The Parrot and the Igloo Notes
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The Pirate

159   “and we will act”: George Bush, “From Afar, Both Candidates Are Environmentalists . . .”, The New York Times, September 24, 1988.

The New York Times, “George Bush: From the text of a speech delivered Aug. 31 in Erie Metropark, Mich.,” September 24, 1988.

 

159   “In the past few years”: Philip Shabecoff, “Environmentalists Say Either Bush or Dukakis Will Be an Improvement,” The New York Times, September 1, 1988.

 

159   “and I always will be”: Reuters, “‘Environmentalist’ Bush Pledges to Fight Acid Rain,” September 1, 1988.

 

159   “The angry anti-environmentalist polices”: Keith Schneider, “The Nation; Environmental Policy: It’s a Jungle in There,” The New York Times, June 7, 1992. “Three years ago, Mr. Bush sought to separate himself from the angry anti-environmentalist policies of his predecessor, Ronald Reagan. He broke a 13-year stalemate in Congress to pass a new Clean Air Act and halted much offshore oil drilling.”

The paper was wonderfully clear about the Reagan shortcomings. Re the environment, “the Bush Administration really has asserted itself as an improvement on its predecessor. . . The Reagan Administration had given no sign of any interest whatever in the ‘greenhouse effect’—the threat of rising temperatures worldwide because of excessive discharges of carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere, which could cause rising sea levels and disastrous changes in climate,” Tom Wicker, “Up from Reagan,” The New York Times, February 3, 1989. (Wicker adds that these are “long steps up from the Reagan years.”) Sulfur dioxide rain: “For eight years Mr. Reagan casually ignored the evidence, as if the issue were the invention of crazed environmentalists. He did nothing beyond urging more superfluous research,” Editorial, “President Bush Breaks the Reagan Ice,” The New York Times, February 4, 1989. “Mr. Bush broke cleanly with his predecessor on important environmental issues like acid rain,” Editorial, “President Bush’s Hundred Days; Seen Against Ronald Reagan’s 2,922 Days,” The New York Times, April 23, 1989. “National environmental groups, despondent when Ronald Reagan was elected President eight years ago because of his proclaimed hostility to environmental regulations, are expressing optimism about their prospects in a Bush administration.” Although they “held Mr. Bush accountable for what they viewed as the Reagan Administration’s dismal record on pollution and conservation issues, environmental groups have been saying since the election last week that they expect strong support for their issues from a Bush administration and the 101st Congress,” Philip Shabecoff, “Environmental Groups Optimistic About Their Prospects with Bush,” The New York Times, November 16, 1988. “The tone of the Bush budget is strongly environmental, and several objectives are a departure from those of the Reagan Administration,” David E. Rosenbaum, “Bush’s First Budget: Like Reagan’s Last,” The New York Times, February 10, 1989. “The Reagan Administration has not properly managed public lands, the accounting office said, and has had little measurable success in reducing pollution of the environment,” Robert Pear, The New York Times, November 22, 1988.

 

159   “that is, stalling in the guise”: Rochelle L. Stanfield, “Greenhouse Diplomacy,” The National Journal, March 4, 1989.

 

159      “which ignored the global warming problem”: John M. Goshko, “Baker Urges Steps on Global Warming; Reduced Emissions, Energy Efficiency, Reforestation Recommended,” The Washington Post, January 31, 1989.

 

159      “the Environmentalist President”: Michael Oreskes, “Nominees Wage Intensified War of Attack Ads,” The New York Times, October 10, 1998.

George J. Church, “Smell That Fresh Air!”, Time Magazine, June 26, 1989. Frank Sesno, “Global Warming - Must We Act Now?”, CNN, Newsmaker Sunday, April 22, 1990. Dino Grandoni, “Energy 202: How George H. W. Bush Helped Turn Acid Rain into a Problem of Yesteryear,” The Washington Post, December 4, 2018.

Charles F. Faber, Richard B. Faber, The American Presidents Ranked by Performance, 1789-2012, 2d ed., McFarland and Company 2012. George H. W. Bush, 244. “Bush proclaimed himself the environmentalist president.”

 

160      posters in the waiting room: Richard L. Berke, “Bush’s Domestic Policy Team Is All Set, but Not the Agenda: Bush’s Washington: Who’s Who,” The New York Times, January 18, 1989.

Vice President George Bush, on the campaign trail. “I’ll make this following commitment to you today. I will appoint the finest, most qualified individuals in the land to serve in the Environmental Protection Agency. They will have my support. They will have my ear. They will have my confidence. And they will have my mandate.”

C-Span, Road to the White House, “From Erie Metropark, Michigan. Vice President George Bush, Republican Presidential Nominee: Environmental Policy Speech,” Recorded August 31, 1988.

https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4814525/user-clip-george-bush-environmental-policy-campaign-speech-1988

Accessed 11-24-22.

 

160      “the guy behind the guy behind the guy”: from Things Change, Columbia Pictures 1988—released a couple weeks before Bush’s elevation. Writer-director John Favreau — or the fictional character played by Vince Vaughn—borrows this line in the foundational nineties comedy Swingers; Miramax 1996.

