In a recent story in the Washington Times, Jim Connaughton, the top environmental policy adviser to President Bush, lays out a substantive and political point of view on global warming.
In summary, on the substance he says:
“What the president said early on is what others are now saying, that it’s a serious issue, but we have to treat it in the context of a risk … kind of like an insurance issue. The alternative is shutting down economic growth, and nobody’s going to do that,”
On the politics, he says:
“I’m encouraged that what is happening right now is that the debate is turning to the details of the issue. It has really been stuck for many years on a very high, relatively loosely informed rhetorical plane.”
The Bush White House is taking it on the chin from all directions right now, but this is a subject on which I think they’ve had a decent approximation to the right position since at least about 2001. Ultimately, the public debate is very likely to vindicate their stand; unfortunately, that will probably be after Bush leaves office. This can’t be fun for the relevant staff, but they are acting like grown-ups and seeking to serve the national interest.
Their big fall-down has been the inability to get out in front of the public debate. To be fair, though, they’ve been hamstrung by both the all-consuming focus on Iraq and the difficulty of having to present a complex argument when many of their natural allies have been unwilling to grant a necessary premise of the argument – that global warming is a real risk. Ironically, “losing” the debate on this fundamental scientific question moves the political argument to much more fruitful ground for conservatives: “OK, what should we do?”