Anthropogenic global warming has been suspected for decades, and a simple one paragraph long characterization of the problem 40 years ago was substantially identical to any accurate characterization we might make today. One has to wonder why after 40 years of time we still see headlines telling us that it might, after all, turn out to be true that anthropogenic global warming is real. Indeed, it is a bit disconcerting when the inestimable climate blog RealClimate notes that this is the 35th “Anniversary of Global Warming” as a term in the peer reviewed scientific literature (though I suspect it is older). (See RealClimate’s post on the anniversary for very important details!)
The phenomenon of anthropogenic global warming as a point of policy discussion is older than 35 years. Below is a memo from one White House staffer to another both to eventually become quite famous in their own ways, regarding the “carbon dioxide problem.” You will find a link to a copy of the original, and some context notes for you youn’uns who may not remember the mid 20trh century. Below the fold.
Memo from Daniel P. Moyihan to John Ehrlichman regarding the “Carbon Dioxide Problem,” September 17, 1969.
From the Nixon Library, the PDF is available here. The following is a transcript of the body of the memo flanked by screen shots of the top and bottom portions. Thanks to Lee Witt for sending me a copy of this memo on the chance it would be of interest.
FOR JOHN EHRLICHMAN
As with so many of the more interesting environmental questions, we really don't have a very satisfactory measurement of the carbon dioxide problem. On the other hand, this very clearly is a problem, and, perhaps most particularly, is one that can seize the imagination of persons normally indifferent to projects of apocalyptic change.
The process is a simple one. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has the effect of a pane of glass in a greenhouse. The CO2 content is normally in a stable cycle, but recently man has begun to introduce instability through the burning of fossil fuels. At the turn of the century several persons raised the question whether this would change the temperature of the atmosphere. Over the years the hypothesis has been refined, and more evidence has come along to support it. it is now pretty clearly agreed that the CO2 content will rise 25% by 2000. this could increase the average temperature near the earth's surface by 7 degrees Fahrenheit. This in turn could raise the level of the sea by 10 feet. Good bye New York. Goodbye Washington, for that matter. We have no data on Seattle.
It is entirely possible that there will be countervailing effects. For example, an increase of dust in the atmosphere would tend to lower temperatures, and might offset the CO2 effect. Similarly, it is possible to conceive fairly mammoth man-made efforts to countervail the CO2. (E.g., stop burning fossil fuels.)
In any event, I would think this is a subject that the Administration ought to get involved wit. It is a natural for NATO. Perhaps the first order of business is to begin a worldwide monitoring system. At present, I believe only the United States is doing any serious monitoring, and we have only one or two stations.
Hugh Heffner knows a great deal about this, as does also the estimable Bob White, head of the U.S. Weather Bureau. (Teddy White's brother.)
Then Environmental Pollution Panel of the President's Science Advisory Committee reported at length on the subject in 1965. I attach their conclusions.
Daniel P. Moynihan
In September 1969 Moynihan (later to be US Senator from New York) was on Nixon’s White House staff and Councilor to the President for Urban Affairs. NATO was being asked at that time to create a civil hub of research regarding various issues including environmental topics. Wikipedia gives this reference: Die Frühgeschichte der globalen Umweltkrise und die Formierung der deutschen Umweltpolitik(1950-1973) (Early history of the environmental crisis and the setup of German environmental policy 1950-1973), Kai F. Hünemörder, Franz Steiner Verlag, 2004 ISBN 3515081887 as indicating that this initiative involved global warming issues.
Ehrlichman was council and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs and, unlike Moynihan, was part of Nixon’s’ inner circle. He spent a year and a half in prison on charges related to Watergate.
The Hugh Heffner referred to here is not Hugh Marston Hefner of the Playboy Empire.