HOT POLITICS [home page]


Hot Politics

Deborah Amos

Peter Bull

Sen. JOHN McCAIN (R), Arizona: The argument about climate change is over. Now it's time to act.

ANNOUNCER: As the 2008 presidential campaign begins, a new bipartisan consensus has emerged on global warming.

Sen. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: This is a problem whose time has come.

ANNOUNCER: But for nearly 20 years, through Republican and Democratic administrations alike, the federal government failed to take decisive action.

REPORTER: Are you planning to go to Rio?

Pres. GEORGE H.W. BUSH: We're contemplating that right now.

ANNOUNCER: The first President Bush signed the international climate treaty in Rio.

PHILIP CLAPP, Pres., Natl. Environmental Trust: It was, however, not binding because the Bush administration insisted that the targets be voluntary.

ANNOUNCER: Vice President Al Gore committed the U.S. to the Kyoto protocol.

Vice Pres. AL GORE: The United States remains firmly committed to a strong, binding target.

ANNOUNCER: But the Clinton administration didn't bring it to the Senate for ratification.

Sen. CHUCK HAGEL (R), Nebraska: It thought it was a little disingenuous to go sign the treaty and- and never even fight for it.

ANNOUNCER: And President George W. Bush withdrew the U.S. from the Kyoto treaty process altogether.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: The Kyoto Protocol was fatally flawed in fundamental ways.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, EPA Administrator, 2001-2003: The way it happened was the equivalent to flipping the bird, frankly, to the rest of the world.

DEBORAH AMOS, Correspondent: Why do you think we've had three administrations who have not been unable to deal with this issue on the federal level?

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, correspondent Deborah Amos investigates the politics behind the U.S. government's failure to act on the biggest environmental problem of our time.

CAROLE SIMPSON, ABC News: It's still hot and it's still dry in the nation's drought-stricken farm belt-

DAVID BRINKLEY, ABC News: Is this summer's terrible heat just temporary freakish weather, or is there a change in the atmosphere caused by our pollution?

DEBORAH AMOS, Correspondent: [voice-over] Climate change became a national issue for Americans in 1988. They could feel it. The temperatures climbed all spring, with an unusual number of floods and forest fires.

NEWSCASTER: It's said that this drought has the potential to be a nationwide disaster.

FARMER: [giving tour to Pres. George H.W. Bush] Fifty miles south of here, you get to the same situation.

DEBORAH AMOS: Farmers lost crops in the withering heat. 1988 was the hottest year on record all over the planet. Even the Amazon was on fire. A growing number of scientists saw convincing evidence that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases were warming the earth's atmosphere. Dr. James Hansen, a top climatologist at NASA, decided it was time to speak out.

JAMES HANSEN, Ph.D., Dir., NASA Goddard Institute: I decided I was going to say it was time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here and is affecting our climate.

Sen. TIMOTHY WIRTH (D-CO), 1987-1993: We knew there was this scientist at NASA, you know, who had really identified the human impact before anybody else had done so and was very certain about it. So we called him up and asked him if he would testify.

DEBORAH AMOS: On Capitol Hill, Sen. Timothy Wirth was one of the few politicians already concerned about global warming, and he was not above using a little stagecraft for Hansen's testimony.

TIMOTHY WIRTH: We called the Weather Bureau and found out what historically was the hottest day of the summer. Well, it was June 6th or June 9th or whatever it was. So we scheduled the hearing that day, and bingo, it was the hottest day on record in Washington, or close to it.

DEBORAH AMOS: [on camera] Did you also alter the temperature in the hearing room that day?

TIMOTHY WIRTH: What we did is that we went in the night before and opened all the windows, I will admit, right, so that the air conditioning wasn't working inside the room. And so when the- when the hearing occurred, there was not only bliss, which is television cameras and double figures, but it was really hot.

Dr. Hansen, if you'd start us off, we'd appreciate it.

The wonderful Jim Hansen was wiping his brow at the table at the hearing, at the witness table, and giving this remarkable testimony.

JAMES HANSEN: [June 1988 Senate hearing] Number one, the earth is warmer in 1988 than at any time in the history of instrumental measurements. Number two, the global warming is now large enough that we can ascribe, with a high degree of confidence, a cause-and-effect relationship to the greenhouse effect.

PHILIP SHABECOFF, The New York Times, 1959-1991: If he hadn't said what he had said, it would not have become the major issue and scientists would not have taken it up the way they did after that. It was a major breakthrough. Certainly, it was a major political breakthrough.

JAMES HANSEN: I said that I was 99 percent confident that the world really was getting warmer and that there was a high degree of probability that it was due to human-made greenhouse gases. And I think it was the 99 percent probability statement which got a lot of attention.

TIMOTHY WIRTH: I mean, this was a very, very brave statement. I mean, he was on the edge of the science. He's working for the federal government, and certainly, this was not cleared, you know, far up the line, what he had to say. So the summary of what Jim Hansen had to say that year, plus the fact that it had gotten so much attention- but I thought we were going to move a lot more rapidly than we did.

DEBORAH AMOS: [voice-over] As it turned out, the country had more immediate concerns. In 1991, the first President Bush launched the first Gulf war. Then global warming seemed to stop- briefly.

ANDREW REVKIN, The New York Times: Well, in 1991, Mount Pinatubo blew in the Philippines and sent a huge cloud of sulfate particles high into the stratosphere and cooled the world's climate, which is kind of a drag if you're trying to build impetus toward cutting emissions of heat-trapping gases.

DEBORAH AMOS: The climate became an issue again in the 1992 presidential campaign.

