The Parrot and the Igloo Notes
❖❖

The Wood Chips and the Malaise

121   For six 1973 months: October 1973 to March 1974. It changed everything; the NPR story in the next note offers a good list.

 

The onset of the embargo contributed to an upward spiral in oil prices with global implications. The price of oil per barrel first doubled, then quadrupled, imposing skyrocketing costs on consumers and structural challenges to the stability of whole national economies.

 

Office of the Historian, “Oil Embargo, 1973–1974,” United States Department of State.

https://history.state.gov/milestones/1969-1976/oil-embargo

Accessed 11-2-22.

 

121   OPEC twisted shut the oil spigot: Greg Myre, “The 1973 Arab Oil Embargo: The Old Rules No Longer Apply,” National Public Radio, October 16, 2013.

With a great black & white photo of a chaotic New York City gas line.

“Forty years ago this week, the U.S. was hit by an oil shock that reverberates until this day. . . “

https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2013/10/15/234771573/the-1973-arab-oil-embargo-the-old-rules-no-longer-apply

Accessed 11-2-22.

 

121   “Things sounded so much worse here”: John Updike, “Separating,” The New Yorker, June 23, 1975.

 

121   Henry Kissinger is being interviewed: Business Week, “Kissinger on Oil, Food, and Trade,” January 13, 1975, on newsstands the year’s first week.

 

121   called the idea “feasible”: Leslie H. Gelb, “Why Did Mr. Kissinger Say That?”, The New York Times, January 19, 1975.

 

121   the press secretary said: This was Gerald Ford’s Press Secretary Ron Nessen.

 

The secretary [Kissinger] repeated his assurances to newsmen Jan. 3 and said his statements in the interview reflected the views of President Ford. “I do not make a major statement on foreign policy on which I do not reflect his views,” he said.

Ford’s press secretary Ron Nessen Jan. 4 confirmed that Kissinger’s statement on the possible employment of military action “did reflect the President’s views.”

 

Facts on File World News Digest, “U.S. Hints Military Move Over Oil,” January 11, 1975.

 

121   easy pickings for a combined air and sea force: Leslie H. Gelb, “Why Did Mr. Kissinger Say That?”, The New York Times, January 19, 1975.

 

121   The President of Egypt: Drew Middleton, “Military Men Challenge Mideast ‘Force’ Strategy,” The New York Times, January 10, 1975.

One senior officer allowed the thing could be done, “But it would create the damnedest row in years.”

 

122   fuel from spinach: Malcolm W. Browne, “Spinach Used To Create Solar Electricity,” The New York Times, July 31, 1979.

 

122   from sugar cane: Melvin Calvin, Genevieve J. Calvin, “Fuel From Plants,” The New York Times, August 11, 1979. “A sugar cane plantation is really a self-contained ‘energy farm.’”

The author, Melvin Calvin, had received the 1961 Nobel for Chemistry. Specialty: photosynthesis.

 

122   cattails: Jane E. Brody, “Cattails Studied As Energy Source,” The New York Times, September 4, 1979.

 

122   from cow dung: Thomas Grubisch, “Not the Same Old Manure: USDA Doesn’t Know Energy From Shinola,” Washington Post, August 31, 1980.

“The ‘it’ is manure . . . On selected occasions, Dick Waybright, owner of the Mason-Dixon dairy farm southeast of Gettysburg, raises up a sign that shows a Holstein cow with a bolt of energy coming from the vicinity of its tail. This is Waybright’s way of advertising cow power.”

 

122   “make wood the primary source of energy”: The New York Times, “Truck Fueled By Wood Presented By Promoters,” September 18, 1980.

 

122   a booster’s response: For example, here’s the Saturday Evening Post; next to Reader’s Digest, about as lunch bucket as you could get.

Jep Cadou, “Coal: An Answer to the Energy Crisis. Black, Beautiful and Bountiful Fuel—Our Best Bet,” The Saturday Evening Post, April 1974.

 

With the energy crisis being cursed and discussed by just about everyone in the world, it seems most appropriate that the solution may be in a four-letter word: It is spelled C-O-A-L. Coal is black and beautiful. But more important, it is bountiful . . . It is also phenomenally versatile . . . In the big energy poker game, it appears it’s time for Uncle Sam to play his black ace—coal.

