Blog Archive

Friday, April 22, 2016

In honor of "Climate Babe" Katharine Hayhoe, we are initiating the "Climate Babe of the Month" with Dr Cara Augustenborg!

Since Climate Hunk of the Month laureate, Jason Box, has suggested that I recommence the Climate Hunk of the Month, and offered some nominees, it seemed to me long past time to include female scientists; thus, since Jason very kindly offered a selection, I am more than happy to begin with Cara Augustenborg!  Wow!  Check her out on YouTube!

And who better to name this award after than famous Climate Babe Katharine Hayhoe! [So named by the dastardly Rush Limbaugh, but we are going to own it and take back the narrative!]

When it comes to climate change communication who kicks denier behinds better than she does!

Here is more on April 2016's Climate Babe of the Month:

And, I must admit, I picked her name at random from the "seleção" (for non-Brazilians, non-Portuguese, and non-Italians, this word represents the national football -- oops! "soccer" for Yanks -- team members selected to play in the World Cup games), but she is perfect!

Check out her TEDx Talk!

Katharine, I'm seein' a soul sistah here for you!

Title1–16Cited byYear
Biochar and earthworm effects on soil nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide emissions
CA Augustenborg, S Hepp, C Kammann, D Hagan, O Schmidt, C Müller
Journal of environmental quality 41 (4), 1203-1209
Farmers' perspectives for the development of a bioenergy industry in Ireland
CA Augustenborg, J Finnan, L McBennett, V Connolly, U Priegnitz, ...
GCB Bioenergy 4 (5), 597-610
Requirements for an evolving model of supply chain finance: A technology and service providers perspective
MR Fellenz, C Augustenborg, M Brady, J Greene
Communications of the IBIMA 10, 227-235
Carbon dioxide emissions from spring ploughing of grassland in Ireland
AB Willems, CA Augustenborg, S Hepp, G Lanigan, T Hochstrasser, ...
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 144 (1), 347-351
Response of silage yield to land application of out-wintering pad effluent in Ireland
CA Augustenborg, OT Carton, RPO Schulte, IH Suffet
Agricultural water management 95 (4), 367-374
Effectiveness of self-identified and self-reported environmental regulations for industry: The case of stormwater runoff in the US
L Donald Duke, CA Augustenborg
Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 49 (3), 385-411
Effectiveness Assessment of NPDES Regulations for Storm Water Discharges
CA Augustenborg, LD Duke
Proc. ASCE EWRI Conf.-Bridging the Gap: Meeting the World’s Water and ...
Degradation of forestry timber residue over one growing season following application to grassland in Ireland
CA Augustenborg, OT Carton, RPO Schulte, IH Suffet
Journal of Sustainable Agriculture 31 (4), 171-183
Silage Dry‐Matter Yield and Nitrogen Response following Land Application of Spent Timber Residue from Out‐Wintering Pads to Irish Grassland
CA Augustenborg, OT Carton, RPO Schulte, IH Suffet
Communications in soil science and plant analysis 39 (7-8), 1122-1137
State and development of bioenergy in the Republic of Ireland
B Dieterich, J Finnan, T Hochstrasser, S Hepp, C Augustenborg, C Müller, ...
Aspects of Applied Biology 90, 27-34
Impacts of soil moisture on trace gas emissions from grassland: a case study on grassland in Northern Ireland
S HeppA, C AugustenborgA, B DieterichA, T HochstrasserA, C MuellerA
19th World Congress of Soil Science, Soil Solutions for a Changing World, 1-6
A systematic map protocol: What evidence exists to link agricultural practices with ecological impacts for Irish waterbodies?
DG Doody, CA Augustenborg, PJA Withers, S Crosse
Environmental Evidence 4 (1), 1
Thanks to Our 2013 Reviewers
T Abichou, A Adeloye, P Adler, A Adviento-Borbe, ...
J. Environ. Qual 43, 1093-1100
Nitrogen recycling for the sustainability of Irish agriculture
CA Augustenborg
Dissertation Abstracts International 68 (07)
Polychlorinated biphenyls in surface runoff from agricultural fields in southern California.
IH Suffet, CA Augustenborg, JA Pedersen
Loadings of dissolved and particle-associated legacy and current-use organochlorine insecticides in surface runoff from agricultural fields in southern California.
IH Suffet, CA Augustenborg, JA Pedersen

