Naomi Oreskes, climate science, and the JASON group

The JASON Defense Advisory Group consists of top-notch American scientists who carry out requested research on behalf of the American government during the summer months. Past areas of research have included adaptive optics of the kind used to remove atmospheric distortions from telescope images, a system for communicating with submarines using very long radio waves, missile defence, and more.

Back in 1979, the JASONs looked into the issue of climate change – concluding that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide could double by 2035, causing an increase in the mean temperature of the oceans and atmosphere. Despite not having any climatological background, they constructed their own mathematical model to approximate the relationships between greenhouse gas emissions, atmospheric concentrations, temperature changes, sea level rise, and other phenomena. Unlike many of their other non-classified reports, “The Long Term Impact of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Climate” doesn’t seem to be readily available online. Nonetheless, some information on both the report and the JASONs is included in this Times article by Naomi Oreskes: the woman most famous for her 2004 Science article “Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” in which she demonstrated that disagreement about the fundamentals of climate change existed in the media, not within the scientific literature.

The Times article, the Science paper, and the available JASON reports all make for informative reading.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

45 thoughts on “Naomi Oreskes, climate science, and the JASON group”

  1. Mon, 03 March, 2008
    Pesky Oreskes

    We find ourselves somewhat obsessed with this one. It’s a lecture by Naomi Oreskes, professor of the history of science at the University of California, San Diego, that’s been doing the rounds for a while. It’s a polemic against US climate sceptics, who Oreskes believes are ideologically and financially motivated individuals, who have successfully impeded the dissemination of the “scientific message” about global warming.

  2. JASON reports:

    Wind Farms and Radar, JSR-08-125, January 2008

    JASON was asked by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to review the current status of the conflict between the ever-growing number of wind-turbine farms and air-security radars that are located within some tens of miles of a turbine farm.

    Reliable Replacement Warhead Executive Summary, JSR-07-336E, September 7, 2007

    NNSA asked JASON to conduct a technical review of the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), with a focus on the LLNL/Sandia design.

    Engineering Microorganisms for Energy Production, JSR-05-300, June 23, 2006

    JASON was asked by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research of the Department of Energy to assess the possibilities for using microorganisms to produce fuels as a metabolic product, in particular hydrogen or ethanol. We were asked to consider the prospects for achieving such biogenic fuel production in principle and in practice; and what the requirements and fundamental limitations are for achieving viability.

    Reducing DoD Fossil-Fuel Dependence, JSR-06-135, September 2006

    In light of an increasing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, as well as rising fuel costs for the U.S. and the DoD, and implications with regard to national security and national defense, JASON was charged in 2006 by the DDR&E to assessing pathways to reduce DoD’s dependence on fossil fuels.

    The Computational Challenges of Medical Imaging, JSR-03-300, February 2004 (2.1 MB)

    On the role and potential of computational technologies in medical imaging.

    100 LBS TO Low Earth Orbit (LEO): Small-Payload Launch Options, JSR-98-140, January 2000 (1.5 MB)

    This report examines the options for launching small payloads to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Various launch options are considered, including single and multi-stage, ground and air launched rockets, as well as the potential advantages of an intermediate air breathing boost stage.

    Data Mining and the Human Genome, JSR-99-310, January 2000 (1.6 MB)

    As genomics research moves from an era of data acquisition to one of both acquisition and interpretation, new methods are required for organizing and prioritizing the data. Powerful data mining techniques have been developed in other fields that, with appropriate modification, could be applied to the biological sciences.

    Quantum Computing, JSR-95-115, July 1996 (4.4 MB)

    An overview and assessment of the rapidly developing field of quantum computing is presented as a result of the 1996 JASON Summer Study. Interest in this field is fueled by the recent discovery by P. Shor of an efficient quantum algorithm for finding the prime factors of large numbers.

    Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Southeast Asia, March 1967

    The purpose of this study is to evaluate the military consequences of a U.S. decision to use tactical nuclear weapons in Southeast Asia, under the assumption that the war remains theater-limited and that no strategic exchange occurs.

