A Timeline of Climate Science and Policy

Brad Johnson
88 min readSep 28, 2016

Includes a comprehensive review of mentions of industrial global warming in U.S. Congress hearings from 1956 to 1980. Various though not exhaustive mentions in the popular press, starting in 1856. Various science-policy studies, workshops, and reports, starting in 1963. See also “We’ve been talking about climate change for a long time,” by Cameron Muir.


August 23 — Eunice Foote’s paper Circumstances affecting the Heat of the Sun’s Rays was presented in Albany, N.Y. at the Eighth Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science by Professor Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian Institution.

Circumstances affecting the Heat of the Sun’s Rays,” Eunice Foote, The American Journal of Science and Arts

September 13—Foote’s presentation appeared in Scientific American, Volume XII, Issue 1.

Scientific Ladies — Experiments with Condensed Gases.

Some have not only entertained, but expressed the mean idea, that women do not possess the strength of mind necessary for scientific investigation. Owing to the nature of woman’s duties, few of them have had the leisure or the opportunities to pursue science experimentally, but those of them who have had the taste and the opportunity to do so, have shown as much power and ability to investigate and observe correctly as men. We have Miss Mitchell, who has been awarded the King of Denmark’s prize medal for her discoveries in astronomy; and there is Mrs. Somerville, of London, whose work on physical geography is one of the finest contributions to physical science ever published. So highly gifted is this lady, and so profoundly versed in the science, that the late Prof. Caldwell, of Louisville, who had an opportunity of conversing with her, and also seeing her perform some experiments, declared “she was deeply acquainted with almost every branch of physical science.” Other cases might be mentioned, but these are sufficient for our purpose. Our constant readers will remember that several articles from different persons appeared in the last volume of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, relating to solar heat at the surface of the earth. The question was introduced by Wm. Partridge, of Binghamton, who took the position, that density of the atmosphere, and not the angularity of the sun’s rays, was the principal reason why it was warmer in valleys than on the tops of mountains. His views were opposed by other correspondents, but none of them supported their opinions with practical experiments to decide the question; this we are happy to say has been done by a lady. A paper was read before the late meeting of the Scientific Association, by Prof. Henry for Mrs. Eunice Foot, detailing her experiments to determine the effects of the sun’s rays on different gases. These were made with an air pump and two glass receivers of the same size — four inches in diameter, and thirty in length. The air was exhausted from one and condensed in the other, and they were both placed in the sun light, side by side, with a thermometer in each. In a short period of time, the temperature in the receiver containing the condensed air, rose thirty degrees higher than the other ; thus proving conclusively that the greater density of air on low levels is at least one cause of greater heat in valleys than on mountains. Experiments were also tried with moist air, and its temperature was elevated above dry air. Hydrogen gas was placed in one receiver and oxygen in the other, when the temperature of the former rose to 104°, but the latter to 106° Fah.; while, in carbonic acid — a more dense gas than either — it rose to 126°. It is believed and taught by geologists that during the period preceding the carboniferous era, — when the coal bed materials were forming — that the atmosphere of the earth contained immense quantities of carbonic acid, and that there was a very elevated temperature of atmosphere in existence, in comparison with that of the present day. Those who believe that this earth was once a fiery ball, attribute this ancient great atmospheric heat to the elevated temperature of the earth; but Mrs. Foot’s experiments attribute it to a more rational cause, and leave the Plutonists but a small foundation to stand upon for their theory.

The columns of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN have been oftentimes graced with articles on scientific subjects, by ladies, which would do honor to men of the highest scientific reputation; and the experiments of Mrs. Foot afford abundant evidence of the ability of woman to investigate any subject with originality and precision.

Scientific American 1856
Scientific American, Volume XII, Issue 1. Credit: Ana Unruh Cohen
The report on Eunice Foot(e)’s experiment. Credit: Ana Unruh Cohen


January — John Tyndall, The Bakerian Lecture: On the Absorption and Radiation of Heat by Gases and Vapours, and on the Physical Connexion of Radiation, Absorption, and Conduction

“Now if, as the above experiments indicate, the chief influence be exercised by the aqueous vapour, every variation of this constituent must produce a change of climate. Similar remarks would apply to the carbonic acid diffused through the air; while an almost inappreciable admixture of any of the hydrocarbon vapours would produce great effects on the terrestrial rays and produce corresponding changes of climate. It is not therefore necessary to assume alterations in the density and height of the atmosphere, to account for different amounts of heat being preserved to the earth at different times; a slight change in its variable constituents would suffice for this. Such changes in fact may have produced all the mutations of climate which the researches of geologists reveal.”


January 25 — “Radiation and Absorption,” The American Railway Times


August 1 — “On the Earth’s Climate in Paleozoic Times,” T. Sterry Hunt, published in American Journal of Science and Arts, November 1863


September 7 —President’s address, British Association for the Advancement of Science, Manchester Guardian


June 29 — T. Sterry Hunt, reported in Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette


January 30 — T. Sterry Hunt, reported in Scientific American


September 7 — “A Cosmical Atmosphere,” New-York Daily Tribune


July 19— “A Horrible Monster,” The Daily Graphic. Editorial cartoon criticizing Standard Oil’s refinery north of Brooklyn as a source of noxious air pollution.

Whose tentacles spread poverty, disease and death, and which is the primal cause of the nuisances at Hunter’s Point . . . Beautiful villas on the East River rendered uninhabitable . . . a whiff from Hunter’s Point . . . interrupted pleasures . . . disease and death . . . offensive to the last

The campaign to clean up Hunter’s Point intensified, with gubernatorial proclamations and drumbeat of criticism from publications like Harper’s Weekly, to no avail. Newtown Creek was added to the Superfund list in 2010.


December 7 —H.A. Phillips in Nature vol 27, p. 127.


January 6 — The Daily Republican of Monongahela, Penn.

Monongahela, PA Daily Republican, January 6, 1883

January 11 — Joseph John Murray responds to H.A. Phillips in Nature vol. 247 p. 241.

January 18 — In Nature vol. 247 p. 266, H.A. Phillips explains why water vapor is not a more important greenhouse gas than methane.


Arvid Högbom. “Om Sannolikheten För Sekulära Förändringar I Atmosfärens Kolsyrehalt.”Svensk kemisk Tidskrift 6: 169–77. (On the probability of global changes in the level of atmospheric carbonic acid).

Work on the carbon cycle that inspired Svante Arrhenius (quoted in translation by Arrhenius 1896 pp. 269–273). Modern translation by Patrick Lockerby:

Earth’s current coal production is, in round numbers 500 million tonnes per year or 1 ton per km2 of earth’s surface. Converted to CO2 it represents an amount about one thousandth of the total of atmospheric CO2. It corresponds to a limestone layer of 0.003 mm across the globe, or 3 mm over Sweden, or, expressed in cubic capacity, 1.5 km3 of limestone. This CO2 component which is supplied to the atmosphere chiefly by modern industry, can be considered to fully compensate for the quantity which, as by weathering and silicate rock decomposition, is used up in the formation of limestone and other carbonate rocks.


April —Arhenius, Svante. “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground.” Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science. Arrhenius’s paper is the first to quantify the contribution of carbon dioxide to the greenhouse effect (Sections I-IV) and to speculate about whether variations in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide have contributed to long-term variations in climate (Section V).

p. 267
p. 268


November — Chamberlin, Thomas C. “A group of hypotheses bearing on climatic changes.” The Journal of Geology 5.7 (1897): 653–683. Chamberlin integrates carbon-dioxide-driven climatic change with plate tectonics and precession.


October 23 — Summary of Chamberlin’s work appears in Pittsburgh Daily Post.


September— Chamberlin. “An Attempt to Frame a Working Hypothesis of the Cause of Glacial Periods on an Atmospheric Basis” published in The Journal of Geology, Volume 7.

“A study of the life of the geological periods seems to indicate that there were very notable fluctuations in the total mass of living matter. To be sure there was a reciprocal relation between the life of the land and that of the sea, so that when the latter was extended upon the continental platforms and greatly augmented, the former was contracted, but notwithstanding this it seems clear that the sum of life activity fluctuated notably during the ages. It is believed that on the whole it was greatest at the periods of sea extension and mild climates, and least at the times of disruption and climatic intensification. This factor then acted antithetically to the carbonic acid freeing previously noted, and, so far as it went, tended to offset its effects.”

“When the temperature is rising after a glacial episode, dissociation is promoted, and the ocean gives forth its carbon dioxide at an increased rate, and thereby assists in accelerating the amelioration of climate.”

“In periods of sea extension and of land reduction (base-level periods in particular), the habitat of shallow water lime-secreting life is concurrently extended, giving to the agencies that set carbon dioxide free accelerated activity, which is further aided by the consequent rising temperature which reduces the absorptive power of the ocean and increases dissociation. At the same time, the area of the land being diminished, a low consumption of carbon dioxide both in original decomposition of the silicates and in the solution of the limestones and dolomites obtains.

Thus the reciprocating agencies again conjoin, but now to increase the carbon dioxide of the air. These are the great and essential factors. They are modified by several subordinate agencies already mentioned, but the quantitative effect of these is thought to be quite insufficient to prevent very notable fluctuations in the atmospheric constitution.

As a result, it is postulated that geological history has been accentuated by an alternation of climatic episodes embracing, on the one hand, periods of mild, equable, moist climate nearly uniform for the whole globe; and on the other, periods when there were extremes of aridity and precipitation, and of heat and cold ; these last denoted by deposits of salt and gypsum, of subaerial conglomerates, of red sandstones and shales, of arkose deposits, and occasionally by glaciation in low latitudes.


August 19 — Charlotte Observer. Optimism about future humanity’s environmental wisdom, from Thomas Jefferson Jackson See:


January — Nils Ekholm, “On the variations of the climate of the geological and historical past and their causes.” Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society

“[I]t seems possible that Man will be able efficaciously to regulate the future climate of the earth and consequently prevent the arrival of a new Ice Age. . . . It is too early to judge of how far Man might be capable of thus regulating the future climate. But already the view of such a possibility seems to me so grand that I cannot help thinking that it will afford to Mankind hitherto unforeseen means of evolution.”

July — Popular Science Monthly, Climate and Carbonic Acid,” by Bailey Willis, U.S. Geological Survey, reviews Chamberlin’s work on the carbon cycle and climate.

