Thirty Years Squandered Since Congressional Hearing on Climate Change

Going Nowhere Fast on Climate, Year After Year contains a high-level summary of the last thirty years of climate change discovery, policy, coordinated denial, and recent rollbacks by the climate change deniers in the Executive Branch. It’s worth reading through the entire piece. Here is a selection of some of the points:


More than 1,500 scientists from 63 countries, including 110 Nobel Prize winners, issue a call to action: “A broad consensus among the world’s climatologists is that there is now a discernible human influence on global climate” that represents “one of the most serious threats to the planet and to future generations.”


In the presidential campaign, George W. Bush, the Republican nominee, promises to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, while Al Gore, the Democratic candidate, calls for aggressive climate policies but does not make climate change a major campaign issue and mentions it only once in the debates.


Under strong pressure from conservative Republicans and industry groups, President Bush says his administration will not seek to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants, reversing a campaign pledge.


The Senate votes 55 to 43 against a bill sponsored by Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, and Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat from Connecticut, to limit carbon dioxide emissions by creating a market-driven “cap and trade” program. Only four Republicans vote yes.

The Republican campaign adviser Frank Luntz writes a memo to party officials noting: “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue.”


Climate scientists across the globe overwhelming agree that evidence of climate change is clear and persuasive, according to a detailed analysis in Science Magazine by the science historian Naomi Oreskes. As she puts it: “Many details about climate interactions are not well understood, and there are ample grounds for continued research to provide a better basis for understanding climate dynamics. The question of what to do about climate change is also still open. But there is a scientific consensus on the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Climate scientists have repeatedly tried to make this clear. It is time for the rest of us to listen.”


The House of Representatives passes a cap-and-trade bill that would require cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. Only eight Republicans vote yes. The bill never receives a vote in the Senate, even though Democrats control 57 seats and two independents caucus with them.

Perhaps the Democrats were not as sincere about addressing the problem as they were in appearing to want to address the problem.

The American Petroleum Institute, funded by major oil companies, helps organize and pay for the first Tea Party rallies, including protests against the House-passed cap-and-trade legislation.


In his acceptance speech to become the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney mocks President Obama’s climate efforts: “President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”


In his second Inaugural Address, President Obama calls climate change the leading issue of our time. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”


2016 is the warmest year on record, the third consecutive year that a global annual temperature record has been set, and the 40th consecutive year that annual temperatures have been above the 20th-century average. The five warmest years have all occurred since 2010.

Nearly all of the 16 Republican presidential hopefuls deny the science of climate change, and none support the Paris climate agreement. Donald Trump pledges to “cancel” American involvement in the Paris accord.


Hurricane Harvey unleashes 50 inches of rain, the largest rainfall in United States history, paralyzing five million in Houston, killing 30, with a price tag of at least tens of billions of dollars to federal taxpayers. Multiple peer-reviewed studies find that Hurricane Harvey was made as much as 40 percent larger and more intense because of warming Gulf of Mexico waters tied to the changing climate.


Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reach 410 parts per million, the highest level in at least three million years.

President Trump insists coal is the key to the country’s energy and economic future and orders Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take immediate steps to prevent market shutdowns of coal plants.

The Trump administration says it will roll back fuel economy standards set by the Obama administration for cars and light trucks, a move that would increase greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by an amount greater than many midsize countries put out in a year.

After falling for more than a decade, carbon dioxide emissions in the United States are set to rise by 2.5 percent in 2018. Global emissions grew by 1.6 percent in 2017 and will increase by about 2.7 percent in 2018.

It will take real leadership to create and focus the will to do something about climate change. The warnings we receive from scientists are increasingly dire, yet we continue to do nothing. The current trajectory is not encouraging, and the twelve-year window to do something is a tall order, especially in the United States, given the level of scientific illiteracy (or perhaps just congnitive dissonance) and corruption among our national leaders. As long as we have leaders that are willfully ignorant and pursue counterproductive policies it will be impossible to address this crisis. That said, I remain hopeful that we can find leadership and willpower to give us a chance to find solutions to the very difficult problems we face before they become completely overwhelming.