All I Need is the Air That I Breathe

Bush's war on the environment is cloaked in populist rhetoric.

| Fri Mar. 23, 2001 4:00 AM EST

President Bush is blaming his carbon dioxide switcheroo on the current US energy crisis. Reducing CO2 emissions from coal-burning power plants, he argues, would cost consumers and further burden the energy supply system.

Naturally, that's hardly the whole story. The Bush flip-flop has nothing to do with coal and even less to do with his concern about the energy crisis. It's about -- what else? -- oil. First off, coal-burning isn't the only source of CO2 emissions in the country. It's not even the biggest: petroleum is.

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And carbon dioxide isn't just an unfortunate byproduct of energy production: it's also a tool. Pumping concentrated CO2 gas into oil wells -- a practice known as "CO2 flooding" -- increases both production and profits for Big Oil. And that's a cause close to both Bush and Cheney's hearts.

The US actually gives oil companies that use "enhanced oil recovery" technologies, such as pumping CO2 into wells to force out every last drop, a 15 percent tax credit.

Carbon dioxide, believe it or not, even has a fan club. The Greening Earth Society's Web site (associated with the ominous fossilfuels.org, which claims that God provided fossil fuels so that humankind could flourish on Earth) proclaims that "CO2 is not a pollutant, but rather one of nature's most fundamental building blocks." True, of course, but the implication that the CO2 produced by fossil-fuel burning is somehow enhancing nature is ludicrous. Another CO2 booster is Ray Cordato, who wrote "CO2 is Good: Maybe We Should Subsidize It," which appeared in the April 1998 Carolina Journal.

Then there's the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, which publishes CO2 Science magazine, and which claims "There has been no global warming for the past 70 years."

Just after the Bush flip-flop on CO2 came the administration's decision. EPA chief Christine Whitman (notice how often she changes her name? It was Christine Todd Whitman, then Christie Whitman, and now just Christine Whitman) defended the decision with this qualification:

"It is clear that arsenic, while naturally occurring, is something that needs to be regulated."

Is it just me, or does it seem like Whitman slipped that "naturally occuring" bit in to imply that arsenic is really kinda good in a way, and we should think twice about policing "nature"? Uranium and mercury, it's worth noting, are also naturally occuring. Will these soon be on the list of nutrients with recommended daily dietary allowances?

Residents of Fallon, Nev. just might take issue with Bush and Whitman's decision to overturn stricter limits on just how much arsenic may be allowed in our drinking water before it's no longer officially "safe." The town, long known for having the nation's highest levels of arsenic in its drinking water, has been hit with an outbreak of leukemia among local children -- what researchers call a "cancer cluster." Yet the area's own representative in Congress was among the first to challenge the proposed tougher arsenic regulations.

In both the CO2 and arsenic decisions, the Bush administration claimed that there was no "consensus" in the scientific community about the dangers of these substances. As Chuck Fox points out in The New York Times, there is rarely true consensus on any issue in the vast scientific community. As it happens, scientists who claim that CO2 doesn't cause global warming, or that little arsenic does a body good, often have ties to industries with considerable interest in preventing further regulation.

Bits and Pieces

THE CRUCIFIXION OF LENNY BRUCE
It isn't just comedians like Chris Rock and George Carlin who are indebted to Lenny Bruce, says Nat Hentoff in Gadfly. Bruce was a caustic, effective, and largely unsung hero of the First Amendment.

IS HARRY POTTER SEXIST?
The whole hoo-ha over Harry Potter promoting satanism in children seems to have blown over. Now there are challenges from another group: feminists. Bitch magazine dissects the furor over a critique of the books in Salon in January, which charged that the female characters were all essentially negative stereotypes.

IT'S THE COWS' VIETNAM
Scientists in Nevada have a clever idea about how to cheaply destroy all those cows and sheep being slaughtered to stem the hoof-and-mouth disease outbreak in Europe: napalm. Hey, there's plenty of the soap-and-gasoline concoction left lying around, right? According to New Scientist, "The napalm is simply sprayed onto the animal carcasses and set alight. Napalm-fuelled flame throwers can be used to boost the flames if required."

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