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Robert Schribbler: The Greenland Summer Melt Season Just Started in April

by Robert Schribbler, April 12, 2016

12 Percent. That’s how much of Greenland’s surface experienced melt yesterday according to a report from DMI’s Polar Portal  as an unprecedented flow of warm, wet air slammed into its great ice sheets. 10 Percent. That’s how much of Greenland’s ice sheet surface is required to melt in order to mark an official start to the Summer melt season. Late May or early June. That’s when Greenland melt season typically begins.
In other words, a Greenland melt season that usually starts as May rolls into June, and has never initiated before May 5th, just began on April 11th of 2016. That’s 24 days ahead of the previous record, set only 6 years ago, and more than a month and a half ahead of the typical melt start. In other words — way too early. But in a rapidly heating world where monthly temperatures have now exceeded a range of 1.5 C above 1880s' levels, we could well expect Greenland melts to begin earlier, end later, and encompass more and more of the ice sheet surface at peak melt during July.

Record Early Start to Greenland Melt Season
Record early start to Greenland’s ‘Summer’ melt season occurred on April 11, 2016, according to reports from DMI’s Polar Portal.
Yesterday’s new record early melt start occurred as extraordinarily warm temperatures in the range of 20-40 degrees Fahrenheit above average swept over southern, central and western Greenland. This flood of extremely warm temperatures for Greenland was accompanied by heavy rains and strong winds — gusting to gale or even hurricane force in some locations. In some areas, rain fell over the ice sheet itself. As recently as midday Tuesday, Dr. Jason Box — a prominent Greenland researcher — tweeted a report from a friend in Nuuk that the city was “close to drowning in water caused by rain and snow melt.”
Today, temperatures for the whole of Greenland — a 1.7-million square kilometer island containing enough ice to raise sea levels by more than 20 feet should it all melt — were measuring as high as 10.17 C above average (more than 18 F above average), with readings over much of northern and central Greenland spiking over 20 C (36 F) above normal (1980-2010) ranges. So it’s likely that Monday’s record early 12% surface melt will extend and possibly expand on through today (April 12).
Greenland 10 C Above Average Temperatures
Extreme warmth over much of Greenland on April 12th is continuing a new record early start to melt season for this up to two-mile-high pile of ice. Image source: Karsten’s Climate Maps. Data Source: NOAA/NCEP/GFS.
Over the coming week, temperatures across Greenland are expected to steadily fall back toward more normal ranges. However, it’s worth noting that much of the heat from this year’s record early melt spike will be baked into the ice — adding a kind of internal heat pressure as Spring gradually progresses into Summer.
During July of 2012, an unprecedented 95% of Greenland’s surface experienced melt. For 2016, unprecedented Arctic warming during Winter appears to have set the stage for a serious challenge to both 2012 Greenland and 2012 Arctic sea ice melt records. And with seasonal sea ice at or near new record lows even as Greenland is off to an amazingly early melt start, it appears that 2016 is now in a race to set a number of new benchmarks as Arctic ice continues its ominous and disruptive longer-term decline.

Kerry Emanuel: "AGU makes a mockery of its bylaw" as AGU continues to accept dirty money from ExxonMobil, even tho it is clear that Exxon promotes and disseminates misinformation of science

April 14, 2016
Contact: Ben Scandella, 206-276-2699,

World’s largest Earth science organization to continue accepting ExxonMobil sponsorship despite calls from 250+ geoscientists

Cambridge, MA Today, the President of the American Geophysical Union (AGU)  the world’s largest association of Earth scientists  announced the AGU Board’s decision to continue accepting sponsorship from ExxonMobil, despite calls for an end to this relationship from more than 250 geoscientists owing to ExxonMobil’s past and present climate science disinformation.

The AGU’s 2015 Organizational Support Policy states that “AGU will not accept funding from organizational partners that promote and/or disseminate misinformation of science, or that fund organizations that publicly promote misinformation of science,” and that Organizational Partners are bodies that “share a vested interest in and commitment to advancing and communicating science and its power to ensure a sustainable future.

MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel sees the AGU’s decision as “a mockery of its own bylaw,” stating that, “If the AGU cannot turn down a mere $35K from a high-profile disinformer like Exxon, then it is hard to imagine it ever adhering to its bylaw. I am considering withdrawing from the AGU.”