 

122   “Let’s dig it”: Richard J. Barnet, “The World’s Resources I—The Lean Years,” The New Yorker, March 17, 1980.

“ ‘America has more coal than the Middle East has oil. Let’s dig it’ — so ran a familiar advertisement in the aftermath of the oil embargo. Coal fascinates government energy planners as ‘the energy bridge to the future,’ which is what the Exxon Corporation calls it in ads. The reason is that the United States sits on an enormous bed of coal . . . Anyone who dreams of making the United States ‘self-sufficient’ in energy cannot help being enthusiastic about coal.”

 

122   More than a quarter of the world’s coal reserves: U.S. Energy Information Administration, “United States Leads in Coal Reserves,” September 2, 2011. “The United States leads the world with over 260 billion short tons of recoverable coal reserves—28% of total global reserves and 50% more than Russia, which possesses the world’s second largest reserves.”

https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=2930
Accessed 11-3-22.

 

122   enough kick to power the country: Jeff Goodell, Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future, Houghton Mifflin 2006. Introduction, xvi.

William R. Long, “Coal’s Hot Competition Forges a Breed of Giants,” The New York Times, February 21, 1999.

“The United States still has more than 1,000 recoverable tons of coal for every resident, enough to last more than 250 years at current rates of consumption.”

 

122      Svante Arrhenius had warned about: Svante Arrhenius, Chemistry In Modern Life, D. Van Nostrand 1925. Chapter VII, “Ores and Fossil Fuels,” 143. The “States which lack” Arrhenius wrote, the recent Great War in mind, throw “lustful glances at their neighbors who happen to have more than they use.” Nations would grab fuel from “lands on the other side of the seas.”

You can hear accidental Arrhenius repetitions in a speech by President Ford. This is from the Times:

 

The question of using force has been in the back of the minds of policy makers since the beginning of the Arab oil embargo against the West in 1973. President Ford mentioned it obliquely in his speech to the World Energy Conference in Detroit on September 23.

“Throughout history,” he said, “nations have gone to war over natural advantages such as water or food, or convenient passage on land or sea.”

 

Clifton Daniel, “Kissinger Remark on Force Sparks Wide Speculation,” The New York Times, January 7, 1975.

 

122      “that the energy shortage is permanent”: The New York Times, “The Text of Jimmy Carter’s First Presidential Report to the American People,” February 3, 1977.

James Reston, “An Uncertain Trumpet,” The New York Times, February 4, 1977.

 

122      “We can find ways to adjust”: New York Times, “Text of Jimmy Carter’s First Presidential Report,” February 3, 1977.

 

We must face the fact that the energy shortage is permanent. There is no way we can solve it quickly.

But if we all cooperate and make modest sacrifices, if we learn to live thriftily and remember the importance of helping our neighbors, then we can find ways to adjust.

 

122      “I don’t like a president in a sweater”: Time Magazine, “Warm Words from Jimmy Cardigan,” Monday, Feb. 14, 1977.

Incidentally, the Times called Pres. Carter’s speech “masterful” and predicted “his hold on public opinion will be formidable.”

Editorial, “The Chat By the Fire,” The New York Times, February 4, 1977.

 

122      “We need to shift to plentiful coal”: The New York Times, “Transcript of Carter’s Address to the Nation About Energy Problems,” April 19, 1977.

 

122      “strategy will be”: The New York Times, “Transcript of Speech by Carter on Energy Program at Joint Session of Congress,” April 21, 1977.

“Although coal now provides only 18 percent of our total energy needs it makes up 90 percent of our energy reserves. Its production and use do create environmental difficulties . . .”

 

123      One coal ton means three tons of carbon dioxide: 2.86 tons, unrounded. “Complete combustion of 1 short ton (2,000 pounds) of this coal will generate about 5,720 pounds (2.86 short tons) of carbon dioxide.

B.D. Hong, E.R. Slatick, “Carbon Dioxide Emission Factors for Coal,” U.S. Energy Information Administration, Quarterly Coal Report, January-April 1994, Department of Energy, August 1994.

