DUMB LITTLE ME. Here I was thinking the obvious when President Bush took back his pledge to lower carbon dioxide emissions and vacated Bill Clinton's executive order to reduce arsenic in drinking water. I thought Bush was paying back the fossil fuel barons, the oil, gas, mining, and electric power interests who gave him nine times more money during the presidential campaign than they gave Al Gore.
That is fossilized thinking. There is a new special interest that stands to benefit even more from the destruction of the environment than the barons. Given Bush's policies, it may be the most ironic interest in US history.
Bush's rollback on air and water is a kickback to the oxygen industry.
The oxygen industry? Of course I have not quite proved this. I have not yet found the smoking pressurized tank in the Lincoln Room. Nor has any oxygen CEO gone on the record to confirm a quid pro quo.
But is it not logical? First, an airhead president snuffs out clean air standards and blows a bigger hole in the ozone. This week the journal BioScience published a study of forests in New England and New York that suggests that trees weakened by acid rain are easier to kill with global warming. And we know what we have less of when we have fewer trees: Oxygen.
You get it now. Snuff out the air, and inflame the current epidemic of youth asthma. Drive joggers and old folks out of the smog and back into the even more stale air of their homes in August. Then you backslide on water standards until not even a parched back-alley mongrel will touch the stuff. Last week, in another piece of for-real news, the kind of news Bush refuses to read, researchers at Dartmouth said that the current levels of arsenic in water, 50 parts per billion, may contribute to the development of cancer.
Finally, when there is no air to breathe and no water to drink, it will not be Exxon, Enron, or EnGulf and Devour. It will be Elmhurst Dairy.
If I'm lying, I'll moo for you. The dairy in Queens is one of a growing number of companies that sees the future of an America choking on its cars, computers, and cavernous houses. It is pumping oxygen into bottled water.
Two years ago, crazed companies marketed oxygen drops, tablets, and even nightclubs where patrons could get a hit as if it would be their last breath. They warned about ''oxygen starvation,'' even for dogs, ''since most pollutants are heavier than air and their nostrils are closer to the ground.'' They warned that ''without adequate supplies of oxygen, in effect you are merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.''
Now they're back. Elmhurst Dairy says its oxygenated water ''helps expedite the healing process in the body.'' The Williams tennis family is putting out its own line of oxywater, made by a company that has been endorsed by the Florida Department of Agriculture. Wait a minute. George is killing the rivers and brother Jeb is pushing oxygenated water. The Bush brothers swear they did not fix the election, but we may get them yet in the Oxywater scandal.
As was the case two years ago, plenty of experts are calling the snake water for what it is, a joke in a society with too much time on its hands - though not enough to actually save the trees that give us oxygen.
Howard Knuttgen of Harvard University told The New York Times that ''putting oxygenated water into the stomach could result in an expensive burp.''
Tom Wells of the University of Puget Sound told The Seattle Times, ''I don't think there's been a bigger scam come down the pike since those vibrating belts that were supposed to shake your fat off.''
Sharon Glennon, a Long Island exercise physiologist, scoffed in Newsday, ''They say they're oxygenating their water, but who cares? As soon as you open the bottle, some of the oxygen would escape.''
A couple of companies in the oxygen industry were fined last year by the Federal Trade Commission for false claims. No claim of the health benefits of pumping oxygen into water has been backed up in a medical journal.
That is not stopping the oxygen industry, not with an airhead president killing the air. Instead of the dairy industry having ads of the Williams sisters with a ring of white around their mouths, we may soon see them holding up a couple of scuba tanks. The message below them will say:
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