Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

The good old days, when the GOP respected science ...


I'm not by nature a nostalgic person, in large part because "the good old days" often weren't that great. But I do confess to getting a bit wistful for those days of yore when the Republican Party was open to the findings of science, concerned about our responsibility to the future and determined that the United States would lead the way in addressing issues such as climate change.

And yes, children, such a time really did exist, as documented in memos released this week through the Freedom of Information Act that date back to the early days of the first Bush administration.

For example, one 1989 internal memo published by The Washington Post, noted that then-Secretary of State James Baker "has already signaled strong U.S. support for the (UN's) recently organized IPCC process, including developing policy options for limiting emissions or adapting to climate change."

"While it is clear that we need to know more about climate change, prudence dictates that we also begin to weigh impacts and possible responses. We simply cannot wait -- the costs of inaction will be too high," the memo warns. ".... the president is committed to U.S. leadership in addressing global warming.... we probably cannot afford to wait until all the uncertainties have been resolved."

That was more than 25 years ago, and it is impossible to imagine such a document being produced under a President Rubio, Cruz or Trump.

The memo went on to propose various steps for addressing global warming, including energy efficiency, greater use of nuclear power and pushing the World Bank to consider climate change impacts in its development projects. It also urged that the topic be addressed at an international economic summit scheduled later that year in Paris.

A second Bush memo released this week calls climate change "the most far-reaching environmental issue of our times," warning that "unless the United States is willing to reduce its own emissions, curb its own waste flows and improve the energy efficiency of its own economy, we will not be able to persuade other countries to do so."

And according to a third Bush memo, "if climate change within the range of current predictions (1.5 to 4.5 degrees centigrade by the middle of the next century) actually occurs, the consequences for every nation and every aspect of human activity will be profound."

In the quarter century since those memos were written, the climate has indeed continued to warm. The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998. Fourteen of the 15 warmest years on record have occurred this century. The last time we set an annual global record for cold was 1911. Last year, 2014, was the warmest on record, with every expectation that the record will be shattered in 2015.

And here's what NOAA tells us about October of 2015, the most recent for which we have complete data:

"The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for October 2015 was the highest for October in the 136-year period of record, at 0.98°C (1.76°F) above the 20th century average of 14.0°C (57.1°F). This marked the sixth consecutive month a monthly global temperature record has been broken and was also the greatest departure from average for any month in the 1,630 months of recordkeeping, surpassing the previous record high departure set just last month by 0.13°F (0.07°C). The October temperature is currently increasing at an average rate of 0.06°C (0.11°F) per decade."

It's also important to point out how we happen to know all that. Back in 1978, a bipartisan group of House members sponsored legislation creating a "national climate program that will assist the nation and the world to understand and respond to natural and man-induced climate processes and their implications." Again, that was 1978, approaching 40 years ago. Back then, members of Congress from both parties recognized it as an issue demanding exploration and they actually wanted to know the truth, rather than be told only those things that bolster their ideology.

So yes, I do miss those days, just as I miss springs that began in March, not the middle of February, and summer nights that cooled into the low 70s. But I guess none of those things will ever be coming back.

 


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.