  3. Statistical analysis of consensus

    Is there really “consensus” in the scientific community on the reality of anthropogenic climate change? As N. Oreskes points out in a recent article in Science, that is itself a question that can be addressed scientificially. Oreskes took a sampling of 928 articles on climate change, selected objectively (using the key phrase “global climate change”) from the published peer-reviewed scientific literature. Oreskes concluded that of those articles (about 75% of them) that deal with the question at all, 100% (all of them) support the consensus view that a significant fraction of recent climate change is due to human activities. Of course, there are undoubtedly some articles that have been published in the peer-reviewed literature that disagree with this position and that Oreskes’s survey missed, but the fact that her sample didn’t find them indicates that the number of them is very very small. One could debate whether overwhelming consensus is adequate grounds for action on climate change, but there are no grounds for debating whether such consensus actually exists.

  4. This is yet another attempt at misdirection. The scientific consensus that greenhouse gasses are causing climate change is extremely strong, as demonstrated by a notable joint statement from the national science academies of the G8, Brazil, China, and India.

    While I don’t have time to scrutinize the whole list, here are a few observations:

    1) Doubts have been raised about the quality of Energy & Environment as a scientific journal. 82 of the articles on your list were published there.

    2) Articles critical of the Stern Review are not necessarily critical of the basic facts of climate science.

    3) The same goes for articles that argue that increasing economic wealth is the best way to increase our adaptive capacity, as Indur M. Goklany argues. Indeed, Goklany’s article accepts that climate change will happen, but argues that we cannot precisely predict the local effects

    4) Articles like “Carbon dioxide forcing alone insufficient to explain Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum warming” are not particularly relevant. Obviously, warm periods before humanity existed were caused by other phenomena. Nobody is claiming that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are the only thing that has ever caused climate change. Rather, they argue that they are the dominant force doing so today.

    In general, I think a lot of the legitimate scientists listed here would object strongly to being included on a list of supposed climate change deniers. As for the denial professionals whose job is to keep people confused about the science of climate change, they would naturally applaud such efforts at obfuscation and misrepresentation.

  5. Joint statements are only applicable to the person signing them as no vote was ever taken by the membership bodies on the issue.

    1. Wikipedia is a worthless source as anyone can edit it.

    2. All papers are critical of man-made global warming or the environmental or economic effects of as noted.

    3. Dr. Goklany accepts climate change happening but does not endorse that it is caused by man.

    4. Historical evidence that CO2 is not a climate driver is crucial for the current debate.

    All scientists would object to be on a list associated with holocaust denial but since this is a smear of the alarmist industry and not the intentions of the list then there is no concern.

  6. Re: 1

    This non-Wikipedia page also argues that Energy & Environment was a journal specifically created to cater to climate change deniers.

    “[C]limate-change skeptics rejected by mainstream peer-reviewed scientific journals can always send their studies to Energy & Environment and his premise is supported by Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, the journal’s editor. She says that the greater the agreement between climatologists, the more suspicious she becomes of their claims that human activity is the cause of global warming.”

    That denier papers got published in a dubious journal established to publish denier papers is fundamentally unsurprising.

  7. Joint statements are only applicable to the person signing them as no vote was ever taken by the membership bodies on the issue.

    Scientific bodies don’t just issue statements willy-nilly. Their internal processes may differ, but the fact that these eleven major science bodies have all agreed to this statement suggests a very high level of scientific consensus.

  8. Energy & Environment merely allows papers that are turned down by other journals to be submitted for their peer-review process.

    Energy & Environment is a peer-reviewed interdisciplinary academic journal (ISSN: 0958-305X)
    – Indexed in Compendex, EBSCO, Environment Abstracts, Google Scholar, Ingenta, JournalSeek and SCOPUS

    Your obsession with the word “denier” shows your hysterical nature.

    Please provide me with the membership vote of any of those scientific organizations endorsing a statement released by a dozen council members. None exists because there is no evidence the membership body of any of those organizations support those statements.

  9. Historical evidence that CO2 is not a climate driver is crucial for the current debate.

    The fact that there are other drivers (such as changes in continental and orbital configurations) doesn’t mean CO2 isn’t also capable of altering the planet’s climate. Indeed, the mechanism through which it does so is well understood.

