Bush at sea

The calumny heaped on the departing George W. Bush was remarkable in its vehemence: instance the The Guardian Editorial (17 Jan 09) “In the end, the only good thing to be said for Mr Bush is that he made Barack Obama’s election possible. He cannot go too soon. Good riddance.”

But he may at least be praised for designating three areas of the Pacific Ocean as marine national monuments, 195,112 square miles in all (505,145 square kilometres)—equivalent in area to a square about 442 miles or 711 kilometres each side:

In the US, a national monument is similar to a national park except that the President can declare an area of the United States to be a national monument. National monuments receive less funding and afford fewer protections to wildlife than national parks.

Did he get his idea from The West Wing? In season 1, episode 8, the staff trying to work out how the President can sign a banking reform bill into law without having to accept an amendment attached to the bill by two Republican senators that would allow strip mining of federal land in Montana. They come up with the solution that the Antiquities Act of 1906 be used to suggest that the federal land be converted into a protected national monument after signing the bill. The solution works.

The NYT, jaundiced as usual when it came to George Bush, commented:

This is the vast stage on which President Bush is trying to salvage his environmental legacy. It’s strange but true. Mr. Bush, who has been monumentally indifferent to the health of continents and the atmosphere, is going down in history as a protector of the oceans.

On Tuesday, he designated three huge areas of the western Pacific as national monuments, declaring that their fish, birds, reefs and other marine life were more important than commercial fishing, drilling and mineral extraction. The protected waters encircle the Northern Mariana Islands (including the Mariana Trench, the deepest canyon on Earth) and parts of a sprawling collection of reefs and atolls known as the Line Islands.

They are a dazzling world of undersea volcanoes, pristine reefs, endangered seals, turtles and whales and intact food chains ruled by sharks. In protecting nearly 200,000 square miles of ocean, an area far bigger than California, Mr. Bush has outdone his decision in 2006 to set aside 140,000 square miles in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. . . .

Nonetheless, the new monuments are not nearly as big as they could have been and the protections could have been more stringent.

Big as they are, the monuments are not nearly enough to offset eight years of Mr. Bush’s bad environmental policies, marked by inaction on climate change, the sacrifice of millions of acres of public lands to oil and gas exploration, and indifference bordering on hostility to endangered species and fragile ecosystems.

Given that record, why did he create these new ocean monuments . . .? We can take him at his word that it was the right thing to do, but we have to note as well that the areas protected are staggeringly far away and not notably prized by the corporate interests whose priorities the Bush administration has for so long made its own. . . . An environmental trophy was lying on the ground, and Mr. Bush, with just days left in his presidency, simply picked it up.

Is this reaction too cynical?