George W. Bush, Meet Maurice Strong

The study of leadership is a great American obsession. We make rich men and women out of the historians who can teach us something new about those who led us in crisis or into new eras. Recent biographies have given us insight into Teddy Roosevelt, John Adams, Harry Truman and Thomas Jefferson.

Now look at the profiles of two modern leaders, George W. Bush and Maurice Strong, two men with backgrounds in the energy industry whose emerging legacies look like a Hollywood caricature of good vs. evil.

The most interesting background on Bush is the story of his oil company, Harken, which was bailed out at every turn by Poppa Bush's friends, using all the same financial techniques that are now starting to land CEOs in jail. Fortunately he didn't work on as large a scale as the folks at Enron or WorldCom, so fewer people got hurt.

Then W. came to Washington and has run an agenda to enrich people just like himself. He put in a weak SEC chairman so that nobody would bother his fellow CEOs taking shortcuts. He drove tax cuts for the wealthy with a reckless disregard for the finances of the United States, and worst of all, he tried to protect his oil cronies by pulling the U.S. out of the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to stop global warming. So now we've got the crony capitalist tool in the White House and ExxonMobil driving U.S. energy policy.

Now for the other former energy industry executive-turned-world leader, Maurice Strong. Strong came to prominence as one of Canada's business chieftains, rising to the top of several major Canadian power companies. He then took a wild turn into the diplomatic world and went to the United Nations as an undersecretary-general in the early 1970s to lead the first conference in Stockholm on the environment.

Strong was the Secretary General of the Stockholm (1972) UN Conference on the Human Environment and the Rio UNCED/Earth Summit (1992). In other words, instead of spending his public career trying to further enrich the energy industry cronies he left behind in Canada, he has focused on trying to wrestle some of the greatest global ecological threats.

Now his greatest opponent is George W. Bush.

The Bush Administration has spent the last year using all its diplomatic powers to undermine the Johannesburg Earth Summit, now in progress. And yet more than 60,00 world leaders, activists and people concerned with poverty, hunger, global warming and war will be gathering trying to find solutions -- while Bush just worries about his CEO buddies back home.

The battle is on.

Recently, Strong gave testimony in front of the U.S. Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee. His words conveyed the frustration that even this former energy company executive feels about the path down which George W. Bush is taking the United States and the rest of the world:

"We face an ominous paradox as the evidence of our destructive impacts on the earth's environment and life-support systems has become more compelling while there has been a serious loss of momentum in the political will to deal with them. The United States is at the center of this dilemma."

The recent retreat by the U.S. from its longstanding role as the leading driver of these issues, as particularly evidenced by its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol of the Climate Change Convention, threatens the progress that has been made in collaborative management of our environmental problems in the past 30 years and the prospects for the further progress that is so essential to our common future.

The great historians will have to sort out why these two men differed so much, although at the current rate, kids the world over will want to know who stopped Bush -- and Strong is on the short list to do that right now.

John Passacantando is executive director of Greenpeace USA.

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