Emanuel was one of the 108 geoscientists who sent an open letter to the AGU President on February 22, 2016, urging the association to end its sponsorship deal with ExxonMobil. Since then, more than 170 geoscientists worldwide have signed on. The AGU President initially responded that “The AGU Board of Directors will take up the questions raised in this letter at their upcoming meeting in April.” At this meeting, the AGU Board passed a motion approving the continuation of its “current engagement between ExxonMobil and AGU including acceptance of funding from ExxonMobil.”

In light of the AGU’s decision and reasoning, Former President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Harvard Professor James J. McCarthy, another letter signatory, commented, "My jaw dropped when I read that ‘Ultimately, we concluded that it was not possible to determine conclusively whether or not ExxonMobil is currently participating in misinformation about science, either directly or indirectly.’ A new report just this week show that ExxonMobil is still spending tens of millions obstructing climate legislation. How much more is on the ‘indirect’ ledger?"

Indeed, the AGU’s decision appears to ignore the consilience of evidence demonstrating ExxonMobil’s ongoing support of climate science misinformation. Originators of the open letter submitted a report documenting ExxonMobil’s present involvement in climate misinformation for the Board’s consideration (a copy of the report is available for download here). The report provides specific examples of how ExxonMobil is “in violation of AGU’s Policy because it remains a leading sponsor of think tanks, advocacy groups, and trade associations that promote climate science misinformation. Moreover, ExxonMobil financially supports more than 100 climate-denying members of Congress and continues to generate its own misinformative comments about climate science.” Such examples include: (1) during ExxonMobil’s 2015 Annual Meeting of Shareholders, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson cast doubt about the reliability of climate models by remarking: “we don’t really know what the climate effects of 600 ppm versus 450 ppm [of atmospheric CO2] will be because the models simply are not that good”; (2) at the ExxonMobil-sponsored 2015 Annual Conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Stephen Moore, a member of ALEC’s Private Enterprise Advisory Board, asserted that: “The biggest scam of the last 100 years is global warming...It’s no surprise that when you give these professors $10 billion, they’re going to find a problem.”

In addition to Emanuel and McCarthy, many other signatories of the open letter voiced their disappointment and concern over the AGU’s decision. Cornell Professor Charles Greene stated, “At what level does the behavior of a corporate sponsor become sufficiently reprehensible for AGU to refuse its support? I guess that a corporation like ExxonMobil, which has deceived the general public for decades while placing human society at great risk, has not achieved that level. The only conclusion to be drawn is that AGU will accept money from just about any corporate entity, no matter how unethical its behavior. I certainly will not attend an ExxonMobil-sponsored Fall Meeting, and I hope that every AGU member who feels the same way about this lapse in judgement will consider sending a similar message.”

What was called for was an exercise of judgment. Instead, the AGU avoided taking a principled stand by claiming it is not possible for it to make a judgement. The leadership seems prepared to accept some loss of membership, but what it may not be prepared for is the redoubled commitment of members who won't relent in shining an even brighter light on the inconsistency of the AGU's mission of a sustainable planetary future with its endorsement of ExxonMobil's past and current activities,” said Nathan Phillips, Professor of Earth and Environment at Boston University.

Warm, Southerly Winds Gust to Hurricane Force Over Greenland in Staggering Early Season Heatwave — Temperatures Now Hitting up to 41 Degrees (F) Above Average at Summit

