Rogue Who?

There’s a sick pleasure to watching President W, the poster child for crony capitalism and insider trading, prattle about corporate “accountability” and executive “responsibility”—straight-faced! But hypocrisy has its limits, even in the White House, where another favorite locution—”rogue state”—hasn’t been heard much of late, for all the missile- rattling at Iraq. (Nexis delivered 35 hits for the term in two weeks vs. 144 for the same period last year.) Why not, when the notion of incorrigible rogue-ism worked so well to demonize troublesome little countries and justify pie-in-the-sky missile defense? Try these reasons on for size:

  • “Rogue state” evokes “axis of evil,” which in turn evokes “crusade,” shots from the rhetorical hip that Bush and his phrasemakers want to forget.
  • Europeans and Arabs would claim Israel’s been the most brazen rogue of late.
  • Or, worse yet, they’d declare the U.S.A. top rogue, for withdrawing from the U.N. family planning program and nearly torpedoing the International Court of Criminal Justice.

And then there’s the Big One, the ultimate challenge to international cooperation and life as we know it: controlling the combustion, chemical, and agricultural emissions that promote global warming and other wrenching climate and oceanic changes. Recent weeks have brought exhilarating signs of progress against GW (global warming, that is) everywhere except the White House. California set limits on autos’ carbon-dioxide emissions. While carmakers screeched—as they did about seat belts, mileage standards, and other emissions limits they now live perfectly well with—California’s new law will likely set a de facto national standard.

Even more importantly (albeit to much less stateside fanfare), Japan and the European Union ratified the Kyoto Protocol for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. The online environmental magazine Grist reports that 75 nations have now ratified the protocol, 20 more than legally required in the first phase for enactment. When Russia and Poland ratify it, as expected, enough big greenhouse gassers—nations responsible for 55 percent of the industrialized world’s 1990 carbon emissions—will have signed on to enact the treaty.

And the United States, the supposed technological pacesetter, will be sitting out in the cold, or rather heat, with GW (the president) bleating that the economy just couldn’t bear to spare the climate. Cheers rose—he’s educable after all!–with the release of a treaty-mandated “U.S. Climate Action Report 2002” by 12 federal agencies (not just the EPA). It endorsed the familiar dire findings of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change but outlined no strategies. Bush memorably groused that he’d “read the report put out by the bureaucracy” (spokesperson Ari Fleischer later admitted that Bush hadn’t) but wouldn’t do anything about it.

Meanwhile, a recent Science report warns that global warming could wipe out all the coral reefs, upturn critical oceanic circulation systems, and, if the West Antarctic ice sheet collapses, make sea levels rise 17 to 19 feet. If so, King George II will sit at the beach in his La-Z-Boy, insisting that the system is “fundamentally sound” and commanding the seas to back off. Unlike King Canute, who wanted to show his subjects he wasn’t all-powerful, Bush won’t know any better.


This paper’s never shirked from questioning Woodland Park’s elephant management, even when other media were falling all over Baby Hansa. But now the spin’s spinning the other way, and it’s time to put things in perspective. PETA jumped all over the zoo because a keeper whomped Hansa with a bullhook handle after she bodychecked him. Much might be said about mistakes leading up to that incident (and was in this column two weeks ago). But it’s hardly equivalent to a particularly brutal case of circus elephant training secretly videotaped at the Carson & Barnes Circus in Oklahoma.

Still, PETA equates the two. It’s sent the video to media, mayor, and City Council members and urged the council to withhold zoo funding until Woodland Park switches from traditional, close-up “free contact” to “protected contact” management, with keepers always staying behind barriers and never using force. Zoo or circus, insists PETA’s Jane Garrison, “it is the same. Free contact is free contact, regardless.” But that’s like saying all sex is forcible rape. Free and protected contact merely define the elephants’ and keepers’ relative positions, not treatment. Protected contact is not a panacea—cruel keepers can still abuse their charges with confinement and psychological torment and by withholding food. And free contact isn’t necessarily harsh. The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn., which Garrison herself praises as “the finest captive situation worldwide,” practices what founder Carol Buckley calls “free contact without dominance”—but with endless patience and hundreds of acres the elephants can roam.

Such phony distinctions and absolute generalizations aren’t just unfair to well-meaning zoos. They breed dangerous expectations.

Eric Scigliano’s environment column appears every other week.