July 6 — Cincinnati Enquirer


October 23 — Morganton, N.C. News-Herald

November 7 — Ukiah Dispatch Democrat


Charles Van Hise, University of Wisconsin, “A Treatise on Metamorphism” pp 463–465:

It therefore appears probable that the artificial oxidation of coal will result in some of the most profound and far-reaching geological consequences which are due to the agency of man.

1904, Dr Van Hise, University of Wisconsin, “A Treatise on Metamorphism”.
p. 463
p. 464
p. 465


Svante Arrhenius publishes Världarnas utveckling (see 1908 below).


Das Werden der Welten, the German translation of Arrhenius’s Världarnas utveckling, is released.


Svante Arrhenius publishes Worlds in the Making, the English translation of Världarnas utveckling (1906).

Worlds in the making: the evolution of the universe, by Svante Arrhenius (p. 63)


March—Popular Mechanics, Francis Molena

The Effect of the Combustion of Coal on the Climate — What Scientists Predict for the Future

“The furnaces of the word are now burning about 2,000,000,000 tons of coal a year. When this is burned, uniting with oxygen, it adds about 7,000,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere yearly. This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature. The effect may be considerable in a few centuries.”

Remarkable Weather of 1911,” Popular Mechanics, Francis Molena

August 14—Rodney & Otamatea Times, Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette, New Zealand, cites Popular Mechanics.


The Data of Geochemistry, Third Edition, by Frank Wigglesworth Clarke. U.S.G.S. Bulletin 616. “The controversy is not yet ended” on the question of the atmospheric carbon dioxide as a climatic regulator.


A. J. Lotka, Elements of Physical Biology, p. 249


June 9 — Hartford Courant


May 8 — The Boston Globe


April—Guy Callendar’s manuscript “The artificial production of carbon dioxide and its influence on temperature,” is published in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society. Callendar submitted his work on May 19, 1937. Callendar’s work was utterly ignored for well over a decade; its first citation was in 1950, and first major citations in 1956.

By fuel combustion man has added about 150,000 million tons of carbon dioxide to the air during the past half century. The author estimates from the best available data that approximately three quarters of this has remained in the atmosphere.

The radiation absorption coefficients of carbon dioxide and water vapour are used to show the effect of carbon dioxide on “sky radiation.” From this the increase in mean temperature, due to the artificial production of carbon dioxide, is estimated to be at the rate of 0.003°C. per year at the present time.

The temperature observations at 200 meteorological stations are used to show that world temperatures have actually increased at an average rate of 0.005°C. per year during the past half century.

“The artificial production of carbon dioxide and its influence on temperature,” Guy S. Callendar (1938)


Climate and Man, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1941. Incorrectly rejects the influence of carbon dioxide on climate, claiming the “theory received a fatal blow when it was realized that carbon dioxide is very selective as to the wave lengths of radiant energy it will absorb.”

“Much has been written about varying amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a possible cause of glacial periods. The theory received a fatal blow when it was realized that carbon dioxide is very selective as to the wave lengths of radiant energy it will absorb, filtering out only such waves as even very minute quantities of water vapor dispose of anyway. No probable increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide could materially affect either the amount of insolation reaching the surface or the amount of terrestrial radiation lost to space.”


May 5 — The Washington Post

May 6—The West Australian

May 24 — The New York Times

The New York Times article, May 24, 1953

June 8—In Life Magazine’s “The World We Live In: Part IV: The Canopy of Air,” Lincoln Barnett writes about man’s influence on the carbon cycle, climate’s influence on civilization, and about the “gradual warming of the earth” in recent decades:

“Yet for the last century temperatures have shown an upward trend. This has been particularly true in the last four decades, during which glaciers have been in retreat all around the world. The reasons for this gradual warming of the earth cannot be defined with certainty. One suggested explanation is an increase in the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere. Along with water vapor and ozone, carbon dioxide helps to trap the earth’s heat within the greenhouse of the atmosphere and prevents it from radiating away into space. In the last half century the carbon dioxide ratio in the atmosphere has increased by 10%, a phenomenon which some attribute to expanding industry, pointing out that six billion tons of carbon dioxide pour from factory chimneys every year. Other authorities believe that a more important factor may be the decimation of forests, which consume great quantitites of carbon dioxide, and the disturbance of the soil which exhales it.”

Depiction of the carbon and water cycles from Life Magazine’s “The World We Live In: Part IV: The Canopy of Air,” Lincoln Barnett, June 8, 1953
from Life Magazine’s “The World We Live In: Part IV: The Canopy of Air,” Lincoln Barnett, June 8, 1953, p. 97


April 23 — Irish Times

The geochemist Harrison Brown and his colleagues at the California Institute of Technology submitted a research proposal to the American Petroleum Institute entitled “The determination of the variations and causes of variations of the isotopic composition of carbon in nature.” The scientists proposed the use of new mass spectrometers to investigate the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13 in terrestrial, marine and mineral systems to understand geological and biological carbon cycling. The team had already carried out preliminary work, including on tree rings of various ages. The results indicated that fossil fuels had caused atmospheric CO2 concentrations to rise by about 5% over the past century. Brown’s estimate was quite accurate: from 1854 to 1954, global CO2 concentrations had risen by 10% (from around 285 to 313 ppm), with about 4% of that from fossil fuels and the remainder from deforestation and other land-use changes.

“Perhaps the most interesting effect concerning carbon in trees which we have thus far observed is a marked and fairly steady increase in the 12C/13C ratio with time. Since 1840 the ratio has clearly increased markedly. This effect can be explained on the basis of a changing carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere resulting from industrialization and the consequent burning of large quantities of coal and petroleum.”

Brown, H., Epstein, S., Lowenstam, H. & McKinney, C. R. proposal to API: “The Determination of the Variations and Causes of Variations of the Isotopic Composition of Carbon in Nature.” From the Division of Geological Sciences, the California Institute of Technology, 1954


September 25 — The New York Times


March 8 — Hearing on appropriations for the International Geophysical Year, Independent Offices Subcommittee, House Committee on Appropriations

“Right now and during the past 50 years, we are burning, as you know, quite a bit of coal and oil and natural gas. The rate at which we are burning this is increasing very rapidly. This burning of these fuels which were accumulated in the earth over hundreds of millions of years, and which we are burning up in a few generations, is producing tremendous quantities of carbon dioxide in the air. Based on figures given out by the United Nations, I would estimate that by the year 2010, we will have added something like 70 percent of the present atmospheric carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This is an enormous quantity. It is like 1,700 billion tons. Now, nobody knows what this will do. Lots of people have supposed that it might actually cause a warming up of the atmospheric temperature and it may, in fact, cause a remarkable change in climate.

We may actually, for example, find that the Arctic Ocean will become navigable and the coasts become a place where people can live, then the Russian Arctic coastline will be really quite free for shipping, as will our Alaskan coastline, if this possible increase in temperature really happens. . . .

Here we are making perhaps the greatest geophysical experiment in history, an experiment which could not be made in the past because we didn’t have an industrial civilization and which will be impossible to make in the future because all the fossil fuels will be gone. All the coal and gas and oil will be used up. In this 100-year period, we are conducting, in effect, this vast experiment, and we ought to adequately document it.” — Roger Revelle

Roger Revelle testimony, hearing on appropriations for the International Geophysical Year, March 8, 1956

March 15 — “Carbon Dioxide May Contribute To Hurricanes,” United Press (Madera Daily News-Tribune)

June 3 — The New York Times

October 8 — The New York Times. Waldemar Kaempffert, Warmer Climate on the Earth May Be Due To More Carbon Dioxide in the Air

The New York Times article, October 8, 1956


May 1 — Hearing on appropriations for the International Geophysical Year, Independent Offices Subcommittee, House Committee on Appropriations

“The last time that I was here I talked about the responsibility [sic] of climatic changes due to the changing carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere . . . it is fairly easy to predict that the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere could easily increase by about 20 percent. This might, in fact, make a considerable change in the climate. It would mean that the lines of equal temperature on the earth would move north and the lines of equal rainfall would move north and that southern California and a good part of Texas, instead of being just barely livable as they are now, would become real deserts.” — Roger Revelle

Testimony of Roger Revelle, hearing on appropriations for the International Geophysical Year, May 1, 1957

May 19 — Los Angeles Times

October 4—Sputnik is launched.


The Unchained Goddess, Bell Laboratory Sciences Series film

“Even now, man may be unwittingly changing the world’s climate through the waste products of his civilization. Due to our release through factories and automobiles every year of more than six billion tons of carbon dioxide, which helps air absorb heat from the sun, our atmosphere seems to be getting warmer.”

“The Unchained Goddess,” a Frank Capra film with Dr. Frank C. Baxter, Bell Laboratory Sciences Series

June 2 — Hearing to review of the first eleven months of the International Geophysical Year, House Committee on Appropriations

“As I told you in our previous session, we are now conducting a great experiment to find out something about climate. More or less, in spite of ourselves, we are adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in large quantities, so much so that by the year 2000 we will have added about 70 percent of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We will nearly double the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Most of this carbon dioxide will probably go into the ocean because the ocean is a great absorber of carbon dioxide. The question is, how much will go into the ocean and how rapidly will it go into the ocean, and how much will it increase the CO2 content of the air and increase the greenhouse effect, the absorption and the back-scattering of infrared radiation, which is perhaps the basic controlling factor of the temperature of the atmosphere?” — Roger Revelle

Roger Revelle testimony, hearing on the International Geophysical Year, House Committee on Appropriations, June 2, 1958

November — “A Review of the Air Pollution Research Program of the Smoke and Fumes Committee of the American Petroleum Institute,” Charles Jones, Journal of the Air Pollution Control Association.


February 18 — Hearing on the International Geophysical Year, Roger Revelle and Harry Wexler

“[A] prediction of future climate would be of inestimable value to society. . . . [T]he amount of carbon dioxide in the air controls, at least to some extent, the average air temperature and the loss of heat from the earth. Any change in atmospheric carbon dioxide, for example, by addition from fossil fuel combustion, may be damped or modified by the absorption of carbon dioxide in the ocean waters.”

Prepared statement of Roger Revelle, hearing on the International Geophysical Year, February 18, 1959

“Air temperature in the lower level of the earth’s atmosphere is extremely important to man and it is probable that the amount and distribution of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere plays an important part in regulating these temperatures. . . . [W]e will be able to determine if and by how much the concentration of carbon dioxide is changing as our industrial civilization pours millions of tons of carbon dioxide yearly into the atmosphere.”

