Government: The View from Washington, DC

If you are not redirected in 10 seconds, click HERE. This page contains the latter part of the text of a section of the Website The Discovery of Global Warming. This page was made only as a target for search engines that do not search the entirety of a long Web page.

The money that paid for research on climate change came mostly from governments. Governments were also central to any practical actions that might address global warming. Following the Second World War, the United States Federal government funded many kinds of research, much of it connected to Cold War concerns, and some of this happened to relate to climate change. During the 1960s, the government created major agencies for space, atmospheric, and ocean science, and in the 1970s, as public concern for the environment mounted, the agencies increasingly supported research targeted directly at climate change. But climate scientists were too few and disorganized to push through a unified national research program. Their budgets, divided among different agencies, would rise for a few years and then stagnate. During the 1980s, the funding and the science itself came under attack. The technical question of whether climate change might be a threat got caught up in political battles between pro-regulation environmentalists and anti-government conservatives. Demands for policies to mitigate global warming found little support among American politicians, who thought the ideas were politically unfeasible if not downright pernicious. (This essay covers only the United States government — the most important by far, in terms of influence and domestic greenhouse gas production. The views from London, Tokyo, Moscow, etc. taken together were equally important, and I apologize that I haven't written an essay on this. For international developments, see the essay on International Cooperation ).


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Global Warming as a Political Issue (1980s)

By 1980, many climate scientists thought it likely that harmful global warming was on the way, but Federal budgets for their research were not rising. In 1981, Ronald Reagan took the presidency with an administration that openly scorned their concerns. He brought with him a backlash that had been building against the environmental movement. Many conservatives denied nearly every environmental worry, global warming included. They lumped all such concerns together as the rants of business-hating liberals, a Trojan Horse for government regulation.+ The National Climate Program Office found itself serving, as an observer put it, as “an outpost in enemy territory.” The new administration laid plans to cut funding for CO2 studies in particular, deeming such research unnecessary. Everything connected with the subject became politically sensitive. Thus when NASA scientist James Hansen published a study showing that the world had been getting warmer, and the New York Times made it a front-page story, the DOE reneged on funding they had promised Hansen. He had to lay off five people from his institute.+ Such cutbacks were not enough for the DOE program’s enemies. “The question of concern,” one staff scientist remarked, “will be whether we have jobs rather than how we spend money.”

A total gutting of greenhouse effect research was narrowly averted when scientists rallied behind Representative Albert Gore, Jr. As a student at Harvard a quarter-century back, Gore had been impressed by lectures Revelle gave there. Revelle had displayed Keeling’s curve of relentlessly rising CO2. “We were looking at only eight years of information,” Gore recalled, “but if this trend continued, human civilization would be forcing a profound and disruptive change in the global climate.” It came as a shock to him, exploding his childhood assumption that “the Earth is so vast and nature so powerful that nothing we do can have any major or lasting effect on the normal functioning of its natural systems.” Over the years Gore had kept abreast of the technical issues as they developed, and he shared the concern about global warming as it grew among scientists. No doubt he also saw a political opening. As a champion of environmental issues he could display leadership in one of the few areas where the Reagan administration’s policies disturbed a large majority of voters.

Gore joined a few other Congressmen to embarrass the administration with hearings on the proposed cuts.+ The hearings won a smattering of attention in the press, including an editorial in the Washington Post saying that global warming had moved outside the “sandals and granola crowd” to mainstream science. The hearings themselves counted less than the echo in the press. As an aide close to the process put it, “the popular media is the most potent way of convincing a member of Congress that he should pay attention to scientific issues.” Politicians did not read scientific journals, nor much care what they said. Rather, they relied on the press as the “prime detector of the public’s fears.” Sporadic press attention to greenhouse warming through the rest of the year embarrassed the administration enough to avert the worst of the threatened budget cuts.

The small band of climate scientists who were not only alarmed about global warming, but determined to do something about it, worked harder than ever to attract attention, even at risk of sounding alarmist. They had some success at getting stories into newspapers and magazines.+ The politicians who supported them were still more oriented toward getting press coverage. For example, for a 1984 hearing Gore called in Carl Sagan, a respectable atmospheric scientist but far more famous as an astronomy popularizer. Sagan would attract television cameras to the hearings better than the specialists who devoted all their time to research.

The biggest concern of Sagan and some other atmospheric scientists pointed in another direction. In 1983, they announced calculations that a nuclear war could bring on a “nuclear winter,” a profound cooling that might last for years.+ While this warning had little connection with the greenhouse effect, it did thrust forward the troublesome idea that human technology could bring on a climate disaster. The “nuclear winter” discussion grew into a harsh political controversy, for it was a deliberate attack on the Reagan administration’s refusal to reduce the nation’s nuclear arsenal. This reinforced the tendency for debate about possible climate changes to polarize along traditional political lines.