by Robert Schribbler, April 13, 2016

The wavy, crazy Jet Stream.
Over the past few years, it’s become more and more clear that a human-forced heating of the Arctic has basically driven the Jet Stream mad. Big loops, omega blocks, and huge ridges and troughs have all become a feature of the new climate we’re experiencing. Related to these features have been a number of superstorms, severe droughts, ocean hot and cold pools, and extreme rainfall events.
Trough US East Coast Ridge Greenland
The Jet Stream once again mangled. A strong trough shoved cool air over the US East Coast this weekend as a facing ridge prepared to hurl a bulge of extreme warmth up and over Greenland on Monday. Image source: Earth Nullschool.
As we have  seen with Sandy, the Pacific Hot Blob, the UK floods, The California Drought, the record Alaska and Canadian Wildfire Seasons of 2015, the Russian Heatwave and Fires of 2011, the Pakistan Floods of 2011, and so, so many more extreme weather events, these new climate features present a risk of generating extraordinary or never before seen weather. Intense storms, extreme winds, and extreme cold flashes and heatwaves can all be generated as the result of such mangled weather patterns. And for much of the North Atlantic this past weekend, such abnormal conditions dominated. The US East Coast experienced a freak cold flash, the UK was pummeled by yet one more unseasonable gale, but perhaps worst of all — a head of extraordinarily warm air roared northward, riding upon gale to hurricane force winds, setting sights on Greenland.
Cool Flash for Eastern US, Extreme Heat for Greenland
This past weekend, the US weather news was all awash with comments on Winter-like conditions in April for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic US as a deep trough tore down from the Canadian Archipelago and Hudson Bay. The trough brought with it snow flurries, freeze warnings, and rather cold conditions for April to this region of the US. Temperatures ranged from 10-20 degrees (F) below average for this area. But compared to what was setting up to happen in the ridge zone over the Atlantic, the East Coast cool spell was quite mild considering the relative extreme heat readying for a Greenland invasion.
The warm wind pulse began in the North Atlantic in a tropical region near 26 North, 55 West. This warm air flooded in train over thousands of miles of open ocean. Running northward, it roared along the back of a high pressure system centered over the Mid Atlantic Ridge and in front of two strong lows — one centered near Newfoundland and a second over southwestern Baffin Bay.
In places, the pressure gradient between the lows and highs was so tightly packed that the northward flowing airs hit hurricane force. Off the southwest tip of Greenland, winds consistently achieved hurricane force gusts. And these winds flowed on northward, bringing with them a surge of above freezing temperatures to much of Baffin Bay and a large section of Western Greenland.
Extreme Greenland Heatwave
Extreme Arctic heat strikes Greenland on April 11, 2016. There readings for a large area hit a range 36 degrees Fahrenheit or more above average for a large region over Baffin Bay and Greenland. This extreme pulse of unseasonable warm air contributed to overall temperature departures of +4.75 C (8.55 F) above average for the Arctic. A very high departure for this region of the world at this time of year and an extension to a period of record Arctic warmth in 2016. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.
Further south, Nuuk was experiencing 45 F readings (or about 20 F above average) coordinate with heavy rain and strong southerly winds. Yet further south, in Kangerlussuaq near the southwest coast of Greenland, temperatures spiked to 61 F — or 36 F above the average April 11 reading of 25 F.
Perhaps more remarkable and disturbing were the predicted extreme readings at Summit Greenland — expected to hit 21 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday or about 41 degrees (F) above a typical daily high of -20 (F) for this time of year. It’s worth noting that in July average high temperatures for Summit Greenland usually range near 12 degrees (F). So current expected highs for April 11, 2016, are nearly 10 degrees warmer than a normal July day. By comparison, if such an extreme high temperature departure were to have occurred in my hometown of Gaithersburg, MD, on the same date (April 11th), readings would have exceeded a remarkable 106 degrees Fahrenheit.
Year of Record Arctic Warmth Continues
The recent warm, wet wind outbreak over Greenland is but one more odd event in a year of extreme warmth for the Arctic. Warm wind invasions over the North Atlantic, Barents, Baffin Bay, Greenland Sea, Western Europe, Alaska, Western Canada, the Barents, and sections of Central Asia have been a persistent feature throughout both Winter and Spring. Meanwhile, consistent temperature spikes to near freezing or above freezing over the Arctic Ocean and related waters have contributed to Arctic sea ice hitting new seasonal lows.
Freezing Degree Days NOAA
Arctic heat has been literally off-the charts for the region above 80 degrees North during 2016. This area has now experienced nearly 1,000 fewer freezing degree days than during a typical year of the already warmer than normal 1980-2010 period. Extreme Arctic warmth of this kind has negative impacts both to the health of Arctic sea ice and to that of the various glacier systems in Greenland, Svalbard and Northern Canada. Image source:NOAA/CFSv2/CFSR.
Overall, the Arctic has experienced unprecedented warmth for 2016. In reference to this fact, NOAA measures recording freezing degree days indicate that both the Arctic and the High Arctic above 80 degrees North Latitude are experiencing their warmest year ever recorded. These new extreme high temperatures are achieving an extraordinary departure above previous temperature measures and are a feature of the highest anomalies occurring over any portion of a record warm world. In other words, if you were to look for the region of the world that’s being hit hardest by a human-forced warming spurred on by rampant fossil fuel burning, the Arctic would light up like a fireworks display on the 4th of July.
Tropical heat, in the form of a record El Nino generated warmth, has tended to transfer pole-ward in the Northern Hemisphere during 2016 due to various weaknesses in the Jet Stream. A primary region for this transfer has occurred over the North Atlantic and Europe with secondary transfer zones over the Eastern Pacific, Western North America, and over a shifting zone throughout Northern Asia.
An extraordinary polar amplification of this kind — one that includes Equator-to-Pole heat transfers — risks hitting or increasing the intensity of a number of harmful climate tipping points. These include the amplifying feedbacks of increasing rates of sea ice melt and Arctic carbon store response. In addition, extreme warmth over Greenland risks further glacial destabilization, increasing rates of sea level rise, and increasing weather instability in the North Atlantic.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