Prepared statement of Dr. Harry Wexler, hearing on the International Geophysical Year, February 18, 1959

November — Nuclear physicist Edward Teller warns oil executives about global warming at the Energy and Man symposium in New York City organized by the American Petroleum Institute and the Columbia Graduate School of Business.

Edward Teller, Energy and Man Symposium, November 1959

Ladies and gentlemen, I am to talk to you about energy in the future. I will start by telling you why I believe that the energy resources of the past must be supplemented. First of all, these energy resources will run short as we use more and more of the fossil fuels. [….] But I would […] like to mention another reason why we probably have to look for additional fuel supplies. And this, strangely, is the question of contaminating the atmosphere. [….] Whenever you burn conventional fuel, you create carbon dioxide. [….] The carbon dioxide is invisible, it is transparent, you can’t smell it, it is not dangerous to health, so why should one worry about it?

Carbon dioxide has a strange property. It transmits visible light but it absorbs the infrared radiation which is emitted from the earth. Its presence in the atmosphere causes a greenhouse effect [….] It has been calculated that a temperature rise corresponding to a 10 per cent increase in carbon dioxide will be sufficient to melt the icecap and submerge New York. All the coastal cities would be covered, and since a considerable percentage of the human race lives in coastal regions, I think that this chemical contamination is more serious than most people tend to believe.

After his talk, Teller was asked to “summarize briefly the danger from increased carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere in this century.” The physicist responded:

At present the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by 2 per cent over normal. By 1970, it will be perhaps 4 per cent, by 1980, 8 per cent, by 1990, 16 per cent [about 360 parts per million, by Teller’s accounting], if we keep on with our exponential rise in the use of purely conventional fuels. By that time, there will be a serious additional impediment for the radiation leaving the earth. Our planet will get a little warmer. It is hard to say whether it will be 2 degrees Fahrenheit or only one or 5.

But when the temperature does rise by a few degrees over the whole globe, there is a possibility that the icecaps will start melting and the level of the oceans will begin to rise. Well, I don’t know whether they will cover the Empire State Building or not, but anyone can calculate it by looking at the map and noting that the icecaps over Greenland and over Antarctica are perhaps five thousand feet thick.


November 14— In “New Portrait of Our Planet: II,” Life Magazine continues its coverage of findings from the International Geophysical Year. With assistance from Roger Revelle and Charles Keating, the extended article concludes that “man unwittingly is carrying out the largest-scale weather-control experiment of all time by upsetting nature’s balance of carbon dioxide.”

“While all this local research goes on, scientists emphasize that man unwittingly is carrying out the largest-scale weather-control experiment of all time by upsetting nature’s balance of carbon dioxide. If there is an excess of this gas in the atmosphere, it forms an insulating blanket, warming the air by preventing the earth’s heat from radiating into space. Man is constantly burning coal and oil, which give off carbon dioxide. He also is turning forests, which absorb much carbon dioxide, into farmland, which absorbs little. Thus he is adding a half a percent every year to the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide. The oceans, which absorb carbon dioxide as insatiably as they do heat, will take up a third of this excess. But unless man switches to atomic fuels, the amount remaining might by the 25th Century raise the globe’s temperature 12°F., enough to make the whole U.S. a semitropical land.”

New Portrait of Our Planet: II,Life Magazine November 14, 1960


March 16— Roger Revelle

“[O]ur human populations are increasing so fast, and we are using up our easily won resources so fast that man’s future will be pretty bleak and dim if he can’t achieve some kind of harmony with his own planet.”

November —Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists vol. 17 issue 9 includes a trio of articles about climatic change from prominent climate scientists, in part two of a series about “Man And His Habitat.” Hans Suess discusses the rise in carbon dioxide pollution from the burning of fossil fuels and the greenhouse effect in depth in “Fuel Residuals and Climate.”

“[O]ne might expect significant effects for the coming centuries, if the combustion of fossil fuels continues to increase exponentially with a doubling time of about 20 years. We shall then have to concern ourselves more seriously with such questions as: Will the use of coal and petroleum as the conventional source of power ultimately lead to major changes in the climate of our planet? Will it become necessary to replace coal combustion by atomic energy because of a general rise in temperature, a decrease in precipitation, and a deterioration of the human environment as a result of a high carbon dioxide content of the earth’s atmosphere?”

Helmut Landsberg writes in “Climate Made to Order” about weather and climate modification. He discusses carbon dioxide pollution in passing, with skepticism but also caution:

Have we already produced, unwittingly, global climatic changes? It has been argued that we have, by pouring carbon dioxide from combustion processes into the atmosphere on a large scale. The effect, if it is such, is a possible slight overall warming, of perhaps a fraction of a degree centigrade, and even this is in dispute. If there is such an effect, it is certainly uncontrolled, and hence no model for action. The possible effect of increasing the percentage of atmospheric carbon dioxide on plant and animal life is also uncertain.

When we are changing the climate of the whole world, a mistake could be disastrous. Even if the total effects had been calculated, there might be local effects that would create many economic, political, and social problems. Variations in the general circulation that might make the weather better in one area would probably make it worse in others, even if large-scale climatic changes should be proved feasible.

In “Urban Air Conservation,” environmental epidemiologist John R. Goldsmith writes:

Seniority goes to the vegetable kingdom in the use of air as a reservoir for its metabolic needs. The prevailing pattern of vegetable life is to release oxygen into the air and to consume carbon dioxide, while animals remove oxygen and add carbon dioxide. Combustion processes used by man since the dawn of civilization, and increasingly important to industrial societies, also consume oxygen and release carbon dioxide. Recent increases in combustion of fossil fuels have created one of the problems of air conservation: the ever increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide absorbs infrared radiation and tends to preserve the heat of the earth’s crust, which would otherwise be radiated into space. At the same time, the carbon dioxide blanket does not prevent the sun’s light and heat from reaching the earth, and thus the total heat is continually increasing. This problem may not threaten us for many years; but there are man-added substances in the air that provide a more immediate threat.


1963 marks the birth of the climate-policy report. The Conservation Foundation’s report is a call to action, warning of the danger of humanity continuing to burn fossil fuels.

March 12 —The Conservation Foundation hosts a conference with top climate scientists including Gilbert Plass, Charles Keeling, and Erik Eriksson. The report, Implications of rising carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, is likely the first of its kind.

Implications of rising carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere. The Conservation Foundation, 1963.

“The effects of a rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide are world-wide. They are significant not to us but to the generations to follow. The consumption of fossil fuel has increased to such a pitch within the last half century that the total atmospheric consequences are matters of concern for the planet as a whole.”

“It is almost inevitable that as long as we continue to rely heavily on fossil fuels for our increasing power needs, atmospheric CO2 will continue to rise and the earth will be changed, more than likely for the worse.”

Excerpt from Implications of rising carbon dioxide content, 1963
Excerpt from Implications of rising carbon dioxide content, 1963
Excerpt from Implications of rising carbon dioxide content, 1963

September 9 — “Study of Air Pollution,” committee print of the Senate Committee on Public Works. A staff report commissioned by Sen. Edmund Muskie and introduced at a hearing on the Clean Air Act of 1963.

“Carbon dioxide is also produced whenever we burn carbonaceous fuels, such as wood, coal, gas, oil, or paper. With the steadily increasing rate of consumption of such fuels, there is evidence of a gradual increase in the carbon dioxide content of the air, which in turn is believed by many scientists to be causing a rise in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere.”

Committee report from hearings on the Clean Air Act of 1964, September 9, 1963


October 1965 —Climate and the heat budget of the central Arctic, J. O. Fletcher, Rand Corp.

November 1965 — Restoring the Quality of Our Environment, Report of the Environmental Pollution Panel, President’s Scientific Advisory Committee (Revelle, Broecker, Harmon Craig, Keeling, Smagorinsky). Broecker, the only surviving author, doesn’t remember participating. The report was known as the Tukey Committee report after Environmental Pollution Panel chair John W. Tukey. The president at the time was Lyndon Baines Johnson.

“Through his worldwide industrial civilization, Man is unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical experiment. . . By the year 2000 the increase in atmospheric CO2 . . . may be sufficient to produce measurable and perhaps marked changes in the climate, and will almost certainly cause significant changes in the temperature and other properties of the stratosphere.”

Excerpt from Restoring the Quality of Our Environment, 1965

“The present liberation of such large amounts of fossil carbon in such a short time is unique in the history of the earth and there is no guarantee that past buffering mechanisms are really adequate. It is not a cause for complacency that nature seems to have a lot of checks and that these checks seem thus far to be controlling any artificial imbalances. There may be processes presently going on which are due to man’s activities and which will eventually be alarming.”

Excerpt from Restoring the Quality of Our Environment, 1965

Recommendations related to climate change include establishing a baseline measurement of global environmental quality (D1), continuing precise measurements of atmospheric CO2 (D2), and monitoring global stratospheric temperatures (D3).

November 8— At the American Petroleum Institute annual meeting, API president Frank Ikard responded:

One of the most important predictions of the report is that carbon dioxide is being added to the earth’s atmosphere by the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas at such a rate that by the year 2000 the heat balance will be so modified as possibly to cause marked changes in climate beyond local or even national efforts [sic]. The report further states, and I quote: “ . . . the pollution from internal combustion engines is so serious, and is growing so fact, that an alternative nonpolluting means of powering automobiles, buses, and trucks is likely to become a national necessity.”

via “Early oil industry knowledge of CO2 and global warming,” Ben Franta, Nature Climate

December— Weather and Climate Modification, Report of the Special Commission on Weather and Climate Modification, National Science Foundation. Led by A.R. Chamberlain, Colorado State.

“For the future welfare of mankind it is important to be able to understand the factors involved in climatic change and thus to be able to predict inadvertent changes in weather and climate produced by present and future activities of man.”

Excerpt from Weather and Climate Modification, 1965


We see a backlash to the calls for action, with the emergence of a “study the problem” caucus linked to the National Academy of Sciences.

January 7Weather and Climate Modification: Problems and Prospects, Final Report of the Panel on Weather and Climate Modification to the Committee on Atmospheric Sciences, National Academy of Sciences. The panel was chaired by Gordon J.F. MacDonald, a member of the committee. Skeptic Edward Teller was also a member of both the panel and the committee. Other members include Jule Charney, Ed Lorenz, Joseph Smagorinsky, Verner Suomi. Fred Seitz is the NAS president. Thomas Malone of Travelers is the committee chair.