Gov. BILL CLINTON (D-AK), Presidential Candidate: We stopped building nuclear power plants, but our addiction to fossil fuels still is wrapping the earth in a deadly shroud of greenhouse gases.

DEBORAH AMOS: Candidate Bill Clinton challenged President Bush to attend the upcoming Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and commit the United States to a global warming treaty.

REPORTER: Mr. President, are you planning to go to Rio for the Earth Summit?

Pres. GEORGE H.W. BUSH: We're contemplating that right now, what to do. And there's some preliminary work going on.

REPORTER: Do you want to go?

Pres. GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, I'm- I'm-

TIMOTHY WIRTH: And it became a major issue. Was he or was he not going to go to the Earth Summit? And at that point, you know, we on the Democratic side were beating up on them as hard as possible, saying, "What do you mean, the president's not going to go to the Earth Summit? It's the most important gathering in the history of the world!"

DEBORAH AMOS: [on camera] Was he getting it equally strong from the other side, "Don't you dare go to Rio"?

WILLIAM K. REILLY, EPA Administrator, 1989-1993: Oh, of course, he was. And within the administration, we were divided. A number of people were concerned that he not go, thought that it was going to be an environmental jamboree and that we would be the punching bag down there.

DEBORAH AMOS: [voice-over] William Reilly wanted strong action on climate change and negotiated a secret deal to smooth the way.

WILLIAM K. REILLY: I had previously worked out an understanding with the president of Brazil that before I advocated his coming, the president guaranteed to me that they would do everything not to embarrass him there. There was a strong debate about whether he should go, and I think, honestly, the president went because he thought it was where the president of the United States, concerned about these issues, ought to be.

Pres. GEORGE H.W. BUSH: [Earth Summit address] In the United States, we have the world's tightest air quality standards on cars and factories-

DEBORAH AMOS: President Bush did join the largest gathering of world leaders in history. He signed the landmark treaty on climate change. But his signature came with a catch.

PHILIP CLAPP, Pres., Natl. Environmental Trust: There was a commitment by the United States, as a ratified party to that treaty, to return its emissions by the year 2000 to the level they had been in 1990, which, frankly, would've been a fairly easy thing to do if we had started in 1992 when we ratified it. It was, however, not binding because the Bush administration, the first Bush administration, insisted that the targets be voluntary.

DEBORAH AMOS: [on camera] Did you agree with voluntary rather than mandatory provisions?

WILLIAM K. REILLY: No. I recommended that the president commit to a mandatory program of trying to control carbon dioxide emissions going forward. I was a lonely proponent of that position at that time, and I think the economic advisers simply were much more concerned about the cost.

DEBORAH AMOS: [voice-over] The president made it clear the U.S. economy, not the environment, was his priority.

Pres. GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I must, as president, and will, as a human being, keep in mind the needs of American families to have jobs.

DEBORAH AMOS: That message would resonate powerfully back home.

PHILIP CLAPP: Where it resonated was with very specific special interests- coal companies and their associated unions. The companies could move the Republicans, the unions could move the Democrats. Same was true in the auto unions and the auto industry, as well. These companies give Republicans large campaign contributions, and Democrats depend on the unions very heavily in many of these states for their electoral support.

DEBORAH AMOS: In 1993, when Bill Clinton and Al Gore took over, there were high hopes for stronger action on climate change.

PHILIP SHABECOFF, The New York Times, 1959-1991: Of course, when Gore became vice president, and with his interest and having published a book on this, everybody thought this was going to be a major preoccupation of the Clinton administration.

DEBORAH AMOS: The new administration had a plan to reduce greenhouse gases. The "BTU tax," a tax on energy, was designed to cut energy use and also help reduce the federal deficit.

Pres. BILL CLINTON: [February 17, 1993, State of the Union] -a BTU tax on the heat content of energy. These measures will cost an American family with an income of $40,000 a year less than $17 per month. It will cost American families with incomes under $30,000 nothing.

DEBORAH AMOS: The Republican minority in Congress seized on Clinton's new tax.

NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), Speaker of the House, 1995-1999: If you're in the left, the answer's always a tax. The answer's always bigger government. The answer's always more regulation.

DEBORAH AMOS: [on camera] You were against it.

NEWT GINGRICH: I think it's nuts.

Sen. BOB DOLE (R-KS), Majority Leader: If he didn't get this message, he better get a hearing aid because this is pretty loud and clear.

GENE SPERLING, Natl. Economic Adviser, 1997-2001: This was the one piece of the Clinton deficit reduction plan that Republicans could say hit middle class families. And therefore, it was the most dangerous, the most politicized and the most controversial.

DEBORAH AMOS: [voice-over] In the end, it was Clinton's own party that killed the BTU tax. Senate Democrats from Western states rich in oil and coal rejected the tax before it even came to a vote.

Sen. MAX BAUCUS (D-MT): I don't think it's going anywhere.

DEBORAH AMOS: [on camera] They were undermined by people from their own party.

PHILIP CLAPP: Many Democrats represent farm states and coal-producing states, and that's where the Clinton administration had not done any spadework. It was like many of the things that the Clinton administration did in its first two years, they got the policy right, but they got the politics entirely wrong.

EILEEN CLAUSSEN, U.S. State Department, 1996-1997: Clinton later said that it was the biggest mistake of his presidency.

DEBORAH AMOS: So you start to ask yourself what- what was it? I mean, did they not know how to do politics?

EILEEN CLAUSSEN: Well, it's one of two things. Either they didn't really know how to do the politics, or they were not serious about really getting it done.

ANNOUNCER: [Competitive Enterprise Institute video] There's something in these pictures you can't see. It's essential to life-

DEBORAH AMOS: And there was another factor in the national debate, a media campaign funded by the energy industry and designed to raise public doubts about global warming.