As the public forum became a stage for strident combat, the only progress came from the scientists who worked quietly behind the scenes. One of the best tools they created was an Earth System Sciences Committee, set up by NASA in 1983. The space agency was planning a “Global Habitability” program, which would eventually launch satellites to observe global change, and needed to fit this in with the plans of other agencies. The new advisory committee organized the government’s first truly large-scale, interdisciplinary initiative to study global change with full interagency and international cooperation. On the committee, members struck bargains among agency officials and leaders of science disciplines, forging a common front. Eventually they issued a report that represented a consensus of the leading players.

This method for consensual lobbying drew on practices that physicists and astronomers had devised in the 1960s in their search for increased funding. Rather than competing piecemeal, leading scientists fought out their differences first among themselves. Once they agreed on a short list of top-priority programs, they put the weight of their joint prestige behind it. The administration’s budget officials and Congress, pleased to see a coordinated effort endorsed by scientific authorities, opened their pockets, and there was more money for everyone.

Quiet negotiation among scientists of a consensus program also worked well on the international level. A landmark World Climate Conference, held in Geneva in 1979, gave rise to a “World Climate Research Programme” that organized a variety of large-scale cooperative projects.+ U.S. scientists played a major role in designing the projects, then went back to government agencies with a strong case for funding their share.

A more traditional tool for bringing scientific prestige to bear on policy was the National Academy of Sciences. In 1980, Congress passed an Energy Security Act which included a section directing the administration to hire the Academy to carry out a comprehensive study on the impacts of rising CO2. The Academy’s Climate Research Board had already sponsored a 1979 review of the most crucial issue, the validity of computer models. A panel of experts chaired by Jule Charney had endorsed the models, announcing they were now good enough to rely on. The experts were therefore quite confident that doubling of CO2 would bring substantial warming (1.5-4.5°C) by the middle of the coming century. Heat was already building up in the atmosphere-ocean system, they concluded, so that “A wait-and-see policy may mean waiting until it is too late.”+

Using this as a starting-point, in 1983 the Academy issued the comprehensive report that Congress had requested. It was the fruit of a sustained effort to work out a consensus in a panel of leading experts. The scientists agreed that they were “deeply concerned” about the environmental changes that they expected a temperature rise would bring. Worse, they pointed out that “we may get into trouble in ways that we have barely imagined”—for example, if global warming released methane (a potent greenhouse gas) from seabed sediments.+ These cautions, however, were only passing remarks, for overall the Academy panel was cautiously reassuring. As Hansen remarked, the panel’s report “seemed to be aimed at damping concern.”

The report concluded that warming would probably not be very severe. Ignoring some problems pointed out by Charney’s panel of experts, the Academy panel leaned toward the lower end of the range of increases that Charney’s group had thought likely. Among other things that the Charney report had stressed, the Academy panel failed to consider that the appearance of warming might be delayed because the oceans were absorbing heat.+ The Academy report projected a mere degree or two of temperature change in the foreseeable future, and pointed out that this was a level of change that people in the past had managed to get through well enough. The panel advised against any immediate policy changes, such as trying to restrict use of fossil fuels. “Overall,” their report concluded, “we find in the CO2 issue reason for concern, but not panic.” Their chief recommendation was that before doing anything else, the government should fund vigilant monitoring and other studies—truly, More Money Should Be Spent on Research.

Americans might have received this as just another dull Academy document, but three days later the Environmental Protection Agency released a report of its own about the greenhouse effect. The science was mostly the same, but the tone of the EPA’s conclusions was more anxious. “Substantial increases in global warming may occur sooner than most of us would like to believe,” the EPA authors warned. Since a ban on fossil fuels seemed out of the question on both economic and political grounds, they saw no practicable way to avoid a rise of temperature, perhaps a big rise. There could be “a change in habitability in many geographic regions” within a few decades, with potentially “catastrophic” consequences. The New York Times took notice in a front-page story. This EPA report was the first time a Federal agency declared that global warming was, as the reporter put it, “not a theoretical problem but a threat whose effects will be felt within a few years.” Emphasizing the worst, the Times warned of damage to food production and a rise of sea level within decades.

The Reagan administration saw the EPA report as an attack. Officials responded by criticizing it as “alarmist” and pointing to the more reassuring Academy report. For as the New York Times science reporter put it, the Academy had said that “the greenhouse effect is for real but we can live with it.” Here was a tale of battling perspectives, just what journalists needed to make a lively story. It spread through the newspapers and even got onto national television. “NOAA’s phones have been ringing all over the country,” one agency scientist recorded. The controversy, piled on top of Congressional hearings and the efforts of outspoken scientists, alerted a sizable fraction of citizens and politicians to the prediction that stood at the center of both reports. It was official—global warming might be coming. Climate scientists found themselves in demand to give tutorials to journalists, government agency officials, and even groups of senators, who would sit obediently for hours of lecturing on greenhouse gases and computer models.+

