Former President George H.W. Bush ’48 may have been the guest of honor at last weekend’s Tercentennial celebration, but his presence on campus did not hinder four nationally-respected journalists in their harsh critique of the environmental record of his son, President George W. Bush ’68.
At a midmorning panel discussion Saturday titled “Yale and Environmental Journalism: Defining Global Challenges,” four environmental journalists, including Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times editorial writer Robert Semple ’59, shared thoughts about the current and future states of American environmentalism and environmental policy-making.
The panel also included former New York Times environmental correspondent Philip Shabecoff, Time magazine writer Eugene Linden ’69 and Boston Globe writer Dianne Dumanoski GRD ’67.
Despite a few minor points of conflict, the panelists agreed that America’s environment is headed for rough waters under the Bush administration.
Opponents have widely criticized Bush for his plan to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and environmentalists have chastised him for reneging on his campaign promise to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.
“I really don’t know what to make of the new administration,” said Semple, who shook his head with a frown as he took a drink of water. “Bush says he runs an environmentally sustainable ranch in Texas, but besides that, I just don’t see much hope. Texans just don’t have a good grasp of finite limits.”
Semple praised the environmental record of former president Bill Clinton LAW ’73 and joked that Bush’s poor environmental track record may be rooted in retribution against his predecessor.
“I just don’t know what his fundamental instincts are,” Semple said, in reference to Bush. “Maybe it’s some desire to get back at Clinton.”
Semple, who covered the White House for the Times during the Johnson and Nixon administrations, called Clinton’s environmental legacy “one of the best since [Theodore] Roosevelt” and said he saw “little hope for Bush” in Clinton’s political history.
Shabecoff, recipient of the Sierra Club’s David Brower award, found Bush’s environmental record “unsettling,” but placed much of the blame for the current environmental crisis on the media.
Environmentalism came to the forefront in the late 1990s after the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro because of heavy media coverage, Shabecoff said.
“Part of our problem now is that the media managers are not performing well,” Shabecoff said. “They’re not using the talent that’s out there. Environmental journalists are still seen as suspect — as advocates rather than journalists.”
“If I were Rupert Murdoch or [Arthur] Sulzberger, I’d make environmentalism a part of every reporter’s beat,” he added.