Copley News Service
SACRAMENTO, CA — When the U.N. secretary-general extended an off-the-cuff invitation to
participate in a global-warming conference in New York City, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t hesitate.
“Of course. I feel honored. Thank you,” Schwarzenegger answered without pause as he and Ban Ki-moon wrapped up a July tour of a San Jose, Calif., company researching ways to limit greenhouse gases.
In contrast, President Bush has withstood growing international pressure to become more aggressive in setting a national agenda to curb global warming.
The world will be reminded of the stark difference between the two Republicans when Bush and Schwarzenegger take separate stages next week.
On Monday, Schwarzenegger will be at the United Nations to promote California’s landmark law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and urge all nations to answer what he considers one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century.
Schwarzenegger “has become the de facto president on the world stage because President Bush has been so absent,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a national advocacy group.
Bush, meanwhile, has invited leading nations to Washington Sept. 27 and Sept. 28 to begin drafting a long-term, largely voluntary program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with an eye on the effects on industry. His goal is to produce a framework by the end of next year that would guide international policy after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires.
“We are at the point of renewal of the climate-change agenda,” said James Connaughton, chairman of the president’s Council on Environmental Quality.
Internationally, global warming is being blamed for drought-induced famines, a shrinking polar ice cap and killer heat waves. In California, Schwarzenegger has warned of drawn-out dry spells, forests turned into tinderboxes and damaging floods from early snow melt. Most scientists say greenhouse gas emissions — mostly from cars, refineries and industry — are a major contributor to global warming.
Since taking office, Schwarzenegger has been a dominant force driving U.S. attitudes toward global warming.
“While the Bush administration doesn’t have a great record on climate change, we are very impressed with what the governor of California is doing,” said Gregory Barker, a member of the British Parliament since 2001.
“Governor Schwarzenegger has not been talking. He’s been doing,” said Barker, the Conservative Party’s voice on environmental affairs.
John Bruton, the European Union’s ambassador to the United States, said his member countries look to California and its governor for leadership.
“When Europeans think of innovation, they think of California,” said Bruton, the former prime minister of Ireland. “If California says the problem of climate change is real, we have a sense California knows what it’s talking about.”
Many Europeans are skeptical of Bush’s commitment, particularly since he has failed to endorse Kyoto’s goals to curb global warming.
“It is no secret that across Europe, that has been a great disappointment,” Barker said. “Without America involved, there can be no solution to climate change.”
Schwarzenegger also has openly criticized the president on the issue.
Through Linda Adams, the governor’s top environmental adviser, Schwarzenegger gave the president a no-confidence vote on the eve of the two global warming meetings.
“We’re assuming there will need to be a new president before we’re afforded meaningful action,” said Adams, a Democrat.
Schwarzenegger has threatened to take the Bush administration to court over California’s right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. He maneuvered around the president to craft such agreements between states and has met independently with world leaders in Canada, France and England.
He also secured a commitment from some Republican governors as well as the mayor of New York to participate in reduction programs.
All of this does not come without cost — financial and political. Schwarzenegger has been criticized for promoting industry-friendly incentives over tighter regulations and for spending tax dollars on globe-trotting.
Some consumer watchdogs also criticized Adams and others for taking a spring trip to Europe financed by the California Climate Action Registry, which receives funding from regulated industries. Some business leaders also joined the trip, giving them access to decision-makers.
“Big-business opponents of greenhouse gas reductions bought high-quality face time,” said Carmen Balber of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.
Nevertheless, some prominent Democrats don’t fault Schwarzenegger’s trips.
“The governor has to go because Bush isn’t doing his job,” said state Attorney General Jerry Brown, a former governor. “As the leader of California, he’s a very visible national figure. People pay attention to him.”
Brown did say he was encouraged by the president’s call for a summit on the issue.
“It’s significant George Bush is now using the word ‘global warming’ and talking about it as a serious threat and promising to do something,” Brown said. “It’s a fundamental shift of position.”
Joel Schwartz, an analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said politicians and the public need to keep in mind that reducing greenhouse gas emissions could force higher energy prices and squeeze supplies.
“No matter where you are, people are going to have a tough time giving that up,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz is skeptical of the dire warnings. “Climate change is not a crisis,” he said. “The thing we should be most afraid of is rushing to foolish policy.”
The president’s platform includes working with big emitters such as China and India. He also wants to curb rampant deforestation because trees take carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases, out of the air. And he wants to strike technology-sharing deals.
Bush believes more can be accomplished through voluntary programs that offer incentives. He also wants to see more progress from India and China before inflicting the pain of mandatory emission controls on U.S. companies.
Initially a global warming skeptic, Bush said in a recent letter to world leaders that “science has deepened our understanding of climate change and opened new possibilities for confronting it.”
The president added that he wants “special emphasis on how major economies can, in close cooperation with the private sector, accelerate the development and deployment of clean technologies.”
European leaders say they are looking to Bush to provide a clear signal of U.S. direction.
“Business needs certainty about the regulatory regime,” said Bruton, the European Union ambassador.
Barker, the member of Britain’s Parliament, said the United States can no longer avoid tough choices.
“It’s not a question of pass or pay,” he said. “You have to play this one.”