    All energy available on Earth (with the singular exception of the energy in heavy fissionable elements) derives from the sun. The balance between the amount of energy entering the Earth system from space and the amount of energy re-radiating into space determines how much energy remains on the planet. That balance is in turn affected by the composition of the atmosphere – specifically by the concentrations of ‘greenhouse gasses.’ These gasses absorb the long wave radiation emitted by all bodies in the universe. After absorbing some of the energy the Earth is radiating towards space, they redirect some back towards the planet. Naturally occurring greenhouse gasses have been playing this role for as long as the planet has been habitable. At the same time, the introduction of large volumes of additional greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere causes additional warming, with a variety of consequences for the physical and biological systems at work on the planet. Knowledge about the nature of greenhouse gasses has existed since John Tyndall published the results of his experiments in 1859; the first calculations of what effect human greenhouse gas emissions would have on the planetary system were conducted by Svante Arrhenius in 1896.

    Some gasses are much more effective at stopping outgoing radiation than others, making each tonne of gas contribute more to the greenhouse effect across a particular timespan. The strength of greenhouse gasses is measured relative to the strength of carbon dioxide. Methane is 25 times more powerful, across a 100 year time period. Nitrous oxide is 298 times more powerful, while halocarbons are thousands to tens of thousands of times more powerful.

  10. Yes this is all nice except that there is no evidence of CO2 ever being a climate driver. All the hysterical claims of doomsday are not based on the physics of CO2 stopping outgoing radiation but nonsensical computer modeled “forcings”. Because the physics are not very exciting and show no remote evidence of any sort of catastrophy

  11. Does it embarass you to hold opinions based on science that is more than 100 years out of date?

  12. 11 November 09
    Another Silly Climate Petition Exposed

    “The American Physical Society (APS) was petitioned by 206 people, about 0.45% of the 47,000 members, to discard its climate change position and declare decades of climate research non-existent. The Petition was “overwhelmingly” rejected, but this anti-science campaign offers a useful case study. The Petition signers‟ demographics are compared to those of APS in general.

    Then, the social network behind the petition is analyzed in detail, person by person for the first 121 signers. This might seem a grassroots groundswell of informed expert argument with the existing position, but it is not.

    Rather, it seems to have originated within a small network of people, not field experts, but with a long history of manufacturing such things, plausibly at the Heartland Institute‘s NYC climate conference March 8-10, 2009. APS physicists can, do, and will contribute strongly to solving the 21st century‟s conjoined climate+energy problem, but this petition was a silly distraction, and rightly rejected. However, its existence was widely touted to the public.”

  13. Desmogblog, another alarmist shill site.

    $$$ Funded by James Hogan (James Hoggan & Associates) and John Lefebvre (Former President of Netseller Group)

    Who is James Hoggan? (Financial Post, Canada)

    “So who is James Hoggan? He’s a public relations man, based in Vancouver. His firm, James Hoggan and Associates, is positioned as a feel-good local operation with clients in all the “right” public and private sectors. He also sits on the board of the David Suzuki Foundation.

    One of his side efforts is a blog operated out of Hoggan and Associates. Funded by retired Internet bubble king John Lefebvre, the blog has one full-time and three part-time staff. They spend their time tracking down and maliciously attacking all who have doubts about climate change and painting them as corporate pawns.

    There has been no mention on the blog, nor on The Fifth Estate, of James Hoggan’s client list. They include or have included the National Hydrogen Association, Fuel Cells Canada, hydrogen producer QuestAir, Naikun Wind Energy and Ballard Fuel Cells. Mr. Hoggan, in other words, benefits from regulatory policy based on climate change science.

    But it is as a climate commentator that Mr. Hoggan gets carried away. On The Denial Machine, Mr. Hoggan is allowed to go on at some length about how climate skeptics are not true scientists, are not qualified, or have no expertise.

    That takes some gall. Here’s a totally unqualified small-town PR guy making disparaging comments about scientists he says are unqualified while he lectures the rest of us on the science. “If you look in the scientific literature, there is no debate,” he tells Mr. McKeown. It doesn’t seem to bother Mr. McKeown that Mr. Hoggan has no expertise. It is also a little rich to have a member of the Suzuki Foundation board pronounce other scientists unfit and unqualified for climate assessments, while geneticist David Suzuki roams the world issuing barrages of climate change warnings at every opportunity.”

  14. This is an unjustified smear. The fact that the man isn’t a climate change scientist doesn’t make him unqualified to research the campaign of misinformation about climate that has already been well-documented by others. For instance, see books by Weaver (a climate scientist) and Monbiot (another journalist.

    The infamous Luntz memo is one piece of evidence for the massive disinformation campaign that status quo actors have launched, in order to try to delay meaningful action on climate change.