ANNOUNCER: It isn't smog or smoke, it's what we breathe out and plants breathe in. Carbon dioxide. They call it pollution. We call it life.

ANDREW REVKIN, The New York Times: There was a concerted campaign by lobbyists and communicators for industry and scientists who had partnerships or relationships with either libertarian think tanks or with industry directly to cast doubt- basically, to focus everyone on the uncertainties.

DEBORAH AMOS: A coalition of coal companies produced a film that suggested more carbon dioxide might be a good thing.

[Western Fuels Association, "The Greening of Planet Earth]

Dr. SHERWOOD IDSO: A doubling of CO2 content of the atmosphere will produce a tremendous greening of planet earth.

Dr. HERMAN MAYEUX: -a better world, a more productive world-

Dr. MARY BRAKKE: For citrus, it would be a very, very positive thing.

Dr. KENNETH BOOTE: In terms of plant growth, it's nothing but beneficial.

DEBORAH AMOS: While these scientists touted carbon dioxide, a handful of others became industry-sponsored "greenhouse skeptics."

PHILIP COONEY: Once you tell enough people that the world is warming, people start to believe it.

REPORTER: To what would you attribute their rationale?

DEBORAH AMOS: They made themselves available to the media and claimed global warming was a myth.

FRED SINGER: The most of a temperature rise we could get would be on the order of half a degree, which doesn't strike me as a catastrophe.

[ Profiles of the skeptics]

DEBORAH AMOS: It turned out the energy industry also funded the research of some of these scientists.

ROSS GELBSPAN, Author, Boiling Point: And I found out that about three of these skeptics had received about a million dollars over a three-year period, and that was never publicly disclosed until we wrote about it.

DEBORAH AMOS: [on camera] And the money came from?

ROSS GELBSPAN: And the money basically came from coal interests, from mining interests, from some oil companies.

PATRICK MICHAELS, Sr. Fellow, Cato Institute: The planet has not warmed up nearly as much as the computer forecasts that are used for the basis of this gloom-and-doom scenario suggest that they should have.

PHILIP CLAPP: And this is a playbook that was actually developed way back in the �80s, and it started with the tobacco industry. What the tobacco industry did was begin to question the science, simply say, "Well, we don't know the way that cigarette smoking causes cancer." So they began with the attack on the science. Same playbook on global warming.

[ Profiles of the skeptics]

DEBORAH AMOS: [voice-over] One of the most distinguished of the skeptics, Dr. Frederick Seitz, former president of the National Academy of Sciences, received research funds from both the tobacco and the oil industry.

[on camera] Did it matter to you where the money came from?

FREDERICK SEITZ, Ph.D., Pres. Emeritus, Rockefeller Univ.: As long as it was green. When money changes hands, it's the new owner that decides how it's used, not the old.

DEBORAH AMOS: What is your position today on global warming?

FREDERICK SEITZ: I would say it's unlikely that we face serious danger from global warming.



DEBORAH AMOS: In the 1980s, you said, "Global warming is far more a matter of politics than of climate."

FREDERICK SEITZ: That's still true. Most scientists are Democrats. I think- what is it, 93 percent? And it got to be a political issue. I think it's simple as that.

DEBORAH AMOS: [voice-over] The skeptics' position became a political strategy.

[Frank Luntz memo] The scientific debate remains open. Voters believe there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community._

DEBORAH AMOS: In 1995, a Republican pollster outlined the approach in a confidential memo. "Voters believe there is no consensus about global warming." His advice: "You need to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue."

[on camera] Was that you?

FRANK LUNTZ, Republican Strategist: That is me. And that was written- this discussion of global warming and climate change is something I've been involved in since 1995.

DEBORAH AMOS: And those are your words, and they used your words as a strategy to undermine the credibility of scientists who- for the most part, there are very few scientists who say that global warming is not a real thing.

FRANK LUNTZ: It was a great me- look, you want me to say it? It was a great memo. It was great language. I know that those who dislike my position or- or who resent the memo, they will acknowledge that it is good language.

DEBORAH AMOS: An entire group of science skeptics grew up around that, who have in some ways moved the debate back to "scientists aren't really sure," when, in fact, scientists are sure.

FRANK LUNTZ: Again, I'm- I'm not going to- my own beliefs have changed from when I was tasked with that project.

DEBORAH AMOS: [voice-over] While Frank Luntz says he now believes global warming is real, his strategy of doubt was embraced by some prominent Republican politicians.

Sen. JAMES INHOFE (R), Oklahoma: Wake up, America. With all the hysteria, all the fear, all the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? I believe it is.

PHILIP CLAPP, Pres., Natl. Environmental Trust: There's no question that the skeptics' campaign had a major impact on Congress and it allowed those who were ideologically opposed to moving, senators like Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, to have something to wave in the air and say, "There's no reason to run any sort of economic risk here. There's no reason to take any action because we don't have the science yet."

[newspaper headline: Experts Agree Humans Have �Discernible' Effect on Climate]

DEBORAH AMOS: By 1995, the science was more certain. An international panel of more than 2,000 scientists issued a new report. Their consensus: Global warming is due to greenhouse gases caused by human activity. The remaining question: How severe would the climate changes be? That same year, the climate talks that began in Rio would reconvene in Berlin.

Vice Pres. AL GORE: [March 17, 1995] In Berlin, nations will meet to determine what more the international community can do in response to the dramatic scientific evidence that now exists.

DEBORAH AMOS: The Clinton administration had decided voluntary emission cuts would never be enough. Eileen Claussen was on the negotiating team in Berlin.