#ExxonKnew -- CO2's Role in Global Warming Has Been on the Oil Industry's Radar Since the 1960s

Historical records reveal early industry concern with air pollutants, including smog and CO2, and unwanted regulation
Documents reveal that the risks of climate change were being discussed in the inner circles of the oil industry in the 1960s, earlier than previously documented. Credit: Photo of Exxon's Bayway oil refinery in New Jersey by the Environmental Protection Agency
The oil industry's leading pollution-control consultants advised the American Petroleum Institute in 1968 that carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels deserved as much concern as the smog and soot that had commanded attention for decades.
Carbon dioxide was "the only air pollutant which has been proven to be of global importance to man's environment on the basis of a long period of scientific investigation," two scientists from the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) told the API.
This paperalong with scores of other publications, shows that the risks of climate change were being discussed in the inner circles of the oil industry earlier than previously documented. The records, unearthed from archives by a Washington, DC, environmental law organization, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), reveal that the carbon dioxide question—an obscure corner of research for much of the 20th century—had been closely studied since the 1950s by some oil company researchers.
By the 1960s, the CO2 problem was gaining wider scientific recognition, especially as President Lyndon B. Johnson's science advisers and leading experts brought it to the attention of the White House in 1965.
"If CO2 levels continue to rise at present rates, it is likely that noticeable increases in temperature could occur," SRI scientists Elmer Robinson and R.C. Robbins wrote in their 1968 paper to API.
"Changes in temperature on the world-wide scale could cause major changes in the earth's atmosphere over the next several hundred years including change in the polar ice caps."
Ten years later, the world's leading oil company, Exxon, would launch an ambitious in-house research program into the emerging science of climate change, as detailed by InsideClimate News last year in an investigative series. Beginning in 1978, Exxon researchers hoped their work would identify the risks climate change posed to the company's business and earn it a seat at the table when policymakers moved to limit CO2 emissions, according to internal documents. By the late 1980s, the company and its allies would instead challenge the scientific basis for strong action on climate change.
In a new series of articles, ICN begins to examine how the industry confronted pollution concerns during the infancy of climate research in the mid-20th century. It is based on hundreds of public documents assembled by CIEL, along with others gathered by ICN.
The documents trace early academic research into rising carbon dioxide levels. They show how the oil industry monitored that published work, and help explain the beginnings of its own research. They also show how industry's reaction to mid-century regulation to curtail other forms of air pollution, such as smog, helped shape its approach toward the risks of carbon dioxide.
The documents reveal a deep and persistent interest by industry in the CO2 issue, according to Carroll Muffett, a lawyer who is president of CIEL. If it is shown that oil companies knew fossil fuels posed dangers to the public, he said, the industry might become vulnerable to product liability complaints.
"From a products liability perspective, these documents raise potential claims that oil companies failed to warn consumers about a potentially serious risk linked to their products," he said.
Muffett's institute, an advocacy group that provides policy research and legal counsel on energy and environmental matters, is releasing its findings just as several state attorneys general have begun investigating how much oil companies knew about climate change and what they decided to do with their knowledge.
"Once the companies learned this science, they can't unlearn it," Muffett said. "Everything they did after this is done against the backdrop of the information they have from at least the 1950s onward.
"This to me is a critical point," he said. "When Exxon and other companies are funding climate change denial in later stages and focusing on uncertainties, how does what they are saying now compare with what they knew at a much earlier stage?"
Exxon has responded that its scientists at the time found that "many important questions about climate change remained unanswered and more research was needed." A spokesman for API did not respond to requests for comment.
Pollution Concerns Begin Rising
By the late 1940s, industrial pollution from the wartime surge and post-war boom began alarming the public. In particular, smog increasingly plagued Los Angeles, garnering the attention of the press and new pollution-control agencies. The sky turned a pale yellow, residents routinely became nauseous and their eyes burned, children were forced to play indoors, and acres of crops withered.
Members of the Highland Park Optimist Club in Northeast L.A. are seen here wearing smog-gas masks
Members of the Highland Park Optimist Club in northeast Los Angeles wear smog-gas masks at a banquet, circa 1954. Credit: Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library