For the time being the issue was resolved: yes, global warming could be a threat, and the practical response for the moment was to study it. Weary of the issue and distracted by more urgent matters, the media and public turned their main attention elsewhere.+ But while the issue was no longer at a boil it continued to simmer. Through the 1980s, Gore and others in Congress repeatedly called upon Revelle and like-minded colleagues to testify about global warming. The hearings won modest coverage on inside pages of leading newspapers and occasionally a minute or two on television. As one government scientist remarked, many in Congress had “for the most part accepted the potential Doomsday scenarios...” An example of the tone was Broecker’s 1987 testimony to the U.S. Senate’s Subcommittee on Environmental Protection, reporting that his studies revealed the possibility of “very sharp jumps” of climate within the near future. “I come here as sort of the prophet,” he said. “There are going to be harsh changes.” Like a good prophet, Broecker remonstrated with the Senators. Money had been wasted in the bureaucracy, he complained, rather than given to scientists for research. “We botched it—partly it is your fault—because you want answers to questions on a very short time scale.”+

The Reagan administration meanwhile backed off from its dogmatic stand, as it did on many issues after its first couple of years in office. The most opinionated anti-environmentalists had departed, and the DOE, EPA, and other agencies, responding to requests from Congress, began working to predict the likely social and economic impacts of global warming. A broadly multidisciplinary approach was taking shape, in which climate scientists began to interact with experts in many other fields. Most of their studies found that global warming could have severe consequences for agriculture, the economy, and so forth. They all became increasingly involved in discussing the issue with policy-makers.+

The concern did not translate into increased funding for scientific research. Repeated Congressional attempts to restrain Federal spending kept NSF’s total budget, among other research budgets, no higher in 1985 than in 1965. Leaders of the Reagan administration particularly distrusted any activity, even research, that they connected with a threat of government restrictions on business. The Federal government spent less money for the environmental sciences during the 1980s than during the 1970s.+ As for global warming, by one discouraged estimate the U.S. government spent less than $50 million per year for research directly focused on the topic—a trivial sum compared with many other research programs.

Organization of the work remained scattered. Up through the mid 1980s, the Academy had taken the lead in providing some general guidance on priorities, but with the increased prominence of the issue, both Congress and various executive departments insisted on playing a role. The National Climate Program Office, with little funds of its own to spend, held little sway. That left the job mainly in the hands of individual agencies, which, as an official complained, “pursued individual tracks, vying for primacy.” In 1989, Rep. George Brown of California—long a mainstay of Congressional support for science in general and climate research in particular—called the climate change research program “a bureaucratic nightmare,” a “failure” in addressing its vital goals.

Yet the agencies had enough money and enough organization to push atmospheric research ahead, with results that aroused the public. The discovery of a “hole” in the atmosphere’s protective ozone layer, although it was only indirectly connected with greenhouse warming, showed how industrial emissions could swiftly damage the planet’s atmosphere.+ The 1977 law banning “spray can” chemicals was plainly insufficient. By 1987, scientific and public concern had grown so strong that the U.S. and other governments signed an international treaty, the Montreal Protocol, further restricting the production of chemicals that destroyed the ozone. Some hoped that governments would follow the example in addressing greenhouse gases.+ In December 1987, Gore (now a Senator) introduced the ozone problem into presidential politics during a television debate with other Democratic candidates. Sensitized to atmospheric risks, the public turned its attention back to global warming in the summer of 1988. It was a time of record heat waves, and drought so severe that barges could barely navigate the Mississippi River. The media reported testimony to Congress by NASA scientist James Hansen, and other warnings, far more widely than earlier statements. The public began to feel that climate change was a serious issue, something their government should no longer ignore.+

The U.S. Congress, where few bills on the subject had been introduced since 1978, returned to the issue. Several bills related to climate were introduced in 1987, four of which specifically mentioned “global warming.” By early 1988, even before the hot summer, practical steps were under serious study, such as a “carbon tax” levied on emissions of CO2. President Reagan had signed a “Global Climate Protection Act” that required the administration to prepare a plan to stabilize the level of greenhouse gases. New climate bills reached an unprecedented peak later in 1988, and they continued to be introduced fairly frequently for the next few years. Along with the bills a large number of hearings and other congressional actions addressed climate change, peaking in 1989.

Most problems that a government addresses are thrust upon it by pressures of the day—foreign aggression, unemployment, and so forth. Global warming was harder to notice. It was only an issue because scientists predicted a future problem, and the scientists themselves shaded their predictions with qualifications and uncertainties. To get advice on what should be done, through the 1970s and 1980s the federal government had drawn on panels of experts, mostly convened by the National Academy of Sciences. These had recommended no big policy changes, but only the usual call to spend More Money on Research, and even that advice had not always been followed.

Around 1988, however, many people both in the scientific community and among the public began to feel that governments ought to do something to retard the emission of greenhouse gases. By the nature of the atmosphere, such steps needed international scope. The scientific advice likewise should be international. Foreign scientists would not only engage their own nations in the process, but would offer the most prestigious and convincing consensus.

