Helter Swelter
The following article was written by Ian Frazier. It was originally published in the March-April 2003 issue of Mother Jones. (I found it here.)

As the World Burns: When It Comes to Global Warming, the President Is a Man with a Plan -- about Planning to Plan

President Bush has called for a decade of research before anything beyond voluntary measures is used to stem tailpipe and smokestack emissions of heat-trapping gases that scientists say are contributing to global warming. "When you're speeding down the road in your car, if you've got to turn around and go the other direction, the first thing is to slow down, then stop, then turn," said David K. Garman, the assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy.


PRESIDENT BUSH HAS CALLED FOR A DECADE of additional research on global warming, but needs more time to decide which decade it will be, assistants to the president announced today. So far, 2060-2070 "looks nice," said one insider, though other decades have not been ruled out. "We don't want to pick just any old decade," the source continued, perspiration beading on his forehead. "Finding just the right decade for this type of in-depth climate research might take as long as 10 years."

Privately the White House expressed regret that the decade from 1790 to 1800 is past, and thus not able to be a part of their plans. In other respects, it would be an ideal decade for the purposes of research into climate change. Most of the Founding Fathers were still alive then, and with the Revolutionary War over and much of the work on the U.S. Constitution completed, they had free time. The thought of all that talent being brought to bear on the problem is indeed exciting, as the White House likes to remind critics. President Bush himself is known to have a special fondness for many of the years between 1790 and 1800, particularly 1797, and he has asked his tech staff if anything can be done to get us there. Advances in time travel, or at least in movies about time travel, offer some possibilities, but for now those solutions aren't feasible for political reasons. Inquiries on this subject went unanswered by the White House press office, which had closed early in the February heat.

Other members of the Bush administration who have the president's ear on energy matters refused to give out any information, including where the ear is kept when not in use. They have argued, so far successfully, that that is nobody's business, not even their own. In several recent off-the-record interviews they told the media that an excellent job is being done on national energy policy, now go away. Someone who sometimes delivers their take-out barbecue says he's seen them working really hard, but adds, "Who can formulate policy, or even think, when it's s'dang hot like it's been?" According to an individual who knows this delivery person, he believes the whole process of deciding when we might want to start thinking about global warming would function better if we didn't rush around so, but just laid out by the pool and let the ideas come.

For the moment, the administration seems to agree. Simply letting yourself relax and drill for a while in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a problem-solving technique which, though counterintuitive, may produce surprising results. Similarly, when you ease clean air and water standards, often your whole mind and body eases along with them, allowing access to undreamed-of inner resources of decision making. Loosing some of the bonds of the Endangered Species Act, saying "yes" to the deeper self that wants to log, letting go of rigid, controlling attitudes toward federal lands--all these, creativity consultants teach, help to free the executive-branch imagination. Of course, mastering mental powers in this way is not done overnight. When it is complete, however, White House staffers promise that the issue of possible global warming will be fully gotten to the bottom of at last.

One proponent of such innovative thinking is David K. Garman, the assistant energy secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable-energy energy, with the Department of Energy. Using the new idea-generating method, sometimes called the Halliburton Method, Mr. Garman produced a metaphor, and he held an informal press briefing to share it with reporters. "Okay, say you've got a car," Mr. Garman began, "or no, not just a car--say you've got a really big car. Are you with me? Okay, you've got a great big car. You decide to go for a drive. First thing, you go to the convenience store and fill that car up--top your tank right off. Maybe you even bring along a few extra tanks, the ones for the dirt bike and the lawn mower and the chain saw, fill them up, too, because you never know. Then you buy a few snacks, and you're ready. You're heading right straight down that highway--can you all please excuse me for a moment while I change my shirt?"

A complete transcript of Mr. Garman's metaphor was made available after the briefing. Interpreters of figurative language have since examined the metaphor, and they now believe they know what it means. The car, they say, is America, and the driver, responsible businesspeople involved in its governance and energy extraction. The "crybabies in the backseat" are the majority of everybody else in the world. The driver firmly resists their pleas to turn around or even stop for a minute at a rest room (the Kyoto Protocol) until he is good and ready and feels it is in the best interest of the entire car. The "tantrums and whinings" that the driver ignores represent low approval ratings on this one minor isolated topic, and the happy arrival at the driver's destination equals prosperity and peace everywhere.

That this was in fact Mr. Garman's meaning White House sources would neither confirm nor deny. The assistant secretary himself, having left town until the weather breaks, could not be reached. EPA officials running out the door to beat the traffic would say only that whatever Mr. Garman or his friends wanted was fine with them. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer limited his response to blowing through his lips, whinnying, and repeatedly stomping his front foot on the floor as part of a new administration effort to communicate better with the American people by means of friendly sounds. Pressed further, however, Mr. Fleischer said it would be wrong for him to comment beyond the noises he'd just made. Some Beltway observers believe that the administration is hoping the recent news stories of weird savannah wildlife turning up in the suburban Northeast will distract national attention from complicated, wonkish subjects like climate change.

Clearly, it is time for the discussion to move on. "Junk science," as administration sources label much of the data on global warming, has already led many astray. Most laypeople do not understand that higher temperature numbers, in themselves, are not strictly scientific, because they don't use test tubes, Bunsen burners, white smocks, and other equipment familiar from high school science labs. On the contrary, in the real world, hotter weather may be experienced very differently depending on a person's metabolism and daytime job. It is stifling, as we know, in any office when the air conditioning breaks down. But to employees in a cool and pleasant work space, the same external temperature may appear completely comfortable. So-called climate experts overlook this disparity when they talk about glaciers melting, coral reefs dying, Venice going underwater, etc. Such evidence, while interesting, is not practical science.

One of these days the decade specifically set aside to look into allegations of climate change will arrive. Most of us will not be around then, so dealing with the situation, if there is one, will be up to someone else. If the Bush team has played its cards right, the people alive then either will have gotten to like year-round T-shirt weather, or else the climate will not have changed that much and there was nothing to worry about after all. Or maybe (as is more probable) they still won't know for sure what's going on, but with technology developed in the meantime will be able to air-condition a much wider section of the planet. And in the remote chance that it really does become a lot hotter, and certain unforeseeable consequences are the result, perhaps they will do as those long before them, and resolve not to think about the problem just now.