Of George Bush’s commitment to the environment

Posted February 8th, 2007 in Blog 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

Yesterday at his usual White House press briefing, Tony Snow was asked about President Bush’s new initiative to steer a billion dollars, plus a government matching commitment up to another billion, for our beleaguered National Parks. God knows the parks need these funds. I am a great fan of our National Parks. In 2005, while on a cross-country road trip, I bought an annual pass for the first time — best deal in the country (it paid for itself in a few days).

It gave me the opportunity not only to experience the treasures that they are, but also their desperate need for funds.

So this is all for the good. But there was a little tidbit from Snow that caught my attention.

The President has been committed to conservationism since the beginning of this administration. Last year, for instance, we set aside the largest natural wildlife reserve on the face of the Earth. This is not new. Just as many people have been saying, wow, isn’t the President — isn’t it nice that the President has finally agreed that global warming has manmade components, only to find out, because we’ve been telling you, that he first started talking about it in June of 2001.

There’s been a lot of misreporting, or perhaps it just hasn’t — perhaps folks have not taken notice of the fact that this is an administration that’s been keenly committed, both to environmentalism and conservationism from the start.

Well, you could have fooled me.

Okay, this is a craftily constructed point, isn’t it — that a $1 billion, 10-year plan to support the Parks (watch out, however, since some of these funds will go to support privatizing of some of the parks programs) gets lumped in, almost like an afterthought, with Bush’s supposed concern about global warming. I suppose every conservation or environmental move on Bush’s part is going to get confused now with action on global warming.

Actually, if it’s true that Bush started talking about this in 2001, it makes the last 6 years of inaction, of stonewalling, of claiming the science was not in, even more unconscionable. But check out this linked NY Times article to see just how disingenuous is Snow’s claim. Turns out that the 2001 quote from Bush is something less than implied here, since it leaves out the rest of Bush’s statement, where he casts doubt once again on the science or that there is anything we can do about it. Global warming has a human-caused factor, yah, but… Bush’s usual approach to the crisis.

Money to conserve our precious National Parks does not global warming policy make, so to speak. Even more to the point, if one really cared about the parks, or the last remaining wilderness, or the natural beauty of this country, one would be addressing one of the greatest threats to these natural wonders — global warming.

Let’s look, for example, at what is going on in Shenandoah National Park, a particularly close one to my heart since I live within 2 hours and have visited often. This is where Bush chose to make his announcement regarding his Centennial Parks initiative. It is a magnificent stretch of Blue Ridge Mountain range; it also suffers from overuse, especially in the autumn, but that’s another matter.

The biggest threat to this natural beauty is — us. As you can read here, air pollution mars the park’s views more and more, while acid rain is harming the forest, rivers and streams. Where does this pollution come from? Well, two of my favorite nemeses — nearby power plants and exurban sprawl.

All across the country — places I visited in 2005, like Glacier National Park, Mt. Rainier National Park, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood, Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Crater Lake, and on and on — Park Rangers spoke of the changing climate and its deleterious impacts on the environment, from disappearing glaciers, increased soil erosion, worsening floods, to changes in flora and fauna. Mosquitoes are being found in higher elevations, for example.

You see, you can’t keep global warming’s impacts or the pollution spewed by our industries, or the detritus of human sprawl outside the borders of the parks. You can’t keep the beetles and fungi and diseases that are killing forests because of the impact of warming on insect populations out of these forests while they are assaulting others nearby.

Read here about what bark beetles are doing to our Rocky Mountain forests from Canada down through Yellowstone, where millions upon millions of white pine and lodgepole pine forests are already dead.

Jesse Logan, a retired U.S. Forest Service entomologist who studied bark beetles for 30 years, said his visits to Yellowstone showed many places where whitebark pine infestation seems to be worsening.

The death of whitebark trees has a ripple effect. The trees play an important role in holding and controlling snow as it melts from high elevation. It also produces a high-protein nut that’s important in the diet of grizzlies and other animals.

“I see what’s going on in whitebark is really a true ecological threat,” Logan said.

Logan said it’s clear to him that the outbreak is linked to climate and man’s role in making it warmer. Above-normal temperatures allow beetles to survive winters, breed faster and move to higher elevations in places where they have rarely been.

“I think the evidence is so overwhelming,” Logan said of climate change.

A real commitment to the National Parks would not just involve more funding for infrastructure and maintenance, more rangers and educational programs. It would also involve attacking the bigger long-term threats to the beauty of this land.

This is why conservation will no longer work as a strategy to save the ecological balance of our biosphere. It will be good to have plumbing that works and well-maintained hiking trails and good road maintenance and great educational programs at Shenandoah. But we also want the views, the trees, the animals, the birds…


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