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Published: Monday, 7/4/2011

Climate bullies

In taking President Obama to task for a lack of leadership on climate change, former Vice President Al Gore expressed the frustration of many Americans who care about the environment. His comments were on target, but in Mr. Obama's defense, parsing the blame isn't easy.

Mr. Gore understands that the situation is complicated. His criticism, in an article in Rolling Stone magazine, was prefaced by an expression of "enormous empathy" for the President, who came to office amid "incredible challenges." He said Mr. Obama has tried to lessen the nation's dependence on fossil fuels, and understands the connections between environmental security, economic security, and national security.

But despite "these and other achievements, President Obama has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change," Mr. Gore said. "After successfully passing his green stimulus package, he did nothing to defend it when Congress decimated its funding. After the House passed cap-and-trade, he did little to make passage in the Senate a priority."

This criticism could be leveled at the general management style of a president who has been passionate and assertive at times, and cool and detached at others. But is the political antipathy to action on climate change all Mr. Obama's fault? Or has the silence of the bully pulpit merely reflected changing political realities, mirroring the verdict of American voters in last November's elections?

Mr. Gore is himself not immune to charges of poor leadership. He did not become president, of course, but he has had his own bully pulpit, winning a share of the Nobel Peace Prize for pushing the climate-change cause.

Yet for all his advocacy, he has become useful to critics as a risible stock character who personifies the alleged deficiencies of the scientific argument for man-made climate change. Never mind that the scientific consensus is overwhelmingly on his side.

In the Rolling Stone article, Mr. Gore concedes the political difficulties and the effectiveness of the massed opposition to action against climate change, even to the extent of denying the problem.

That the environmental cause has been losing the argument on climate change is clear from what is happening in Congress. GOP lawmakers have mounted radical attacks against the Environmental Protection Agency -- which began under a Republican president, Richard Nixon, and is as vital now to combating greenhouse gases and other pollution as it was when Americans were shocked to see the Cuyahoga River catch fire.

Last month, a GOP-led House committee advanced a bill that would gut the EPA's power to regulate states under the federal Clean Water Act. The legislation is a witch's brew that blends states' rights and environmental contempt. But not just Republicans are to blame; some Democrats voted for the measure.

Whether Mr. Obama created the vacuum that invites such assaults, this hot-and-cold-running president should take Mr. Gore's friendly criticism seriously. The climate deniers and pollution enablers are overplaying their hand.

At a time when something weird is going on with the weather, Americans may be in the mood to cheer if the President mounts the bully pulpit anew to give the environmental bullies what-for.



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