Oral History Transcript — James O. Jensen
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James O. Jensen; April 23, 1991
ABSTRACT: The discussion centers on global warming and government policy in the United States. Al Gore is prominently mentioned.
Weart: I mainly want to talk about global warming but I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about your curriculum vitae — where do you come from, where were you educated, and everything.
Jensen: Originally I am from California — born and raised in Santa Barbara; Pop's a Caltech trained aeronautical engineer and physicist, and TRW for 30 years and before that he was also a professor at UCLA. My Mother was a Capitol Hill aide and a reporter.
Weart: Capitol Hill?
Jensen: — Aide.
Weart: Is that so?
Jensen: So I am second generation Capitol Hill.
Weart: Before she got married, you mean?
Jensen: Before she got married. She was there during World War II and in the 1950s. I was educated at Berkeley. Political History was my main major. I wrote my honors thesis on the 'Evolution of Reformism in California Politics’ —
Weart: American History —
Jensen: American Political History — if I was allowed to so name it. Initially I was going to be an attorney. It started off as an intern in the California legislature. This did not come to pass for very personal reasons and I wound up coming to work for a California Congressman named Jim Corman.
Weart: I see, right from the start — is this one of the reasons you took political history because you were interested in working — this comes from your Mother, I suppose, this idea. It's not an idea that normally occurs to people.
Jensen: I was sitting in polling precincts when I was three years old; sitting in precincts counting votes. It's a little bit in the blood.
Weart: So you came to Washington when?
Jensen: May of 1977.
Weart: Is that what we are talking about or let's see, you started to work for a Congressman.
Jensen: May of 1977. I graduated in June of 1976, spent some time at home with my Mother who was quite ill at the time, did a terribly serious venture where I was on a sailboat in the Caribbean for six months and then came to work here.
Weart: You didn't work in California for him at all, you came right to Washington.
Jensen: I came right to Washington.
Weart: What Congressman was this, may I ask.
Jensen: His name was James Corman. He was a very, very senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, a very powerful tax writer — well liked and quite liberal. For most of my time with Mr. Corman, which lasted for a little over a year, I was pretty much a gopher. Eventually toward the end he had me doing a lot of research for him but it was not of any sort of substantial position. Later then I went to work for the fear of following, especially beginning in February of 1979 — well in 1978 I went to work in the personal office of another California Congressman named Jim Lloyd who was also from the L.A. area, from the San Gabriel area. I was doing his environmental things. He then became the chairman of the subcommittee of the House Science and Technology committee and he put me on the staff there.
Weart: How did you come to be doing environmental things for him?
Jensen: Well, that is just what was available.
Weart: It just happened?
Jensen: That is a typical professional evolution on Capitol Hill. Whatever needs to be staffed, which is dependent on what his committees are often and you just sort of learn as you go.
Weart: Was that the origins of your environmental interests?
Jensen: In part. I also was terribly active in the outdoors when I was a kid. I was a river raft guide on those whitewater tours.
Jensen: The Grand Canyon. That was my summer job in college.
Weart: Is that so. I went down the Grand Canyon around that time.
Jensen: Did you go down with oars?
Weart: No, we had oars but it was a motorboat.
Jensen: My company was called Oars, Inc. We took two weeks to get down the canyon. At any rate, Jim put me on the staff of Science and Technology Committee in February of 1979. That was when things got a little more serious professionally. At that time I decided no longer to go to law school and started doing — you know, a committee job is generally more serious job than being in a member's personal office. He was defeated in 1980, as was Mr. Corman. Both of them lost when Reagan — they were both Democrats — Reagan carried California so heavily. The fellow who took over the subcommittee I was working for was Al Gore. I went to work officially for Al Gore in February 1981.
Weart: Now were you Civil Service at that point or were you —
Jensen: No. Capitol Hill aides are not Civil Service.
Weart: So you could have gone with the Democrats except that it happened that Gore —
Jensen: Gore just decided to pick me up. I could have gone with the wind. A lot of my friends did because that is when the Senate changed over. So hundreds of people were put out of work. That is the way life is up here. You do accrue federal retirement benefits working here but you have no Civil Service protection. If somebody wants to fire you for the way you look you are out.