Reprinted at U.S. Energy Information Administration, Coal, Carbon Dioxide Emission Factors for Coal.

https://www.eia.gov/coal/production/quarterly/co2_article/co2.html

Accessed 10-27-22.

 

123      From a carbon dioxide standpoint: And it’s not as though this wasn’t understood from the start. Coal’s carbon-y nature, as of 1977.

“The predicted rise in the burning of coal to make up for the shortage of oil and natural gas in the next 50 years will, according to one academician, raise the earth’s temperature by four degrees Fahrenheit. The scientist making that precise forecast yesterday is Columbia University’s Dr. Wallace S. Broecker, who based it on the fact that one ton of burned coal produces three tons of carbon dioxide.”

Thomas O’Toole, “Coal Use Seen Heating Up Earth,” Washington Post, June 1, 1977.

 

123      “We’ll make changes—and fast”: Business Week, “CO2 Pollution May Change The Fuel Mix: ‘The Consequences May Be Horrendous,’ Says ERDA’s White Of CO2 Findings,” August 8, 1977.

ERDA—the Energy Research and Development Administration—had just that week, August 4, become the Department of Energy.

 

123      the president’s sweater: “During his fireside chat last week, Carter introduced what may prove to be the most memorable symbol of an Administration that promises to make steady use of symbolism—the beige wool cardigan, a favorite of his.”

Time Magazine, “Warm Words from Jimmy Cardigan,” February 14, 1977.

 

123      thirty months’ research: “Representatives of the White House and Government agencies that would be involved in such an effort were at the academy on Friday to hear presentations on the 281page report.”

Walter Sullivan, “Scientists Fear Heavy Use of Coal May Bring Adverse Shift in Climate,” The New York Times, July 25, 1977.

 

123      Keeling’s numbers, Manabe’s computer: National Academy of Sciences, Geophysical Research Board, Energy and Climate: Studies in Geophysics, National Academy of Sciences 1977.

Keeling also served on the Energy and Climate Panel. Along with Joseph Smagorinsky, Syukoro Manabe’s boss, the man who’d lured him to the United States.

 

124      front pages and editorials: Margaret Hornblower, “World Faces A Heating-Up, Study Warns; Coal, Oil Burning Seen Heating Up the World,” The Washington Post, July 25, 1977. A1.

Robert Gillette, “Drastic Climate Warming Feared In Coal, Oil Use,” The Los Angeles Times, July 25, 1977. A1.

Walter Sullivan, “Scientists Fear Heavy Use of Coal May Bring Adverse Shift in Climate,” The New York Times, July 25, 1977. A1.

The Washington Post, “Coal and the Global Greenhouse,” July 27, 1977. (“The consequences sound like a disaster-movie script.”) The New York Times, “Coal, Carbon Dioxide and Climate,” July 28, 1977.

Columnist Anthony Lewis had gotten it right, seen the basic problem, predicted the future, in a Times piece one day before Mr. Carter unveiled his energy policy.

“Being human, we resist awareness when it threatens our livelihood or our comfort.” Anthony Lewis, “The Sense of Limits,” The New York Times, April 18, 1977.

(David Mamet unwittingly recalibrates this sentiment in an oddly memorable line from his 1998 drama The Spanish Prisoner. “We must never forget that we are human. And as humans, we must dream. And when we dream, we dream of money.”)

 

124      “get back to me in thirty-nine”: The scientist was a member of the JASON consulting group discussed a few notes down. Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway, Matthew Shindell, “From Chicken Little to Dr. Pangloss: William Nierenberg, Global Warming, and the Social Deconstruction of Scientific Knowledge,” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, Vol. 38, Number 1, February 2008. 

Interestingly, this was also the advice retailed by a pro-coal ad from the period; it ran in the Wall Street Journal. Two-pages, paid for by the fuel services company Dresser Industries, which later merged with friend-to-everyone Halliburton.

 

Let’s assume that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does continue to build. At the rate of less than ½ of 1% a year, which is the rate of increase determined by the World Climate Conference in 1979, it would be sometime in the middle of the next century before the buildup would become significant.

In their view, and mine, that is plenty of time to conduct the research we need to find ways of controlling the effects of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion on climate. It is also time enough, if necessary, to redirect many aspects of the world economy and energy production.

