September 27, 2019

Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

*This piece was originally published on March 26th, 2019

Just about 40 years ago, a secret group of elite scientists, known as the Jasons, sounded the death knell for climate change. They had consulted a computer model that predicted the destabilizing effects of a warming earth - from droughts, to rising sea levels, to geopolitical conflicts. Their warnings reached the ears of politicians, and, ultimately, during his 1988 presidential campaign, George H. W. Bush pledged to solve the problem. But then the story shifted, and climate change was not addressed. Nathaniel Rich, a writer at large for the New York Times and author of Losing Earth: A Recent History, walks us through what happened, and explains how a non-partisan issue became deeply split along party lines.  

Three Takeaways:

  • President Jimmy Carter, known to be an environmentalist, was one of the first few presidents who understood the seriousness of climate change. He installed solar panels on the roof of the White House - which were ceremoniously removed by his successor Ronald Reagan. 
  • After President George H. W. Bush promised to end global warming, a dog fight broke out amongst those close to him. John H. Sununu, Bush’s Chief of Staff, was skeptical of climate science and argued that the narrative around it was overblown. Sununu later convinced others within the Republican party that the science was shaky.
  • Despite early setbacks, Nathaniel Rich says that the moment we’re currently living in shows tremendous promise when it comes to dealing with climate change. While earlier arguments appealed to science and rationality, current movements around climate change, led mostly by young folks, emphasize moral claims of decency and justice.  

More Reading:

  • Read Nathaniel Rich’s NYT’ magazine piece, “Losing Earth” here
  • If you want to know more about John H. Sununu, who shaped the debate on climate change, check out this report from New Hampshire Public Radio. 
  • More than 80% of parents in the U.S. think climate change should be taught in schools, and 86% of teachers agree. Meanwhile, students are taking to the streets, unafraid to press the government for climate-friendly policies.
  • Where did Jimmy Carter’s solar panels go after Ronald Reagan took them down? Well one of them resides in a museum in China.

climate change, Green, environment, Nathaniel Rich

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