    Yes this is all nice except that there is no evidence of CO2 ever being a climate driver.

    Not only is this blatantly false, but the fact that CO2 absorbs long-wave radiation has been known since 1859, as described above. This is not a fact that is disputed among chemists or physicists.

  15. 450 more lies from the climate change Deniers

    A week ago this “450 Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skepticism of “Man-Made” Global Warming” appeared and I figured it was just a matter of days before it started making the rounds of the climate change Denialosphere. Sure enough it has turned up at Wattsupmybutt so I guess it’s time to state the obvious, that it’s utter nonsense.

  16. Greefyre is a liar,

    They all support skepticism of “man-made” global warming or the environmental or economic effects of. Comments, Corrections, Erratum, Replies, Responses and Submitted papers are not included in the peer-reviewed paper count.

    Energy & Environment is a peer-reviewed interdisciplinary academic journal (ISSN: 0958-305X)
    – Indexed in Compendex, EBSCO, Environment Abstracts, Google Scholar, Ingenta, JournalSeek and SCOPUS

    His “refutations” are links to blogs, realclimate wiki and youtube, which is laughably bad. Any disputes with the papers would be published in the peer-reviewed literature, he failed to provide this and if he gets around to it he will fail to include the replies from the original authors defending their papers.

  17. The basic idea behind Energy & Environment is profoundly dubious.

    It is akin to a group of creationist biologists who get frustrated that peer-reviewed journals won’t accept their papers about god’s face in butterfly wings, so they decide to create their own journal specifically to publish these sorts of papers.

    A journal that is based on this strategy has no credibility, whether is is about creationism, climate change denial, or magical fairies.

  18. No unfortunately for you this has nothing to do with creationism (I support evolution theory).

    Energy and Environment is a reputable journal that alarmists wish did not exist, which is why they feel the need to try and smear it.

    The reality is you will not find published comments on most of these papers.

  19. The issue isn’t creationism; the issue is using a journal specifically established to publish one kind of paper as evidence that their viewpoint is correct. That simply isn’t sound.

    If people aren’t writing responses to these papers, it is because they recognize them to be on the outside of the serious scientific and policy debate about climate change.

  20. also isn’t a website that inspires a great deal of confidence: a grab bag of campaigns for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, declaring marijuana a “very dangerous drug that has been propagandized as ‘safe’ by weak minded idiots,” opposing nationalized health care, and debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories.

    Do you really find it surprising that climate scientists aren’t spending their time refuting your claims in peer-reviewed journals?

  21. No the journal merely accepts papers that you would consider “skeptical” to undergo their peer-review process. They publish other viewpoints.

    My website has absolutely nothing to do with the publications of these papers or the lack of published criticism of them. But you forget it is not just the E&E papers which do not have criticism it is most of the other papers that appear in the rest of the journals.

  22. Greenfyre’s post includes links to a number of refutations, as well as explanations about why some of the papers on the list are based on straw man arguments or outright lies, or not germane to the question of whether human GHG emissions are causing dangerous climate change.

    The scientific debate about the key facts on climate change is over. We know atmospheric GHG concentrations are rising because of human activities, we know this is causing warming, and we have good reason to be concerned about the effects this will have on human and natural systems.

    Those who haven’t accepted this are quite simply in the wrong.

  23. Those “refutations” are blog posts and youtube videos. That is not how the scientific debate works. If there is a problem with a paper then you get your comment published. The reason this is not happening is because they know that the scientific process of peer-review allows a defense to be published by the author.

    The only one lying is Greenfyre. A blog post does not “refute” something, the existence of a “refutation” does not invalidate a paper.

    You bet your ass every single paper supports skepticism of dangerous climate change.

    You can pretend the debate is over but anyone with an ounce of logic will think otherwise.

  24. Drawing up dubious lists is a recognized denier/delayer tactic. It doesn’t matter whether the arguments in the papers are incorrect, whether authors are being quoted out of context, whether the hypotheses of the various papers contradict one another (there is no warming / it is caused by the sun / it is caused by cosmic rays / etc), etc. All that matters is producing the illusion that a scientific debate still exists about the role of human GHG emissions in causing dangerous climate change.

    It is classic Frank Luntz stuff, and not worth responding to any more than has already been done. If you want to keep arguing that CO2 doesn’t cause warming, you are welcome to do so here.