In the negotiations that crafted the Montreal Protocol to restrict ozone-destroying gases, the U.S. Department of State, working in alliance with the EPA, had become committed to international environmental cooperation. Officials hoped to repeat the success with greenhouse gases. Here as with ozone, the key would be to get an international consensus on the science. For global warming, however, that could take a long time. The administration’s greenhouse skeptics, loathing the idea of another Montreal-style agreement with mandatory targets, welcomed any delay which would stave off demands for concrete action. Greenhouse worriers, on their side, expected that thorough studies and discussions would eventually result in scientific recommendations that would exert irresistible political pressure. Thus both sides agreed on a lengthy process.

What kind of process? The administration’s skeptics entirely distrusted the independent, international committees of scientists that had been driving the issue. If the process continued in the same fashion, the skeptics warned, future prestigious groups might make radical environmentalist pronouncements. Greenhouse worriers were ready to agree to government supervision of the process, recognizing that nothing practical could be done unless officials and bureaucrats were drawn into the work. The U.S. government therefore recommended to international agencies the creation of some kind of new “intergovernmental mechanism.” Other governments fell in line, and an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established in 1988.+

After 1988

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) joined the National Academy as official climate adviser to the United States government. Representing virtually all the world’s governments and their climate experts, the IPCC issued a series of reports that called with increasing conviction for action. Meanwhile other groups, ranging from government agencies to environmentalist organizations, devised lists of practical steps to retard global warming. In the first place, governments could set targets for reducing greenhouse gases. To meet the targets they could increase taxes on fossil fuels, impose efficiency standards, and so forth. There was no lack of advice on what should be done.

President George H.W. Bush was more receptive to environmental concerns than his predecessor. In a passing remark during the 1988 presidential campaign, he had pledged to take real action on the greenhouse effect. Support came from the usual sources—the Department of State (under increasing pressure from European governments concerned about global warming), DOE, NOAA, and EPA. But many others in the administration, as in the Reagan administration, only wished the issue would somehow disappear. In particular, the powerful White House Chief of Staff, John H. Sununu, vigorously opposed any measure that environmentalists proposed. By the end of Bush’s first year in office, when he spoke of global warming (or “global climate change” as he now called it), he concentrated on the scientific doubts and economic risks that argued against any action. A White House memorandum, inadvertently released, proposed that the best way to deal with concern about global warming would be “to raise the many uncertainties.”

Uncertainty was easy to raise, with an energetic minority of reputable scientists steadfastly denying all evidence and arguments for global warming. These scientists’ skepticism was widely circulated in publications sponsored by conservative groups and by industrial interests that opposed regulation. In the forefront was the Global Climate Coalition, generously funded by dozens of major corporations. Advertising to the public and sending persuasive materials to journalists was the most visible part of the group’s work, but perhaps not the most important part. With professionally crafted presentations, plus extensive face-to-face lobbying in Washington and at international meetings, the Coalition did much to persuade officials and members of Congress who were ignorant of science that there was no sound reason to worry about climate change.+

In 1990, the IPCC, issuing its first report, based on an international scientific consensus, flatly contradicted the skeptical scientists’ arguments.+ Nevertheless the minority viewpoint continued to find favor with top administration officials. Their stubborn rejection of the IPCC report became an embarrassment in 1992. World leaders were preparing their grandest meeting ever, an “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro (officially, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development). “Unless the Bush Administration quickly adopts a more reasonable course,” the New York Times editorialized (Feb. 18, 1992), “it will cast the U.S. as an environmental pariah more concerned with its own comfort than with the well-being of the Earth.” Sununu’s departure from the administration permitted a less rigid position. The Rio meeting adopted targets which included rolling back U.S. emissions to the 1990 level by the year 2000. The Bush administration responded by adopting several inexpensive, “no regrets” policies to promote energy efficiency. These were far too modest to meet the targets, and in fact emissions continued to climb. The U.S. government remained more resistant to serious action against greenhouse warming than almost any other major industrial power.+

One thing that did move forward was studies, extending into complex economic and engineering issues. A 1991 Academy report listed no less than 58 policies proposed for mitigating greenhouse warming. Some were “no-regrets” policies, so practical that they would be beneficial to the economy whether or not there was a global warming problem. Governments might, for example, promote improvements in the efficiency of commercial lighting, home heating, and trucks. Or they could reduce the costly subsidies that encouraged wasteful use of fossil fuels. Some policies would carry a modest cost that would be compensated by valuable social benefits. Why not devise ways to reduce car commuting time, for example, and reforest overgrazed wastelands? Some ideas were too expensive at present, but might become practical if technology was driven forward by the regulation or taxation of greenhouse gas emissions, or by plain desperation. It might someday make sense, for example, to extract CO2 as a power plant burned fuel, and sequester the gas in the depths of the oceans or underground. And some proposals were visionary. Couldn’t we replace fossil fuels by growing crops that stored energy from sunlight, or launch flotillas of mirrors into orbit to reflect sunlight away from the Earth?+