EILEEN CLAUSSEN, U.S. State Department, 1996-97: The Clinton administration was very actively pursuing an international agreement that would move from a voluntary system to a mandatory system.

DEBORAH AMOS: But the Clinton team could not convince China and India to agree to mandatory cuts.

GENE SPERLING, Natl. Economic Adviser, 1997-2001: Developing country leaders uniformly saw the effort to put a binding climate change regime on them as an effort by the United States, the most advanced, productive economy in the world, to now stunt their growth before they could even have a chance to catch up. And they were truly outraged by it.

DEBORAH AMOS: There was also outrage in Congress, now controlled by the Republicans.

NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), Speaker of the House, 1995-1999: The fact that China and India aren't even included means that you give them a substantial economic advantage in taking jobs away from America by increasing manufacturing in China and India. We would have been raising the cost of doing business in the U.S.

DEBORAH AMOS: Once again, the economy, not the climate, was the major concern, and America's most powerful industries, the energy and automobile companies, were dead set against mandatory carbon cuts.

EILEEN CLAUSSEN: I can remember sitting in a room where the language was finally agreed. And I was there with Tim Wirth, and who was also at the State Department at the time, and he very pleasantly said, "Now, Eileen, just go and tell all the industry groups what we've just agreed." Which, of course, I did. And when I described sort of the language of the Berlin Mandate, there was just unbelievable sort of silence as I was sort of saying, "Well, and this is the language we've agreed to."

DEBORAH AMOS: [on camera] But when you looked out on that sea of faces, what did you see?

EILEEN CLAUSSEN: I could see the beginnings of the plan to make sure that there was no treaty negotiated.

DEBORAH AMOS: [voice-over] In Congress, there was little support for the agreements hammered out in Berlin, which would form the basis of the next round of negotiations in Kyoto.

NEWT GINGRICH: As Speaker of the House, I had a team in Kyoto who came back and were just appalled by the way the treaty was negotiated, by the role of the U.S. delegation, by the degree to which the Europeans rigged the entire treaty to be anti-American.

DEBORAH AMOS: In the Senate, the opposition was bipartisan. Democrat Robert Byrd from West Virginia's coal country and Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel sponsored a non-binding resolution opposed to a treaty that did not include India and China.

Sen. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE): It is the developing nations that will be the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in the next 25 years.

When a nation like China says, "I won't voluntarily step up with no mandate, nor will I agree to do anything in the future, we'll see how our economy works," well, that's asking the United States to take a tremendous leap out into the unknown. I don't think that was in the interests of our country. I don't think it was in the interests of the world.

SENATE PRESIDENT PRO TEM: The ayes are 95 and the nays are zero, and the resolution is approved.

DEBORAH AMOS: [on camera] Why was "Kyoto is not fair"- why was that such a powerful idea that couldn't be countered?

JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS, Pres., Carnegie Endowment for Intl. Peace: Well, it could have been countered because, of course, you could say- you could say, "Look, we've been responsible for the problem up until now. They're going to be responsible for the future. But we have to act as a consequence of our past emissions before we can ask them to act in anticipation of their future emissions." That's not a hard argument to make. That's why I've always believed it was a red herring designed to avoid action because it's obviously a phony argument.

And the other phony argument that went with it was, "We can't act alone because then all our industry will move overseas to where carbon emissions are not regulated." And of course, most of our energy use can't move, even if it wanted to. It's in our buildings. It's in our stores, in our homes, in our office buildings. It's in our automobiles.

DEBORAH AMOS: [voice-over] But the 95-to-nothing Senate vote still hung over the Clinton administration as delegations gathered in Kyoto in December 1997. Vice President Gore decided to head the U.S. delegation, despite the concerns of his political aides.

TIMOTHY WIRTH: Gore was obviously running for president, and you can imagine what all of the political handlers were saying. "Don't touch this issue, don't get involved in it, don't do this, don't do that." A lot of the conservative part of the administration, I know, was arguing against him going to Kyoto. And it was a bit of the- like the conservatives arguing against George Bush going to Rio.

Vice Pres. AL GORE: [Kyoto address] The human consequences and the economic costs of failing to act are unthinkable.

DEBORAH AMOS: Gore set out the administration position, a mandatory cap on carbon emissions.

Vice Pres. AL GORE: For our part, the United States remains firmly committed to a strong, binding target that will reduce our own emissions by nearly 30 percent from what they would otherwise be, a commitment as strong or stronger as any we have heard here from any country.

DEBORAH AMOS: Although Gore had committed the U.S. to the climate treaty, in Washington, convinced they faced certain defeat, the Clinton administration decided not to bring the treaty to the Senate for ratification.

Sen. CHUCK HAGEL: I thought it was a little disingenuous to try to score political points and go sign the treaty and- and never bring it before the Senate or even fight for it, or even push it on us.

DEBORAH AMOS: [on camera] And how did you feel about that?

EILEEN CLAUSSEN: Well, I mean, obviously, I felt strongly enough that I resigned from the administration, in part over this, because I thought it was dishonest to go and negotiate a treaty that you have no hope of getting ratified in the Senate, and because I also felt that it's better to have good rhetoric than bad rhetoric, but it's actually better still to want to do something.

DEBORAH AMOS: [voice-over] Former President Clinton and Vice President Gore declined to be interviewed for this program.

During the late 1990s, America's booming economy sent more carbon into the atmosphere than ever before.

VIJAY VAITHEESWARAN, The Economist: So by the time Bill Clinton's administration was finished, we saw greenhouse gases so much higher than they were at the beginning of the decade that any president, not just George W. Bush, but any president, even an Al Gore presidency, would have found it very, very difficult to meet the Kyoto targets. That's the dirty little secret.

