Melting glaciers, rising ocean levels, unprecedented heat waves and forest fires, devastating hurricanes and coral bleaching events around the world, are all indisputable proof of our changing climate. Would we be facing these disasters if we had known about climate change decades ago and acted upon that information sooner. But we did! And in a brilliant essay “Losing Earth” by Nathaniel Rich in the New York Times tells us what we knew about climate change, when and what some tried to do decades ago.
Rich points out that theories about global warming from before the turn of the 20th century were being confirmed with data collected in the 1950’s and 60’s. “How to Wreck the Environment” by Gordon MacDonald a science advisor to Lyndon Johnson was written in 1968, (to show his understanding of the problem, Lyndon Johnson had installed 32 solar panels on the roof of the White House.) McDonald considered climate change to be an existential crisis and predicted in the near future that the weapons of mass destruction would come not from nuclear weapons but from catastrophic environmental change. (photo – Brendan Delaney, Shutterstock)
A classified report on carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere issued in 1974 by the CIA stated that climate change had “already caused major economic problems throughout the world,” concluding that future economic and political impacts would be “almost beyond comprehension.”
Yet emissions continued to rise. MacDonald sounded the alarm, “they could see a snowless New England, the swamping of major coastal cities, as much as a 40 percent decline in national wheat production, the forced migration of about one-quarter of the world’s population. Not within centuries — within their own lifetimes.”
“Humans Beings Have Altered Earth’s Atmosphere”
By 1979 the scientific data was clear “Human beings have altered Earth’s atmosphere through the indiscriminate burning of fossil fuels. The main scientific questions were settled beyond debate, and as the 1980s began, attention turned from diagnosis of the problem to refinement of the predicted consequences.” (photo Morocco Wold News)
Rich focuses on the pivotal decade between 1979 and 1989 when the implications of climate change were broadly understood and:
“A broad international consensus had settled on a solution: a global treaty to curb carbon emissions. The idea began to coalesce as early as February 1979, at the first World Climate Conference in Geneva, when scientists from 50 nations agreed unanimously that it was “urgently necessary” to act. Four months later, at the Group of 7 meeting in Tokyo, the leaders of the world’s seven wealthiest nations signed a statement resolving to reduce carbon emissions. Ten years later, the first major diplomatic meeting to approve the framework for a binding treaty was called in the Netherlands. Delegates from more than 60 nations attended, with the goal of establishing a global summit meeting to be held about a year later. Among scientists and world leaders, the sentiment was unanimous: Action had to be taken, and the United States would need to lead. It didn’t.”
Why did we do this to ourselves?”
Rich continues, “we identified the threat and its consequences. We spoke, with increasing urgency and self-delusion, of the prospect of triumphing against long odds. But we did not seriously consider the prospect of failure. We understood what failure would mean for global temperatures, coastlines, agricultural yield, immigration patterns, the world economy.
But we have not allowed ourselves to comprehend what failure might mean for us. How will it change the way we see ourselves, how we remember the past, how we imagine the future? Why did we do this to ourselves?”
Nathaniel Rich is not optimistic about our ability to curb climate change within boundaries that do not cause irreparable damage to our planet’s ecosystems and our world’s social and financial fabric. His article is must reading. (photo – Christopher Seguin)
“Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it”
Some may consider all of this past history, no longer relevant, but Rich’s research gives us a glimpse into the forces that defeated these early attempts to implement meaningful steps that might have mitigated the escalating climate catastrophe that is unfolding today. Those same forces are at work today, whether they be inept political leaders, fossil fuel lobbyists, or those in the pay of the fossil fuel industry, they continue to block meaningful change.
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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