By the early 1950s, new science pointed to the oil industry as a major culprit, showing that nitrogen oxide emissions and uncombusted hydrocarbons from car tailpipes and refineries formed smog when exposed to sunlight.
As new agencies spawned new regulations, API and similar organizations set up a task force called the Smoke and Fumes Committee to monitor air pollution research and to commission projects by a handful of key consultants, including SRI. Originally affiliated with Stanford University, it was the industry's main pollution consultant, and eventually became an independent firm in 1970.
The work of the Smoke and Fumes Committee armed the industry for a prolonged struggle against what it considered overzealous regulation, which was based on what the oil companies and SRI called flawed science.
Meanwhile, a growing number of academics had turned their attention to rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, tracing where the gas came from and the role that certain "sinks," such as the oceans and forests, played in absorbing it.
Roger Revelle, the director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and his colleague Hans E. Suess published a landmark paper in 1957 about increasing CO2emissions and the role of the oceans in absorbing some of it. The media, including The New York Times and Time magazine, sporadically wrote stories about increasing COin the atmosphere.
Scripps scientist Charles David Keeling installed machines at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii to measure carbon dioxide levels on a regular basis.
The years between 1957, when Revelle first concluded that the oceans would not absorb all industrial CO2 emissions, and 1960, when Keeling accurately measured atmospheric concentrations and showed that they were definitely increasing, ushered in a new age of expanding climate research.
Already, some oil company scientists were conducting basic CO2 research, including several with Humble Oil, which eventually became part of Exxon.
By then, it was generally accepted that the burning of fossil fuels had released significant quantities of additional CO2into the atmosphere, with some studies putting manmade emissions at 13% above natural levels since the Industrial Revolution began.
Humble's researchers studied the fingerprints of fossil fuel emissions in the wood of growing trees. Only a small fraction of the CO2 from fossil fuels showed up. Deciphering what was happening to the rest—mostly absorption into the oceans—was a major focus of research into the carbon cycle then.
As Humble's scientists explored issues like whether the varying climate in wet and dry conditions might influence the rate of carbon uptake by trees, their work intertwined with the rapidly evolving field of climate studies.
paper by independent scientists in 1958 determined that Revelle and Suess had probably underestimated how much CO2 would build up by the year 2000. The rise could be enough, they noted in passing, to have considerable implications for planetary warming.
A Presidential Spotlight
The report by Robinson and Robbins to API in 1968 was an unusually plainspoken assessment of the risks of CO2emissions within the walls of industry. It is significant not as original research, but as confirmation that the industry recognized a consensus reaching the highest levels of government.
"It seems ironic," the report said, "that given this picture of the likely result of massive CO2 emissions, so little concern is given to CO2 as an important air pollutant."
The SRI report emerged after the carbon dioxide problem had caught the attention of the White House.
President Lyndon B. Johnson
President Lyndon B. Johnson/Credit: Yoichi Okamoto
Acting on a warning from his science advisers, Johnson became the first president to publicly mention rising CO2 levels as a problem on par with smog or bomb test fallout. In a message to Congress in February 1965, he declared: "Air pollution is no longer confined to isolated places. This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide through the burning of fossil fuels."
SRI's report was mostly based on a paper, "Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide," that was part of a volume prepared by the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) in November 1965.
That 20-page paper, written by Revelle, Keeling and three other top climate scientists, was submitted to the president at a time when environmental concerns were just blossoming into a policy priority. It said that the latest science suggested the increase in CO2 "may be sufficient to produce measurable and perhaps marked changes in climate." Citing a growing body of published research, it discussed the implications for melting polar ice and rising sea levels in the centuries to come.
That SRI was inserting carbon dioxide into a report mainly about conventional pollutants like smog suggests industry had to deal with this new aspect of pollution now that even the president was pointing it out.
"At the point where these issues are matters of public debate, industry has to be looking at them," Muffett said.
In the SRI report's section on CO2, Robinson and Robbins identified it as "the most commonly emitted air pollutant." Still, they noted that CO2 was so ubiquitous that regulators didn't even consider it to be pollution.
"This is perhaps fortunate for our present mode of living, centered as it is around carbon combustion," they wrote. "However, this seeming necessity, the CO2 emission, is the only air pollutant which has been proven to be of global importance to man's environment on the basis of a long period of scientific investigation."