 

Dresser Industries, “When Your Head’s In the Sand, There’s A Lot Still Exposed (Ad),” The Wall Street Journal, November 17, 1980.

Well, we’re 61 percent of the way through the Dresser waiting period, and 100 percent through the scientist’s forty years. Some assessments seem warranted. In 2016, the climatologist and geophysicist Michael Mann would tell Democrats how instrument work was, in his field, becoming increasingly unnecessary. “We can see climate change, the impacts of climate change, now, playing out in real time, on our television screens, in the 24-hour news cycle.” Valerie Richardson, “Michael Mann, Scientist: Data ‘Increasingly Unnecessary’ Because ‘We Can See Climate Change,’” The Washington Times, June 27, 2016.

 

124      “highly adverse consequences”: Walter Sullivan, “Scientists Fear Heavy Use of Coal May Bring Adverse Shift in Climate,” The New York Times, July 25, 1977.

Jeff Goodell, Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future, Houghton Mifflin 2006. Chapter Eight, “Reversal of Fortune,” 178.

 

124      “lively sense of urgency”: National Academy of Sciences, Geophysical Research Board, Energy and Climate: Studies in Geophysics, National Academy of Sciences 1977.

 

124      “the die will already have been cast”: National Academy of Sciences, Geophysical Research Board, Energy and Climate: Studies in Geophysics, National Academy of Sciences 1977.

“A decision that must be made 50 years from now ordinarily would not be of much social or political concern today, but the development of the scientific and technical bases for this decision will require several decades of lead time and an unprecedented effort. No energy sources alternative to fossil fuels are currently satisfactory for universal use, and, in any case, conversion to other sources would require many decades . . .

“In the face of so much uncertainty regarding climatic change, it might be argued that the wisest attitude would be laissez-faire. Unfortunately, it will take a millennium for the effects of a century of use of fossil fuels to dissipate. If the decision is postponed until the impact of man-made climate changes has been felt, then, for all practical purposes, the die will already have been cast.”

 

124      “a Faustian bargain”: Walter Sullivan, “Climatologists Are Warned North Pole Might Melt,” The New York Times, February 14, 1979.

 

124      Security clearances, members tapping: Ann Finkbeiner, “DARPA and Jason Divorce in Spat Over Membership,” Science, March 29, 2002.

 

124      known to the defense community as Jasons: Ann Finkbeiner, The Jasons: The Secret History of Science’s Postwar Elite, Viking 2006. Introduction, xiv. “Both a collection and a proper noun: If you belong to Jason, you are a Jason.”

 

124      “the brain trust”: For example, Anne Gibbons, “Science Elite Meet In Secrecy; JASONS’ Summer Camp Returns To La Jolla,” San Diego Union-Tribune, July 6, 1988.

“Their founding fathers were members of the Manhattan Project, the Chicago-based effort during World War II that found the key to nuclear fission and exploded the first atomic bomb. Today, 28 years after they formed, the JASONS still are the brain trust for the nation’s defense community. Some say the JASONS are the Bohemian Club of the scientific establishment, an elite fraternity of the nation’s leading physicists, oceanographers, astronomers, electrical engineers and mathematicians.”

Books, too. This is 33, Gary Taubes’ Bad Science: The Short Life and Weird Times of Cold Fusion. (Random House 1993). “JASON is an elite, quasi-secretive brain trust that serves as an independent advisory group to the government . . . ”

 

124      the masked number: A good history of JASON is Ann Finkbeiner’s The Jasons: The Secret History of Science’s Postwar Elite, Viking 2006.

Finkbeiner explains the name. Murph Goldberger, who became President of Cal Tech, was a founding Jason. The military wanted to call the group Project Sunrise. That in itself is funny.

“The Pentagon had a machine,” Goldberger told Finkbeiner, “that generated names of projects and operations.” You’d describe a project “and push a button and they would cough up a series of names.” Out came “Sunrise.” Goldberger went home. Told his wife. “And she said whatever the moral equivalent [was] of ‘that sucks.’” Mildred Goldberger then elaborated. “Sunrise, a name with no character at all. He said, ‘So what’s a better name?’ I picked the name Jason primarily because it was a recognizable name, not just a collection of letters. It’s Jason and the Argonauts looking for the Golden Fleece. It was the group and the quest. . . I was just thinking about a group setting out on a voyage with a destination and winning.”

