Today, President Bush is convening a White House summit on voluntary steps to combat global warming - but it looks like a maneuver to take the steam out of mandatory measures promoted by the United Nations.
At an unprecedented U.N. summit on climate change this week that Mr. Bush skipped, Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon warned of the need for quick and binding action to at least slow the warming process that is swiftly melting polar ice caps, sparking devastating wildfires, flooding coastal areas and threatening many species of flora and fauna with extinction.
Mr. Bush refuses to commit the United States to such action unless the developing giants of China and India make similar commitments. He fears putting the American economy at a disadvantage. So he has invited officials from China, India and about a dozen other nations to the White House, where they will be encouraged to join him in a voluntary approach.
Sadly, it's way too late for that. Scientists report that climate change is happening so fast it may already be too late to reverse some of the initial effects. This is a time for genuine leadership by the United States, the world's major spewer of greenhouse gases, to provide an example to newer economies by imposing its own limits on the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.
Such bold action by the U.S. might even pressure the Chinese to adopt similar measures as part of their campaign to build global goodwill in advance of the Olympics in Beijing next summer.
Some leadership from the White House would also be helpful in prodding global warming action from Congress. Many of the Democrats running Congress favor an aggressive approach - but not all. Their differences on issues such as raising vehicle fuel-efficiency standards and weaning power plants away from coal have slowed work on energy legislation that was to be a first step.
Even less progress has been made on legislation that would set caps on greenhouse gas emissions but allow emission credits to be traded on the open market. Mr. Bush is said to be sympathetic to this concept, which has the backing of many industries that want a predictable national policy and don't want to bear the whole burden of greenhouse reductions alone. But the caps must be mandatory or the goals aren't likely to be achieved.
In just the seven years of Mr. Bush's presidency, the awful reality of global warming has rapidly become evident. Gov. Martin O'Malley told a U.S. Senate hearing yesterday that the Chesapeake region, its ecology fragile and under stress, is the third most vulnerable in the country to rising sea levels, after Louisiana and Florida.
One of the dangers is the contamination of much of the state's fresh water supply. He and other elected officials from Maryland and Virginia argued that there is no time to lose in stemming the higher tide. And they're right.