After Bill Clinton took office as President in 1993, his new Vice President, Gore, and others persuaded him to endorse a U.S. “Climate Change Action Plan.” This formally committed the nation to the Rio target for reducing greenhouse gases. More conservative forces still dominated Congress, however. Many powerful conservatives not only scoffed at any research that pointed to environmental problems, but held deep suspicions about the United Nations and all its cooperative international programs. Some turned away from science itself—preferring folk cures to research-based medicine, or denying the evidence for biological evolution. Faced with these ardent opponents, Clinton was unwilling to spend his limited political capital on an issue that would not become acute during his term in office. His greenhouse policy came down to only a few inexpensive steps such as improvements in energy efficiency, which would never meet the Rio target. Congress likewise gave little attention to climate, and during the mid-1990s almost no bills relating to climate were introduced.

In international negotiations that culminated in 1997 with a huge conference in Kyoto, the United States remained the most powerful holdout against mandatory greenhouse gas reductions. The American public was interested in the issue but confused, and pressure on the government came mainly from industries that depended on fossil fuels. Corporate publicists pointed with horror at the specter of a carbon tax. They claimed it would impose a dreadful rise in gasoline prices, which was supposed to be intolerable to Americans (or anyway those in the United States—Canadians, like the citizens of almost every other advanced nation, accepted large gasoline taxes as beneficial).+ In the polarized debates, scarcely anyone remarked that more subtle approaches to averting greenhouse warming were possible, methods that might be scientifically, economically, and politically more effective.+ The opponents also appealed to nationalism by warning that other countries would seize an economic advantage over the United States unless all reduced their emissions together. Even before the Kyoto delegates assembled, the U.S. Senate declared by a vote of 95-0 that it would not accept a treaty that failed to set limits for developing countries.

The Kyoto conference nevertheless ended with an agreement that included exemptions, a compromise brokered by Gore in an eleventh-hour intervention that saved the meeting from ignominious collapse. Back in the U.S., the Global Climate Coalition mounted a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign, insisting yet again that greenhouse gas restrictions were needless and would bring economic disaster. The administration never submitted the treaty to the Senate for ratification. With little debate, Congress declined to make any policy changes that might help move toward meeting the Kyoto targets.+

With the American public mostly confused or indifferent, politicians gave little time to the matter among the many demands for their attention. Global warming did not look like a winning issue for either party. During the election campaign of 2000, the candidates mentioned it only briefly in passing.+ When George W. Bush became President, some hoped that as a proven conservative he could get restrictions on CO2 through Congress more easily than his opponent, Gore, could have done. A few members of Bush’s cabinet, and many foreign leaders, pressed the new President to take steps against climate change. But a furious lobbying campaign by Bush’s friends in the energy industries and other conservatives drove the administration to renounce any restriction. The United States government repudiated the Kyoto Protocol. The United States government repudiated the Kyoto compromise. As for domestic initiatives that might reduce greenhouse gases, the administration considered them only so far as they might serve as public window-dressing for programs whose main aim was to strengthen corporations in the fossil fuel or other industries.+

During these decades, heightened concern about climate change brought only one solid result: a stronger Federal research effort. That came partly as a simple share of a general increase in funding for all scientific research (in particular, the NSF’s budget doubled between 1985 and 2000). Equally important was the public anxiety and media outcry that had broken out in 1988, forcing politicians to take some kind of visible action. Although politicians were loath to regulate fuels, they could promise more research. In 1989, the interagency Committee on Earth Sciences formulated a Global Change Research Plan for the United States, and the consensus among scientists helped encourage further budget increases. In 1990, the first Bush administration and Congress created a “United States Global Change Research Program” (USGCRP) with an annual budget that exceeded $1 billion in 1991 and climbed to $1.8 billion by 1995.

As often in environmental budgeting, a good part of this was not new money, but a reshuffling of existing appropriations under new labels. More than half of the Global Change program’s funds were committed to NASA’s 1992 “Mission to Planet Earth.” This was an ambitious program of observation satellites that had many purposes besides studying global change. Still, climate studies did profit from the gathering of data on everything from atmospheric ozone to tropical deforestation. Funding for climate research meanwhile increased significantly in NSF and (at a somewhat lower level) the DOE. Meanwhile NOAA’s support for research at universities took a big step up.

Climate scientists were not satisfied, for the budgets were not rising as fast as their suspicion that global warming would wreak serious damage. Some program managers continued to complain they were starved for funding. “Why is this so?” one scientist asked. “I suspect the answer lies mainly in the unwillingness of top officials to make firm commitments to a problem that requires sustained focus for many decades.... ‘What? No immediate payoff?’” A panel reviewing U.S. climate studies reported in 1998 that the work suffered from concentrating on costly satellites at the expense of other approaches. There were also persistent problems with management, especially (no surprise) a failure to coordinate efforts across agency borders. “If you say everything is connected to everything else, then it’s hard to make progress,” the panel’s leader observed.