 

160      Jim Baker is the man: Kevin Phillips, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, Viking Penguin 2004. Chapter Five, “The Enron-Halliburton Administration,” 163.

“When the election wound up in the courts,” Phillips writes, “the Bushes called in the A-Team: James A. Baker III, the ex-Secretary of State who had travelled the world for Enron, and his long-time lieutenant, Robert Zoellick, also an Enron adviser. Baker and Zoellnick, sometimes called “Baker’s Second Brain,” earned their pay.”

 

160      Baker had served in Reagan’s White House: Nathaniel Rich, Losing Earth: A Recent History, Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2019. Chapter 18, “The Great Includer and the Old Engineer,” 150.

 

160      “the Bush administration was placing”: Philip Shabecoff, “Joint Effort Urged To Guard Climate,” The New York Times, January 31, 1989.

 

160      The clearest gesture: Tom Wicker, “Up from Reagan,” The New York Times, February 3, 1989.

 

What postwar Secretary of State before James A. Baker ever chose to make his first significant pronouncement not on Soviet-American relations, or arms control, or NATO, but on the global environment? . . . Mr. Baker told an international conference that the world could not defer action until all uncertainties about the greenhouse effect were cleared up. ‘‘Time will not make the problem go away,’’ he asserted. Indeed not . . .

 

160      “Godspeed”: Federal News Service, “Remarks By James Baker III, Secretary Of State, Before the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change,” Transcript as Released By the State Department, January 30, 1989.

 

161      “terrific, succinct”: Rochelle L. Stanfield, “Greenhouse Diplomacy,” The National Journal, March 4, 1989.

 

161      Time ran him on its cover: The words on the cover itself were “Bush’s Bad Cop: From Taxes To Clean Air, John Sununu Is the Power To Reckon With.”

Not a power; the. Between that indefinite and definite article is a world of power difference.

Dan Goodgame, “Big Bad John Sununu: He’s Smarter Than You Are, And He Wants You To Know It,” Time Magazine, May 21, 1990.

Two days before the inauguration, the Times noted Sununu was “expected to be particularly powerful.” Richard L. Berke, “Bush’s Domestic Policy Team Is All Set, But Not The Agenda: Bush’s Washington: Who’s Who,” The New York Times, January 18, 1989.

 

161      “Small minds ask small questions”: Jeffrey Frank, “What Sununu Knew as He Flew,” The Washington Post, April 28, 1991.

 

The pairing of the name Sununu with the phrase “genius level IQ” has been going on for some time . . . Sununu too has a reputation for not suffering fools. Rather, in the language of news accounts, Sununu is someone who “glares,” “bristles” and sometimes lets loose a “fabled temper.” He is “thin-skinned,” “demanding” and “expects people to have done their homework.” He has been known to snap, “Small minds ask small questions.”

 

When a friend—a retired college professor—read the mind-size/question-size equation, she wrote in the margin, “Toad.”

 

161      “living proof that you shouldn’t”: Maureen Dowd, “White House Isolation; An Image of Bush as a Captive of Top Aides Who Make Their Own Sweeping Decisions,” The New York Times, Nov. 22, 1991.

 

161      “As long as they hate me”: Maureen Dowd, “‘Pit Bull’ at the White House Falls Victim To His Own Role,” The New York Times, December 4, 1991.

 

As he stated his credo in his first month in Washington: “I don’t care if people hate me, as long as they hate me for the right reasons.”

 

161      “King John”: Ann McDaniel, “The Reign Of ‘King John,’” Newsweek, May 13, 1991.

 

161      Sununu did not believe: Nathaniel Rich narrates a quick, Big Bad John Sununu scene; after Jim Baker’s speech to the Intergovernmental Panel, Sununu rumbled into the Secretary of State’s office. “Leave the science to the scientists,” the bad cop said. “Stay clear of this greenhouse effect nonsense. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Chapter 18, 150.

 

161      “There’s no urgency”: Herb Brody, “The Political Pleasures Of Engineering: An Interview With John Sununu,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Technology Review, Vol. 95 No. 6, August/September 1992.

Brody points out that the lawmaker “attacks the motives of environmentalists,” and includes a wonderful sum-it-all-up quote from Mr. Sununu: “It’s personally frustrating to see people doing really stupid things,” he explained, “when I know what should be done.”

 

162      formation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: “History of the IPCC,” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC.com.

https://www.ipcc.ch/about/history/

Accessed 11-24-22.

 

162      he’d said in 1947: Gladwin Hill, “Warming Arctic Climate Melting Glaciers Faster, Raising Ocean Level, Scientist Says,” The New York Times, May 30, 1947.

 

162      would split the Nobel Prize: “The Nobel Peace Prize 2007,” NobelPrize.org, Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2021.

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2007/summary

Accessed 4 Dec 2022.

 

IPCC Statement, “Statement About the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize,” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, December 2012.

https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/Nobel_statement_final.pdf

Accessed 4 Dec 2022.

 

162      anthropologist Willet Kempton: The report was published in 1993; Kempton and his team began research during summer 1991.

