This op-ed contributed by William W. Kay BA LL.B. ©2018
In early 2017 Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr launched a climate communication project. Emily (net worth $1.5 billion) is the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting’s founding chairperson. Arthur represents Adolph Ochs’ descendants who, owning 90% of New York Times Company’s Class B shares, select 9 of 14 Company directors who in turn select Arthur as Chair.
The project culminated with the entire August 1, 2018 issue of The New York Times Magazine (circulation: 1.7 million) being given over to a 30,000-word manifesto by novelist Nathaniel Rich titled: Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change. The Pulitzer Center sustained Rich for 18 months and facilitated interviews with 100 top climate campaigners. Photojournalism accompanying Losing Earth, including several magnificent videos adorning its on-line edition, came from George Steinmetz; another Pulitzer Center grantee.
Losing Earth has been re-formatted into lesson plans for students of all ages. Rich is on a multi-media tour promoting Losing Earth. Millions will imbibe this refined piece of climate communication.
This critical abridgement confines itself exclusively to facts and quotes from Losing Earth but it does not present them in the scattered order deployed by Rich, who might claw his eyes out if he ever reads it.
In 1958 a prime-time episode of the popular, Bell Science Hour, warned CO2 emissions were warming the atmosphere. Due to melting polar ice soon:
“An inland sea would fill a good portion of the Mississippi Valley. Tourists in glass-bottomed boats would be viewing the drowned towers of Miami through 150 feet of tropical water.”
This episode would be shown in classrooms for decades.
On November 27, 1963 President Johnson told Congress industrial emissions had: “altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale.”
In 1965 Johnson’s Scientific Advisory Committee again warned CO2 emissions might melt polar ice and suggested efforts to forestall this catastrophe. One scientific advisor, Gordon Macdonald, wrote “How to Wreck the Environment” (1968) to toy with the possibility of weaponising CO2 emissions. A government-funded scientist since 1961, Macdonald belonged to an elite government scientist cabal, the JASONs. He later advised Nixon on the environmental dangers of coal burning.
In the early-1970s United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) began holding semi-annual conferences on the “greenhouse effect.” Conference planners competed with several rival scientist-fronted alarmist campaigns, such as Paul Ehrlich’s population bomb and the Club of Rome’s resource depletion scare. An even more dubious hypothesis advanced by celebrity scientist Carl Sagan, environmental biologist Stephen Schneider, and NASA’s Ichtiaque Rasool warned an ice age was dawning due to industrial aerosols. (Rasool boosted James Hansen’s NASA climb.)
The mid-1970s spawned many climate intrigues:
- The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution created a subsidiary, led by ecologist George Woodwell, to advance climate policy.
- Anthropologist Margaret Mead convened a symposium on the “greenhouse effect” at the National Institute of Environment. Warning “the whole planet may be endangered,” Mead dog-whistled:
“It is inevitable that there will be clash between those concerned with immediate problems and those who concern themselves with long-term consequences.”
- A clique of humanities professors began debating whether the “greenhouse effect” was solvable. Michael Glantz, a political scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, opined:
“…democratic societies are incapable of dealing with climate problems.”
President Carter sought to solve the OPEC-induced “energy crisis” with solar power and synthetic fuels. To demonstrate resolve, he used solar power to heat the White House’s water.
Carter, of course, did much more to advance the cause:
- He oversaw the founding of a National Commission on Air Quality (NCAQ) in 1977 missioned, in part, to stabilise climate;
- His new Energy Department deployed the JASONs to write: “The Long-Term Impact of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Climate” (1978); which re-spun the familiar suite of weather horrors;
- He established an Office of Carbon Dioxide Effects within the Energy Department. (In 1980 this Office disbursed $200 million);
- His EPA Administrator assembled a climate science squad who immediately issued reports linking coal-burning to catastrophic CO2 emissions; and,
- His Energy Security Act (1980) directed the National Academy Science (NAS) to fund analyses of climate change.
Circa 1979 the federal government employed several dozen full-time “global warming” scientists. Many more would join them, including James Hansen. He had been with NASA since the mid-1960s modelling other planet’s atmospheres. In 1979 NASA began studying human-caused atmospheric change.
In February 1979 scientists from 50 nations gathered at the World Climate Conference (Geneva). They unanimously demanded urgent action on CO2-induced warming. The topic also appeared on the G-7’s agenda in Tokyo, June 1979.
In May 1979, the Office of Science and Technological Policy asked the National Research Council to assess the CO2 issue. Thus MIT’s Jule Charney corralled oceanographers, modellers and meteorologists into a mansion at Woods Hole. They were joined by officials from the Departments of State, Energy, Defence, and Agriculture; the EPA and NOAA. (Bert Bolin, future climate supremo, attended.)