“Although dire predictions of drastic climate changes resulting from the increasing carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere as a result of human activities may well be unjustified, it is clearly important that the secular changes of carbon dioxide be followed with great care.”

Excerpt from Weather and Climate Modification: Problems and Prospects, 1966

February 21 — Leland Haworth, hearing on weather modification

“Another thing that is in a strict sense a pollutant but not usually thought of as such is the carbon dioxide that comes from all our burning of fossil fuels — coal, oil, gas, and so forth — which is adding to the carbon dioxide content of the air. It is not a pollutant in the sense of doing any harm to us directly, but it could change the temperature balance of the world.”

Leland Haworth testimony, hearing on weather modification, February 21, 1966

February 24 —Gordon J. F. MacDonald, hearing on weather modification

“As civilization grows more complex, society places greater burdens on the atmosphere. We are just beginning to appreciate that the atmosphere is not a dump of unlimited capacity, but we do not yet know what the critical capacity of the atmosphere is or by what effects it should be measured. For example, we can consider carbon dioxide introduced into the atmosphere as a result of the Industrial Revolution.”

Gordon J. F. MacDonald testimony, hearing on weather modification, February 24, 1966

February 25—J. Herbert Holloman, hearing on weather modification

“Here we would be concerned with the rising level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere due to fossil fuels . . .
One of the most serious possible problems we have in the future in air pollution is the rising level of the CO2 content of the atmosphere which, if some of the scientists are correct, would indicate it may change the general temperature of the earth and have very serious effects with respect to the melting of the ice cap.”

June 7 —

“While there must be a continuing concern that we might be introducing deleterious changes in climate by our pollution-producing activities, the requisite measurements are not presently available.” — John Gardner

Testimony of John Gardner, hearing on air pollution, Air & Water Pollution Subcomittee, Senate Committee on Public Works, June 7, 1966

August 1966 — “Air Pollution and the Mining Industry,” James R. Garvey, Mining Congress Journal.

James Garvey was the President of Bituminous Coal Research Inc.

“Emission of CO2 Under Serious Study

“Among the gaseous materials discharged from the stack is carbon dioxide. This is not generally considered to be a pollutant inasmuch as it has never been demonstrated to have any adverse effects on plants or animals. However, to illustrate the far-reaching aspects of the air pollution problem, it should be noted that serious studies are underway to determine whether more restrictions should be placed on the emission of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. There is evidence that the amount of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is increasing rapidly as a result of the combustion of fossil fuels. If the future rate of increase continues as it is at the present, it has been predicted that, because the CO2 envelope reduces radiation, the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere will increase and that vast changes in the climates of the earth will result. Such changes in temperature will cause melting of the polar icecaps, which, in turn, would result in the inundation of many coastal cities, including New York and London.”

Air Pollution and the Mining Industry,” James R. Garvey, Mining Congress Journal

August 4—

“[O]n a very long-range basis, even the increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may need to be controlled if a major change in the earth’s weather pattern is to be avoided.” — Walter Hibbard

““If the earth is warmed, the ice melts and the sea level would be raised so high that, were it to happen, we would probably have to swim home from this building this morning. I would emphasize that this is not an immediate danger. We do not have a crisis. The problem is not one for this year or next year, but neither is it one that can be left unattended for 100 years. The degree of danger which exists from the warming of the earth is something we must resolve in a matter of decades. The situation could become serious by the end of the century.” — Thomas F. Malone

Testimony of Walter Hibbard, Bureau of Mines, and Thomas Malone, Travelers Insurance, hearing on adequacy of technology for pollution abatement, House Committee on Science, August 4, 1966


February 2—Ivan Bennett Jr. at hearing on Air Pollution — 1967: S 780 and related matters pertaining to the prevention and control of air pollution

J. Herbert Holloman, Acting Under Secretary of Commerce

Robert M. White, ESSA Administrator

“There has been much speculation on the long-term effects of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide on the world’s climate. Recent evaluations raise some question about the significance of this effect, but we would be the first to admit that our global weather computer models used in studying this problem may not be sufficiently complete.”

Arthur C. Stern, Assistant Director, National Center for Air Pollution Control

“For the disastrous results predicted to occur—the polar icecaps to melt and our seacoast cities to be inundated by the rise in sea level—two things would have to occur: the atmospheric CO2 content must rise substantially and this rise cause an ambient temperature rise. Neither of these hypotheses is yet on firm scientific ground.”

May—Thermal Equilibrium of the Atmosphere with a Given Distribution of Relative Humidity, Syukuro Manabe and Richard Wetherald.

According to our estimate, a doubling of the CO2 content in the atmosphere has the effect of raising the temperature of the atmosphere (whose relative humidity is fixed) by about 2C.

May—“Responses of the Federal Departments and Agencies to the President’s Science Advisory Committee Report, ‘Restoring the Quality of Our Environment’.” agency replies to the 1965 report, includes this passage from the Department of Commerce and its Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA), which indicates intentions to expand their CO2 monitoring and global climate modeling.

August 3—David Gates

October—US Department of Commerce. The Automobile and Air Pollution: A Program for Progress. Report of the Panel on Electrically Powered Vehicles to the Commerce Technical Advisory Board. Panel chaired by MIT’s Richard S. Morse, and includes representatives from Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Esso, and Consolidated Coal, in addition to other scientists and engineers.

October 20 —

“[I]f the use of internal combustion, such as in the automobile, proliferated enormously then at some time you would so insulate the atmospheric envelope of the earth by combustion products of gasoline and other fuels that a ‘greenhouse effect’ would be produced in which the temperature of the earth might rise. These are theoretical considerations and we are some generations from being threatened by anything of the sort.” — Lewis Strauss

“The ultimate limit on the amount of fossil fuel, that can be burned is set by the total amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that would turn the earth to one enormous greenhouse.” — Alvin Weinberg

Hearing on Construction of Nuclear Desalting Plants in the Middle East, Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, October 20, 1967

November 21 — Air Quality Act of 1967 definition of air pollutant:


Changing Climate, J. O. Fletcher, Rand Corporation

“In summary, it appears that, other factors being constant, CO2 from human activity could cause important changes of global climate during the next few decades. But, of course, other factors are not constant, and in the recent years have apparently been more influential than the CO2 increase.”

Changing Climate, J. O. Fletcher, Rand Corporation

January 17 — Rep. Emilio Daddario (D-Conn.) and Donald Hornig, hearing on environmental quality. In his opening statement, Daddario questions “alarming stories” about the greenhouse effect. Hornig replies that the science is complicated—that there are warming and cooling impacts of pollution, and that “No one has any intention of shutting down the burning of oil and coal on account of that recommendation yet.”

“[T]here have been alarming stories in the past few years that the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion might cause a ‘greenhouse effect’ and raise the temperature of the earth. Such a climate change would upset the world’s weather, melt icecaps, and so forth. Last summer, HEW scientists reported that the mean annual world temperature actually was falling. The reason given was that particles in the atmosphere were increasing, thereby reflecting more sunlight and decreasing solar radiation reaching the ground. This may be a lesson for us that early impressions of environmental effects are often incomplete and that public statements should be tempered until adequate studies are completed.”

Rep. Emilio Daddario opening statement

“The Tukey committee, for example, noted that at the present rate of burning fossil fuels we can expect our environmental carbon dioxide concentration to rise by 25 percent by the end of the century, and they raised very serious questions as to what the effect of that increase in carbon dioxide concentration would be since it would increase the absorption of solar energy.

Other people have pointed out that they did not adequately take into account the absorption of carbon dioxide by rocks as opposed to the oceans, that there were other factors which might go in the other direction, in the atmosphere which would obscure solar radiation, and that we did not know enough, in any case, about the circulation pattern in the atmosphere to predict the consequences. So that this is one question, for instance, which needs to be resolved before we undertake any major programs. No one has any intention of shutting down the burning of oil and coal on account of that recommendation yet.”

February — Final Report: Sources, Abundance, and Fate of Gaseous Atmospheric Pollutants by Stanford Research Institute (SRI) scientists Elmer Robinson and R.C. Robbins for the American Petroleum Institute (API).

If the earth’s temperature increases significantly, a number of events might be expected to occur, including the melting of the Antarctic ice cap, a rise in sea levels, warming of the oceans, and in increase in photosynthesis . . . Significant temperature changes are almost certain to occur by the year 2000 and these could bring about climatic changes.

February 6 — Francis J Trembley, hearing on thermal pollution

“We are worried about the changing climate. We don’t know what we are doing by releasing so much carbon dioxide in the air, for example. We just don’t know. There is some evidence that because of the greenhouse effect, we may overheat the earth and melt the icecaps of Antarctica and Greenland and right here, we would be sitting underwater.”

March 14—Rep. Spark Matsunaga (D-Hawaii) at hearing on environmental quality

“On a planetary scale, there are a number of disturbing theories concerning the effects of man’s activities on the ecology of the earth. For example, there are theories that large-scale emission of carbon dioxide is warming the climate, or, conversely, that the emission of exhaust gases from jet airplanes into the upper atmosphere is cooling the climate. . . . None of these theories has been proven to be either true or false, but the mere fact that these possibilities exist serves to underline our ignorance in the field of ecology and our need for more knowledge and more study in this relatively neglected science.”

Rep. Spark Matsunaga statement at hearing on environmental quality

June — Donald Hornig discusses global warming in “Future Energy Needs Vs. The Environment,” Edison Electric Institute Bulletin.

July 17—Donald Hornig at joint colloquium on a national policy for the environment

“We can say right now that it looks, you know, as if the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere is going to rise 25 percent by the year 2000 if we keep on burning coal and oil at the present rate. Neither I nor any sane man would come to the Congress to ask that tomorrow we stop burning coal and oil in this country on that basis, though, of the estimates as they are made now; but we have to face the fact that some day we may even be faced with decisions as drastic as that.”

Donald Hornig

July 19—David M. Gates, Director, Missouri Botanical Garden discusses “changing climates” in a letter to Congress.

“We do not really know what is happening and, even more seriously, we do not know the consequence to climate of the growth of man’s activities during the next century. Climatic changes of incident sunlight, temperature and moisture will produce monstrous shifts of plant and animal communities in ways which are now only partially predictable.”

July 22—Walter Orr Roberts, AAAS President, responds to Hornig’s testimony in a letter to Congress, making now classic arguments against climate regulation.

