50 Years: John Holdren on Climate Science History

November 6, 2015

This week the AAAS sponsored an event commemorating 50 years since administration science advisors first warned President Lyndon Johnson about the potential for greenhouse gases to affect climate. (1965)

Above, I recorded a portion of John Holdren’s excellent historical summary of climate science milestones over the succeeding years. This clip relates to the findings of the National Academy of Science’s 1979 report on the issue, chaired by Jules Charney of MIT,  – the “Charney report” is often cited as the first, most credible identification of the canonical “climate sensitivity” – 3° C plus or minus 1.5°C warming for a doubling of atmospheric CO2 – a figure not substantially different from most current estimates and observations, and significantly, identical with estimates made within oil giant Exxon.
The speech as a whole is so valuable that I hope to record the rest of it today and listen as a great review.

Daily Climate:

It is a key moment in climate change history that few remember: This week marks the 50th anniversary of the first presidential mention of the environmental risk of carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson, in a February 8, 1965 special message to Congress warned about build-up of the invisible air pollutant that scientists recognize today as the primary contributor to global warming.

“Air pollution is no longer confined to isolated places,” said Johnson less than three weeks after his 1965 inauguration. “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”

The science on carbon dioxide as known at the time, including forecasts of warming and sea level rise, was detailed in a chapter of a report on environmental pollution issued later that year by the president’s Science Advisory Committee. Pioneering climate scientist Roger Revelle chaired the sub-committee that wrote the chapter in the November 1965 report. While citing a need for better calculations with “large computers,” Revelle’s panel delivered a forecast on growing atmospheric carbon that proved on-target.

Coal, oil, and natural gas burning would lift atmospheric carbon dioxide between 14 percent and 30 percent by the year 2000, the panel estimated. In fact, CO2 increased 15.5 percent by 2000, and is 25 percent higher today than in 1965.

“Man is unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical experiment,” the report said, echoing language Revelle first had used in a 1957 scientific paper when he was at the University of California, San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “Within a few generations, he is burning the fossil fuels that accumulated in the earth over the past 500 million years.”

Ken Caldeira, atmospheric scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Global Ecology, said the exchanges between scientists and the White House 50 years ago have significance for climate discussions today.

“To the best of my knowledge, 1965 was the first time that a U.S. President was ever officially warned of environmental risks from the accumulation of fossil-fuel carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Caldeira said in an email. “This year will mark a half-century of Presidential knowledge of the risks of climate change. I wish I could say that there has been a half-century of concerted efforts to reduce these risks.

“The science of climate and the carbon-cycle that was reported to President Johnson in 1965 largely holds up today, demonstrating that climate science is a mature science,” Caldeira added. “Climate scientists are still arguing about the details, but knowledgeable people have agreed about the fundamentals for a long time.”

Cue to Johnson’s thinking

The only surviving member of the sub-panel, Wallace Broecker, geology professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said by telephone he does not recall work on it, though he might have been asked to review the chapter by Revelle, then at Harvard, and the other panel members, who were at Scripps.

As a young Columbia faculty member in 1965, Broecker had already begun what would be his seminal work on ocean chemistry and the carbon cycle; the chapter includes an appendix of detailed calculations on that subject.

Below, Wallace Broeker in a 1988 BBC interview on CO2 and oceans.

Broeker wrote a famous piece for Science in 1975, asking “Are We on the Brind of a Pronounced Global Warming?”, just before global temperatures took off in the surge that continues today.

broeker2

4 Responses to “50 Years: John Holdren on Climate Science History”


  1. […] tip to Peter Sinclair who let us all know about this symposium on his […]


  2. Oh, yeh. THAT John Holdren: “The Curious History of ‘Global Climate Disruption'” http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2010/10/the_curious_history_of_global.html

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Our resident lying POS denier Russell Cook chimes in with a link to a five year old article from American Stinky Thinker that Russell himself wrote. Remember that Russell has admitted that he knows no science, and therefore has no standing to be commenting on “climate disruption” in any forum. AST, WUWT, Heartland, and other denier sites rely on know-nothings like Russell to keep the BS flowing.

      The cited article is full of Russell’s usual deluded horseshit, and even attempts to defend the Oregon Petition, one of the most debunked of all the denier games. Read it if you must, but be aware that you may suffer permanent brain damage if you spend too long there.

      All should note that Russell again thumbs his nose here at Peter Sinclair by hacking WordPress and awarding himself two thumbs up for his comment—he has in the past said that one of these “two thumbs up” is from Peter, and has never apologized to Peter for that lie.


  3. […] posted a short clip from this talk by John Holdren the other day.  This was presented as part of a AAAS symposium marking 50 years since President Lyndon […]


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