  25. There is nothing dubious about the list, it is an extensive refutation of “no peer-reviewed papers exist supporting skepticism of AGW”.

    There is no illusion, there is a debate and it is not over.

  26. Poptart’s 450 climate change Denier lies
    November 18, 2009 by greenfyre

    The other day I posted “450 more lies from the climate change Deniers” and the response has been interesting.

    This has given fodder for sharing some more examples and reasons why the list is total nonsense.

    By sampling approximately one third of the references from “450 320 299 286 Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skepticism of “Man-Made” Global Warming” I showed that, of the references I looked at, all were:

    * not peer reviewed, and/or
    * known to be false, and/or
    * irrelevant, and/or
    * Out of date (no longer relevant), and/or
    * not supportive of climate change Denial

  27. Harold Brooks says:
    17 November 2009 at 11:12 PM

    Re: The 450 papers list
    I just noticed I’m the lead author on one of the papers on the list. I have absolutely no idea how that paper could be construed as “skeptical of man-made global warming.” I have no idea how it could be construed as saying anything at all about man-made global warming.

  28. You bet your ass every single paper supports skepticism of dangerous climate change.

    Forgive the crude reply, but it would appear that you are the one getting spanked.

  29. In your dreams, pretending to remove papers from a list for no reason other then to lie about does not work in reality.

    Maybe Mr. Brooke needs to read the disclaimer? As it supports skepticism of the environmental effects.

    “Using wealth and inflation adjustment, it seems clear
    that the most damaging tornado in U.S. history was the
    1896 Saint Louis–East Saint Louis tornado, which produced damage equivalent to $2.9 billion in modern

    Amazing before SUVs!

    And the nail in the coffin,

    “We find nothing to suggest that damage from individual
    tornadoes has increased through time”

  30. This is just silly: “There was an expensive tornado in 1896, therefore there is no anthropogenic climate change!”

    Nobody is claiming that only climate change causes expensive extreme weather events, and nobody is claiming that tornado data is a key piece of evidence for or against the existence of anthropogenic climate change.

    Your arguments are increasingly facile and your claims are increasingly discredited. It’s probably about time to start ignoring you.

  31. The IPCC says that climate change will cause more fires in Europe: “Climate change is also projected to increase the health risks due to heat waves and the frequency of wildfires.” (p. 50)

    BUT, much of London burned down in 1666 – nearly 100 years BEFORE the Industrial Revolution! LONG before SUVs became popular!

    Clearly, this proves that the IPCC is wrong about climate change.

  32. Aging Nuclear Stockpile Good For Decades To Come

    The NY Times reports that the Jason panel, an independent group of scientists advising the federal government on issues of science and technology, has concluded that the program to refurbish aging nuclear arms is sufficient to guarantee their destructiveness for decades to come, obviating a need for a costly new generation of more reliable warheads, as proposed by former President Bush. Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona and other Republicans have argued that concerns are growing over the reliability of the US’s aging nuclear stockpile, and that the possible need for new designs means the nation should retain the right to conduct underground tests of new nuclear weapons. The existing warheads were originally designed for relatively short lifetimes and frequent replacement with better models, but such modernization ended after the US quit testing nuclear arms in 1992. All weapons that remain in the arsenal must now undergo a refurbishment process, known as life extension. The Jason panel found no evidence that the accumulated changes from aging and refurbishment posed any threat to weapon destructiveness, and that the ‘lifetimes of today’s nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss of confidence.’ But the panel added that federal indifference could undermine the nuclear refurbishment program (as this report from last May illustrates). Quoting the report (PDF): ‘The study team is concerned that this expertise is threatened by lack of program stability, perceived lack of mission importance and degradation of the work environment.'”

  33. Actually, the IPCC makes no call about trends in tornadoes:
    “Observational evidence for changes in small-scale severe weather phenomena (such as tornadoes, hail and thunderstorms) is mostly local and too scattered to draw general conclusions” (IPCC AR4 WG1 FAQ 3.3). They are not currently included in AOGCMs, being too small scale and so there are also no predictions about their likely future behaviour.

    So the paper is doubly irrelevant.

  34. “By the way, E&E is not a science journal and has published IPCC critiques to give a platform critical voices and ‘paradigms’ because of the enormous implications for energy policy, the energy industries and their employees and investors, and for research. ”

    Sonja A Boehmer-Christiansen, editor of E&E, 3 September, 2009.