“There are . . . serious gaps of our understanding of climate changes, and this effect may indeed not occur. . . . [W]ith these uncertainties in our knowledge of the influence of carbon dioxide on the quality of the world environment, it would be ridiculous to consider a regulation banning the burning of gasoline, fuel oil, natural gas, and the other primary combustible fuels that man uses.

What Dr. Hornig might further have said is that the greatest part of the increments to carbon dioxide pollution of the air over the United States and probably be expected to come from nations other than the United States between now and the year 2000. . . . So that it would be quixotic indeed for the United States to ban the fuels, without enforceable participation by all major nations.”

Walter Orr Roberts, AAAS President, letter submission


Progress Means Pollution: An Idea Whose Time Has Come…And Gone, Frank Potter, Jr.

“Consider another example: That of massive climatic change. . . . We hear on the one hand of the ‘greenhouse effect’, which tends to raise atmospheric temperature by descreasing the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. Some scientists, extrapolating present activities, speculate that it would take 10 years to decide which is the more powerful effect, and that by then large scale climatic changes may be irreversible. This view is by no means commonly held, but it is under serious consideration by men whose voices ought to be heard. They have not been heard by the Congress, and if they were, they would be outnumbered 10 to one by men saying ‘we are not certain, we do not know, and we should take not action until we do.’”

March — Managing Climatic Resources, J. O. Fletcher, Rand Corporation

March 3 — John E. Naugle at NASA budget hearing

“Our knowledge of the processes at work is so minimal that we are not sure whether the atmosphere is slowly warming due to increasing amounts of carbon dioxide or slowly cooling because of the impurities in the air reflecting the sunlight away from the surface of the earth.”

John E. Naugle prepared statement, hearing on NASA budget authorization, House Committee on Science & Aeronautics, March 3, 1969

March 11 — John E. Naugle, Donald Hearth at hearing on NASA budget

“If we are to understand our own atmosphere and to evaluate the long-term consequences of manmade changes (such as the increase in carbon dioxide content), we need to conduct comparative studies of the atmospheres of the other planets.”

“As we look at our planet, as we look at the population that is increasing, we know that man is not only polluting, but possibly beginning to change the very fundamental nature of our atmosphere on the earth.”—John E. Naugle

John E. Naugle prepared statement, hearing on NASA budget authorization, March 11, 1969
John E. Naugle testimony, hearing on NASA budget authorization, March 11, 1969
Donald Hearth testimony, hearing on NASA budget authorization, March 11, 1969
Donald Hearth testimony, hearing on NASA budget authorization, March 11, 1969

May 26 — Lloyd Tupling, Sierra Club

“[A] variety of activities produce harmful side effects that were not anticipates . . . the contrary possibilities of rising world temperatures as a result of carbon dioxide buildup or falling temperatures as a result of smog and jet contrails.”

Lloyd Tupling, Sierra Club, testimony, May 26, 1969

June 23 — Joe Edmiston

Joe Edmiston testimony, June 23, 1969

September 17—Memo from Daniel Patrick Moynihan to John Ehrlichman in the Nixon White House, mentions Hugh Heffner and Robert White.

“The CO2 content is normally in a stable cycle, but recently man has begun to introduce instability through the burning of fossil fuels.”

“Goodbye New York. Goodbye Washington, for that matter.”

October 15 — Sen. George Aiken (R-Vt.) and Edward P. Radford, M.D. at Public Works Appropriations hearing

AIKEN: “Did the study find that in the year 2000 that there would be enough carbon dioxide in the air to alter our temperatures?

RADFORD: “Well, that is true, that statement has been made, but there is an opposing effect from particulates in the air . . . so the net effect is the cooling effect from pollution as a whole, carbon dioxide and particulates.”

Edward Radford testimony, Public Works Appropriations hearing, October 15, 1969
Edward Radford prepared testimony, Public Works Appropriations hearing, October 15, 1969

October 28 — Lee DuBridge, President of Caltech

“The sea absorbs carbon dioxide. We do not know at what rate the sea absorbs it and how this rate changes with the concentration in the air. The sea is the eventual sink for a very large amount of carbon dioxide, and it is conceivable we can produce a very large amount and the sea would absorb it and keep the atmospheric concentration down.”

“There is some indication that the carbon dioxide effect and the fine particle effect will work in opposite directions as far as the surface temperature of the earth is concerned and that they might in part compensate each other.”

“In any case, the rate of increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is extremely slow, but obviously accelerating and it is something that should be watched.”

Rep. Melvin Price interrogates Lee A. DuBridge about the greenhouse effect, October 28, 1969

October 30 — James Ramey responds to Radford (and DuBridge)

“The logic of such an answer is then that one should not try to further lower the amount of smoke pollution; in order to prevent the greenhouse effect.”

James Ramey testimony criticizing Edward Radford, October 30, 1969

November — “Carbon dioxide affects global ecology.” Eugene K. Peterson, Bureau of Land Management, in Environmental Science & Technology.

November 4— Harry Perry at Atomic Power hearing on environmental effects of producing electric power

“Carbon dioxide, at present, appears not to be an important air pollutant but continuous surveillance should be maintained of its concentration in the atmosphere.”

Harry Perry testimony, November 4, 1969

November 6 — Questioned by Rep. Melvin Price, John Ludwig responds to Tukey report

“[M]ore important than the greenhouse effect from the CO2 [is] the icebox effect, or the decrease in world temperature due to the effect of the fine particulate in the atmosphere decreasing the incoming radiation from the sun.”

Rep. Melvin Price (D-Ill.) interrogates Dr. John Ludwig on the greenhouse effect

November 24 —

“Nuclear Power and the Environment — the Facts in Perspective,” a speech by Atomic Energy Commissioner James T. Ramey at a meeting of the Baltimore Chamber of Commerce. Submitted in testimony on Administration of the National Environmental Policy Act on December 8, 1970

December 21—

December 29 — Symposium on Climate and Man, 136th Meeting of the American Association for Advancement of Science, Boston


January 27 — Hearing on the environmental effects of producing electric power

“Today we are changing on a global scale the carbon dioxide content of the earth. In addition, impurities from the burning of the fuels and from other industrial processes are increasing the particulate matter in the air. The concern is growing that we may initiate climatic changes caused by slight change in the heat balance of the earth. The amount of carbon dioxide released over the years is estimated to be two to three times 10 to the 11th power tons, which is 200,000 to 300,000 times a million tons, which is an awful lot of stuff. In my lifetime the carbon dioxide has increased to [sic] 20 to 30 parts per million. With a doubling of the energy demand every 10 years, it is clear that the production of carbon dioxide and other pollutants will continue to rise in an accelerated fashion. The effects of these changes in the composition of the atmosphere will not be evident to this and a few coming generations.” — A. J. Haagen-Smit

Testimony of Dr. A. J. Haagen-Smit

January 29 — Hearing on the environmental effects of producing electric power

“[T]here are serious environmental effects from all forms of power generation. . . . Is the increase in carbon dioxide in the air, with the possibility of global weather changes, worse than the prospect of increased krypton 85?”

“In 30 years the amounts of carbon dioxide and radiation in the atmosphere will probably be increasing at a dangerous rate and will then or shortly thereafter reach unacceptable levels — levels at which carbon dioxide may have drastic effects on the global climate . . .”

“Both carbon dioxide and water vapor produced by power generation within our lifetimes will begin to have serious effects on the world’s climate.”

“[C]arbon dioxide itself may pose a serious problem in the not-too-distant future.”— Malcolm L. Peterson

Testimony of Malcolm Peterson, January 29, 1970

“I am sure there are data that suggest worldwide fluctuations on a short-term basis, but on the long-term basis the heat capacity of our atmosphere is changing as the carbon dioxide content is increasing.”

Interrogation of Dr. Peterson by Rep. Craig Hosmer (R-Calif.)

February 3 —

Interrogation of Kenneth Pomeroy by Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R-Mich.)

March 13 — Chauncey Starr, hearing on technology assessment and the environment

March 14 — Morris Neiburger

“It isn’t fantastic that the carbon dioxide level influences the temperature of the earth. This is a well-known fact which to a certain degree of accuracy can be computed. The carbon dioxide content during this century has increased about 10 percent above the level in 1900.

At the time when it was first recognized that this increase was going on in the late 1940’s, it was estimated that this would result in a temperature increase between 1° and 2° F. The best estimates that could be made of the changes in temperature of the earth as a whole . . . all seemed to confirm the fact that up to about 1945 for about 50 or 60 years the temperature had been increasing and the amount of the increase was about 1° F.”

“Carbon dioxide, if the use of fossil fuels continues increasing at the present rate, will increase something like about 10 to 12 percent so far and will increase another 10 to 12 percent in the next 15 years and, by 2020 or so, it will reach a level where we might expect an increase in temperature of about 3° to 4°.

This kind of increase in temperature would be reflected in some melting of the icecaps in the Antarctic and at Greenland. It isn’t likely that it will be a very quick inundation of coastal cities as has been suggested, but at least it’s something to consider in a study.”

March 16 — John Holdren

“What is significant is that we are affecting the system in a rather serious way.”

“Many meteorologists feel that an increase of only 1° C in the mean global temperature could have very serious climatological circumstances.

One degree doesn’t sound like much. The reason it is a lot is because the earth is not a ball of uniform temperature; and its climate is a result of many powerful competing sources, and a small change as measured in the overall temperature can have a serious, unhinging effect on that balance.”

March 16 — Environment Health Service Administrator Charles Johnson Jr., hearing on bills to amend the Clean Air Act

“There are two schools of thought on whether or not we are going to heat up the atmosphere so that we melt the ice caps and have flooding of our land or whether we are going to do the reverse in terms of holding our radiant energy. The carbon dioxide balance of the atmosphere might result in the heating up of the atmosphere whereas the reduction of the radiant energy through particulate matter released to the atmosphere might cause reduction in radiation that reaches the earth. I think we are concerned with that neither of these things happen.”

“What we are trying to do . . . in terms of our air pollution effort should have a very salutary effect on either of these.”

March 17 — Barry Commoner, hearing on bills to amend the Clean Air Act:

“There is now a debate going on in the scientific community as to whether the overheating of the earth due to the accumulation of carbon dioxide is going to melt the polar ice caps—which will flood most of the cities of the world—or whether the reverse trend, the cooling of the earth due to the shading of high altitude clouds and pollutant particles, will cause a new ice age.

