Deathbed conversions are sometimes better than no conversions at all, but they're always bought at a discount.
President Bush scoffed at the global-warming panic early in his first term. "I will not accept a plan that will harm our economy and hurt American workers," he said in November 2001. When he met Gerhard Schroeder, the German chancellor, about that time, he stood his ground in the face of typically heavy-handed Teutonic persuasion. "We agreed on practically everything," Mr. Schroeder said, "except the Kyoto Protocol."
The president is still singing to an uncertain score, but he's not nearly as adamant as he used to be. Visions of a legacy now dance through his naps, and he has kept his promise, offered six years ago, to keep an "open mind" on global warming.
An "open mind" is a lot more than a lot of other people, including the uncrowned heads of Europe, can offer. Their minds were probably open once, too, but brains fell out a long time ago.
The president's summit on global warming, just concluded in Washington, was the usual exercise in gasbaggery, contributing a fair amount of hot air to the week's output against the ozone layer. The resolute president, so eager to take on the politically correct opportunists who make Washington home, is more cautious now. You can't blame the man, under assault everywhere for trying to defend the West against evil men who want to drag the world back to the eighth century. He wants to avoid more pain. But nobody is likely to be persuaded by the predictions of doom if we don't turn out the front porch light this minute.
The president sent Condoleezza Rice, a secretary of state with more than the usual quotient of charm, to the conference with a dramatic concession to the representatives of 16 nations, all of whom arrived in big black limousines, the most economical of which averages nearly 10 miles per gallon of gasoline, if driven frugally. Condi, a stylishly smart lady who no doubt knows better, joined in the din of panic, alarm and fear. The world must adjust to sitting in the dark, hungry, or sacrifice the planet.
Well, an exaggeration. But not by much. "It's our responsibility as global leaders," she said, "to forge a new international consensus on how to solve climate change. If we stay on our present path we face an unacceptable choice. Either we sacrifice global economic growth to secure the health of our planet, or we sacrifice the health of our planet to contribute with fossil-fueled growth."
It might be too late already. A research team from a Canadian university, just back from Nunavut take their word for it, it's up there has measured the "unprecedented" warm temperatures in the "high Arctic" and found them so extreme that they've had to revise their weather predictions. Imagine that, a weatherman who got the forecast wrong.
"Everything has changed dramatically in the watershed we observed," reports Scott Lamoureux, the leader of something called the International Polar Year. He went all the way to Nunavut to say that the phenomenon is "something we had envisioned for the future, but to see it happening now is quite remarkable."
It can't be unprecedented, and we're all still here, where most of us groove on warm weather, not the ice age that science was predicting only two decades ago was about to freeze us solid. Dr. Lamoureaux is leading one of the 44 Canadian research initiatives that will collect a cool hundred million Canadian dollars, which, after all, is worth more now that it was when the professor and his friends set off to join Nanook in the north.
George W. can expect to raise the temperature in the White House to balmy with his newly found old-time scientific religion, but he shouldn't get carried away. He gets to be blamed for everything. The temperature on Mars, for example, is warming, too, and there's no cow flatulence, no Detroit smokestacks, no stream of odorific traffic on the interstate to blame. There's only George W. The betting here is that his deathbed conversion won't change a thing. He might as well have stayed with the facts.