Ragner E Löfstedt, “Lay Perspectives Concerning Global Climate Change In Vienna, Austria,” Energy & Environment, Vol. 4 No. 2, 1993.

Willett Kempton and Paul P. Craig, “European Perspectives On Global Climate Change,” Environment, Vol. 35, No. 3, April 1993.

Willett Kempton, Paul P. Craig, Craig R. Kuennen, Global Climate Change: European Policy Makers’ Views of How Science Enters the Political Process, Energy & Environment, Vol. 6 No. 2, 1995.

 

162      “motivates European policymakers”: Willett Kempton and Paul P. Craig, “European Perspectives On Global Climate Change,” Environment, Vol. 35, No. 3, April 1993.

 

162      “You simply appeal to the self-interest”: Willett Kempton and Paul P. Craig, “European Perspectives On Global Climate Change,” Environment, Vol. 35, No. 3, April 1993.

 

163      the ministerial residence on April 26, 1989: Paul Lewis, “White House Admits Censoring Testimony; British Urge Rapid Action,” The New York Times, May 9, 1989.

 

Britain’s position was outlined by its Permanent Representative at the United Nations, Sir Crispin Tickell, in a speech to the United Nations Economic and Social Council. He said his Government decided to press for rapid action on global warming after a daylong seminar organized on April 26 by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at her official residence and attended by ministers, scientists and industrialists.

Sir Crispin said that even though great uncertainties still exist about global warming, the Downing Street meeting concluded that there was no time to waste in planning international action to cope with a problem of such scale and complexity which could disrupt ‘‘the intricate web of life on a scale now hard to imagine.’’

 

Michael Oppenheimer, “Thatcher Tackles the Greenhouse Puzzle,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 11, 1989.

Jon Agar, Science Policy Under Thatcher, University College London Press 2019, Chapter Seven, “Environment and Science,” 244.

Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher: Herself Alone, The Authorized Biography, Knopf 2019. Chapter 13, “From Blue to Green,” 418-19.

 

163      “rapid action”: Paul Lewis, “White House Admits Censoring Testimony; British Urge Rapid Action,” The New York Times, May 9, 1989.

 

163      In the fifteen years after 1990: Rolling Stone, “Warriors and Heroes: The Prime Minister—Tony Blair,” November 17, 2005.

 

163      called for actual progress: Mark Bowen, Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the Truth of Global Warming, Chapter Nine, “A Logical, Well-Reasoned Conclusion,” 228.

Nathaniel Rich, Losing Earth. Chapter 20, “The White House Effect: Spring-Fall 1989,” 161.

Philip Shabecoff, “U.S., in a Shift, Seeks Treaty on Global Warming,” The New York Times, May 12, 1989.

Thatcher’s call came on May Eighth.

 

163      “urging that the United States take the lead”: Philip Shabecoff, “Scientist Says Budget Office Altered His Testimony,” The New York Times, May 8, 1989.

Philip Shabecoff, “U.S., in a Shift, Seeks Treaty on Global Warming,” The New York Times, May 12, 1989.

 

163      John Sununu stood against it: Bowen, Censoring Science, 228.

Philip Shabecoff, “Scientist Says Budget Office Altered His Testimony,” The New York Times, May 8, 1989.

 

Nathaniel Rich, in his powerful Losing Earth, offers an interesting theory: that the otherwise rational and pragmatic chief of staff (if non-pleasant; Rich describes him as an “enthusiastic contrarian and a charming bully”) saw climate science as a plot. A labcoat conspiracy.

Sununu had once been adviser to MIT’s technology and public policy grad students. Rich explains he “harbored skepticism toward scientists who mingled the two.”

 

During his years in government he had nursed this skepticism into a full-fledged theory of twentieth-century geopolitics. Since World War II, he believed, conspiratorial forces had used the imprimatur of scientific knowledge to advance a socialistic, “anti-growth” doctrine. He reserved particular disdain for Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, which prophesied that hundreds of millions of people would starve to death if the world failed to curb population growth; the Club of Rome, an organization of European scientists, heads of state, and economists, which warned that the world would run out of natural resources. . . All were theories of questionable scientific merit, portending vast, authoritarian remedies . . .

Sununu had suspected that the greenhouse effect belonged to this nefarious cabal since 1975, when Margaret Mead spoke out on the subject. “Never before have the governing bodies of the world been faced with decisions so far-reaching,” she wrote. “It is inevitable that there will be a clash between those concerned with immediate problems and those who concern themselves with long-term consequences.” When Mead talked about “far-reaching” decisions and “long-term consequences,” Sununu heard the marching of jackboots.

 

Rich, Losing Earth. Chapter 18, “The Great Includer and the Old Engineer: Spring 1989,” 151-52.

(Rich’s great includer, above, is EPA head William Reilly; Sununu is the engineer.)

 

Sununu seems to have expressed something similar to Times science reporter William K. Stevens. “Sununu,” Stevens writes, “said he thought the drive to limit carbon dioxide emissions was the latest horse being ridden by advocates of ‘no-growth’ development and economic policies—anathema to a pro-growth conservative like Sununu.”

