[This is my 600th post!]
So Reagan commissioned a third report [this appears to be false: see below -W] about global warming from Bill Nierenberg, who had made his name working on the Manhattan Project developing America’s atom bomb. He went on to run the Scripps Institution of Oceanography where he had built up the Climate Research Division. And he was a Jason. Nierenberg’s report was unusual in that individual chapters were written by different authors. Many of these chapters recorded mainstream scientific thinking similar to the Charney and Jason reports. But the key chapter was Nierenberg’s synthesis – which chose largely to ignore the scientific consensus.
His basic message was “calm down, everybody”. He argued that while climate change would undoubtedly pose challenges for society, this was nothing new. He highlighted the adaptability that had made humans so successful through the centuries. He argued that it would be many years before climate change became a significant problem. And he emphasised that with so much time at our disposal, there was a good chance that technological solutions would be found. “[The] knowledge we can gain in coming years should be more beneficial than a lack of action will be damaging; a programme of action without a programme for learning could be costly and ineffective. [So] our recommendations call for ‘research, monitoring, vigilance and an open mind’.”
Unfortunately, this is all I can find, and it isn’t enough. I can’t decide from that if “which chose largely to ignore the scientific consensus” is fair or not. If the report was all about the science, especially the state of the science in 1983, then it won’t hve said much about impacts or consequences. So N’s synthesis may have been entirely fair (although given that he was picked by Reagan to write the thing, he must have known what was wanted, and was probably picked in advance because he would have been sympathetic to that view).
In other words, there is no point blaming N. Someone else would have done it. The blame lies with the overall political culture of the time, which wasn’t ready for action based on the state of the science as it was then (which isn’t so unreasonable, since *we* don’t seem very ready to do anything, and the science now is far far stronger. Indeed, you could probably make a very good case that action in 1983 based on the science of the time would have been quite premature).
Unsurprisingly, the desmoggers have a different take.
Update: OK, so Eli quotes OCS to say:
Nierenberg’s principal tactic was to rely on the arguments provided by the two economists. At the first full discussion of the issues facing the committee, both Schelling and Nordhaus introduced the idea that climate change was not necessarily bad, that most likely it would have both negative and positive effects. Nordhaus wanted to evaluate costs and benefits, suggesting that although he “suspected that the impacts of increasing carbon dioxide would be negative,” they might not be, and it would be hard to prove either way, given the complexity of social and economic systems.
Weeeellll… call me a septic but that doesn’t sound terrible to me. Perhaps its all in the tone you say it. I’ve ordered the N volume via abe (thanks Hank) so will be in a better position in a week or so…
Also: Sylvia says of the N report that it “never should have made it through peer review”. I was going to ask her “Which specific bits do you think are wrong?” but her captcha stuff was so irritating and mangled my comment so often I gave up. So I’m asking here.
[Update: a comment from H: Let's not lose track of the first two reports (and the authors thereof, if any are available or have written memoirs of their participation). It would be most interesting to compare not just their content but their citations -- to see which papers were relied on throughout (or led to subsequently cited papers in the later reports); which lines of thought
held up and did not hold up; and why this somehow became history without ever becoming part of policy planning.]
[The exec summary is now available! See http://www.nicolasnierenberg.com/ for the worlds biggest pdf; or my screen capture here: e1, e2, e3, e4. Caution: I have changed but one word (I promise). You may not notice...]
More updates: Atmoz has appendix 3. Quoting him: “The date was June 30, 1980; before Reagan took office”. So Oreskes is wrong: Reagan didn’t commission the thing.