The sort of thing that explains a retrospective awful lot: there’s a military project- and operation-naming machine.

 

125      the electronic battlefield: Also the electronic battlefield, a concept that grew out of the JASON work in Vietnam. Bonus: Per the first book below, the group were known as the “fair-haired superbrains.”

John Krige, Dominique Pestre (Eds), Science in the Twentieth Century, Routledge 2014. Chapter 13, “Science, Scientists and the Military,” Everett Mendelsohn, 197.

Seymour J. Deitchman, “The ‘Electronic Battlefield’ in the Vietnam War,” The Journal of Military History, Vol. 72 No. 3, July 2008. “By arrangement with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the Jason group of scientists proposed a networked system of sensors and aircraft,” Deitchman writes. “That system, although not totally successful, significantly affected the course of the war and presaged key aspects of the equipment and operation of America’s armed forces today.”

 

125      In the spring of 1979: JASON, G. MacDonald Chairman, The Long Term Impact of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Climate, Report Prepared For the U.S. Department of Energy, April 1979.

 

125      “ominous”: In his brilliant missed-opportunity account Losing Earth, Nathaniel Rich uses the word “nightmarish” to characterize the JASON report.

Nathaniel Rich, Losing Earth: A Recent History, Picador 2020. Chapter One, “The Whole Banana: Spring 1979,” 17.

 

The Jasons’ report to the Department of Energy, The Long-Term Impact of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Climate, was composed in an understated tone that only enhanced its nightmarish findings: global temperatures would increase by an average of 2 to 3 degrees Celsius; Dust Bowl conditions would “threaten large areas of North America, Asia and Africa”; and agricultural production and access to drinking water would plummet, triggering unprecedented levels of migration. “Perhaps the most ominous feature,” however, would be the effect on the poles. Even minimal warming could “lead to rapid melting” of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which contained enough water to raise the oceans sixteen feet.

 

Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway, Matthew Shindell, “From Chicken Little to Dr. Pangloss: William Nierenberg, Global Warming, and the Social Deconstruction of Scientific Knowledge,” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, Vol. 38, Number 1, February 2008.

“The JASON report had emphasized the serious negative consequences of global warming, at one point even using the word ‘disaster.’” Oreskes, Conway, and Shindell also quote the Jasons’ anxiety about “the fragility of the world’s crop-producing capacity.”

 

125      “potentially the most important”: Philip Shabecoff, “Increase of Carbon Dioxide in Air Alarms Scientists,” The New York Times, June 9, 1979.

 

125      “must start dealing with this problem now”: Philip Shabecoff, “Increase of Carbon Dioxide in Air Alarms Scientists,” The New York Times, June 9, 1979.

 

125      “unless mitigating steps”: Philip Shabecoff, “Scientists Warn U.S. Of Carbon Dioxide Peril,” The New York Times, July 11, 1979. The Times explained,

 

The Government does not treat carbon dioxide as a pollutant and has no program to deal with it.

But today’s report warned that the continued release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuel would result in the warming of the earth’s atmosphere near the surface, a phenomenon known as the “greenhouse effect.”

 

125      “very influential in government decision making”: Philip Shabecoff, “Scientists Warn U.S. Of Carbon Dioxide Peril,” The New York Times, July 11, 1979.

 

125      shut down the Council on Environmental Quality: Editorial, “Endangered Species in the White House,” The New York Times, March 2, 1981.

Joanne Omang, “Environmental Statements Face Cuts Under Reagan,” The Washington Post, March 20, 1981.

Philip Shabecoff, “Reagan Is Not Killing Environmental Council, But Some Fear He Is Crippling It,” The New York Times, April 18, 1981. “Although it was spared the executioner’s ax, the Council on Environmental Quality, the President’s adviser on environmental issues, is being reduced to a fraction of its former size by the Reagan Administration. After considering the complete elimination of the three-member council, which is part of the Executive Office of the President, the White House decided instead to reduce its staff to 16 persons from 50. The Administration also has asked for the resignations of all but one or two of the professionals on the staff, some of whom had been there since the Nixon Administration.”