That was exactly the difficulty in climate science that had long hindered everyone, from scientists doing research to politicians making laws. With research dispersed among a variety of independent-minded scientific disciplines and agencies, the data and ideas that some understood very well remained obscure to others. Important new topics of study fell between funding stools. And policy-makers stumbled amid a clamor of different voices. In 2001 yet another Academy panel declared yet again that the federal government needed much better coordination of research.+ Somehow a hundred threads, all the varieties of scientific and societal thinking, had to be woven into practical policies. If nobody did that, and so if nothing was done in the end—well, inaction would itself be a policy, if maybe not the wisest.

Post-2001 Update: In its 1990 climate legislation, Congress had called for a "National Assessment" of the impacts of global warming. Vice President Gore saw this as an opportunity to build grassroots support for his plans to address the problem, and the Assessment became a large exercise. An innovative democratic process drew in over three hundred scientists and thousands of "stakeholders"— ranchers, farmers, local officials and other concerned citizens, in meetings where education mingled with debate. The resulting report was checked by a distinguished commitee (including the ubiquitous Bob White), and finally appeared in 2000. The experts reported that global warming could produce some good., but most of the impacts would be harmful from the outset. (These essays do not cover the many extensive "impact studies" and debates that attended such conclusions. See the summary here.) The report was meant to guide the work of the incoming administration. but the new White House staff deliberately buried the Assessment. Government scientists and officials were forbidden from using it or referring to it in any way.(86)

It was only the beginning of efforts by Bush administration appointees to suppress scientific reports, if they threatened opinions popular among conservatives. Andrew Revkin of the New York Times, almost the only American science reporter to give global warming the attention it merited, heard about this in 2005. Scientists were appalled by Revkin’s report that a NASA administrator had threatened Hansen with severe consequences if he made public his belief that global warming required immediate action. Hansen knew such administrative threats were not idle (see above). Some NOAA and EPA scientists told similar stories — mostly in private.(87)

[Subsequently, in 2002-2004, the Bush administration developed a “Climate Change Research Initiative” managed under a “Climate Change Science Program.” Scientists initially criticized the plans, but after a series of revisions, they agreed the program would modestly improve coordination among the 13 semi-autonomous federal agencies involved in climate change research. The budgets for this research remained flat at best, in keeping with the administration’s overall weakening of programs relating to the environment.

[In August 2004, the administration sent Congress an analysis (developed at NCAR) explaining that greenhouse gases were the only likely explanation for the warming seen in recent decades. Unlike earlier reports, this came with endorsement letters signed by the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of Commerce, and the President’s science adviser. The administration thus at last officially agreed that humans were bringing on global warming. But it proposed no new practical actions to address the danger.

[The Global Climate Coalition had already collapsed in 2000 as key corporations withdrew under pressure from public advocacy groups. Such a lobbying organization hardly seemed to be needed in any case, since the energy business felt its interests were well represented by the Bush Administration. Nevertheless a “Cooler Heads Coalition” (created in 1997) carried on, funded by corporations such as ExxonMobil and wealthy individuals. The new Coalition and other groups continued to lobby legislators, the press and the public. For example, in February 2005 the Coalition held a “Congressional and media briefing on the Kyoto Protocol” with “light refreshments” in the Senate Dirksen Office Building. The aim was to decry the Protocol, which was about to go into effect after ratification by nearly every significant country in the world except the United States.

[Climate change was scarcely mentioned by the presidential candidates during the 2004 election. During this period it stood in a political spotlight for only a few days in October 2003, when the Senate debated a bill sponsored by two sometime presidential hopefuls, maverick Republican John McCain and Democrat Joseph Lieberman. They hoped to create a weak carbon emissions trading system. The bid met opposition from the Bush administration, and was denounced by Senators who called global warming a hoax and exclaimed that restrictions would devastate the American economy. When the bill was defeated by a not overwhelming margin of 55-43, environmentalists were encouraged that opinion was moving in their favor, although slowly.

[Action proceeded more effectively at other levels of society. Eight states and New York City filed a lawsuit against five US power companies, citing damages for their contributions to climate change. The state of California proposed strong measures to restrict carbon emissions, and many other states and municipalities took various practical steps. Meanwhile the Conference Board, a nonprofit organization speaking for many major corporations, declared that efforts should be undertaken to mitigate and ultimately halt climate change; numerous corporations did in fact start programs. Efforts to restrict emissions were also taken up by nonprofit organizations, including federal agencies like the National Park Service, and many individuals.]