The report also dealt with other uncertainties, such as a possible cooling effect caused by an increase in particulate matter. It noted that the long-term trend of particulate pollution could neutralize warming caused by CO2, but on balance said "the prospect for the future must be of serious concern."
"Although there are other possible sources for the additional CO2 now being observed in the atmosphere, none seems to fit the presently observed situation as well as the fossil fuel emanation theory," the authors wrote.
The SRI paper explored in detail the possible rates of emission, how concentrations might increase and how much temperatures might rise.
The finding—which matched Revelle's—that about half the CO2 emitted seemed to stay in the atmosphere was confirmed later by more sophisticated research. It helped explain why emissions over decades of increased reliance on fossil fuels would lead to a doubling of atmospheric CO2concentrations from pre-industrial times.
SRI also said that unlike local pollutants such as smog, carbon dioxide would last a long time in the global atmosphere. "The natural scavenging processes for removing CO2 from the atmosphere are not sufficient to maintain a stable equilibrium in the atmosphere in the presence of this increase in emissions."
The paper said that better models were needed to estimate more accurately how the increased atmospheric CO2 might boost global temperatures. (The Revelle report had predicted in 1965 that better models might come along in just a few years.)
SRI also repeated Revelle's assertions that if the earth's temperatures rose substantially, it could lead to significant risks for the planet.
"It is clear that we are unsure as to what our long-lived pollutants are doing to our environment; however, there seems to be no doubt that the potential damage to our environment could be severe," SRI said.
The assessment's frank tone contrasted with the more measured rhetoric Robinson and industry representatives would use in later public reports.
In a paper presented at the World Petroleum Congress in Moscow in June 1971, Robinson wrote that increasing carbon dioxide levels might pose a serious problem. He also said estimating the impact rising CO2 could have on global temperatures would be difficult because of the complexity of atmospheric science.
"The simple conclusion that an increase in absorbed radiation would provide a significantly warmer atmosphere and perhaps would melt the ice caps does not seem to be justified," Robinson wrote.
The National Petroleum Council, an advisory body including top officials of many oil companies, submitted a report to the government in 1972 entitled "Environmental Conservation." The NPC report cited the work of Robinson and Robbins but hewed to a more cautious line, quoting from a review of the emerging research written by the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences.
"If at the end of this century, the average temperature has continued to rise and, in addition, measurement shows that the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide has also increased, this will add validity to the idea that carbon dioxide is a determining factor in causing climate change," the NPC report said.
It continued to say that it would take until at least 2000 to decide whether global temperatures were rising significantly.
"If indications at that time are that major changes are required," it said, "society can meet that requirement as it has met its challenges throughout history by developing alternative social or technological solutions."
But this seemed to evade what was becoming increasingly clear to atmospheric scientists: If the problem of global warming emerged as their calculations suggested, it meant shifting away from fossil fuels.
In one footnote, the petroleum council cited not only the work of Robinson, but also a paper by an official at the federal Bureau of Land Management, Eugene K. Peterson, who had written a comprehensive overview of climate science and its ecological implications for the journal Environmental Science and Technology in 1969.
Peterson cited projections of increases in the atmospheric concentration of CO2, and early estimates of the resulting temperature rise. He also speculated on side effects such as acute water shortages, increased forest fires, and impacts on fisheries.
And he concluded that if current estimates proved to be correct, the time would eventually arrive —"if it has not already been reached"—that "additional CO2 input through the burning of fossil fuels should cease."
The increasing blanket of CO2 in the atmosphere, he warned, "could prove to have such an effect upon the environment that it will be a major limiting factor for several centuries upon both industrial development and world population."
It would be several more years before a National Academy of Sciences review panel chaired by Revelle would sound a similar warning in 1977—catching the attention of an Exxon employee, Henry Shaw, who helped lead the company's broad climate research in the decade that followed.
But the industry as a whole was already on notice.
Part II.  In the 1940s and 1950s, the oil industry questioned research that pointed to fossil fuel emissions as the main ingredients of smog, a record that reads like an early draft of its later approach to climate change.