DEBORAH AMOS: In the 2000 campaign, Al Gore had the reputation as the strongest environmentalist ever to run for president.

Vice Pres. AL GORE, Presidential Candidate: [October 26, 2000] Now, I want to talk about the environment here today because we have a situation where the big polluters are supporting Governor Bush, and they are wanting to be in control of the environmental policy.

DEBORAH AMOS: But candidate Gore rarely mentioned global warming or talked about mandatory carbon caps.

TIMOTHY WIRTH: The politics was so divisive, they wrapped all of the- any problems with Kyoto around Gore's neck. The Republicans were going to try to beat him up on this very- you know, really, as aggressively as they possibly could, where they'd go "Ozone Al," or whatever he was called.

DEBORAH AMOS: Then Texas governor George W. Bush outflanked Gore on Gore's own turf.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH, Presidential Candidate: [September 29, 2000] My opponent calls for voluntary reductions in such emissions. In Texas, I think we've done it better with mandatory reductions. And I believe the nation can do better, as well.

DEBORAH AMOS: Bush surprised many by backing mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: With the help of Congress, environmental groups and industry, we will require all power plants to meet clean air standards in order to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and carbon bonoxide- carbon dioxide, within a reasonable period of time.

ANDREW REVKIN: And that was kind of a big deal, coming from him. And I think it was seen as a way to sort of under- to out-green Gore, which probably worked.

DEBORAH AMOS: In the first few weeks of his administration, President Bush sent another signal. He appointed a governor with a strong environmental record to head the EPA. Christine Todd Whitman also backed mandatory CO2 reductions.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, EPA Administrator, 2001-2003: I felt that it would be important for our country, as a leader, as the number one producer of greenhouse gases, to be seen as being engaged in this issue, be a world leader here.

DEBORAH AMOS: One of Whitman's first duties was to attend ongoing climate treaty talks in Trieste, Italy. Before leaving, she says she coordinated her talking points with the White House.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: I went through the White House and went to all of them and said, "Look, I am going to say, �The president's call for a cap on carbon,' is that OK?"

DEBORAH AMOS: [on camera] And in that White House, who said, "You can go to Trieste and you can say those things"?

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: Oh, I ran it through the National Security Council. I ran it through the chief of staff. I ran it through everybody that I could think of.

DEBORAH AMOS: So that was Andy Card and Condoleezza Rice?


DEBORAH AMOS: [voice-over] Just before her trip, the former New Jersey governor was a guest on CNN.

[CNN "Crossfire," February 26, 2001]

ROBERT NOVAK, Syndicated Columnist: Governor, tonight as we sit here, the environmental conservatives are up in arms.

DEBORAH AMOS: Robert Novak charged Whitman with misrepresenting administration policy.

ROBERT NOVAK: The only theory under which carbon dioxide is allegedly harmful is a catastrophic global warming theory, which was- as I remember, it was Al Gore's, not George Bush.

DEBORAH AMOS: Whitman reminded Novak of the president's campaign pledge.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: He has also been very clear that the science is good on global warming. It does exist. There is a real problem that we, as the world, face from global warming. And to the extent that introducing CO2 to the discussion is going to have an impact on global warming, that's an important step to take.

RON SUSKIND, Author, The One Percent Doctrine: So without having a serious discussion with Bush- because Whitman had not had a detailed discussion on global warming with Bush at the point at which she's on CNN, and so she thought she was on safe ground. And of course, she finds out quickly that she was not.

DEBORAH AMOS: While Whitman was in Italy, a policy review was already under way in Washington. Energy had moved to the top of the White House agenda. Vice President Dick Cheney had assembled an energy task force, meeting in secret with the oil, gas and coal industries. Up for discussion: Was the president committed to mandatory carbon caps?

Sen. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE): We were hearing things out of Vice President Cheney's office, who certainly made it very clear they didn't think that was the case. Then we were hearing things from the EPA administrator. We weren't sure where the president was. So the only way to deal with it is write a letter and get it on the record. "What is your position?" And that's what we did.

DEBORAH AMOS: The letter from Hagel and three other Republican senators intensified the debate at the White House. The vice president asked the Energy Department to assess the costs of capping carbon.

ANDREW REVKIN: The Energy Department said cutting these emissions will be costly in a certain way. And the Environmental Protection Agency weighed in, saying, "No, that report isn't applicable. This is why. And there really is growing evidence that the world is warming because of these emissions, and it's worth sticking with what you did." And the team at the White House that was assessing all this was made of political operatives. There was not a scientist in the room. And they obviously took the information that was convenient and disregarded the information that was inconvenient.

DEBORAH AMOS: Within a week of receiving the letter from the Republican senators, President Bush signed off on a reply. He would reverse his campaign pledge on carbon emissions.

When Whitman returned from Europe, she requested a meeting with the president. She says she had no idea the carbon policy had been reversed without her input.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: I thought I had a chance. It was just the president and Andy Card and I, and it was kind of to go through the reasons why we were going to go away from the cap on carbon and back away from it.

DEBORAH AMOS: The president told her the decision had already been made.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: There really wasn't much discussion about climate change or how we could up to the campaign promise or anything like that. And then when I left, as I came out of the Oval Office, the vice president was coming down the hall, putting on his coat, and he said, "Well, is the letter ready?" And took a letter- I didn't know what it was at the time, but it turned out it was the letter to Hagel.

DEBORAH AMOS: [on camera] How much do you think that the vice president had to do with that decision?

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: I think he probably had a great deal to do with it. He is certainly the one who had the lead on the energy issues. I had long conversations back and forth with him. Well, no, I had long conversations with him. It wasn't a lot of back and forth with him. He sort of smiles and nods, and you don't really know where he is on a lot of things.

