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Opinion Column
For the week of December 6 through 12, 2000

Craig sees light on global warming, almost

Express Staff Writer

Those folks who once garnered the contempt of most politicians and industrialists alike -- the bird watchers, the tree huggers, the Snail Darter Samaritans, the global warming alarmists -- were at it again last weekend in Sun Valley.

Mustered under the banner of the Ketchum-based Environmental Resource Center, speakers at the Frank Church Lectures series checked off a litany of degradations to the environment that they see as leading to the ultimate self-destruction of civilization unless reversed.

But -- aha! -- the gallery of those who sneer at and ridicule environmental activists has just lost one of its most vocal, most acerbic members, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, who as recently as two years ago shrilly cried that global environmental treaties were "an unnecessary response to an exaggerated threat" that "threatens our way of life."

Now Craig has thrown in the towel and proclaims that scientists have convinced him that global warming is a fact not to be ignored.

There’s a catch, however. As an exemplar of the Republican right-wing’s refusal to accept change, Craig hasn’t experienced a sudden spiritual reawakening and become an environmental philosopher.

Nope. Craig discovered that farmers -- like Idaho farmers who vote -- might profit from global warming by selling their "carbon credits" to polluting industries.

By way of explanation: some crops, such as Idaho wheat, suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. So, if Sen. Craig can engineer new laws and help draft new international deals, farmers in Idaho and elsewhere could find big bucks flowing to their coffers from industries buying their "carbon credits," and Craig will emerge as a hero to farmers and even a hero to environmentalists.

Craig’s idea of "carbon credits" for farmers won’t end industrial pollution, of course. But as one of last weekend’s speakers at the "Globalization and the Environment" conference, former U.S. Sen. Tim Wirth, of Colorado, pointed out, environmentalists should welcome Craig’s conversion as a small victory, regardless of his motives.

Craig’s conversion clearly is politically self-serving. Yet Wirth said that’s the way environmental wars can be won -- through incentives, not so only born-again ideology.

One wonders, parenthetically, how long it will take Sen. Craig (and other Idaho Republicans) to suddenly see the light and announce they agree that Snake River dams are destroying Idaho’s famed salmon population?

Answer: when taxpayers rebel against the billions of federal and state dollars being spent at the behest of Sen. Craig and others on fruitless attempts to rescue the salmon to avoid breaching the dams.

So, the strategy for dealing with the likes of Sen. Craig and other Republican extremists is not to try appealing to their moral instincts or to the ideal of bettering humankind’s lot. That’s a proven loser.

Politicians are quick to reverse field overnight when they understand they can pick up votes, and industry CEOs are quick to abandon opposition to environmental laws when they see ways to increase profits.

Hypocrisy never bothered a politician pandering to voters or a CEO trying to please his corporate directors.


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