A Long Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far Far Away…

I saw this at Greg Laden’s blog and felt strongly enough about it to put it up again here.

While I grew up hating Richard Nixon, and still deplore the man and his ways, there is no getting around the fact that he would be considered just fractionally to the right of Dennis Kucinich by today’s Republican Party. His establishment of the EPA in 1970 (although his vision of the Agency was of course one of corporate enablement) has made a substantial amount of difference to our national environmental policies over the ensuing decades.

In 1969, Daniel Patrick Moynihan sent John Erlichman the memo reproduced below. You can get the PDF file from the Nixon Library.

In an alternate history, Tricky Dick wasn’t so paranoid about the commies and hippies that he had to resort to dirty tricks. So Watergate never happened…and we were able to head off our looming climate disaster before it gained traction.


The multiverse theory is attractive because it suggests that somewhere, somehow, there’s a place where we aren’t burning up the ship we’re sailing in.

Anyway, here’s Moynihan to Erlichman. Read it and weep:



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