IT IS NO secret why President Bush is tightening his colonial grip on Earth's environment. He is doing it for us, the ugly Americans who must confess that we enjoy this modern imperialism, our sovereign right to suck the planet dry.
Except for some howling environmentalists, there still is no major sign that the average American is seriously offended by Bush's rampage of environmental reversals.
The most flagrant have been his abandonment of his campaign promises and the Kyoto accords to curb the industrial carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming. This week USA Today reported that Bush is preparing a blueprint to open up millions of acres of federally protected lands for oil and gas drilling. These lands are currently for scenic or wildlife protection purposes.
Bush does not care one whit that he has become a lightning rod of protest from world leaders, ranging from the European Union to the Maldives.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair is warning that global warming could be ''catastrophic.'' France's minister for the environment, Dominique Voynet, said that Bush's actions are ''completely provocative and irresponsible.'' German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said, ''Nobody should be relieved from his responsibility for climate control.''
How the tables have turned on these former imperialists. The British once said the sun never set on their empire. Now it is America that boasts that Sunoco will never set.
The environment has become the issue that most nakedly fixes the arrogance of the United States toward the rest of the world, an arrogance not seen since Vietnam. Our notion of globalism is a one-way street. Our corporations exploit the cheapest of labor for our clothes. Our oil companies foul the marshlands of the poorest of people for our gasoline. Our cigarette companies dump cancer on the least healthy, and our trash food and soda companies addict the most malnourished to our sugar, for what? The sake of our 401(k)s.
But when it comes to the fact that our 4 percent of the world's population belches out 25 percent of the industrial greenhouse gases into Earth's atmosphere, we invoke the Global Rule. ''Them that gots the globe make the rules.'' You would expect nothing less in a nation where indulgence is now an imperative.
The proof is in the polls. A new Time/CNN poll found that 75 percent of Americans considered global warming a very serious or fairly serious problem. Last year a Gallup Poll found that 67 percent of Americans said that the environment should be given a higher priority than economic development.
All that goes up the exhaust pipe when decisions get personal. Now that gasoline prices are up and Californians are being held hostage by the power companies and their suppliers, a Fox/Opinion Dynamics poll found that 46 percent of Americans favor relaxing environmental standards to build more power plants, compared with 39 percent that do not.
In the Time/CNN poll only 48 percent of Americans said that they would be willing to pay 25 cents more for a gallon of gasoline. Earth Day is now officially marked on many calendars, but in America, the percentage of Americans who consider themselves ''environmentalists'' has plummeted from 78 percent in a 1991 Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll to 50 percent in 1999.
So Bush did speak for us when he said, ''In terms of the CO2 issue ... we will not do anything that harms our economy. Because, first things first, are the people who live in America.'' Translated, Bush said, ''We will not do anything that restricts our right to drive SUVs that get 12 miles a gallon in the city.''
Bush did speak for us when he said he wanted more ''energy supply so that businesses can grow and people can heat their homes. We've got a shortage of energy in America.'' Translated, Bush said, ''I'm interested in getting more energy supply so that we can have more Wal-Marts and Best Buys, help the wealthy heat and cool their 10,000-square-foot homes, and maintain night-game revenues for the Giants, Dodgers, A's, and Angels.''
Bush does speak for us because we are now the world's most self-absorbed people. Our desires have become a demand on global resources that too much echoes the imperialism that once sucked developing continents dry of people and raw materials.
The sun has set on that kind of an empire. Americans are not ready for Sunoco to set. The way we behave, we will not believe in global warming or the end of our empire until we cannot see the sun at all.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company