The Week That Was
October 12-18, 1997

The Clinton Administration global warming extravaganza has come and gone. The Union of Concerned Scientists signed on as the warm-up act, some 100 television meteorologists were cast as extras, Hillary sang her "For the Sake of the Children" aria in her weekly newspaper column, and, on the big day, video links to dozens of college campuses around the country virtually guaranteed an audience. The reviews are in.

From the news media: Big Yawn. The Economist, expressing the European point of view, reliably beat the drum of environmental catastrophe and pointed to the collapse of the British coal industry as a shining example of "leadership." But for the U.S. press, a whole host of topics somehow seemed more newsworthy: Attorney General Janet Reno and the Administration's just unearthed fundraising tapes, the Promise Keepers rally in Washington, Whitewater investigator Kenneth Starr's ruling on Vince Foster's death, veto of a Congressional ban on partial-birth abortion, and the chorus of titters over the President's "distinguishing characteristic," to name just a few.

At the Washington Post and the New York Times, the page-one headlines screaming environmental doom were but a fond memory. The New York Times found a spot on page 1, but the headline was "Top Aides Urge Clinton to Ease Global Warming Emission Goal." The Post ran "White House Fosters Awareness of Global Warming but Hedges on Policy" on page 4 (Note to Webster: scratch "awareness" from the next edition), and found space for a couple of listless pro-warming/pro-carbon tax commentary pieces full of the usual clichés (i.e., if governments don't take action right this minute it will be "too late," all scientists agree that the end is near, and those who don't are employees of tobacco companies.) Not the sort of articles to jam the phone lines on Capitol Hill.

The only real excitement came from the gaffes. CNN's decision to block anti-treaty television spots paid for by industry was a foolish move that diverted attention from the Administration's carefully crafted message. Not only did it provide fodder for conspiracy theorists who already think Ted Turner is the Leni Riefenstahl of the environmental movement but it forced many in the media--on 1st Amendment grounds--to defend industry's right to air its views. After churning up much controversy, CNN sheepishly reversed its decision a week later.

Then Vice President Albert Gore, delivering environmental wisdom to weather forecasters at the White House, repeated a statement that has been eco-doctrine since the Reverend Malthus, or at least since the U.S. Commission on Population Growth issued its first reports in 1970--to wit, if only those Third World peoples would stop breeding (and breathing), the planet would be a better place for the upper-middle-class environmentally anxious. Gore ended up getting blasted by anti-abortion activists, who usually don't weigh-in on this issue. More surprisingly, his comment brought down the wrath of socialist commentator Alexander Cockburn, who ridiculed Gore on the pages of the Los Angeles Times.

Said Cockburn: "Here's how the TV weather forecasts will sound if Al Gore has his way: California is bracing itself for torrential rains in coming months due to the irresponsible reproductive habits of poor people in Latin America and Africa. We can also trace the violent storms soon to cause widespread damage to the flatulent water buffalo and kindred bovines associated with irresponsible Third World breeding practices. The methane emissions from rice paddies required to feed burgeoning Third World populations have prompted delayed monsoons, increasingly severe storms, changing currents and drought." Cockburn added: "Gore's hysteria, scripted for him by enviro-Malthusians from the World Wildlife Fund, the Sierra Club, and kindred outfits, is the more ludicrous since the rate of increase in the world's population is declining. As for global warming, predictions pretending to any degree of certainty are without scientific foundation. The cause of any recent rise in the world's temperature can reflect long-term change across a millennium or recently discovered phenomena, such as a surge in solar energy."

As if a tongue-lashing by Cockburn wasn't bad enough, the Clinton Administration's ham-fisted strategy in bringing TV weathercasters to the White House and encouraging them to shill for the Climate Treaty touched off a backlash of sorts. We got a number of e-mail messages from those same weathercasters: some asking for Fred Singer's views on the global warming issue, others saying they refused the White House invitation despite pressure from their news directors, and one who attended but was so irritated he is now circulating an anti-Treaty statement to his meteorologist colleagues.

Fred Singer, in Spain and Italy for two weeks meeting with other scientists, saw only one global warming piece in the local press and a couple of short, run-of-the-mill articles in the International Herald Tribune. But his global warming seminar played to a packed house of students and faculty at the University of Rome.

Meanwhile President Clinton, who hasn't been scoring many points for follow-through lately, left town and turned his attention to trade issues. The Administration's official position on the various proposals put forth for Kyoto was supposed to be finalized by October 20, but it still appears confused.

We'd like to point out that in much of the global warming coverage, activist groups, who've long been portrayed as "us" by reporters, are now being portrayed as "them." This is a noteworthy turn of events. We have to wonder if the collapse of Greenpeace USA, whose annual budget dropped from $51 million to $21 million in just four years, hasn't cast a pall over all environmental activists, branding them as passé. Nobody wants to back a loser, much less the press. What is more, reporters are aware that attempts to force public behavior infringe on democratic freedoms, hence the uproar over CNN cancelling industry's ad campaign.

Americans want clean water and clean air, and their concern for nature is genuine. But consumer trends are beginning to indicate that the constant call for sackcloth and ashes (most recently because we consume eight times the energy of the average Chinese) is becoming increasingly tedious. More and more Americans, it seems, want to eat steak, smoke cigars, wear fur, and drive sport utility vehicles that guzzle gasoline like a 25-year-old Cadillac. On Madison Avenue, a new advertising campaign for perfume tells customers: "Forget your troubles c'mon get happy!" Get happy? Where will Al Gore, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other harbingers of doom fit in if Americans decide they want to be happy?

Something to think about for those in Washington fond of wetting their forefinger and holding it up to the wind.

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