William K. Stevens, The Change in the Weather: People, Weather, and the Science of Climate, Delacorte 1999. Chapter 17, “The Political Response,” 291.

 

163      That same week: Here’s a good example of writers having acute cultural hearing. That same week, The New Yorker published one of its first short stories to mention climate change.

Michael Chabon, “A Model World,” May 8, 1989. That is, the cover date being the day of Hansen’s testimony.

 

Levine stood instantly, as though summoned to the bench, and followed Professor Baldwin down the hall and into the small room at the back of the house where Baldwin did his revolutionary work on the so-called greenhouse effect.

 

The first New Yorker cartoon to mention climate change ran on August 27, 1979—the summer of the Charney Report. A patient confounds doctors with a flower growing from the top of their head. “In my opinion, gentlemen,” says one attending, “what we have here is a rather extraordinary example of the greenhouse effect.”

 

163      regather his results and retestify: Bowen, Censoring Science. Chapter Nine, “A Logical, Well-Reasoned Conclusion,” 226. All unknowing, Rich reports, Hansen had walked into a political buzzsaw.

Rich, Losing Earth. 152. And the first two sentences make this American voter proud.

 

On April 14, 1989, a bipartisan group of twenty-four senators, headed by majority leader George Mitchell, requested that Bush cut carbon emissions in the United States even before the IPCC’s working group made its recommendation. “We cannot afford the long lead times associated with a comprehensive global agreement,” the senators wrote. Sununu learned from Richard Darman, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, a close ally, that Al Gore was going to call a hearing to shame Bush into taking immediate action. James Hansen would again serve as lead witness . . . Sununu was appalled.

 

163      Hansen had cleared testimony: Bowen, Censoring Science, 227.

 

163      the idea came back deleted: Anthony Lewis, “The Long and the Short,” The New York Times, May 11, 1989.

 

163      “remains scientifically unknown”: Philip Shabecoff, “Scientist Says Budget Office Altered His Testimony,” The New York Times, May 8, 1989.

 

164      “They put words in my mouth”: Nathaniel Rich has a lovely phrase here. From Losing Earth. “When Hansen received his proposed congressional testimony back from the White House, it was disfigured by deletions.”

Rich adds, “And, more incredible, substantial additions.” Losing Earth, 155.

 

164      “They even put it in the first person”: Shabecoff, “Scientist Says,” May 8.

 

164      Hansen went to the committee chairman, Al Gore: Bowen, Censoring Science, 227. “After a couple of iterations,” Hansen told the journalist, he decided, “Shoot, I’ll just let them leave it the way they want to leave it, but I’m going to tell Al Gore.”

Hansen is sharp. Bowen continues, “[Hansen] sent Gore a fax, prompting him to ask specific questions during the hearing, so that he could clarify the differences between his actual opinions and the text.” Hansen deadpans, “Senator Gore was very interested in that.”

Gore asked if Hansen was comfortable with the senator—like many a muckraker before him—taking the story to the New York Times. Hansen was amenable. (Gore warned it would “probably get me in some trouble.”) Gore made press contact.

“In fact,” Hansen explains, “the article in the Times came out the day of the testimony.” There Hansen was in the passenger cabin, flying toward D.C., while on the ground people were already reading about his throttled findings. “I was still preparing my testimony on the airplane, so I didn’t notice that it was a front-page article.”

 

164      a circus, a furor: Editorial, “A Cold War on Global Warming,” Chicago Tribune, May 11, 1989.

Knight-Ridder, “Senators Hot over Shaded Testimony on Global Warming: Lawmaker Accuses White House of Committing ‘Science Fraud,” May 9, 1989.

Karen Wright, “Heating the Global Warming Debate,” The New York Times Magazine, February 3, 1991.

 

164      “They are scared of the truth,” Gore said: Anthony Lewis, “The Long and the Short,” The New York Times, May 11, 1989.

 

164      Hansen was on the newscasts: Bowen, Censoring Science, 227. For the administration, a complete backfire.

These were “probably the most spectacular headlines of [Hansen’s] career,” Mark Bowen writes. “It was the lead story on all the major television networks that night.”

Karen Wright, “Heating the Global Warming Debate,” Times Magazine, 1991.

 

164      “the government’s best-known scientist”: NBC Nightly News, “Environment, Greenhouse Effect,” Tom Brokaw, Robert Hager, June 23, 1988.

This represented, media-wise, a promotion. A year earlier, NBC had called Hansen a “scientist … with NASA, the space agency.”

NBC’s Bob Hager explained the stakes. “In the presidential campaign, George Bush said Global Warming was a big international problem. But now the administration is more cautious. At an international meeting today, the United States declined to join other nations in calling for a world conference on the question. The administration said more study is needed.” The great political Swiss Army knife of More Research.

 

164      a crusading prosecutor: Karen Wright, in The New York Times, observes that Gore “played the situation for all it was worth in the media.”

Wright, “Heating the Global Warming Debate,” The New York Times Magazine, February 3, 1991.