DEBORAH AMOS: [voice-over] But there would be even bigger news. The Bush administration had decided to withdraw from the Kyoto climate treaty process altogether.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: [June 11, 2001] Climate change, with its potential to impact every corner of the world, is an issue that must be addressed by the world. The Kyoto Protocol was fatally flawed in fundamental ways.

DEBORAH AMOS: America's closest allies were stunned. Protests were immediate and worldwide.

[on camera] Do you think that the president understood that there was going to be a huge, huge reaction in the rest of the world?

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, EPA Administrator, 2001-2003: I'm not sure they understood how big a reaction it was going to be, and I am not sure it would have made much of a difference even if they had because what was happening here was more important.

DEBORAH AMOS: And it was a big reaction.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: It was a big reaction. It was a very big reaction. And it was a British paper, I think, that said, "With one stroke of the pen, the president has determined that there are more important things in the world than the rest of the world," basically, that the United States is more important and that there are other issue, that this is a minor thing. It was a- the way it happened was the equivalent to flipping the bird, frankly, to the rest of the world on an issue about which they felt so deeply.

[ Whitman's extended interview]

RON SUSKIND: The key message from this White House is that, "We will do what we decide to do, and you can sit and listen. You can throw up your hands and run in circles. Well, that's your choice. The United States will now do what it does for whatever reason it decides, and your job as the rest of the world is to- is to deal with it."

DEBORAH AMOS: [voice-over] But it was the White House that would have to deal with steadily mounting, tangible evidence that global warming was already under way.

[ Global warming timeline]

MARK HERTSGAARD, Journalist and Author: You're beginning to see the actual measurable impacts of global warming. You're seeing enormous melting of glaciers, especially up at the poles. You're seeing sea level rise in places like Bangladesh, very low-lying countries. You're seeing Pacific islands that are already almost going under water by then because they're such low-lying little island atolls. And so at that point, you no longer had to be a scientist to see that, wow, something is really going on here.

VIJAY VAITHEESWARAN, The Economist: It was very difficult for the Bush administration to come to grips with the science hardening. And in part, the administration tried to do this by ignoring the science or trying to water it down, or censor it even.

DEBORAH AMOS: One of the first to feel that censorship was Rick Piltz. He coordinated the research for the government's Climate Science Program.

RICK PILTZ, U.S. Climate Science Program, 1995-2005: It happened, really, starting in the first year of the new administration. At the same time that the president was pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol negotiations, the White House science office was telling us to start deleting all references to the National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts, a major study that we had just completed.

DEBORAH AMOS: In that $10 million study, government experts had examined the potential consequences of global warming across the country.

MICHAEL MacCRACKEN, Ph.D., Co-Author, Climate Impact Assessment: So we looked at agriculture. What is it going to mean to food and agriculture in the U.S.? What is it going to mean to human health? What's it going to mean to forests? What's it going to mean to water resources? What's it going to mean to coastlines?

I mean, we didn't have a notion that they would suddenly stop the whole process, which is what, in effect, happened during the next year. They basically stopped funding and they totally refocused the program back on trying to look at the science of climate change and not focusing at all on what the potential impacts were.

DEBORAH AMOS: The White House ordered the EPA to take the assessment off the government Web site.

ANDREW REVKIN: There was basically a "Thou shalt not mention the National Assessment on Climate Change anymore." And it was- you could see it excised from documents in the- in the index, government documents.

SUSAN JOY HASSOL, Co-Author, Climate Impact Assessment: What we missed by not having that assessment out there for the public to see is people did not get a good sense of "What this means to me." And the National Assessment could've helped people to see that, that this is real, it's about me, it's not about somewhere- someone else, somewhere else.

RICK PILTZ: In terms of a large-scale suppression of an intelligence-gathering enterprise, what it does to block a process that's essential for national preparedness, to me makes it the central climate change science scandal of this administration.

[ Piltz's extended interview]

JAMES HANSEN Ph.D., Dir., NASA Goddard Institute: In my 30-some years in the government, I've never seen constraints on the ability of scientists to communicate with the public as strong as they are now.

DEBORAH AMOS: Nearly 20 years after he first raised the alarm about global warming, Dr. James Hansen was told by administration political appointees that he had to clear all his public statements about global warming in advance.

ANDREW REVKIN, The New York Times: He had given a speech at a science meeting and had been chastised for that and told there'd be dire consequences if he kept doing this without letting people know. And they wanted to know his speech engagements. And I said, "So let's get this in the paper."

["New York Times" headline, January 29, 2006: Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him]

DEBORAH AMOS: In the speech, Hansen had not only talked about the science, he also outlined policies he believed were required to prevent further disastrous climate change.

JAMES HANSEN: I don't think my opinion about policies has any more weight than that of anybody else, but I shouldn't be prevented from saying it and I shouldn't be prevented from connecting the dots.

DEBORAH AMOS: Throughout his administration, the president has been at odds with the scientific consensus on global warming, at times raising doubts about its cause.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: [March 29, 2006] First of all, I- there is- the globe is warming. The fundamental debate- is it manmade or natural?

VIJAY VAITHEESWARAN: There's no question there will always be some uncertainty about some aspects of climate science. It's too complex an area to say otherwise. But we know more than enough to start action now. We'll solve the problem of global warming when our government gets serious and when we sweep the obstacles out of the way. That was the opportunity that George W. Bush missed.

DEBORAH AMOS: The president, vice president and White House environmental officials all declined to be interviewed for this program.

While the Bush administration was trying to contain the warnings from government scientists on climate change, events like Hurricane Katrina were driving many Americans to reach their own conclusions.