If we are lucky, these effects will balance out. That is a most serious example of technological blindness.”

March 19—Peter Gammelgard, American Petroleum Institute, hearing on bills to amend the Clean Air Act:

April 3 — Hearing on “The Environmental Decade”

Benjamin Shaine, LCV, April 3, 1970

April 22 — NBC News Earth Day report mentions Dr. J. Murray Mitchell AGU report.

May 14 — Frank J. Potter, Jr. statement for the record

June 2 — Rep. John Dingell (testimony included November 19, 1971 Senate hearing on bills amending NEPA):

“This may be a matter on which the life of man may ultimately depend.”

June 16 — Robert M. White, Environmental Science Services Administrator

July —The Study of Critical Environmental Problems, sponsored by MIT, takes place during the month of July at Williams College. About 50 scientists meet to study the consequences of pollution on climate, ocean ecology, and large terrestrial ecosystems. The first report, Man’s Impact on the Global Environment, is published in 1970 (see above) and excerpted in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in October. In 1971, Man’s Impact on the Climate and Man’s Impact on Terrestrial and Oceanic Ecosystems are published.

July 27-August 15 — Priorities for Space Research 1971–1980, Study on Priorities in Space Science and Earth Observations, Space Science Board of the National Research Council at Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Draft report submitted August 15, published by the National Academy of Sciences in 1971.

August — Environmental Quality: The First Annual Report of the Council on Environmental Quality. Chairman Russell E. Train, Robert Cahn, Gordon J. F. MacDonald, members. Professional staff included William K. Reilly. With a letter of transmission from President Nixon.

August — “The Emergent Right to a Decent Environment,” Charles Maechling, Jr. Human Rights, vol. 1 iss. 1

“[T]he amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will rise by 25% by the year 2000. This could cause a ‘greenhouse’ effect that would raise water temperatures all over the earth, melt Arctic and Antarctic ice at a greater rate than normal, and produce unforeseeable changes in water levels and climate.”

“Nature has a tremendous ability to recover from continual abuse, but this ability is not infinite. Scientific evidence is accumulating that the account is already overdrawn.”

“The Emergent Right to a Decent Environment,” Charles Maechling, Jr., August 1970

October — Environmental Quality, a report of the Batelle Memorial Institute. Included as an appendix to the April 29, 1971 hearings on the National Environmental Labs

October—In Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is an extended discussion on the environment, with several passages on the problem of fossil-fueled climate change. Findings from the Williamstown Study of Critical Environmental Problems (see July) are excerpted.

From “Environmental Side Effects of Energy Production” by Donald F. Anthrop:

October 15 — Man’s Impact on the Global Environment: Report of the Study of Critical Environmental Problems, MIT. Esso, the American Electrical Power Company, and Consolidated Edison provided “background materials and professional participation.”

“A projected 18 percent increase resulting from fossil fuel combustion to the year 2000 (from 320 ppm to 379 ppm) might increase the surface temperature of the earth 0.5°C; a doubling of the CO2 might increase mean annual surface temperatures 2°C. These estimates are based on a relatively primitive computer model, with no consideration of important motions in the atmosphere, and hence are very uncertain. However, these are the only estimates available today.

“Should man ever be compelled to stop producing CO2, no coal, oil, or natural gas could be burned and all industrial societies would be drastically affected. The only possible alternative for energy for industrial and commercial use is nuclear energy, whose by-products may also cause serious environmental effects. There are at present no electric motor vehicles that could be used on the wide scale our society demands.

“Although we conclude that the probability of direct climate change in this century resulting from CO2 is small, we stress that the long-term potential consequences of CO2 effects on the climate or of societal reaction to such threats are so serious that much more must be learned about future trends of climate change. Only through these measures can societies hope to have time to adjust to changes that may ultimately be necessary.”

October 18 — In a keynote address for the “Technological Changes and the Human Environment” conference at the California Institute of Technology, Thomas F. Malone warned:

“Continued burning of fossil fuels will cause the earth’s temperature to rise and create grave climate changes.”

December 10 — Steven E. Schanes, Special Assistant for Policy Development, Department of Commerce, testimony on Administration of the National Environmental Policy Act

December 18 — “Man-Made Climatic Changes,” Helmut Landsberg, Science

December 31 — Definition of “air pollutant” and “effects on welfare” in Clean Air Act of 1970


— The Environment — Past, Present, and Future, by Abel Wolman, published in appendix to hearings before the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy on AEC Licensing Procedure and Related Legislation, 1971

“Before moving on to the design of the future, and its implications, it is well to dispose of a few dramatic myths still actively peddled by the prophets of global doom.”

January 26 — Walter Orr Roberts testimony, hearing on International Science Policy; 12th meeting with the Panel on Science and Technology

“There has been a great deal of discussion of the apparent increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by man’s burning of fossil fuels. It is possible I think that man not only is increasing global carbon dioxide, but that climatic changes will result. But without considerably more detailed research the matter must be considered yet speculative.”

— Staffan Burenstam Linder

— Carroll Wilson

— Fred Whipple

January 28 — James Van Allen, hearing on International Science Policy; 12th meeting with the Panel on Science and Technology

February 19 — “The Great Greenhouse Scare,” Nature editorial

“Among other things, this careful study [the 1970 Study of Critical Environmental Problems] shows that the greenhouse effect, as it is called, has been a greatly exaggerated topic for anxiety.”

Anonymous Nature editorial, February 19, 1971

March 18 — Prepared statement by John Naugle, hearing on NASA authorization

May 4 — Dr. Robert Inger, hearing on National Environmental Laboratories:

“[S]ome ecologists believe that one of the major reservoirs for carbon dioxide in the world are our tropical forests. . . . If we decide to persuade the underdeveloped countries to refrain from cutting the forests, then we must legitimately expect to somehow compensate them because surely they will be losing some monetary income.”

— Sen. Howard Baker Jr. (Tenn.), interrogating Dr. W. Frank Blair of the International Biological Program at a hearing on National Environmental Laboratories:

May 25 — W. Frank Blair, submitted testimony for hearing on international environmental science:

“The world is indeed a vast and complex ecological system. . . We have come to recognize the fact that perturbations of this system do have effects on fantastically distant parts of the system. . . . Burning of fossil fuels in the industrial capitals of Europe affects the carbon dioxide content of the air over Australia and Greenland and may have effects on future world climates.”

May 26 — Jack Spence, Utah State University chemistry professor, testimony at Salt Lake City field hearing on problems of electrical power production in the Southwest:

May 27 — Roy Craig, testimony at Durango field hearing on problems of electrical power production in the Southwest:

June 9—Address before the 9th annual convention of Edison Electric Institute, Cleveland, Ohio by Prof. Carroll L. Wilson, Sloan School, MIT. Cites the SCEP Report based on the July 1970 meeting at Williams College.

It is likely that the principal impact in terms of climate change will arise if it does from the combustion of hydrocarbons. If a consensus arose that we had to limit or curtail the use of hydrocarbons because of their impact on climate, the implications would be enormous. Our only present alternative would be nuclear power and an electric energy society.

Caroll Wilson’s June 1971 address to the EEI, as printed in the EEI Bulletin

June 15 — Address to the American Nuclear Society in Boston by Michael McCloskey, Executive Director, Sierra Club. Included for the record in September 24 hearing of House Committee on Public Works on water pollution control legislation, and October 20 hearing (see below).

June 25 — “International Environmental Problems — A Taxonomy,” Clifford Russell and Hans Landsberg, Science

June 29 — Robert M. White testimony in NOAA appropriations hearing:

Summer — the Study of Man’s Impact on Climate, a meeting in Stockholm of world’s climatologists, including Herman Flohn, Syukuro Manabe, Phillip Thomson, Stephen Schneider. Inadvertent Climate Modification: Report of the Study of Man’s Impact on Climate, MIT

August 28 — “No, Breathe Easier,” by Eugene Guccione, senior editor of Engineering and Mining Journal, in The New York Times. Probably the first climate-denial op-ed.

“The build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, so goes this particular idiocy, will cause a temperature increase throughout the planet . . . and we’ll drown in the tidal wave resulting from the melting of the polar ice caps, or roast to death.”

Eugene Guccione, senior editor of Engineering and Mining Journal, in The New York Times, August 28, 1971

October — The Closing Circle by Barry Commoner is published

October 7 — Paul Walter Purdom, director of environmental engineering, Drexel University, and president of the American Public Health Association, testimony on the International Health Agency Act of 1971:

October 20 — testimony of Michael McCloskey, Executive Director of the Sierra Club at a hearing on national fuels and energy policy (see June 15):

— Statement by the American Public Power Association for the record, submitted for hearing on national fuels and energy policy:


January—Conference at Brown University on “The Present Interglacial: How and When will it End?” attended by 42 scientists(?) [hard to find attendee list] from around the world. Organized by geologists George J. Kukla and Brown geological sciences chair R. K. Matthews. (Letter to Nixon is sent December 3.) Kukla was a major “new ice age” proponent and a persistent global-warming denier.

January 25 — Paper by A. K. Thiel for a hearing on remote sensing of earth resources:

— Paper by Daniel J. Fink, GE vice president, Space Division director for a hearing on remote sensing of earth resources:

March 14 — Stephen Lukasik, ARPA director, testimony on ARPA appropriations:

March 15 — Rep. Mike McCormack, hearing on energy research and development, Senate Committee on Commerce:

May 9 — Rep. John W. Davis, hearing on energy research and development:

— John Holdren submitted statement:

May 23 — “Cooperation in Environmental Protection” between U.S. and U.S.S.R. signed in Moscow

June 23 — Gary D. Simon statement submitted for hearing on federal energy and research priorities:

June 30 — First report of the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and the Atmosphere, chaired by William Nierenberg.

“There is no doubt that the developments of the last decade have put us on the threshold of weather control.”

Buried amid the bullet points:

November 26 — Thomas O’Toole, Washington Post

November 29 — Robert M. White, NOAA Administrator, testimony at NOAA oversight hearing:

— Richard E. Hallgren, NOAA Associate Administrator, Environmental Monitoring and Prediction:

— Donald F. Moore, NOAA Assistant Administrator for Environmental Modification:

— NOAA Appendix:

December 3—Kukla and Matthews send a letter to President Nixon.

The main conclusion of the meeting was that a global deterioration of climate, by order of magnitude larger than any hitherto experience by civilized mankind, is a very real possibility and indeed may be due very soon.