 

125      the Jasons’ especially: Alice Bell, “Sixty Years Of Climate Change Warnings: The Signs That Were Missed (And Ignored),” The Guardian, July 5, 2021.

Nathaniel Rich, Losing Earth, 17-19.

There’s an interesting abstract of a speech given by Rafe Pomerance, who in the late seventies was a D.C. environmental lobbyist, and ended up helping JASON scientist Gordon MacDonald discuss the issue around Washington; Pomerance is one of the main characters in Rich’s engaging Losing Earth.

 

The Charney report was more than a scientific report. It was part of a process that led to making the greenhouse effect into a public policy issue. It is not well understood[.] One geophysicist who played a key role was Dr. Gordon MacDonald who chaired the JASON study on radiative forcing in 1978-9. (The Long Term Impact of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Climate (SRI International, Technical Report JSR-78-07, April 1979).) Dr. MacDonald briefed numerous policy makers as a result of the JASON report which in turn helped to stimulate significant reports by the NAS (The Charney Report, 1979) . . .

 

Rafe Pomerance, “A Personal Perspective on the Public Policy Implications of the Charney Report,” American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2009. December 2009.

https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2009AGUFMGC22A..01P/abstract

Accessed 11-2-22.

 

125      it asked for a second opinion: Kolbert, Field Notes From A Catastrophe, 10.

Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway, Matthew Shindell, “From Chicken Little to Dr. Pangloss: William Nierenberg, Global Warming, and the Social Deconstruction of Scientific Knowledge,” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, Vol. 38, Number 1, February 2008.

 

125      an additional, follow-up panel: Nicholas Wade, “CO2 in Climate: Gloomsday Predictions Have No Fault,” Science, November 29, 1979.

 

125      headed by Dr. Jule Charney: Universally known as the Charney Panel, and generally seen as the start of the government part of the story. Its actual name was the Ad Hoc Study Group on Carbon Dioxide.

Kolbert, Field Notes, 10.

Nathaniel Rich was the first writer to focus on how activating (in screenwriting classes they’d call it an inciting incident) the work of JASON Gordon MacDonald was. Harvard’s Naomi Oreskes, in her long years of tracking the story, also seems to have appreciated the MacDonald effect.

 

125      “is practicing necromancy”: Alan Anderson Jr., “Forecast For Forecasting: Cloudy,” The New York Times, December 29, 1974.

 

126      a team of fresh eyes: Nicholas Wade, “CO2 in Climate: Gloomsday Predictions Have No Fault,” Science, November 29, 1979.

“The group, chaired by Jule G. Charney of MIT, included a predominance of experts who had not been involved in the previous studies.”

 

126      Cape Cod: Kolbert, Field Notes From a Catastrophe, 11.

Rich, Losing Earth, Chapter Three, “Between Clambake and Chaos: July 1979,” 33. “The scientists summoned by Jule Charney to judge the fate of civilization arrived on July 23, 1979, with their wives, children and weekend bags at a three-story mansion in Woods Hole, on the southwestern spur of Cape Cod,” Rich writes. “They would review all the available science and decide whether the White House should take seriously Gordon MacDonald’s prediction of a climate apocalypse. The Jasons had predicted a warming of two or three degrees Celsius…”

 

126      “unbiased viewpoints”: The Charney Panel. That is, Jules G. Charney, Akio Arakawa, D. James Baker, et al, Carbon Dioxide And Climate: A Scientific Assessment, National Academy of Sciences 1979.

 

126      “no reason to doubt”: Charney et al, Carbon Dioxide and Climate.

The paragraphs—the pertinent phrases—are careful and moving. This is early summer 1979.

 

In order to address this question in its entirety, one would have to peer into the world of our grandchildren, the world of the twenty-first century. Between now and then, how much fuel will we burn, how many trees will we cut? How will the carbon thus released be distributed between the earth, ocean, and atmosphere? How would a changed climate affect the world society of a generation yet unborn? A complete assessment of all the issues will be a long and difficult task.

