Burning Bush

Global warming could sully the president’s retirement at his Crawford, Texas ranch

Illustration By Conrad Garcia

In April, when British Prime Minister Tony Blair went down to Crawford, Texas, to powwow with George W. Bush, the cowboy president couldn’t wait to show off his brush-clearing skills and drive Blair around his 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel ranch. Nature had other ideas.

Instead of enjoying the usual balmy spring weather, Crawford was inundated with rain—including an unusually severe thunderstorm and hail the size of golf balls—that forced the prime minister to stay indoors for pecan pie. Blair had to drive to the nearest airport to depart rather than taking the official chopper.

The Rev. Larry Wood, a self-proclaimed Internet evangelist who tracks the “divine viewpoints” of various weather events, declared the freak storm a curse on the president for his failure to support Israel. (Bush had recently criticized Ariel Sharon.)

Others drew an alternate explanation for the odd weather: global warming. But that possibility apparently seemed as remote to Bush as the likelihood that the storm was a sign from God. Shortly afterwards, Bush proposed easing enforcement of clean-air regulations for the nation’s dirtiest power plants, the country’s primary producers of greenhouse-gas emissions. By easing up on such emissions, Bush may be endangering the one place where he actually seems to care about the environment: his Crawford ranch.

In 1999, even as he was dismissing conservation measures for the rest of the country, Bush was building rainwater collection systems and passive solar designs into his ranch house. Although his own kids have questioned the sanity of wanting to vacation in a place whose most famous area neighbor is the Branch Davidian compound, the president goes to Crawford every chance he gets. He likes nothing better than to harness up the Jeep and drive foreign dignitaries around the ranch to point out the native wildlife among the oak groves (although Vladimir Putin’s November tour was also washed out).

However, unchecked global warming imperils the wildlife Bush so enjoys. Because of its topography, Texas is second only to California among the states likely to be the hardest hit by climate change.

“What George Bush seems to be oblivious to is that global warming promises to make a lot of trouble for this state,” says Peter Altman, director of the SEED project, an environmental group in Austin, Texas.

Bush’s security people may be able to cordon off Prairie Chapel from the rest of the world, but they’re powerless against the planetary alterations threatening to attack several precious features of the Bush ranch. Here’s a primer:

Cow genitals
The president is one of Crawford’s “gentleman ranchers,” who raise cattle for fun (and tax breaks). His spread claims 200 head of cattle that ruminate peacefully on the ranch’s former cotton fields. But that bucolic scene might disappear if, as predicted, maximum summer temperatures in Texas increase by three to seven degrees during the next century. Although three degrees might not seem like much, consider that the average July high temperature in Crawford is already 97 degrees and that it’s not unusual for Crawford to have 30 days of unbroken 100-degree weather in the summer. That kind of heat puts cows at risk of, well, having their ’nads cooked. Not only can high temperatures reduce semen quality and libido in bulls, but it also can reduce fertility in cows.

Retirement porch swing
One of the Bush ranch house’s most endearing features is its wrap-around porch. It has room for many swings and rockers for George and Laura, who plan to retire to Crawford. But a projected 10- to 25-degree increase in the July heat index may well render the porch uninhabitable; the heat’s deadly to the elderly and people with bad tickers, meaning Dick Cheney probably will have to skip Bush-administration reunions.

Fake bass pond and Middle Bosque River
When he’s not planning the invasion of Iraq, Bush enjoys casting a fly rod over the nine-acre fishing pond he had built and stocked with bass. During the next century, though, precipitation in Texas could decrease by 5 percent to 30 percent in the winter and increase by about 10 percent in other seasons. So, even as the summers get soggier, Texas stream flows could plummet by 35 percent, leaving the ranch’s stretch of the Middle Bosque River little more than a trickle. That climate also creates perfect conditions for fish-killing oxygen depletion in the bass pond.

The “whining pool”
Bush daughters Jenna and Barb begged Dad to install a pool for them at the ranch, which he subsequently dubbed “the whining pool.” Water shortages and heat-related evaporation could put an end to late-night skinny-dipping, making it even harder for Bush to lure the twins down to the ranch for summer visits. (Crawford is, after all, a dry town.)

Spotty and Barney
The predicted combination of higher nighttime temperatures plus more humid summers is the perfect recipe for a Texas bug fest. Visiting dignitaries could include thriving colonies of red fire ants, blood-sucking flies, and disease-carrying mosquitoes—pests with which Crawford residents are already all too familiar. “We have not had a sufficient winter in nine or 10 years,” admits Crawford mayor Robert Campbell. “It would help our ant problem.”

Like much of Texas, Crawford has been inundated by imported red fire ants, which have no native predators and have been known to eat through electrical wiring and kill small, cute animals. Experts predict the heat-loving ants will continue marching at a furious pace, potentially devouring Prairie Chapel’s deer and baby quail—not to mention the unsuspecting reporters Bush likes to drag through the brush (although the president might not object to fire ants swarming up New York Times Washington correspondent Adam Clymer’s pants).

Laura’s flower beds
W. has complained about armadillos plundering his wife’s flower beds, but they’re no match for grasshoppers, which stand to thrive in a new warmer world. Already, a string of warm winters and summer droughts has created perfect breeding conditions for the voracious vaulters, which have chewed their way through thousands of acres of Texas pasture throughout the past four years. The presence of the Secret Service hasn’t spared Crawford from the plague. “The grasshopper problem is pretty bad,” says Stacey Driver, who works at the Crawford Station convenience store, which doubles as the Crawford Chamber of Commerce. In a warmer future, grasshoppers could turn the Prairie Chapel ranch into a post-apocalyptic Alamo, with little greenery besides those pesky water-guzzling cedars Bush is always chopping down.

With all the predicted plagues of locusts, floods and droughts, the Rev. Wood could be right about Crawford’s weather. Maybe it is a sign from God, and maybe the message is that Bush ought to get serious about global warming.