The cooling has natural cause and falls within the rank of processes which produced the last ice age. This is a surprising result based largely on recent studies of deep sea sediments.


Weather and climate modification: problems and progress, Committee on Atmospheric Sciences, National Research Council.

February 8 — Dr. Barry Commoner, hearing on the Council on Energy Policy

“This is a very complicated phenomenon, and a good deal of study is underway. But it seems to me that in the long run it would be best to get away from using fossil fuel.”

February 28 — Edward Creutz, NSF assistant director for research, at hearing on NSF budget

March 1 —Thomas Owen, NSF assistant director for national and international programs, at hearing on NSF budget

March 6 — Charles Mathews, NASA associate administrator, NASA authorization hearing

March 15—Michael B McElroy, NASA authorization hearing

April 16 — Robert M. White, NOAA administrator, at NOAA appropriations hearing:

October 18 — Reid Bryson, hearing on U.S. and the world food situation, Senate Agriculture Committee

“Even if we were to say ‘let us stop using fossil fuels so that we do not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, because that impacts the world climate,’ how on earth could you stop using fossil fuels? Even those countries that are most heavily impacted by the climatic change are the ones who say it is our turn to be affluent and it in is the use of fossil fuels that one gains affluence.”

Testimony of Reid Bryson, hearing on U.S. and the world food situation, Senate Agriculture Committee, October 18, 1973


March 29 — Stephen Lukasik, Senate hearing on ARPA

May—NSF establishes Office of Climate Dynamics, with head J.O. Fletcher

November — Federal Energy Administration Project Independence Blueprint Final Task Force Report, prepared by the Interagency Task Force on Solar Energy under direction of the National Science Foundation, Appendix II: Energy Use and Climate, prepared by Richard S. Greeley, with assistance from William Kellogg, Warren Washington, and Howard Wilcox


Understanding Climatic Change: A Program for Action, United States Committee for the Global Atmospheric Research Program, National Research Council

January 29 — Lester Macha, director of NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratories, at hearing on planetary science and the earth’s upper atmosphere

February 5 — Dr. Morris Tepper, at NASA authorization hearing

February 7 — Dr. Larry Colin, at NASA authorization field hearing

February 20 — Robert Hughes statement, at NSF authorization hearing

February 26 — H. Guyford Stever, NSF Director, at an appropriations hearing

April 22 — Robert M. White at environmental R&D hearing:

April 28 — “The Cooling World,” Peter Gwynne, Newsweek.

March 3 — Edward Creutz, NSF assistant director, at a NSF appropriations hearing:

June — William Nordhaus publishes seminal climate-economics paper Can We Control Carbon Dioxide?, an International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis working paper.

Nordhaus guesses that a “doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide is a reasonable upper limit,” but that a 50% or 200% increase may be also be proper limits. Note this is a doubling from the then “current atmospheric concentrations of around 330ppm”—thus his model considered increases of CO2 to 495 ppm, 660 ppm, and 990 ppm.

June 3 — Martin McLaughlin, senior fellow, Overseas Development Council

July 16 — Robert M. White

July 26 — Edward S. Epstein prepared statement, NOAA oversight hearing:

— Rep. George Brown, Jr. (CA) interrogates Edward Epstein, and Lester Machta, NOAA oversight hearing:

August 8 — Wally Broecker, Science. “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?

September 19 — Harvey Brooks at a hearing on stratospheric ozone depletion

October 16 — Dr. Martin Walt at 1977 NASA authorization hearing

November — “On the Carbon Dioxide–Climate Confusion,” Stephen Schneider. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences

November 13 — Dr. Edward Epstein at climate pollution hearing, “The Costs and Effects of Chronic Exposure to Low-Level Pollutants in the Environment,” before the Science Committee’s subcommittee on environment and the atmosphere, essentially the first real climate pollution hearing:

“If there is any single substance produced by man that is likely to give rise to climatic change, it is certainly carbon dioxide.”

November 14 — Helmut Landsberg at the same hearing:

November 20 — Russell E. Train

December 10 — H. Guyford Stever, at an NSF oversight hearing


January — The Genesis Strategy: Climate and Global Survival, Stephen Schneider with Lynne E. Mesirow, published by Plenum. Reviewed by Walter Orr Roberts (glowing), Helmut Landsberg (very negative).

National Climate Program Act hearings before the House Committee on Science Subcommittee on the Environment and Atmosphere. The act became law in 1978.

May 18— Robert F. Hughes, Bert Bolin, Stephen Schneider testify on first day of hearings. “To my knowledge,” subcommittee chair Rep. George E. Brown, Jr. opens, “these are the first hearings that any congressional committee has held on this subject [climate and related research].”

Looking over these articles, I must say that I find them both fascinating and somewhat contradictory. While some scientists are warning that we might be starting off on a long-term cooling trend, making the plunge into another Little Ice Age, others seem to be concerned that the polar ice caps might permanently melt, drowning our coastal cities in the rising seas. Some scientists are concerned that mankind might be inadvertently modifying the climate by polluting the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, particulates, and heat, but there seems to be no agreement as to whether the net result will be to heat us up or cool us off.

Bolin testimony:

Dr. Bert Bolin testimony, May 18, 1976

May 19 — William C. Ackermann, Ralph M. Rotty, William A. Nierenberg testify on second day.

May 20 — Don Paarlberg, Walter Orr Roberts, Helmut Landsberg, Charles L. Hosler Jr. testify on third day.

May 25 — Rep. Fred Richmond, Paul S. Weller of National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, Gilbert H. Porter of AGWAY testify on fourth day.

May 26 — Reid A. Bryson, Francis Bretherton, Robert W. Stewart testify on fifth day.

May 27 — Robert M. White, Edward Epstein, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, Lindsey Grant, Paul Taylor, Verner Suomi testify on sixth day.

June 17 — Lewis O. Grant at hearing on weather modification

November 15–19 — Dahlem Workshop on Global Chemical Cycles and Their Alterations by Man, Berlin, West Germany. Published in 1977


Energy and Climate: Studies in geophysics, by the Panel of Energy and Climate of the Geophysics Study Committee, National Academy of Sciences. A very strong warning about global warming. Panel chaired by Roger Revelle.

“It has become increasingly apparent in recent years that human capacity to perturb inadvertently the global environment has outstripped our ability to anticipate the nature and extent of the impact. It is time to redress that imbalance.”

“The principal conclusion of this study is that the primary limiting factor on energy production from fossil fuels over the next few centuries may turn out to be the climatic effects of the release of carbon dioxide.”

“Worldwide industrial civilization may face a major decision over the next few decades — whether to continue reliance on fossil fuels as principal sources of energy or to invest the research and engineering effort, and the capital, that will make it possible to substitute other energy sources for fossil fuels within the next 50 years. The second alternative presents many difficulties, but the possible climatic consequences of reliance on fossil fuels for another one or two centuries may be so severe as to leave no other choice.”

— “Climate Change and the World Predicament: A Case Study for Interdisciplinary Research.” Stephen Schneider, Climatic Change v. 1.

Energy and Climate, Panel on Energy and Climate, Geophysics Study Committee, Assembly of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, National Research Council, chaired by Roger Revelle

Effects of Human Activities on Global Climate: A summary, with consideration of the implications of a possibly warmer earth, William Kellogg, WMO

Climate, Climatic Change, and Water Supply, National Academy of Sciences

— Heat by Arthur Herzog, likely the first man-made global warming science-fiction book. Simon & Schuster. Interviewed for the book: Dr. J. Murray Mitchell, Ed Weigel, NOAA Geophysical Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton, New Jersey; Harold Frazer, NOAA, Environmental Research Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado: Carl A. Posey, Sam O. Honess. Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin: John Ross, Drs. Alden McClellan, E. W. Wahl. National Academy of Sciences: Drs. Charles E. Fritz, John Perry. Center for the Study of Short-Lived Phenomena, Smithsonian Institution: Charles Citron, Shirley Maina, David Squire, James C. Cornel. National Center for Atmospheric Research: Dr. Stephen Schneider. Dr. Jerry Grey, Brad Byers, Mae Megaha, Charles Crum, Dr. Gregory Herzog, Naomi Rubenstein, William E. Bernard, Jr., Judy Peiffer, Dr. Michael Bad, Diana Grant. Herzog published an updated version in 1989.

Lawrence Pick, engineer, gathers startling evidence that the world’s weather may be rapidly changing, as a prelude to a fundamental alteration in global climate. In a secret underground laboratory, he and a team of equally skilled scientists learn that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, largely due to the overuse of energy, will ascend to the point where no living thing can survive.

Pick’s predictions become a reality as freakish weather conditions prevail: extraordinary tornados and hurricanes, droughts, violent hailstorms, and windstorms and savage waterspouts. “Condition Green” is no longer a theory as destruction runs rampant, but still neither the U.S. Government nor the people will listen. Too late, the result of man’s indifference is everywhere…with only one hope for survival.

February — Economic Growth and Climate: The Carbon Dioxide Problem, William Nordhaus.

Unfortunately, although considerable scientific concern has been expressed about future trends in carbon dioxide concentration, there are no attempts to suggest what might be reasonable standards. As a first approximation, however. it seerns reasonable to argue that the climatic effects of carbon dioxide should be kept well within the normal range of long-term clinlatic variation. A doubling of the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is a reasonable upper limit to impose at the present stage of knowledge. We also test the sensitivity of our results to limits of fifty percent and two hundred percent increases

March — One manager at Exxon Research, Harold N. Weinberg, shared his “grandiose thoughts” about Exxon’s potential role in climate research in a March 1978 internal company memorandum that read: “This may be the kind of opportunity that we are looking for to have Exxon technology, management and leadership resources put into the context of a project aimed at benefitting mankind.”

March 7–11 — U.S. ERDA Workshop on the Environmental Effects of Carbon Dioxide from Fossil Fuel Combustion, Miami (published in 1979 as DOE Report CONF-770385). Also known as the ERDA Conference on the World CO2 Problem

April — ICSU-SCOPE Conference on the World Carbon Budget, Ratzeburg, West Germany

April 5—George Benton at National Climate Program hearing

June 9 — Rep. Paul Tsongas interrogating John O’Leary, Federal Energy Administration administrator, at a hearing on constraints on coal development:

“There is the fundamental question as to whether we can burn all our oil, natural gas, and coal without causing abiding changes in the world’s climate. These changes could severely limit our ability to grow food and could produce flooding of our coastal cities. This question cannot be scrubbed away for it is intrinsic to the use of fossil energy.”