Hansen joined via telephone. In Hansen’s model doubling atmospheric CO2 raised temperatures by 4 degrees Celsius. Another model estimated doubling CO2 would raise temperatures 2 C. Splitting the difference Charney picked 3 C. This estimate appeared in his “Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment” and remains an atmospheric “fact.” The Aspen Institute; International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (Vienna); and American Association for Advancement of Science hastily endorsed Charney’s report.
Throughout 1979 and 1980 Washington buzzed with “greenhouse effect” briefings. At the first congressional hearing on the topic, convened April 3, 1980 by Senator Paul Tsongas (D Mass), Gordon Macdonald recommended a coordinated USA-UN energy policy. He didn’t endorse synfuels; placing his hope in nuclear and solar.
At Congress’s request NCAQ invited 24 experts to a 3 day conference in St Petersburg, Florida (October 29-31, 1980). David Slade, Director of the Office of Carbon Dioxide Effects, attended as did reps from the nuclear industry, environmental movement, and EPA. All received copies of Charney’s report.
Attendees agreed on the need to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy but fell out over the transition’s timeline, and over the basic urgency of the problem. Slade thought evidence of anthropogenic warming might not manifest within the lifetimes of the assembled. Environmentalists argued that by the time humans detected anthropogenic warming it would be too late. The group failed to agree on a wording for the opening paragraph of their joint statement.
Four days later Americans elected Reagan president. While Reagan’s choice of James Watt as Interior Secretary and Anne Gorsuch as EPA Administrator had environmentalists howling; within a few years they were both gone. Republican congressmen facilitated their ouster. Reagan never purged the federal government’s scientific establishment. Despite threats, the Energy Department and its Carbon Dioxide Office survived.
“Global warming” and/or the “greenhouse effect” received lavish media coverage during the early Reagan years. Leading magazines pitched articles titled: “Another Warning of the Greenhouse Effect,” “Global Warming Trend ‘Beyond Human Experience,’” and “Warming Trend Could ‘Pit Nation against Nation’” etc.
On its August 21, 1981 front-page The New York Times hyped a forthcoming Science paper by James Hansen’s team. They conceded the past century’s warming lay within the range of historical averages, however, they predicted an anthropogenic warming signal would emerge from the noise of natural weather flux sooner than expected. Uniquely, the Science article offered a policy recommendation: abandon fossil fuels. Within months Hansen was promoted to: Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies.
Congressional hearings are standard mechanisms for attracting media coverage. Al Gore created a sub-committee within the Committee on Science and Technology so he could chair hearings on hot button enviro-issues. Gore’s first “global warming” hearing (1981) flopped in terms of coverage but did elicit testimony from a Brookings Institute wonk about humanity’s profligate use of fossil fuels being an existential threat.
Gore broached “global warming” again on March 25, 1982. At this hearing Republicans William Carney (NY) and Robert Walker (Penn) out-did Gore who merely called for further research. Most sanguine of all was Gore’s star witness, James Hansen. Pointing to sea-level rises of 4 inches since 1880 and a conterminous global temperature rise of 0.4 C, Hansen predicted:
“Within 10 or 20 years we will see climate changes which are clearly larger than natural variability.”
No other scientist believed the signal would emerge so quickly.
Hansen’s immediate concern was chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which he claimed had caused half the warming since the 1970s.
Spring-boarding off this congressional hearing Dan Rather’s CBS Evening News devoted 3 minutes to the “greenhouse effect.”
Back in 1980 Carter commissioned a separate $1 million analysis of the CO2 problem led by William Nierenberg, Director of Scripps Oceanography. Nierenberg announced their findings on October 19, 1983 at a gala in NAS’s Great Hall. The 500-page Changing Climate added little to Charney’s report. It predicted massive ice melts, famines and cannibalism. It recommended accelerated transition to renewables.
At the press conference, to the dismay of climate scolds, Nierenberg didn’t call for immediate action, only further research. The Wall Street Journal used the scrum to advance a “we can cope” line. CBS stressed Nierenberg’s statements contradicted a recent EPA report. The New York Times excerpted Changing Climate’s gloomier predictions.
In November 1985 in Villach, Austria, 89 scientists from 29 countries sounded the most forceful global warming siren yet by a scientific body. Their exertions were temporarily overshadowed by CFC concerns. CO2 and CFC campaigns conflated partly because CFCs are a greenhouse gas; however, it was CFC’s threat to atmospheric ozone, first alleged in 1974 by British government scientist F. Sherwood Rowland, which attracted global attention.
In 1977 UNEP and WMO convened a World Plan of Action on the Ozone Layer to promote an international treaty banning CFCs. In a defensive response 500 businesses involved in refrigeration and plastics created the Alliance for Responsible CFC Policy. DuPont, by far the world’s largest CFC manufacturer, realising it would profit from the transition to replacement chemicals, converted the Alliance into a pro-ban lobby.