 

164      Tuesday, the British were agitating: Paul Lewis, “White House Admits Censoring Testimony; British Urge Rapid Action,” The New York Times, May 9, 1989.

 

164      “Doctor, are you worried”: NBC Nightly News, “Environment, Greenhouse Effect,” Tom Brokaw, Robert Hager, June 23, 1988.

 

164      “Well, I am now”: Which turned out to be well-founded. In Censoring Science, Mark Bowen tells how, a few days later, Hansen received a call from Pennsylvania Republican John Heinz. (Hansen—the most famous scientist in a discipline overwhelmingly associated with the opposition—is himself a registered Independent.) The senator told Hansen “that he had spent some time defending him to White House chief of staff John Sununu. Heinz also read [Hansen] the letter he had written to Sununu, defending Jim’s statements as reasonable and asserting that it was certainly within his right to say them. Evidently, Jim had been lucky to escape with his job.”

Mark Bowen, Censoring Science, 232.

Hansen discusses his political affiliation (“a registered Independent who has voted for both Republicans and Democrats over the years”) in Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren, Bloomsbury 2010. Preface, x.

 

164      The EPA head suggested: Michael Weisskopf, “Bush Was Aloof in Warming Debate,” The Washington Post, October 31, 1992.

 

164      Sununu sent a telegram: Philip Shabecoff, “U.S., in a Shift, Seeks Treaty on Global Warming,” The New York Times, May 12, 1989.

Dick Thompson, “Fishing for Leadership,” Time, May 22, 1989.

 

164      The workshop convened a year later: Wright, “Heating the Global Warming Debate,” Times Magazine, 1991. “Before the week was out, the White House announced it would hold a workshop on global warming to prepare for negotiations on an international treaty, a meeting eventually held in April of last year.”

 

164      President Bush was to outline specific steps: The New York Times, “Administration Split on Warming Issue, Aides to Bush Say,” February 3, 1990. “Mr. Sununu,” the Times piece adds, “who has a degree in nuclear engineering, has had a strong influence on the environmental agenda of the White House.”

Michael Weisskopf, “Bush Was Aloof In Warming Debate,” The Washington Post, October 31, 1992.

Rich puts it nicely in Losing Earth: especially the Sununu part. “The censorship of Hansen’s testimony and the inexplicably strident opposition from John Sununu were unsettling signs.”

Nathaniel Rich, Losing Earth. Chapter 21, “Skunks at the Garden Party: November 1989,” 169.

 

165      to emphasize doubts about climate science: Weisskopf, “Bush Was Aloof,” Washington Post.

Sununu’s reach here is impressive. He had, as they say in the pirate movies, commandeered the flagship.

 

Sununu consolidated his control after Baker withdrew from involvement in the issue. The secretary of state recused himself after Sununu tore up and rewrote a Bush speech that Baker, Reilly and Energy Secretary James D. Watkins had approved for delivery to a global warming meeting here Feb. 5, 1990.

The president delivered Sununu’s draft, stressing the “scientific uncertainty” of global warming and the U.S. commitment to spending more on research.

 

165      “The American people did not elect”: James H. Scheuer, “Bush’s ‘Whitewash Effect’ on Warming,” The New York Times, March 3, 1990.

The above was Jay Hair of the National Wildlife Federation. The director of another environmental group (Peter Berle, the Audubon Society President) complained to USA Today: “The American people did not elect John Sununu.”

Paul Clancy, “Officials: Clean Air Bill at Risk,” USA Today, February 22, 1990.

165      “obsessed with the issue”: The official is Robert Reinstein, deputy assistant secretary of state for Environment, Health, and Resources, 1990-1993.

Charles Stuart Kennedy, Stephanie Kinney, Robert Reinstein, “Negotiating the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,” The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, December 2015.

Stephanie Kinney was an official with the State Department, Bureau of Oceans, Environment, and Science, and has a Sununu story of her own. A colleague suggested a European-style gasoline tax. “John Sununu, the White House chief of staff, read it in the newspaper and said, ‘That’s it. Last straw. Two weeks. Out.’” Kinney adds, “The only political appointee to my knowledge actually canned during the Bush administration.”

https://adst.org/2015/12/negotiating-the-united-nations-framework-convention-on-climate-change/

Accessed 12-5-22.

 

165      Hiring a pricey conventions expert: Weisskopf, Washington Post, “Bush Was Aloof.”

Terry Atlas, “U.S. Rebuffed At Talks on Global Warming; Foreign Delegates Reject Conclusions,” Chicago Tribune, April 19, 1990.

“In planning the conference, which fulfills a Bush campaign promise, Sununu tried to structure the session in a way to produce an outcome to his liking, a White House agenda that many visiting ministers and other high-level delegates complained from the start was heavy-handed and biased. For instance, the two public sessions were monopolized by administration officials who, not unexpectedly, all echoed the president’s views.”

Michael Weisskopf, “Bush Says More Data on Warming Needed,” The Washington Post, April 18, 1990.

G. Christopher Anderson, “Diplomatic Squalls Spoil U.S. Climate Conference: White House Admits Errors; European Delegations Protest,” Nature, Vol. 344, April 26, 1990.