1. For rise of weather services: Nebeker (1995), p. 87. BACK

2. United States (1953), pp. 4-7, 24, 36. BACK

3. National Academy of Sciences (1957), "housekeeping" p. 4, "inadequate" p. 14, "esprit" p. 15. BACK

4. Sapolsky (1990); Mukerji (1989), pp. 52 ff., see passim for government funding in general; Weir (2001). BACK

5. I thank Ron Doel for his draft, "Military constitution of the environmental sciences in America, 1945-1965," 1996. Also Doel (1997); Hamblin (2002), quote p. 26. BACK

6. Lambright and Changnon (1989). BACK

7. von Neumann (1955). BACK

8. On a secret Pentagon briefing by Ahlmann, see Doel (2002), p. 545. Probably there was classified climatological warfare work that has not come to light, and which contributed to the openly published developments. See Institute for Advanced Study, Proposal to establish Meteorology Project, May 8, 1946, published as Appendix A to Thompson (1983), p. 766; for further references, see Weart (1997). BACK

9. The Lockheed group split off soon after Plass joined it to found an independent Systems Research Corporation. Interview of Plass by Weart, 14 March 1996, AIP. BACK

10. National Academy of Sciences (1957), p. 8. BACK

11. Keeling (1960); see Weart (1997). BACK

12. Houghton (1996). BACK

13. van Keuren (2000). BACK

14. Hart and Victor (1993), p. 650; Fleagle (1992), p. 307; Fleagle (1994), p. 124. BACK

15. Commission on Marine Science (1969) (chaired by Julius Stratton), quotes pp. 197, 182. BACK

16. Wenk (1972), ch. 8. BACK

17. Fleagle (1994), pp. 114, 116 (data), 118. Landsat was reorganized in a 1992 Act of Congress. BACK

18. Fleagle (1994), pp. 128-131. BACK

19. Hart (1992), pp. 29-32. BACK

20. "Ignorant": Weyl (1968), p. 60; Hart and Victor (1993), p. 650. BACK

21. Hart (1992), pp. 17-22; Hart and Victor (1993). BACK

22. Teller was addressing the American Chemical Society in December 1957. Matthews (1959), p. 646; on promotion of nuclear reactors, see Weart (1988). BACK

23. The issue was brought up in hearings of the U.S. Congress's Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. See Clinton Anderson, interview by Ron Doel, August 1995, transcript, AIP. BACK

24. Phil Yeager and John Stark, "Mystery of the Warming World," Washington Sunday Star, 26 Jan. 1958, p. A26, copy seen in clippings file, Roger Revelle Papers, SIO. BACK

25. Other participants included Erik Eriksson and G.N. Plass. Conservation Foundation (1963); see also the Conservation Foundation's Annual Report for 1963 and Keeling (1998). BACK

26. The panel, chaired by statistics expert John W. Tukey, had a CO2 sub-panel chaired by Revelle and including Broecker, Craig, Keeling, and Smagorinsky. President's Science Advisory Committee (1965), quote p. 9, see pp. 111-31. BACK

27. National Academy of Sciences (1966), "not a dump" vol. 1 p. 10. BACK

28. Budget: Kwa (2001), p. 140. BACK

29. President's Science Advisory Committee (1965), p. 26. BACK

30. National Academy of Sciences (1966), vol. 1, quote p. 20, budget p. 16. BACK

31. Hart (1992). BACK

32. Hecht and Tirpak (1995), p. 376. BACK

33. Federal Council for Science and Technology (1974); included as appendix in United States Congress (95:1) (1977). BACK

34. Edwards (2000), p. 245. BACK

35. Dotto and Schiff (1978), esp. pp. 67-89. BACK

36. Weinberg (1974). BACK

37. Domestic Council (1974); United States Congress (95:1) (1977), led by Rep. George Brown and featuring i.a. Bolin, Bryson and Schneider; United States Congress (94:2) (1976). BACK

38. I have not done enough research to sort out all the details of this complicated movement. Sources include Impact Team (1977), pp. 190-91; Hammond (1976); Domestic Council (1974); Hecht and Tirpak (1995), pp. 375-76, 378; quote: Laurmann (1976). BACK

39. Balco (1999). BACK

40. GARP (1975), quote p. 2, budget p. 99. BACK

41. National Academy of Sciences (1977). BACK

42. Philip White, head of ERDA's fossil fuel division, quoted Business Week (1977). BACK

43. Pomerance (1989), pp. 260-61. BACK

44. Kellogg and Schware (1981) is an example of policy discussions (1980 Aspen Institute workshops). BACK

45. Acting Asst. Secretary on the Environment James Liverman, cited by Science News (1977). BACK

46. Perry and O'Neill (1979), p. 1757 gives references. BACK

47. Fleagle (1994), p. 95. President's committee: the Domestic Council's Environmental Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Climate Change, 1975. BACK

48. Fleagle (1994), p. 126. BACK

49. Balco (1999). BACK

50. Broecker to Sen. Paul Tsongas, 7 April 1980, "CO2 history" file, office files of Wallace Broecker, LDEO. BACK

51. Fleagle (1994), p. 120; Purdom and Menzel (1996), pp. 106-111; Johnson (1994). BACK

52. Vonder Haar et al. (1981); Raschke et al. (1973); Manabe and Wetherald (1975). I also used Jennifer Green (NASA History Office), "Nimbus Series," seen online at a site now gone. BACK

