New Scientist vol 174 issue 2349 - 29 June 2002, page 59
Andreas Frew finds officials thinking the unthinkable
SOME called it a small miracle. But perhaps they spoke too soon. What they found miraculous was a report from the Bush administration earlier this month about global warming. It stated in utmost detail that the planet was indeed warming up, with many chapters and verses about the painful consequences for North America. And, mirabile dictu, it said that human activity is most probably a significant part of the cause.
From the start of his administration, and even before, President Bush has said that there's not enough evidence to blame the oil industry and factories and cars and coal-fired power plants for the rise in temperature. Why the change of heart? Well, perhaps there wasn't one. The next day, after headlines ballyhooed the new Bush view, the President was asked about the report at a press conference. He said, yes, I saw what the "bureaucracy" wrote in the report. The tone, if not the words, was dismissive.
So what is one to make of this? Are some reckless, faceless bureaucrats now jobless and headless as well? Details have not been revealed. But the President's top environmental adviser told one journalist that the report is no big surprise: Bush always believed the science showed that humans are contributing to global warming. He went on to say that the report was only stating what "could" happen in the future, not what "would" happen, so no action to mitigate warming was required yet.
Hmmm. Linnaeus once said that nature does not move in fits and starts. Obviously he knew nothing of politics.
THERE are any number of slogans that we Americans like to use routinely to define our identity: "In God we trust", "E pluribus unum", "The melting pot", "Land of the free and the home of the brave". But it's easy to get the feeling that the proper slogan should be, "It can't happen here". Because we rarely get nailed, Americans suffer from a false sense of invulnerability.
That's why the 11 September terror attacks were so very devastating. Not only was the loss of life horrifying, and the destruction of a New York landmark appalling, but the attack proved that the US is not, in fact, immune to foreign threats.
Right now a serious round of finger-pointing is under way in Washington over who might have known enough to suspect that a terror act was imminent last fall, and if they did know, why they didn't have the wit or moxie to do something about it. It's much more soothing to think that one person or one agency screwed up than to face the possibility that we may be under a cloud of risk for quite some time to come.
FEDERAL animal health officials must be looking at the current furore and getting a knot in their stomachs. While giving no guarantees that the unthinkable is truly impossible, these officials have done their level best to convince people that they need not worry about BSE or foot and mouth disease (FMD) entering the US. They show slides with a map of the US with a high picket fence around it, as much as to say "nothing gets in without our say so".
But if you leave Washington and listen to the rank-and-file veterinarians instead of the political appointees, you get a different picture. Port inspectors are overburdened, existing rules aren't being enforced, laboratory facilities for quick diagnoses are antiquated and inefficient.
And while everybody visiting Britain last summer had to wipe his or her feet before returning to the US, one gets no sense of extra caution prompted by a recent FMD outbreak in South Korea, where thousands of soccer-mad tourists are running amok before returning home. The animal health people on the ground say we've kept FMD out by luck as much as by planning.
Invulnerability is a worthy goal for superheroes, but it's probably a hopeless quest for most countries, even if they are superpowers.