(3BL Media/Justmeans) - I recently read Driving the Future, the new book by Margo T. Oge, former director of EPA’s Office of Air Quality and Transportation. It’s the story of the evolving effort within the EPA to get the government to take action on climate change, which it finally did, after years of delay ,with the passage of two separate rounds of fuel economy standards, first in 2009, then a second in 2012. Not only was this the first U.S. government action taken on this issue, it was also surprisingly effective. This single stroke of the pen in 2012, will cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks in half by 2025, possibly making it the largest single action taken to date in the effort to reduce emissions.
The book opens with the history of climate change science, going back to the work of Karl Friedrich Schimper in the 1830’s, who along with Louis Agassiz, recognized the existence of glaciers and ice ages. From there, the narratuve layers on the evidence, describing the work of John Tyndall and Svante Arrhenius, who both demonstrated the heat trapping ability of certain atmospheric gases. It was Arrhenius who recognized that without carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the entire planet would remain perpetually frozen.
Work in the US began in 1946 with Roger Revelle who worked with the Navy, studying various phenomena in the Pacific Ocean after the war. This led to an understanding of how the ocean absorbs carbon and how the sun’s rays pass through the atmosphere. Describing the impact of his findings, Revelle testified before a Congressional committee in 1957, calling the use of fossil fuels, “a grandiose scientific experiment,” which could potentially lead to dramatic and erratic shifts in the Earth’s climate in the next century. This was in 1957. It was Revelle who, in 1965, as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee, caught the attention of a Harvard undergraduate name Al Gore, inspiring him to look further into the topic. Scientists meanwhile, continued to study the issue, refining their understanding.
By 1977, NY Times science writer Walter Sullivan had the subject on the Times’ front page with a story entitled, “Scientists Fear Heavy Use of Coal May Bring Adverse Shift in Climate.” The story goes on from here and you’ve probably heard the rest. Yet here we are, almost 40 years later with over half the Republicans in Congress, acting like this is some new, controversial theory that hasn’t had time to be fully investigated.