It seemed feasible, however, to start with a single basic question: If we were indeed certain that atmospheric carbon dioxide would increase on a known schedule, how well could we project the climatic consequences? We were fortunate in securing the cooperation of an outstanding group of distinguished scientists to study this question. By reaching outside the membership of the Climate Research Board, we hoped to find unbiased viewpoints on this important and much studied issue.

The conclusions of this brief but intense investigation may be comforting to scientists but disturbing to policymakers. If carbon dioxide continues to increase, the study group finds no reason to doubt that climate changes will result and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible.

 

126      Malaise Speech: Jimmy Carter, “Address to the Nation on Energy and National Goals: ‘The Malaise Speech,’” The American Presidency Project, University of California at Santa Barbara, July 15, 1979.

https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/address-the-nation-energy-and-national-goals-the-malaise-speech

Accessed 11-2-22.

 

127      Rabbit Is Rich: John Updike, Rabbit Is Rich New York: Knopf, 1981. Part One, 96-7. In the way of the Bond pictures, yearbooks: just an index to the reflections and anxieties of a different audience. Rabbit has asked his wised-up, news-processing friend Charlie, “How’d you like Carter’s energy speech?” “I thought it was sad,” Melanie, a college Junior, puts in, “the way he said people for the first time think things are going to get worse instead of better.”

 

127      the nation was rumbling toward coal: With coal—just how much dirtier than oil and gas was reported early.

Philip Shabecoff, “Major ‘Greenhouse’ Impact Is Unavoidable, Experts Say,” The New York Times, July 19, 1988.

 

And among fossil fuels, coal, which is the most plentiful and the cheapest is the worst culprit. Gaining a given amount of heat from coal releases double the carbon dioxide than from natural gas, and a quarter more than from oil.

 

127      “He chose to cut environment”: Philip Shabecoff, “Environmentalists Fear A Retrenching by Carter,” The New York Times, July 16, 1979. “Energy comes first,” was the position, with “the environment second.” The Times went on to presciently note, “the recent warning by scientists that carbon dioxide released from synthetic fuels waste posed potentially disastrous consequences for the world’s climate.”

 

127      “a disaster”: Gordon MacDonald, James Roger Fleming, Interviewer, “Gordon MacDonald,” Oral History Interviews, American Institute of Physics, March 21, 1994.

https://www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/32156

Accessed 11-4-22.

 

127      importing oil: The New York Times, “Transcript of Carter’s Address to the Nation About Energy Problems,” April 19, 1977.

Carter pointed out that import-oil sending had jumped from 1971’s $3.7 billion unbelievably fast. “Last year we spent $36 billion—nearly 10 times as much.”

The big change came in spring 1973. “Faced with a looming gasoline shortage, in April 1973 President Richard Nixon announces he is ending the Mandatory Import Program—which sets limits on oil imports—but rejects recommendations to implement conservation,” reported the Council on Foreign Relations. “Oil imports, representing about 30 percent of U.S. consumption in 1973, increase to nearly 50 percent of consumption within four years.”

Council on Foreign Relations, “Oil Dependence and U.S. Foreign Policy: 1850-2011.”
https://www.cfr.org/timeline/oil-dependence-and-us-foreign-policy
Accessed 11-4-22.

The Mandatory Import Program was begun by President Eisenhower in 1959, to head off a U.S. dependency on foreign oil. The maximum import level was meant to be 12.2%. When this was lifted, everything changed: it was fracking that returned a measure of control. (Check the February 2014 entry in the CFR timeline above: “The reduced reliance on foreign oil is the result of both declining demand and a domestic energy revolution which, through the combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.” The heading is “U.S. Oil Imports Hit Two-Decade Low.” The whole timeline is absolutely worth the touchpad pressure.)

 

127      $50 billion: Jimmy Carter, “Louisville, Kentucky Remarks Following a Tour of the Cane Run Generating Station of the Louisville Gas & Electric Company,” The American Presidency Project, University of California at Santa Barbara, July 31, 1979.

https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/louisville-kentucky-remarks-following-tour-the-cane-run-generating-station-the-louisville

Accessed 11-2-22.

 

127      In 2013, $427 billion: Kiran Dhillon, “Why Are U.S. Oil Imports Falling?”, Time Magazine, April 17, 2014.

For what it’s worth, in his 1977 speech, President Carter warned that we could be spending $550 billion a year by 1985. So it never did get that bad.