— Rep. Manuel Lujan, Jr. interrogating John O’Leary, Federal Energy Administration administrator

July — At a meeting in Exxon Corporation’s headquarters, a senior company scientist named James F. Black tells Exxon’s Management Committee carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.

“In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.”

“Present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.”

July 7—Memo from science advisor Frank Press to President Jimmy Carter: “Release of Fossil CO₂ and the Possibility of a Catastrophic Climate Change.”

Fossil fuel combustion has increased at an exponential rate over the last 100 years. As a result, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is now 12 percent above the pre-industrial revolution level and may grow to 1.5 to 2.0 times that level within 60 years. Because of the “greenhouse effect” of atmospheric CO2 the increased concentration will induce a global climatic warming of anywhere from 0.5 to 5°C.

The potential effect on the environment of a climatic fluctuation of such rapidity could be catastrophic and calls for an impact assessment of unprecedented importance and difficulty. A rapid climatic change may result in large scale crop failures at a time when an increased world population taxes agriculture to the limits of productivity.

The urgency of the problem derives from our inability to shift rapidly to non-fossil fuel sources once the climatic effects become evident not long after the year 2000; the situation could grow out of control before alternate energy sources and other remedial actions become effective.

As you know this is not a new issue. What is new is the growing weight of scientific support which raises the CO2-climate impact from speculation to a serious hypothesis worthy of a response that is neither complacent nor panicky.

When Press’s memo made it to the president’s desk, James “Jim” Schlesinger, America’s first secretary of energy, also attached his own note in response:

​​My view is that the policy implications of this issue are still too uncertain to warrant Presidential involvement and policy initiatives.

August — The Eighth Annual Report Of The Council On Environmental Quality

“With a general global warming trend, one would expect that current precipitation patterns would move to higher latitudes. Major agricultural belts, then, would shift poleward with obvious socioeconomic and political impacts. The warming of the polar regions might promote melting of the polar ice caps and an associated rise in the sea level. … If further research confirms the hypothesis just described, then a programmed switch from fossil fuels to energy sources with no associated CO2 emissions — such as solar power — may be imperative to limit global temperatures. The CO2 problem is being addressed by the Administration, which is budgeting approximately $1 million for studies in fiscal year 1978.”


Carbon dioxide and the “greenhouse effect”: an unresolved problem, Irene M. Smith, IEA Coal Research

January 13 — “Biota and the world carbon budget,” George Woodwell et al., Science. Finds that with tropical deforestation, terrestrial biomass is likely a global source of atmospheric carbon.

January 26 — “West Antarctic ice sheet and CO2 greenhouse effect: a threat of disaster,” John H. Mercer, Nature.

If the global consumption of fossil fuels continues to grow at its present rate, atmospheric CO2 content will double in about 50 years. Climatic models suggest that the resultant greenhouse-warming effect will be greatly magnified in high latitudes. The computed rise at lat 80° S could start rapid deglaciation of West Antarctica, leading to a 5m rise in sea level.

April 27 — Rep. George Brown (D-Calif.) introduces the National Climate Program Act (H.R.6669)

May — DOE Office of Carbon Dioxide Effects Research and Assessment plan for research into the Global Climate Cycle and Climatic Effects of Increasing Carbon Dioxide

September 9 — The National Climate Program Act passes the House in roll call #533 (285–60).

(Conference report filed in House, H. Rept. 95–1489) National Climate Program Act — Establishes a National Climate Program to enable the United States and other nations to understand and respond to natural and man-induced climate processes and their implications. Directs the President to: (1) establish the National Climate Program; (2) promulgate preliminary and final five-year plans each of which shall establish Program goals and priorities; (3) define the roles in the Program of the various departments, agencies, and offices; and (4) provide for Program coordination. Requires the Secretary of Commerce to establish a National Climate Program Office not later than 30 days after the enactment of this Act. Requires the Program to include: (1) procedures for assessing the effect of climate on agriculture, energy supply and demand, land and water resources, transportation, human health, and national security; (2) basic and applied research to improve understanding of climate processes; (3) methods of improving climate forecasts; (4) global data collection and climate monitoring and analysis activities to provide reliable, useful, and available information on a continuing basis; (5) systems for the management and active dissemination of climatological data and information; (6) measures for increasing international cooperation in climate research, monitoring, analysis, and data dissemination; (7) mechanisms for intergovernmental climate-related research and services, including participating by universities and the private sector; (8) experimental climate forecast centers; and (9) biennial revisions for the final five-year plan. Authorizes the Secretary to establish and maintain advisory committees and interagency groups as appropriate and necessary to assist in carrying out the responsibilities of the Program. Sets the level of compensation for members of such committees at the daily rate for GS-16 of the General Schedule. Makes it the duty of the Secretary to participate and cooperate with other Federal agencies, and foreign, international, and domestic organizations and agencies involved in international or domestic climate-related programs. Directs the Secretaries of Commerce and State to: (1) provide representation at climate-related international meetings and conferences; and (2) coordinate the activities of the Program with climate programs of other nations and international agencies and organizations. Specifies that each Federal agency and department participating in the program shall prepare annual requests for appropriations which shall be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Directs the OMB to include the National Climate Program in the horizontal budget annually prepared for Congress showing totality of programs for meteorology, aspects of programs and funding, and estimated goals and financial requirements. Authorizes the Program to make grants to education institutions for the establishment of climate study centers, and for regional studies programs. Directs the Secretary of Commerce to establish a program for Federal and State cooperative activities in climate research and advisory services. Authorizes the Secretary to make annual grants to any State or group of States which shall make such grants available to public or private educational institutions, State agencies, and other persons or institutions qualified to conduct climate-related studies or provide climate-related services. Limits such grants to 50 percent of the costs in any one year of the research and services provided under the grant. Specifies that such intergovernmental programs include: (1) analytical studies and data collection and monitoring on a statewide and regional basis; and (2) advisory services designed to provide research results and climatic data and information to States, local government agencies, and individuals concerned with agricultural production, water resources, energy needs, and other climate-related issues. Sets forth the requirements any State or each of the States in a group must meet before a grant is made, including the integration of its climate program with the Program. Requires the Secretary to prepare and submit to the President and the authorizing committees of the Congress, not later than January 30 of each year, a report on the activities conducted pursuant to this Act. Provides for contract and grant authority to Federal officers or agencies vested with functions by this Act or under the Program. Requires each person or entity receiving Federal funds made available under said contract or grant arrangement to keep such records as the Director of the General Accounting Office (GAO) shall prescribe. Allows the Director of the GAO and the Comptroller General, or any duly authorized representatives, to have access for the purpose of audit and examination of books, documents, papers, and records of such person or entity up to three years after completion of the activities of such contract or grant arrangement. Authorizes to be appropriated to the Secretary of Commerce for: climate-related programs, funds not to exceed $50,000,000 for fiscal year 1979 and $65,000,000 for fiscal year 1980; and for grants, sums not to exceed $10,000,000 for each fiscal year 1979 and 1980.

September 17 — National Climate Program Act signed into law as Public Law 95–367, 15 USC Chapter 56 (2901–8). Later amended by the 1987 Global Climate Protection Act.

1978 National Climate Program Act findings and purpose, 15 U.S.C. 2901–2

November 20 — “New Fears Surround the Shift to Coal,” Tom Alexander, Fortune 98.10 p. 50.

Summary: Recent studies indicate that the potential environmental, health,and climatological damage from the burning ofcoal could be dangerously high. The U.S. has coal in abundance, and the current shift from oil to coal is being made to ensure a secure source of energy. A worldwide commitment to heavy coal use, however, could result in irreversible changes in the world’s climate. Environmentalists are discussing the issues quietly because of the misguided air-pollution policies promoted in the past and because criticism of coal might encourage the development of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy has government-imposed constraints and is not applicable to all processes where coal is consumed. Soft technologies to harness solar and wind energy are being developed, but their contribution would be minor and could bankrupt governments. Because of the large number of known and hidden undesirable effects of coal, its use should be held to a minimum.


February 12–23 — First World Climate Conference in Geneva.

—the Charney Report. Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment: Report of an Ad Hoc Study Group on Carbon Dioxide and Climate, National Academy of Sciences

April — The Long Term Impact of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Climate, JASON (Gordon MacDonald)

May 7–11 — George M. Woodwell leads International Meeting on Remote Sensing of the Biosphere, DOE-sponsored SCOPE workshop in Woods Hole on biotic carbon cycle. Proceedings published in 1980.

July—the Woodwell Report. The Carbon Dioxide Problem: Implications for Policy in the Management of Energy and Other Resources, George M. Woodwell, Gordon J. MacDonald, Roger Revelle, C. David Keeling, Report to the Council on Environmental Quality (see August 1979, below).

“The CO2 problem is one of the most important contemporary environmental problems, is a direct product of industrialization, threatens the stability of climates worldwide and therefore the stability of all nations, and can be controlled. Steps toward control are necessary now and should be a part of the national policy in management of sources of energy.”

Excerpt from the Woodwell Report, 1979

July 17 — Gordon J. F. MacDonald gives alarming testimony on the threat of global warming at a Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs hearing on synthetic fuels.

July 30 — Senator Ribicoff, chair of Committee on Governmental Affairs, hosts “Carbon Dioxide Accumulation in the Atmosphere, Synthetic Fuels and Energy Policy-A Symposium.” Wilfrid Bach, Wally Broecker, Lester Machta, Ralph Rotty, David Slade, Joseph Smagorinsky, Stephen Schneider, Roger Revelle, George Woodwell testify.

August — The Tenth Annual Report Of The Council On Environmental Quality. Cites the Woodwell Report (July 1979, above).

“Woldwide [sic] use of all fossil fuels, including coal-based synthetic fuels, may have to be curbed if present concerns about the impact of carbon dioxide are confirmed.”

September 28—Canberra Times

October — “Carbon Dioxide and Climate,” Gregg Marland and Ralph Rotty, Institute for Energy Analysis, Reviews of Geophysics and Space Physics, v. 17 no. 7


February 9—Meeting of the American Petroleum Institute CO2 and Climate (AQ-9) Task Force in NYC, attended by representatives from Exxon, SOHIO, and Texaco. Stanford University scientist John A. Laurmann made a sobering prediction that global economic catastrophe would come from global warming by 2025–2050.