FRANK LUNTZ, Republican Strategist: I think Americans now believe that something has happened to the climate, that they think that the weather patterns are not the same as they were 20 years ago. We now wonder, "Is it just Mother Nature, or is there something else that's at play here?" We didn't use to think that way, but we do so now.

DEBORAH AMOS: Before Katrina, polls showed most Americans saw global warming as something that might threaten their children or grandchildren.

PHILIP CLAPP, Pres., Natl. Environmental Trust: In our poll, the number of people who said "It's going to impact my life" after Katrina skyrocketed. It went to actually a majority of Americans saying that "This is a threat which may impact me."

DEBORAH AMOS: The change in American attitudes can be seen across the country.

RICKY BATES, Rancher, Riesel TX: The earth has had cycles since God put it in place and- but those were pretty much clear-cut, in logical order. The weather patterns we're seeing today are- there is no logical order. You know, there is no balance there. like it once was.

DEBORAH AMOS: Ranchers here in central Texas began making connections between carbon emissions and what was happening in their backyard.

ROBERT CERVENKA, Rancher, Waco TX: It's been such mild winters that we have a grasshopper infestation that survives the winter about four years now. We have grasshoppers that ate everything up.

DEBORAH AMOS: They were also making connections between global warming and the state's largest utility company, TXU. The Dallas-based utility wanted to build 11 new coal-fired power plants, a plan that was fast-tracked by Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Gov. RICK PERRY (R-TX): When our population is expected to double in just over 30 years, power outages are just a few years away if we don't take action.

RICKY BATES: You know, we stopped building coal plants in �88 in Texas for a reason. And now, you know, all of a sudden, now we've got this big push to get all of these coal plants built. You've got a billion-dollar company. They've requested a permit. You know, facts say they're going to get it, so you just need to live with it. Well, we've had people tell us, "Well, what do you think a bunch of hicks, you know, out here in Riesel, Texas, can do against a billion-dollar plant?"

DEBORAH AMOS: The ranchers, along with environmental groups, filed suit to stop the coal plants from being built. Mayors from across the state joined the fight, backing the cowboys against coal.

Mayor LAURA MILLER, Dallas: What is it that brought us together? One word: Coal.

We are alarmed that the state of Texas is currently considering doubling the number of coal-fired plants in our state. And worse than that, our governor has decided that he wants to fast-track all of it and get it up and built as soon as possible. And it just seems contrary to the direction that the rest of the country is going.

DEBORAH AMOS: In other parts of the country, local and state politicians were taking action on global warming. In California, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed landmark climate change legislation in 2006, the nation's first law imposing mandatory caps on carbon dioxide emissions.

[ Map of state actions]

Gov. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), California: And we do not want to wait for the federal government to create that action, we want to create it and we want to be the leaders in that.

TERRY TAMMINEN, Governor's Environmental Adviser: Governor Schwarzenegger has said the reason that we have to take such aggressive action is because the federal government has been dragging its heels for years. Our Department of Water Resources has already documented a significant shrinking in the annual snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountains, which is the source of two thirds of our developed drinking and agricultural water in the state, and a trend which they said that by 2050, we'd lose about two thirds of our snow pack.

DEBORAH AMOS: [on camera] So you are already seeing some pretty serious- this is now. This is right now.

TERRY TAMMINEN: This is right now, and that's the reason that we are, you know, frankly, scared into acting.

DEBORAH AMOS: [voice-over] In February 2007, an unexpected group showed up on Capitol Hill to demand federal action on global warming.

Sen. BARBARA BOXER (D), California: [February 13, 2007] It's very important to note that this group includes some of the world's largest corporations, such as General Electric, DuPont, BP, Caterpillar, Alcoa, and includes key energy companies such as Duke Power, Florida Power and Light, and PG&E from my home state of California.

DEBORAH AMOS: These corporate leaders, motivated by the reality of climate change, the fear of state-by-state regulation and the hope of new business opportunities, wanted the federal government to impose mandatory limits on carbon.

PETER DARBY, CEO, Pacific Gas & Electric: Our organization is here because we share a view that climate change is the most pressing environmental issue of our time, and also because we agree that as the world's largest source of global warming emissions, our country has an obligation to lead.

STEVE ELBERT, Vice Chairman, BP America: BP believes that all emitting sectors of the economy, including the transportation sector, both fuels and vehicles, must be included in any national climate change policy.

CHAD HOLLIDAY, Chairman & CEO, DuPont: We must know the rules of the road if you want us to follow to reduce greenhouse gases. When you lay down the law, our universities, our companies, our national laboratories and individual citizens will lead the world in finding solutions.

Sen. JOHN WARNER (R), Virginia: When I see such an extraordinary cross-section of America's free enterprise system together with the environmental groups come and form a group like this, you've got my attention.

DEBORAH AMOS: Back in Texas, it was, in fact, big business that stepped in to resolve the state's battle over the coal plants.

NEWSCASTER: In a stunning turnabout, the new buyers of TXU, the largest power provider in Texas, promised to take a company that had been the enemy of environmentalists and make it go green.

NEWSCASTER: It's the biggest leveraged buyout ever.

DEBORAH AMOS: Two Wall Street private equity firms decided to buy TXU. And to put the deal together, they negotiated an unusual agreement with environmental groups. The buyers pledged to cancel plans to build eight of the eleven planned coal plants, reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent and invest millions in wind power. The deal was brokered by the former EPA director, William Reilly.

WILLIAM K. REILLY, Consultant, The Texas Pacific Group: I believe that this investment that we're doing in Texas is going to be green in both senses of the word.