 

127      About 80 percent of their electricity: Thomas L. Friedman, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need A Green Revolution—and How It Can Renew America, Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2008. Chapter One, “Where Birds Don’t Fly,” 14.

 

127      “We are not in paradise”: Matthew L. Wald, “International Report; France Stands By Nuclear Power,” The New York Times, May 8, 1989.

 

128      685 million tons of coal: President Carter in April of 1977 was quoting the 1976 number: 684.9 million short tons. There was a slight rise in 1977: 697.2 million.

U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Coal Production, 1949-2011 (Million Short Tons),” Annual Energy Review, Department of Energy, September 27, 2012.
https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/showtext.php?t=ptb0702
Accessed 11-4-22.

 

128      By 1990: U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Coal Production, 1949-2011 (Million Short Tons),” Annual Energy Review, Department of Energy, September 27, 2012.

U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Coal Industry Annual 1994,” Office of Coal, Nuclear, Electric and Alternate Fuels, U.S. Department of Energy. Available at U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Annual Coal Report Archive.”
https://www.eia.gov/coal/annual/archive/
Accessed 11-4-22.

 

128      more than half our electricity: 56.9% of America’s electricity was being generated the way Edison turbined it back in 1882, on Pearl Street: Coal heating water. The number had been above 55% since 1984.

U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Coal Industry Annual 1993,” Office of Coal, Nuclear, Electric and Alternate Fuels, U.S. Department of Energy, December 1994.

Per George Will, this remained the case for not just the United States but the world through 2010. As Ralph Waldo Emerson had called the fuel back in 1860: “portable climate.” George Will, “King Coal: Reigning in China,” The Washington Post, December 30, 2011.

 

Today, about half of America’s and the world’s electricity is generated by coal, the substance that, since it fueled the Industrial Revolution, has been a crucial source of energy. Over the past eight years, it has been the world’s fastest-growing source of fuel. The New York Times recently reported (“Booming China Is Buying Up World’s Coal,” Nov. 22) about China’s ravenous appetite for coal, which is one reason coal’s price has doubled in five years.

 

As per the 1993 DOE chart, the biggest generator by far was coal—nothing else came near. Coal generated 56.9% of all juice; second (a surprise) was nuclear: 21.2%. (That’s about 37% as much. With apologies for the numerous percentages.) Next came hydroelectric—Tesla and Westinghouse’s Niagara—at only 9.2%. Then natural gas, 9%, and petroleum, 3%. Nothing was close to coal.

 

128      about twenty pounds per day: Jeff Goodell, Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future, Houghton Mifflin 2006. Introduction, xii-iii.

 

In truth, the United States is more dependent on coal today than ever before. The average American consumes about twenty pounds of it a day. We don’t use it to warm our hearths anymore, but we burn it by wire whenever we flip on the light switch or charge up our laptops. More than one hundred years after Thomas Edison connected the first light bulb to a coal-fired generator, coal remains the bedrock of the electric power industry in America. About half the electricity we consume comes from coal—we burn more than a billion tons of it a year, usually in big, aging power plants that churn out amazing quantities of power, profit, and pollution. In fact, electric power generation is one of the largest and most capital-intensive industries in the country, with revenues of more than $260 billion in 2004. And the rise of the Internet—a global network of electrons—has only increased the industry’s power and influence. We may not like to admit it, but our shiny white iPod economy is propped up by dirty black rocks.

 

128      moved the subways and lit the cities: Nine-tenths of that coal went to power generation; it’s what coal was for.

“The electric power sector consumed about 92.8% of the total U.S. coal consumption in 2013.”

U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Highlights for 2013,” Office of Coal, Nuclear, Electric and Alternate Fuels, U.S. Department of Energy, January 2016.
https://web.archive.org/web/20160119013546/http://www.eia.gov/coal/annual/
Accessed 11-4-22.

 

128      about 200 reports on carbon dioxide: Elizabeth Kolbert, Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, Bloomsbury 2006. Chapter One, “Shishmaref, Alaska,” 12.

The Parrot and the Igloo by David Lipsky