“According to diplomatic sources, the adversarial tone of the meeting was first set by”—guess—“John Sununu, the White House chief of staff., the staunchly conservative force behind the White House position that it is too soon to begin measures to counter global warming.” He extended his bullying to overseas visitors. “Sununu is said to have caught wind of a press conference planned by the European Communities to criticize the US emphasis of research rather than action. Through an intermediary, he sent word that future global warming negotiations could be seriously damaged by such a move.”

In fact, Sununu had been unwilling to admit the effect existed. “As late as a week before the conference, the White House had been planning to assert that there is no scientific evidence for global warming.”

 

165      Reporters jumped all over this: Michael Weisskopf, “Bush Says More Data on Warming Needed,” The Washington Post, April 18, 1990. “Bush has backed away from plans by some European nations to freeze or cut emissions of carbon dioxide—the primary greenhouse gas—by early next century. Instead, he publicly questions the scientific certainty of global warming, even avoiding use of the popular term in favor of the more innocuous ‘climate change.’”

Richard Benedetto, “Bush’s Global Warming Conference Looks For Fixes,” Gannett News Service, April 17, 1990.

Associated Press, “Bush Says More Study Is Needed: Global Warming Remarks Receive Cool Response,” April 17, 1990. “Bush, carefully using the phrase ‘climate change’ instead of ‘global warming’ . . . ”

Gannett News Service, “Bush’s Plan Won’t Help, Critics Say,” April 15, 1990. “Bush aides even refuse to use the words ‘global warming.’ They call it ‘global change,’ a sure sign, critics say, that the White House really doesn’t believe global warming is real.”

Editorial, “Some White House Effect,” The New York Times, April 21, 1990. “. . . declining even to utter the phrase ‘global warming.’”

 

165      “and then not even use the words”: David Nyhan, “Back to Environmental Reality,” The Boston Globe, April 24, 1990.

 

165      The Sierra Club got hold of the points: G. Christopher Anderson, “Diplomatic Squalls Spoil U.S. Climate Conference: White House Admits Errors; European Delegations Protest,” Nature, Vol. 344, April 26, 1990.

A certain kind of over-control tends to defeat itself; it just takes one slip—one little sloppiness.

“According to the environmentalists who discovered it, a two-page list of ‘talking points’ and ‘debates to avoid’ was accidentally left on a podium after an administration press conference.”

 

165      “It is not beneficial to discuss”: Michael J. Hoffmann, Ozone Depletion and Climate Change: Constructing A Global Response, State University of New York Press 2005. Chapter Six, “The Governance of Climate Change I: Universal Participation and the Framework Convention on Climate Change,” 147.

Harper’s Magazine, “Global Squirming,” July 1990.

Michael Weisskopf, “Climate Meeting Ends in Controversy: Europeans Complain U.S. Used Conference to Push Its Position,” The Washington Post, April 19, 1990.

Philip Shabecoff, “Bush Denies Putting Off Action On Averting Global Climate Shift,” The New York Times, April 19, 1990.

 

166      “Some White House effect”: Editorial, “Some White House Effect,” The New York Times, April 21, 1990.

 

166      Within a month: Craig G. Whitney, “Scientists Urge Rapid Action on Global Warming,” The New York Times, May 26, 1990.

 

A Panel of scientists warned today that unless emissions of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases were immediately cut by more than 60 percent, global temperatures would rise sharply over the next century, with unforeseeable consequences for humanity.

 

The report chairman—Britain’s chief meteorologist, John Houghton—explained at the news conference, “If you want to stop it, you have to cut by 60 percent immediately.”

 

166      “They are here and now”: Michael Weisskopf, William Booth, “U.N. Report Predicts Dire Warming; Break with U.S. Seen in Thatcher Response,” The Washington Post, May 26, 1990. “They concluded that long-lived gases, such as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases — including methane and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) — would have to be reduced immediately by 60 percent to stabilize concentrations at today’s levels.”

 

166      “The answer: John Sununu”: Leslie H. Gelb, “Sununu vs. Scientists,” The New York Times, February 10, 1991.

 

166      Sununu fired a Jim Baker deputy: Michael Weisskopf, “Bush Was Aloof In Warming Debate,” The Washington Post, October 31, 1992.

“Sununu squelched a full-scale debate on the issue, engineering the firing of a deputy assistant secretary of state who argued for a more aggressive policy.”

This was William Nitze, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Environment, Health and Natural Resources, whose mistake was to suggest specific positions like a “European-style” fuel tax. Obituary, “William A. Nitze,” The Aspen Times, August 14, 2021.

 

166      He yelled at senators, glared at staff: David Mervin, George Bush and the Guardianship Presidency, Palgrave MacMillan 2016. Chapter Three, “Organizing the Presidency,” 68. “Sununu was a great screamer,” explains one White House official. “He’d have these tantrums that were just ludicrous.”

Maureen Dowd, “White House Isolation; An Image of Bush as a Captive of Top Aides Who Make Their Own Sweeping Decisions,” The New York Times, November 22, 1991.