  35. The journal’s editor, Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, a reader in geography at the University of Hull, in England, says she sometimes publishes scientific papers challenging the view that global warming is a problem, because that position is often stifled in other outlets. “I’m following my political agenda — a bit, anyway,” she says. “But isn’t that the right of the editor?”
    – Richard Monastersky in the Chronicle of Higher Education (3 Sep 2003).

  36. Guardian
    25th February 2011
    Real Climate faces libel suit

    “I’m not ashamed to say that I deliberately encourage the publication of papers that are sceptical of climate change,” said Boehmer-Christiansen
    “I would personally not credit any article that was published there with any useful contribution to the science,” [Schmidt] told the Guardian. “Saying a paper was published in E&E has become akin to immediately discrediting it.” He also describes the journal as a “backwater” of poorly presented and incoherent contributions that “anyone who has done any science can see are fundamentally flawed from the get-go.”

    As an example, Schmidt points to an E&E paper that claimed that the Sun is made of iron. “The editor sent it out for review, where it got trashed (as it should have been), and [Boehmer-Christiansen] published it anyway,” he says.

    The journal also published a much-maligned analysis suggesting that levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide could go up and down by 100 parts per million in a year or two, prompting marine biologist Ralph Keeling at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, California to write a response to the journal, in which he asked: “Is it really the intent of E&E to provide a forum for laundering pseudo-science?”

    Schmidt and Keeling are not alone in their criticisms. Roger Pielke Jr, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, said he regrets publishing a paper in the journal in 2000 – one year after it was established and before he had time to realise that it was about to become a fringe platform for climate sceptics. “[E&E] has published a number of low-quality papers, and the editor’s political agenda has clearly undermined the legitimacy of the outlet,” Pielke says. “If I had a time machine I’d go back and submit our paper elsewhere.”

  37. Agle pointed to an article about a prominent geophysicist named Gordon MacDonald, who was conducting a study on climate change with the Jasons, the mysterious coterie of elite scientists to which he belonged. Pomerance hadn’t heard of MacDonald, but he knew all about the Jasons. They were like one of those teams of superheroes with complementary powers that join forces in times of galactic crisis. They had been brought together by federal agencies, including the C.I.A, to devise scientific solutions to national-security problems: how to detect an incoming missile; how to predict fallout from a nuclear bomb; how to develop unconventional weapons, like plague-infested rats. The Jasons’ activities had been a secret until the publication of the Pentagon Papers, which exposed their plan to festoon the Ho Chi Minh Trail with motion sensors that signaled to bombers. After the furor that followed — protesters set MacDonald’s garage on fire — the Jasons began to use their powers for peace instead of war.

    There was an urgent problem that demanded their attention, MacDonald believed, because human civilization faced an existential crisis. In “How to Wreck the Environment,” a 1968 essay published while he was a science adviser to Lyndon Johnson, MacDonald predicted a near future in which “nuclear weapons were effectively banned and the weapons of mass destruction were those of environmental catastrophe.” One of the most potentially devastating such weapons, he believed, was the gas that we exhaled with every breath: carbon dioxide. By vastly increasing carbon emissions, the world’s most advanced militaries could alter weather patterns and wreak famine, drought and economic collapse.

  38. “After nearly a decade of observation, Revelle had shared his concerns with Lyndon Johnson, who included them in a special message to Congress two weeks after his inauguration. Johnson explained that his generation had “altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale” through the burning of fossil fuels, and his administration commissioned a study of the subject by his Science Advisory Committee. Revelle was its chairman, and its 1965 executive report on carbon dioxide warned of the rapid melting of Antarctica, rising seas, increased acidity of fresh waters — changes that would require no less than a coordinated global effort to forestall.

    In 1974, the C.I.A. issued a classified report on the carbon-dioxide problem. It concluded that climate change had begun around 1960 and had “already caused major economic problems throughout the world.” The future economic and political impacts would be “almost beyond comprehension.” Yet emissions continued to rise, and at this rate, MacDonald warned, they could see a snowless New England, the swamping of major coastal cities, as much as a 40 percent decline in national wheat production, the forced migration of about one-quarter of the world’s population. Not within centuries — within their own lifetimes.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *