17 December 2004

Climate Change Agent

Post-presidents lead a curious life after leaving office. They can rest on their laurels and collect fat fees for speaking engagements, suck up huge royalties for not-quite-tell-all autobiographies, set up their own presidential libraries or chill out on their ranches while riding into the sunset. For former president Bill "Slick Willy" Clinton, who has made some interesting moves -- his Harlem office, for one -- since leaving office four years ago, it’s been a combination of personal time and public pronouncements. Not comfortable in the shadow of Senator (Mrs.) Clinton (and possibly harboring some discomfort at the idea of potentially becoming the first "First Hubby'), Clinton has been outspoken on issues that he professes to care about.

The latest pronouncement is a curious one, given the foot-dragging on the issue he exhibited during his eight-year reign: Clinton wants to be a climate change agent. Under the auspices of his William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation, Mr. Bill organized an energy and environment conference at NYU last week. "Tomorrow is here," Clinton told the audience. "It's time to stop worrying when, if ever, the current administration will change its mind about climate change."

But whither so enlightened Bill? Where were you on the issues back in the go-go 90s? Enviros have questioned why he didn't assert his authority on fuel efficiency and auto emissions or greenhouse gas caps, and rightly so. The expectations of environmentalists were high when he and Greenie Gore came into office. But after giving him eight years, many asked, “Where is his lasting environmental legacy?”

Clinton-Gore did advocate the market-based cap-and-trade concepts that are now the cornerstone of the Kyoto Protocol, but would a more aggressive leadership on the issue have made it impossible for his successor to ignore the global agreement? We'll never know.

For now, I'll remain skeptical that Clinton has the clout or “political capital” to tackle this complex and seemingly daunting issue. At the same time, it's a welcome shift to see an ex-Prez advocating for real change on environment and energy issues, especially if it leads to incentives to encourage a growth in new technologies that could help our economy. At the very least, if he puts his advance and royalty monies where his mouth is, maybe he can help reduce the personal carbon footprint generated by his 1000-page memoir published earlier this year.

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