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


The Corporatocracy cannot save itself or us.

It really looks as if the only way we can save a recognizable planet is to create an unrecognizable economy:

…the problem of climate change legislation is economic as well as being political. We will discover a world order governed by an ideology called neoliberalism, in which a great surplus of capital, evident in the 1970s but having grown each decade since then, makes government into neoliberal government, government as a conduit for investor profits.

Neoliberal government, government under the conditions of dollar hegemony, global governance, the WTO, and so on, as have been increasingly applicable since the 1970s, is responsible mainly to the global neoliberal economy. If they hope to attract any business in their countries, governments around the world must provide an “appropriate business climate,” which in practical terms means they must cater to the profits system, the system which has produced 793 billionaires for our globe amidst a bottom half of humanity which lives off of less than $2.50/day. Thus the dramatic privatizations which have taken place over the last three decades around the world.


If we are to grant the human race the freedom to think about devoting lifetimes to stewardship of Earth’s ecosystems, we will have to grant the human race a prior freedom FROM economic need. This means a rededication to the problems of food, clothing, and shelter, the problems of FUNDAMENTAL economic need (you know, nobody really needs a Mercedes) in light of the great initial retrenchment in resources which will go along with an international agreement to phase out the production of fossil fuels.

If we can’t agree upon an economy which provides everyone with the fundamentals, an economy of basic human rights, then what we’re likely to get are a bunch of last-minute, slapdash measures, committed in the expected panic of massive weather disruption and failing annual crops, which will hurt an awful lot of people. Imagine a carbon tax so onerous as to make air conditioning unaffordable in 110 degree (Fahrenheit) heat, or water restrictions which make it unaffordable for people to grow their own food under conditions of skyrocketing food prices. (Remember, most of the continental American west will be altered by the melting of the icepack atop the Sierras and Rockies, with the consequent drying up of water resources for Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and so on.)

There’s not much “on the other hand” that anyone can point to. But I think that an economy which reflected economic justice to the peoples of this world would probably rely a whole lot more on barter, and would be profoundly local. Right now, those of us who “own” our houses probably send those mortgage payments to corporate offices in some other state; our bills are paid by and to banks in Delaware or South Dakota or some other damn place; our salad greens come from California, our tasty Clementines from Spain.

If survival of the species depends on reinventing our economic systems, creating a way to live that’s better than what we’ve already tried…can we do it?