faith-based administration and a reality-based one. The Bush administration believes only what it wants to believe, or what will benefit it most. Facts must not get in the way.
So when confronted with the facts that retirees will be worse off under Social Security privatization, or that the polar ice caps are melting and are threatening to inundate the world's coastal cities, the Bush administration's reaction is to ignore the information that conflicts with its beliefs and goals.
At the risk of sounding callous, the Social Security debate is about politics and in the long run isn't that important compared to the ultimate survival of the planet. Changing Social Security will hurt, but not nearly as much as the damage that's likely to happen if global warming isn't addressed.
The things already happening should scare the hell out of you. Last year was the warmest year on record. Florida and the Caribbean were hit by a succession of massive hurricanes on a scale never before seen.
Natural disasters such as flooding, droughts and storms are happening around the world more frequently and more severely than ever before.
There is so much fresh water entering the oceans from melting glaciers and the polar ice caps that the Gulf Stream may stop flowing and bring Europe another ice age by the end of the century.
The Amazon rainforest is drying out and could be gone within the next 50 years. One in 10 plant and animal species may be extinct by 2050.
On a planet where 20 percent of the population consumes 80 percent of its resources, it seems inevitable that the wars of the future will likely be fought for control those resources.
More than 420 million people live in countries which no longer have enough cropland to grow their own food, and one-quarter of the developing world's cropland is too degraded to till. More than 30 percent of the world's surviving forests are seriously degraded and they are being cut down at the rate of 50,000 square miles a year. Forty percent of the world's food relies upon irrigation to grow, but water is increasingly scarce.
Oil is becoming scarce also. It's estimated that global consumption of oil will start outstripping the supply within a decade. The United States currently imports about 55 percent of its oil and that figure may rise to 75 percent by 2025. With no sign that the United States lifestyle is going to change - in other words, without embarking very soon on a Manhattan Project-level program to wean the nation off fossil fuels - the United States will have to invade and occupy other oil-producing nations, in addition to Iraq, to maintain the current American standard of living.
Again, these things are facts, not spin. Almost everyone working in the field of environmental science is in agreement that we may only have another 20 or 30 years left to take action before the worst case scenarios of climate change kick in with a vengeance.
This week, the Kyoto Protocol took effect. Ratified by 140 nations, it calls on the industrialized world to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that contribute to global warming. Conspicuous by it absence is the United States, the world's leader in greenhouse gas emissions.
While the most of the rest of the world is taking heed of the growing environmental catastrophe and is trying to do something about it, President Bush serenely glides along, ignoring the flashing red lights on the planet's control board while flogging a non-existent Social Security crisis for political gain. Ignorance is truly bliss for this man.
But it's not just ignorance that's driving policy. It is an absolute faith in the conclusions that they have drawn regarding almost everything. Social Security is in trouble and it must be fixed. Taking steps to alleviate global warming (if it really exists) would harm the economy, so nothing should be done.
The arguments end there. No amount of information to disprove those two previous statements will ever change the thinking of President Bush or the yes-people who surround him. In the now-immortal words of a White House aide, as reported by journalist Ron Suskind: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."
When you're up against this level of certitude, it's tough to make any headway. That is why President Bush can create crises where none exist while ignoring the crises that clash with his beliefs.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.