“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.” That is how former New Jersey governor and the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Christine Todd Whitman describes the U.S. withdrawal from the Kyoto agreements in Hot Politics, a new film from FRONTLINE and the Center for Investigative Reporting
As more and more Americans look for a response to the realities of climate change, FRONTLINE correspondent Deborah Amos investigates the political decisions that have prevented the United States government from confronting one of the most serious problems facing humanity today.
In February 2007, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that the science on global warming is “unequivocal” and asserted with 90 percent confidence that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) from human activities, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, have been the main cause.
Yet, since 1992 — from President George H.W. Bush’s insistence that the first world climate change treaty make CO2 emission targets voluntary, through former President Bill Clinton’s failure to pass a promised energy tax or to push for U.S. Senate ratification of the Kyoto treaty, through President George W. Bush’s 2001 reversal of a campaign pledge to push for mandatory limits on CO2 emissions and his complete withdrawal from Kyoto — the executive branch of the U.S. government has failed to join in climate change agreements adopted by much of the rest of the world.
Hot Politics goes behind the scenes to examine the forces behind the inaction, including a well-financed energy industry campaign that challenged the broad scientific consensus on the human causes of climate change in an effort to stall federal regulation. Fossil fuel companies funneled millions of dollars to the institutes of global warming skeptics, including former President of the National Academy of Sciences Frederick Seitz, who cast doubt about the science in media reports on climate change.
According to some whistleblowers, a parallel campaign has occurred within the Bush administration, which stifled the dissemination of key findings by government scientists about climate change. “In my thirty-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,” says top NASA climate scientist James Hansen.
In interviews with scientists like Hansen and Seitz and with political insiders including Whitman, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and former senator and Kyoto negotiatorTim Wirth, Hot Politics investigates why the U.S. federal government lags so far behind much of the world in responding to global climate change.
And in special reports on FRONTLINE’s Web site and elsewhere, CIR and FRONTLINE go further, with features including closer looks at the manipulation and suppression of science, a timeline of the politics and science of global warming, and a map tracking U.S. CO2 emissions and regulations state-by-state.