53. Satellite radiation budget measurement history is reviewed by House et al. (1986); for ERBE, see this NASA site. BACK

54. Fleagle (1994), p. 121. BACK

55. For this and other NSF programs: National Research Council (2000). BACK

56. Fleagle (1992), p. 72. BACK

57. Stevens (1999), p. 150. BACK

58. Elliott (1977-89), 6 Oct. 1981. BACK

59. "Eight years" would make this ca. 1966. Gore was a freshman at Harvard in 1965, where Revelle delivered freshman lectures starting that year. Gore (1992), pp. 4-6. BACK

60. Jensen (1990). BACK

61. NASA (1988). BACK

62. National Academy of Sciences (1979), quote p. viii (in the Foreword by Climate Research Board chair V.E. Suomi); in 1982 another Academy panel, chaired by Joseph Smagorinsky, reviewed computer studies and confirmed the first group's findings. National Research Council (1982). BACK

63. Hansen et al. (2000), p. 139; formally this Carbon Dioxide Assessment Committee, chaired by William Nierenberg, was under the Board of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate of the Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Resources of the National Research Council. The study was commissioned by the President's Office of Science and Technology. National Academy of Sciences (1983), quotes pp. 3, 61. BACK

64. Seidel and Keyes (1983), quotes pp. ix, 7-7. BACK

65. Philip Shabecoff, "E.P.A. Report Says Earth Will Heat Up Beginning in 1990's," New York Times, Oct. 18, 1983, p. 1. BACK

66. "Alarmist:" presidential adviser Keyworth, quoted New York Times, Oct. 21, 1983, p. 1. Walter Sullivan, "How to Live in a Greenhouse" (editorial), ibid., 23 Oct. 1983, p. IV:18. Phones: Elliott (1977-89), 24 Oct. 1983 entry. BACK

67. E.g., New York Times, Dec. 11, 1985, p. 18. Quote: Elliott (1977-89), 13 June 1986 entry. BACK

68. U.S. Senate, Subcommittee on Environmental Protection, Hearings, Jan. 26-28 1987, pp. 21-23. BACK

69. Schneider (1989), pp. 130-32. BACK

70. D. Slade to E. Bierly and 8 others, 1/28/86, in "Trivelpiece" file, office files of Wallace Broecker, LDEO. BACK

71. Brown, address to EOGC conference, 18 Sept. 1989. Fleagle (1992), "vying" p. 69, see 70-74 for U.S. global change programs in general. BACK

72. Roan (1989), pp. 206, 208, 224. BACK

73. Pomerance (1989), pp. 264-65. BACK

74. Bills: Balco (1999); hearings: Jensen (1990). BACK

75. Agrawala (1998); Agrawala (1998); Hecht and Tirpak (1995), pp. 380-81. I thank John Perry for comments. BACK

76. Reported in an editorial in the New York Times, April 21, 1990, p. 22, but scarcely noted at the time, New York Times, Sept. 1, 1988, p. B9. BACK

77. New York Times, Feb. 3, 1990, p. 12, Feb. 5, p. 15, Feb. 6, p. 1, memorandum: April 19, p. B4. BACK

78. National Academy of Sciences (1991). BACK

79. On the Bush and Clinton policies, see Stevens (1999), pp. 290-95, 298; bills: Balco (1999). BACK

80. Christianson (1999), pp. 254-58, 263-68; for politics in the 1990s, see also Leggett (1999). BACK

81. Kyoto: New York Times, March 15, 2001, p. A23. An outstanding case of window-dressing was an administration initiative (Feb. 2003) to study hydrogen as a fuel. This could only reduce greenhouse gases in a distant future provided that nuclear or renewable sources were developed to generate the hydrogen. BACK

82. Fleagle (1994), pp. 119, 122, 125, 127. BACK

83. Mahlman (1998), p. 96. BACK

84. Berrien Moore, quoted Lawler (1998). BACK

85. National Academy of Sciences (2001). BACK

86. These developments can be followed in the New York Times and news articles in Science magazine. BACK

87. For the Bush administration and global warming see Gelbspan (2004), esp. ch. 3. BACK

86. National Assessment Synthesis Team (2000); Piltz, (2005); Morgan et al. (2005). BACK

87. Revkin, "Climate Expert says NASA Tried to Silence Him," New York Times, January 29, 2006, p. 1 ("In my 30 years of experience in government I've never seen the degree of control there is now." — Hansen, in video on subscription site, accessed February 1, 2006); Kennedy (2006); Antonio Regalado and Jim Carlton, "Agency [NOAA] Retreats from Discounting Global Warming," Wall Street Journal, Feb. 16, 2006, p. A4, and personal communications. See Mooney (2005) pp. 232-35 and ch. 7 passim. BACK

88. These developments can be followed in the New Y