Over the past six years, Bush II has played the role of environmental villain in the eyes of many greens. This has been especially true on the issue of climate change. Based on his performance at the recent G8 summit in Heiligendamm, however, where he committed, at least rhetorically, to the need for reductions in greenhouse gases and to participation in United Nations talks seeking a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, Bush II may be starting to sing a greener tune. If so, who will replace his misunderstandings of, and obliviousness to, the science underpinning many environmental issues?
Enter a new contender: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil. Lula, on the sidelines at the G8 summit as part of the parallel meeting of the "G5" five largest developing countries (China, India, Mexico, Brazil, and South Africa), may be staking his claim to the mantle of scientific skeptic that Bush II may now be casting aside. Witness Lula's strange statement (reported in the Financial Times) that
We have to remember that everything we do from here on will not diminish the effect of the gases that are causing global warming today because they are the gases of the past.
Climate scientists, not to mention others interested in the global climate change issue, will surely be fascinated to learn from Lula the difference between "gases of the past" and those of today and tomorrow. If generalized, Lula's logic could be used to justify perpetual inaction because it suggests that nothing one can do on any particular "today" can affect the harms caused by greenhouse gases accumulated prior to that "today". Such inaction, especially coupled with rejection of science, characterizes a number of Lula's environmental policies, from continued deforestation of Brazil's Amazon and Atlantic rainforests to planned dammings of the Amazon river itself, which would almost certainly lead to extinction of much of the river's hyperdiversity of fresh water fish. In fact, just as Bush II has been known to attempt to muzzle government agencies and their staff who question the scientific soundness of his administration's environmental policies, Lula similarly punished Brazil's environmental agency, after it opposed the damming for biological reasons, by subdividing it into two, less powerful, agencies.
However, Lula will have to work diligently if he is to succeed Bush II as the world's most prominent leading scientific skeptic. One of his very own G5 colleagues, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, has a large headstart, having achieved worldwide notoriety for doubting that HIV causes AIDS. One can only hope that Lula reconsiders his current path; here, too, he might look to Bush II, especially the last two weeks of Damascene conversion.