On March 22, 1985 UNEP’s Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer successfully collected a flush of signatures on a treaty banning CFCs. The treaty’s lack of specifics set the stage for the “ozone hole” crisis.
British government scientists rang the alarm in the May 1985 issue of Nature. The “ozone layer” over Antarctica had apparently disappeared. According to Rich:
“The urgency of the alarm seemed to have everything to do with the phrase “a hole in the ozone layer,” which charitably put, was a mixed metaphor. For there was no hole and there was no layer.”
Ozone (O3) appears throughout the atmosphere. Densest concentrations, up to 15 ppm, occur mid-stratosphere. Ozone depletions over Antarctica are temporary phenomena lasting 2 months a year. Here again is Rich:
“In satellite images colorized to show density the darker region appeared to depict a void. When F. Sherwood Rowland… spoke of an “ozone hole” in a university slide lecture in November 1985, the crisis had found its catchphrase. The New York Times used it the same day in its article about the British team’s findings, and while scientific journals initially refused to use the term within a year it was unavoidable.”
News services blasted out stories linking the “ozone hole” to: blindness, skin cancer, crop failures, immune malfunctions, and mass die-offs of fish larvae.
On June 10-11 1986 Senator John Chafee (R RI) chaired back-to-back hearings on CFCs and CO2. According to Chafee:
“Ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect can no longer be treated solely as scientific questions. They must be seen as critical problems facing the nations of the world, and they are problems that demand solutions.”
NASA’s Robert Watson presented the CFC story. This consisted mainly of a three-minute film depicting a satellite’s view of Antarctica. The film, an animation with the grainy quality of a slasher flick, showed every day of October for seven consecutive years. Subsequent months, which would have shown ozone replenishment, were omitted. With the polar vortex madly gyroscoping, the “ozone hole” bled across Antarctica whilst fading from flesh-tone pink to the dark purple of a hemorrhaging wound. Watson’s cartoon elicited a bounty of coverage. Peter Jennings’ ABC World News Tonight did a feature segment on the “ozone hole” warning of worldwide famine.
On June 11 Chafee summoned CO2 witnesses James Hansen, Al Gore and George Woodwell. The proceedings ended with Chafee imploring the State Department to negotiate an international solution to “global warming.” Interest spiked overnight. “Global warming” headlines re-appeared by the dozen.
By 1986 Reagan advocated reducing CFC emissions by 95%. Every US Senator supported the Vienna Convention. UNEP and WMO gnomes calculated they could do with CO2 what they had done with CFCs. On the day he signed the Montreal Protocol (August 26, 1987) EPA Administrator Lee Thomas speculated CO2 would be the subject of the next international agreement.
In 1987 Congress devoted 8 days to climate hearings. These appeared across three committees and both chambers. Senator Joe Biden introduced legislation on a national climate strategy.
On October 27, 1987 John Topping hosted “Preparing for Climate Change” in a hotel near the Capitol. Topping, an old-time Rockefeller Republican, served as an EPA official under Reagan before founding the Climate Institute. He had little difficulty raising $150,000 for his conference; mostly from BP, GE and American Gas Association. Among the scientists Topping culled were: Gordon Macdonald, George Woodwell and environmental biologist Stephen Schneider (who had sojourned from global cooling to global warming). The conference blossomed into a love-in between some 250 business and environmental lobbyists. Festivities concluded at a dinner party at Topping’s DC townhouse.
In November 1987 Senator Tim Wirth (D CO) unveiled a legislative package aimed at “converting the science of climate change into a new national energy policy.” Conterminously, Hansen re-appeared before the Senate. As a representative of a US Government agency Hansen had to vet his testimony through the Office of Management of Budget (OMB). They told him to tone down his alarmism. Hansen, in protest, testified as a private citizen; albeit making full mention of his government credentials. Climate lobbyists, led by Topping, scandalised OMB’s oversite. Hansen predicted substantial warming by the 2010s.
The USA never lead the global warming campaign. In 1988:
- Germany’s parliament endorsed a 30% CO2 emissions reduction target;
- Sweden announced plans to freeze CO2 emissions and impose a carbon tax;
- Norway’s and Canada’s Prime Ministers called for a binding international treaty;
- British PM Thatcher warned the Royal Society that global warming could “greatly exceed the capacity of our natural habitat to cope.”
- The UN chartered an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) co-managed by UNEP and WMO.
In March 1988 forty-two Senators, nearly half Republicans, demanded Reagan call for an international climate treaty. In May, Reagan and Gorbachev pledged cooperation on the issue.