DEBORAH AMOS: [on camera] What's the significance of this deal? It is unprecedented, certainly, but is this some new model?

WILLIAM K. REILLY: Well, you know, I would hesitate to characterize it as a new model until it really plays out and we see how successful we are. But certainly, it has been described by the environmentalists as a game changer. And based upon the calls I'm getting from other energy companies, I think it may be. There is a sense now that the most aggressive expansion program for coal-fired power has been reconsidered.

[ More on the TXU deal]

DEBORAH AMOS: [voice-over] In early 2007, the United Nations panel of climate scientists reported that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing faster than ever before. Unless greenhouse emissions are cut aggressively, the report says, temperatures could increase by five degrees Fahrenheit by century's end, enough to create a planet much warmer than humans have ever known.

ANDREW REVKIN: I went to the North Pole, where you're actually at the place where the world spins. And you're on sea ice that is essentially ephemeral. It's floating, drifting ice that's only a few feet thick. And the notion, when you're standing there, that later in the century, the new normal in summertime up there will be a blue ocean is a pretty profound feeling. It's not like, "Oh, my God, the world is ending," but it is "The world is transforming."

DEBORAH AMOS: [on camera] Why do you think we've had three administrations who have not been able to deal with this issue on the federal level?

NEWT GINGRICH: Well, what you have is, people on the right know they're against regulation and they're against taxation and they're against bigger government. So they don't want to think about it because the only answers they ever see are things they hate. People on the left know the environment's important, but their answers are all regulation, taxation and litigation. And so you're caught in this- this gridlock because the left insists on pain and the right insists on avoidance.

TIMOTHY WIRTH: This is the biggest, most complicated and most interesting issue that I think we've ever faced, you know, outside of blowing ourselves off the face of the earth, that climate change is the single most important issue economically, politically, socially, diplomatically. I mean, it's got everything involved in it.

And whoever wins the presidency in 2008 has got not only a tremendous obligation but a wonderful opportunity to really change the future of the world.


Peter Bull

Deborah Amos

Pascal Akesson

Justin Weinstein

Mark Hertsgaard

Anthony Forma

Herb Forsberg
Ed Matney
Terry Stewart
Brett Wiley

Michael Boyle
Francis X. Coakley
Jeff Duncan
Jeff Edrich
Jim Gilchrist
Luis Granados
Mike Karas
Robert Porter
Paul Rusnak
Bob Silverthorne
Eric Williams

Ben Decter

Christina Fleming

Roberta Helling

Ashlee Spinoso


Erica Baker
Zusita Bakker

Duane Moles
Sonya Stokes Hubbard

Oriana Zill de Granados

Dan Noyes
Christa Scharfenberg

ABC News VideoSource
AP World Wide
BBC Motion Gallery
Bloomberg Television
City of Houston Municipal Channel
Corbis Motion
Courtesy CNN
Getty Images
ABC 7 Los Angeles
NBC News Archives
Reuters Pictures
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Lisa Siguero
Texas House of Representatives
Washington Post
WGBH Archives

Geoffrey Brown
Amory Lovins
Peter Frumhoff
Mary Stake Hawker
Diane Ives
Jim Marston
Ernest Moniz
Michael Pearson
Barbara Schecter
Thomas Smith
Robert Watson
James Woolsey


Tim Mangini

Chris Fournelle

Missy Frederick

Steve Audette

Jim Ferguson
John MacGibbon
Julie Kahn

Ming Xue

Erin Anguish

Mason Daring
Martin Brody

Diane Buxton

Sandy St. Louis

Diane Hebert Farrell

Jessica Smith

Peter Lyons

Phil Zimmerman

Kito Cetrulo

Jessica Cashdan

Nina Hazen

Susanna Thompson

Kirsti Potter

Lisa Palone

Eric Brass
Jay Fialkov

Cynthia Ahn

Mary Sullivan

Tobee Phipps

Bill Rockwood

David Kieley

Richard Parr

Sarah Moughty

Catherine Wright

Sam Bailey

Robin Parmelee

Ken Dornstein

Sharon Tiller

Marrie Campbell

Jim Bracciale

Louis Wiley Jr.

Michael Sullivan

David Fanning

A FRONTLINE Co-production with
The Center for Investigative Reporting, Inc.

© 2007
WGBH Educational Foundation
All Rights Reserved

FRONTLINE is a production of WGBH/Boston which is solely responsible for its content

ANNOUNCER: This report continues on our Web site, where you can explore a map of each state's carbon dioxide output and regulations, read special reports on climate science and its politics, the extended interviews, and examine companion reports by the Center for Investigative Reporting, watch the whole program again on line and join the discussion at

Next time: Once Mormons were hated, persecuted, exiled. Today they're 12 million strong.

- Mormons are everywhere.

ANNOUNCER: Follow their astonishing journey from the margins to the mainstream.

- It's a breathtaking transformation.

ANNOUNCER: And discover the truth about America's most controversial faith. The Mormons, a FRONTLINE/American Experience special presentation.

To order FRONTLINE's Hot Politics on videocassette or DVD, call PBS Home Video at 1-800-PLAY PBS. [$24.99 plus s&h]

FRONTLINE is made possible by the annual financial support of PBS viewers like you. Thank you.

Additional funding for FRONTLINE is provided by the Park Foundation, with additional funding for this program from Deer Creek Foundation, the Kendeda Fund and the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

home + introduction + watch online + reports + timeline + interviews + map + join the discussion
correspondent's chat + site map + readings & links + dvd/vhs & transcript + press reaction + credits
privacy policy + journalistic guidelines + FRONTLINE series home + wgbh + pbs

posted april 24, 2007

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
earth photo illustration copyright © corbis
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation