President Bush said the words the world had been waiting to hear him say. He didn't gulp, malaprop or mispronounce. He acknowledged, for all the world to hear, "the serious challenge of global climate change."
After years of willful ignorance on the issue, it was a breakthrough moment for the head of an administration of ex-oilmen to not only admit, but also seemingly to take as a given, that climate change is not only real but something that human beings can and should do something about.
But talking the talk isn't walking the walk.
Bush ticked off many points during Tuesday's State of the Union address. Discussing the environment, he advanced an impressive-sounding list of steps to take toward solving the intertwined challenges of climate change and energy independence.
But delving into the details reveals policy choices based on low expectations, delayed efforts, technological breakthroughs that may or may not happen and goals that stand in stark contradiction to one another.
The president says he wants to cut U.S. gasoline consumption by 20 percent over the next 10 years, partly by adding new generations of alternative fuels. But even the most optimistic projection of our capacity to make alternative fuels, such as ethanol made from corn and other biomass, won't be enough to fill the gap.
He proposes some unspecified and, given the administration's history, insufficient increases in automobile fuel efficiency. And whatever goals are set may be undermined by the fact that the alternative fuels now in the pipeline get fewer miles per gallon and, in some cases, create more greenhouse gases than gasoline does.
And, by speaking only of vehicle emissions, the president ignores the greenhouse pollution from power plants -- 40 percent of the total.
There still has been nothing from the administration to indicate that anyone has dared to differ with Vice President Cheney's famously expressed view that conservation may be a personal virtue but not an energy policy.
The administration's ongoing fear that real limits on industrial or automotive emissions will cripple the economy shows, for a supposedly business-friendly White House, an insultingly low regard for corporate ingenuity.
And it stands in stunning contrast to recent calls from some of the nation's largest companies, allied as the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, for meaningful carbon emissions caps that will let American industry know what is expected of it.
Much is expected of all of us to meet these challenges. Many states, including New York, have stepped up. If the White House won't lead, it should get out of the way.