1988’s hot summer wrought forest fires and regional droughts. Hansen exploited this backdrop in his June testimony before a Senate hearing called by Wirth who, by telling news agencies to expect a major statement, packed the chamber with cameras. Hansen didn’t disappoint. He claimed “with 99% confidence” that CO2 emissions were changing climate. Outside the hearing room he declared: “the greenhouse effect is here.”
On the very morning before Hansen’s controversial testimony he attended a NASA briefing whereat his mentor, Ichtiaque Rasool, showcased NASA’s new CO2 research program. (Rasool too had drifted from cooling to warming.) Regarding evidence of anthropogenic global warming, Rasool stated: “no respectable scientist would say that you already have a signal.”
Despite his outlier status Hansen’s alarmist testimony made headlines. The New York Times placed “Global Warming has begun, Expert Tells Senate” atop its front-page. The reportage relayed robust warnings from several Senators. Public awareness of the “greenhouse effect” hit 68%.
Days later (June 27, 1988) politicians from 46 nations and 300 scientists attended the World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere, in Toronto. Their unanimously signed communique called for a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2005.
In 1988 thirty-two climate bills entered Congress including Wirth’s omnibus National Energy Policy which, inter alia, raised an international climate treaty to a national aspiration. The Congressional Budget Office studied carbon taxation. The Energy Department explored 2% per year emission reduction scenarios.
Gore started his 1988 presidential bid emphasising climate. Dismal results in New Hampshire convinced him the issue wouldn’t fly. The Democratic primaries winner, Michael Dukakis, downplayed climate. He called for more domestic oil production while boasting about America’s 300-year coal supply.
By contrast, George Bush Sr did a five-state environmental tour spouting soundbites like:
“I am an environmentalist. Those who think we are powerless to do anything about the greenhouse effect are forgetting about the power of the White House effect.”
VP candidate Dan Quayle piped in:
“The greenhouse effect is an important environmental issue. We need to get on with it. And in a George Bush administration, you can bet that we will.”
Ten days after Bush’s inauguration Secretary of State James Baker hosted an IPCC confab. The make-nice comments Baker mouthed at this event would be his last statements on the topic. He recused himself on the pretext of his past dealings as an oil industry lawyer.
Baker’s behind-the-scenes resistance to the climate crusade was redoubled by Chief of Staff John Sununu; a man who lacked deference for scientists; and who believed conspiratorial forces used the imprimatur of science to advance anti-growth agendas. When he listened to elite enviros run-on about long-term consequences – “Sununu heard jackboots marching.”
Like many Republicans, Bush was conflicted about climate; often defaulting to Sununu and Baker. In April 1989 a bipartisan group of 24 Senators recommend emission reductions. Weeks later at an IPCC gathering in Geneva, Bush’s EPA Administer, William K. Reilly, pushed for a global treaty. Reilly clashed with Sununu.
The US was the last hold-out opposing climate negotiations. Ultimately Sununu caved but not before recruiting Dr. Allen Bromley, a Yale nuclear physicist who considered Hansen’s science “poppycock.”
Hansen testified at another Gore hearing in May 1989. The OMB sought to change his testimony to prioritise US economic welfare. The New York Times blared: “Scientist says Budget Office Altered his Testimony.”
The first global diplomatic climate conference took place November 7, 1989 in Noordwijk, Netherlands. Sununu insisted Bromley accompany Reilly and ask the Japanese and Soviets to go slow.
Noordwijk witnessed a classic eco-activist stunt. The Dutch Government gave eco-activists all-access passes allowing them to enter the area where flags of participating nations flew. Eco-activists, with French Government photographers in tow, lowered the American, Soviet and Japanese flags to half-mast. The photos covered front-pages across Europe, accompanied by angry statements from a Sierra Club spokesman.
Despite the hoopla the conference failed to reach consensus. America was blamed.
Nathaniel Rich paints Noordwijk as the unforgiving moment of truth. Thereafter nefarious fossil fuel mongers mobilised a campaign to suppress science, misinform citizens, brainwash kids and bribe politicians. Because of this campaign Bush rejected specific emissions reductions at Rio and the Senate rejected the Kyoto Protocol.
To Rich the only number that matters is annual global CO2 emissions. In 1990 they were 20 billion tons. In 2017 they hit 32.5 billion.
Rich advocates gargantuan state intervention into the energy industry. He wants high carbon taxes and increased investments in renewable energy, nuclear power, and other decarbonisation technologies. He explicitly calls for recruiting youth through fear.
“Keeping the planet to two degrees of warming, let alone 1.5 degrees, would require transformative action. It will take more than good works and voluntary commitments. It will take a revolution.”
The opinions of contributors to Friends of Science Society’s blog may not reflect the view of the society or its board or members, but contribute food for thought for free and democratic debate.
William Kay blogs at: www.ecofascism.com
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