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Faculty debate Bush's climate plan

In his State of the Union Address last week, President George W. Bush outlined several policies to address climate change and the energy crisis facing America.

Some Duke faculty disagree on whether or not Bush's plan-which includes slashing gasoline usage and exploring alternative energy sources-will be effective, and discussion among many of them ranges from support to downright derision.

Robert Jackson, professor of biology and environmental sciences, praised Bush's expected proposal in an interview last week.

"Republican or Democrat, the President's initiative makes sense for the security and environmental health of our country," Jackson said, noting that it is important to examine all carbon sequestration technologies.

Randy Best, associate director of Duke's Center on Global Change, agreed that the proposal is a good start.

"The curve is probably a little too slow, but it was good to hear him acknowledge that after a long period of silence," Best said.

Other climate change experts at Duke, however, are more hesitant to praise Bush's new plan, noting it may be too little, too late.

"The Bush administration has done virtually nothing except encourage growth of the economy, although this growth is mostly in opposition to good stewardship of the environment," said Paul Baker, professor of geochemistry.

He labeled Bush's record on environmental policies as "non-existent."

"In light of the incredibly serious problems that we face in oil security, oil availability and greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, his lame proposals strike me as criminally negligent," Baker said.

Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, pointed to the President's plan to increase alternative fuels by 35-billion barrels in 2017 as problematic because many of the proposed alternative fuels still use carbon.

"That's the worst thing to do for global warming," Profeta said. "The President's State of the Union showed two things-how advanced the topic is because the President is admitting the problem and how far behind the curve he is."

Profeta also listed a federally regulated limit on vehicle gasoline usage and higher taxes on oil companies as other important options the current administration has overlooked.

Even though some scientists may not consider Bush's plan as effective as necessary, the director did say there are other, better proposals before Congress.

Congress faces the challenge of appeasing U.S. oil companies, which balk at restrictions, when passing climate-change and energy legislation, he said.

"The question [is], 'How do you cap carbon dioxide in a way that doesn't harm the economy and allows the U.S. to really move and continue to use domestic resources that [don't] put the U.S. at an unnecessary disadvantage to our competitors in India and China?,"' Profeta said.

Stuart Pimm, a professor in the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, spoke Wednesday about the dangers of lax oil policies, referring to his travels in the Amazon, where drilling for oil has been rampant despite damages to the ecology and indigenous people.

"The issue is an entirely ethical one-we are given creation and we are destroying a very big portion of it very quickly," Pimm said. "Can we drill for oil in ecologically and culturally sensitive ways? Yes."

In an effort to address these pressing issues, the United Nations announced Tuesday they will consider convening an emergency summit calling for dramatic greenhouse gas reductions.

Lucie Zhang contributed to this story.

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