When the Tampa Bay Times reprinted this Dowd piece, they included a picture of the chief of staff in media res. Eyes slitted, mouth a hard slot. Above the words “The glare: John Sununu doesn’t want anyone around to challenge his influence.”

Eleanor Randolph, “The Washington Chainsaw Massacre,” The Washington Post Magazine, December 2, 1990. “One key negotiator put it this way: ‘His modus operandi is total intimidation. He slouches in, plops himself down and glares.’”

One congressional leader—anonymous, crucially—told the Post, “The reason he’s driven people up here crazy—Republicans and Democrats alike—is that he thinks he’s an expert on everything.”

And then the lawmaker uncorks this great line: “Sununu is a man, in the end, constitutionally incapable of keeping an opinion to himself.”

And one more quote from the piece—because it has the sound of institutional memory; instructions for how a complex city like Washington operates. And also because it’s the kind of thing this reader enjoys in books and their note sections.

 

Almost two years after taking on one of the toughest jobs in Washington . . . John Sununu has made plenty of enemies. They are in the White House and outside, on the Hill and in the press.

He has one important friend, of course—the president—and that might seem to give him license to break a little china now and then. Except that people who have lived in this town and watched how it works know that having one powerful friend, even that one, is never enough.

 

Jeffrey A. Frank “What Sununu Knew as He Flew,” The Washington Post, April 28, 1991.

 

166      “Your conduct is arrogant”: James Pfiffner, The Managerial Presidency, Texas A & M University Press 1999. Chapter Six, “The President’s Chief of Staff: Lessons Learned,” 95.

 

166      “insignificant”: Pfiffner, The Managerial Presidency, 95. On insignificant, Pfiffner helpfully glosses, “a serious insult in Washington, especially to a member of the Senate.”

“Geniality Wasn’t a Priority; Aide’s Heavy-Handed Style Alienated Many,” The Washington Post, December 4, 1991.

Another one: the kind of thing you bump into years later, converted into TV repartee about a studio boss or Hollywood star in rowdy decline.

 

Once, before a meeting with Office of Management and Budget Director Richard G. Darman, a key congressional budget negotiator was asked if he expected the session to be productive.

“It depends on whether it’s the good Darman or the bad Darman,” the negotiator said.

The legislator was asked how to tell the difference. “The bad Darman brings Sununu along,” the lawmaker said with a laugh.

 

David Mervin, George Bush and the Guardianship Presidency, Palgrave MacMillan 2016. Chapter Three, “Organizing the Presidency,” 74

 

166      “He just stuck the wrong pig”: John E. Yang, “Geniality Wasn’t a Priority; Aide’s Heavy-Handed Style Alienated Many,” The Washington Post, December 4, 1991.

 

167      “the tyrant of the West Wing”: Larry Martz, Ann McDaniel, Thomas M. Defrank, “Headed for the Exit,” Newsweek, July 1, 1991.

 

167      “and a thousand interns”: James Pfiffner, The Managerial Presidency, Texas A & M University Press 1999. Chapter Six, “The President’s Chief of Staff: Lessons Learned,” 95.

Maureen Dowd, “‘Pit Bull’ at the White House Falls Victim To His Own Role,” The New York Times, December 4, 1991.

 

167      “We have to do him in”: Larry Martz, Ann McDaniel, Thomas M. Defrank, “Headed for the Exit,” Newsweek, July 1, 1991. “When a NEWSWEEK reporter called another administration official, he said: ‘Please tell me you have more. We have to do him in.’ In large part, that glee reflected simple enmity at ‘King John,’ who was seen as increasingly devious even with friends. . . . In the end, some advisers warned, Sununu was damaging the whole administration. ‘We have to force the president’s hand,’ a Bush loyalist fretted. ‘Sununu cannot stay.’”

 

167      a serial privilege abuser; a free-rider: Marlin Fitzwater, Call the Briefing! Bush and Reagan, Sam and Helen: A Decade With Presidents and the Press, Random House | Times Books 1995. Chapter Eight, “Rituals, Pain, and the Chiefs,” 177-78.

Fitzwater was the jovial and direct Press Secretary under George H. W. Bush.

He answers one of those questions you end up having about the leadership class. How they respond to specific negative stories, repeating ones, by specific writers.

Maureen Dowd, then a Times correspondent, had been covering Air Sununu. Fitzwater speaks of Dowd this way: “She knows the soft spots only a rubber knife will fit, such as the psyche, just below the brain, where strange currents cause people to do stupid things.” All in all: “a gentle writer of such nuance and charm that her criticism seldom has the sting of pain.”

Then Fitzwater quotes the Sununu position.

“I will destroy her,” Sununu said. “If it takes me the rest of my life I will destroy her. I don’t know where or when, but I’ll get her.”

 

167      Air Sununu: Connie Chung, Susan Spencer, “New Flap Out Tonight About John Sununu’s Travels,” CBS Evening News, June 18, 1991. “Connie, the White House finds itself tonight exactly where it doesn’t like to be: defending Chief of Staff John Sununu . . .”

 

167      commandeered a White House limo: David Johnston, “White House Puts New Travel Curbs on Chief of Staff,” The New York Times, June 23, 1991. “Mr. Bush has been increasingly embarrassed and irritated by what one friend of the President has described as the kind of ‘chintzy-looking’ behavior that the President wants to avoid.”

 

167      an auction of rare stamps: Ann Devroy, Bill McAllister, “Sununu’s Trip Lawful, White House Aides Say; ‘Doing Official Business’ When in the Car,” The Washington Post, June 18, 1991.

 

167      Sununu was forced to resign: Resignation finally came in December; from late June on, it was a question of when. As Knight-Ridder reported.

 

Last spring, Sununu was in the middle of a damaging controversy over his use of government aircraft and vehicles for his personal and political purposes, prompting the White House to impose extraordinary air travel restrictions on the Chief of Staff. He created an uproar when he then used a government limousine and drive to attend a stamp auction in New York.

The travel disclosures were considered particularly harmful to Sununu . . . “That’s what really ripped it,” one Bush intimate said. “It was not his insulting high-handed ways but the travels and then the limo trip.”

 

Ellen Warren, Charles Green, “Sununu, Under Fire, Resigns,” Knight-Ridder News Service, December 4, 1991.

Three ironies Sununu was replaced by Samuel Skinner, the secretary of Transportation—the secretary of town cars and airplanes. Second, Sununu’s own name is an aerial one—in colloquial Arabic, “little bird.” And last, tough John Sununu, the bad cop, King John, ended his resignation letter and government career, with triple exclamation marks: “It really has been great!!!”

Associated Press, “Texts of Letters Exchanged by Sununu and Bush,” December 4, 1991.

 

167      35,000 visitors descended on Brazil: Facts on File World News Digest, “‘Earth Summit’ Held in Brazil; Climate, Species Pacts Signed; Targets Lacking on Aid, Controls,” June 18, 1992.

 

167      the self-esteem dance troupe Up With People: Brook Larmer, “Earth II: Tune In, Turn On and Tap Out,” Newsweek, June 15, 1992.

 

167      “And I’m happy to report”: George Bush, “Address to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,” American Presidency Project, University of California Santa Barbara, June 12, 1992.

https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/address-the-united-nations-conference-environment-and-development-rio-de-janeiro-brazil

Accessed 12-5-22.

The New York Times, “The Earth Summit; Excerpts from Speech by Bush on ‘Action Plan,’” June 13, 1992.

 

168      “part of his legacy”: Karen Wright, “Heating the Global Warming Debate,” The New York Times Magazine, February 3, 1991.

Rio was the next step after the April 1990 conference—after the telegram John Sununu sent in May 1989 to Geneva. Here’s the Times, February 1991.

 

This week, representatives from dozens of countries will meet in Washington to begin negotiating an international agreement on global climate change. The conferees will discuss, among other items, the need to control emissions of greenhouse gases. Although Hansen won’t be attending, the event itself is part of his legacy; the first Washington-based meeting, last April, was believed by many to have been a conciliatory effort by the White House to quell criticism surrounding its alteration of Congressional testimony given by Hansen in 1989.

 

Senator Tim Wirth, who seated Jim Hansen before news cameras on Capitol Hill’s hottest day during the drought summer of 1988, thought Rio, and the treaty process, went all the way back to Jim Hansen’s words that hot June.

 

Do you see a direct connection between what [Hansen] said on television ... [and] the way to get a U.S. president to go to Rio?

 

Oh, of course. There was a direct line between the Hansen hearings in 1988; the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990; Energy Policy Act of 1992; Rio and the president’s ambivalence about going to Rio; the climate treaty, which was one of the products of Rio; and then the ratification of the climate treaty in late 1992. Quite a lot happened in this four-year period of time.

 

Frontline, “Hot Politics,” PBS, April 24, 2007.

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/hotpolitics/interviews/wirth.html

Accessed 11-12-22.

 

168      “we’ll be up to our neck in owls”: USA Today, “Year in Politics: The Highs, the Lows,” November 3, 1992. “You know why I call him Ozone Man? This guy is so far off in the environmental extreme, we’ll be up to our neck in owls and out of work for every American.”

The complete remarks are funnier; a presidential machine spinning down. First into guy talk, then into Saturday Night Live parody of guy talk. Bush was five days from being dis-elected president.

 

The differences are between night and day. Look, if you listen to Governor Clinton and Ozone Man, if you listen to them — you know why I call him Ozone Man? This guy is so far off in the environmental extreme, we’ll be up to our neck in owls and out of work for every American. This guy’s crazy. He is way out, far out. Far out, man.

 

George Bush, “Remarks to the Community in Macomb County, Michigan,” American Presidency Project, University of California Santa Barbara, October 29, 1992.

https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/remarks-the-community-macomb-county-michigan

Accessed 12-5-22.

 

He called Clinton and Gore “these two bozos.” I suppose the president felt he was lowering himself to the occasion: Bush later said (in the USA Today piece above) the campaign had been “the most unpleasant year of my life.” It was “weird out there,” he said.

The Parrot and the Igloo by David Lipsky