Weart: Is that the way it is at OTA?
Jensen: Yes. We have a much more systematized system here. We all work for Jack Gibbons and have paid(?) grades and all that but we're not Civil Servants here at OTA. It's very, very different. If someone decides you're fired, you're fired.
Weart: So you are doing what for the committee?
Jensen: I did a range of issues. One is I served actually as one of their investigators who was the subcommittee — I did investigations and oversight. One of my particular jobs was to look into wrong-doing which I did on a number of occasions. We had a major investigation into the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA], getting the entire hierarchy in the place fired.
Weart: This was in early —
Jensen: This was later on in 1984. I just used it as an example. I did a lot of examinations —
Weart: — FEMA was a terrible —
Jensen: It's just rotten. It's an unfortunate agency in the sense that they have a hell of a charge.
Weart: It's always been that way. I've done history of nuclear preparedness. They have been that way since the late 1950s.
Jensen: They've got an awful job to begin with, because people always want everything yesterday and the only amount of time people ever give them any concern or backing is through the period of a disaster. After that they couldn't care less. They don't be monitored/bothered(?) — it's like the bastard child. So I have great sympathy. But, in point of fact, I think those agencies become dumping grounds. They don't get the talented civil service. Moreover FEMA was a hybrid agency created by executive order that had all kinds of oversight yet no oversight because so many committees controlled it. It's a truly anomalous government agency. Then when Meese hired Giuffrida to be director it got worse because he was able to take advantage of that sort of anomalous status they had and just ran wild. He was building ski chalets for himself!
Weart: Is that so. So you were investigating that kind of thing.
Jensen: That's right. I investigated faulty contracts at the Department of Energy, fraud in biomedical research — I was involved in that for a number of years.
Weart: Now this was the committee on —
Jensen: The Committee on Science and Technology —
Weart: The Committee on Science and Technology was doing even that kind of thing.
Jensen: It was primarily Gore. Gore had an investigative bent. He was also chair — very active — on the oversight committee over the Commerce Committee which is now Dingle. Those are the people that are chasing Stanford — Dick Baltimore, etc. — Gore was one of the stellar members of that committee as well and we just had a smaller version of our own going on over at Science and Tech.
Weart: Now let's back up a minute and tell me a little bit more about Senator Gore and what kind of relationship you had with him — what do you know about him and what kind of interaction did you have with the Senator?
Jensen: Well, Al is extremely bright. Sometimes with politicians their apparent intellectual polish is really just a veneer because they are well spoken, but in that case it's just not true. Al comes by his interest in science and especially environmental issues quite genuinely. He's got sort of a voracious intellectual curiosity and actually does have a talent, I mean he believed and predicted as early as 1980 that CO2 or perhaps really even before that, that the greenhouse effect would be a real problem, and would become a major public issue. He believed that — he's got that sort of talent. He grew up amongst it — of course his father was a senator. He is born and bred not only in the art of politics but in the art of policy making.
Weart: I find it very curious that he should pick up on an issue like CO2 even in the 1984 presidential campaign and so on. Do you have any idea, did he ever say how he saw that or why he saw that as an issue?
Jensen: I think he honestly believed that the nature of man's relationship with the planet was changing. He often had a phrase that he used called 'history was speeding up.' That is what he felt. That was one of the reasons he took a great interest in impacts of microelectronics and telecommunications. All these things serve the same purpose. The globe has actually become quite a smaller place and our relationship with nature is changing along with that. He felt that was a result of sort of the ultimate technological impact — it was the CO2. You know, he's far more conversed with scientists because he understands what the hell they are talking about. Few members do that.
Weart: Now how does a senator get concerns like that transmitted to somebody like committee staff like you? Here he's got these general concerns you are talking about and at the other end you have to go and investigate something. How does that get translated?
Jensen: Well we sat down and there was not a large organization we had. At any number of time we had as many as 12-15 people, I mean there were only five of us on the permanent staff. We would sit down and have meetings about what we were going to do — what were the priorities of the subcommittee going to be, which of course were the chairman's priorities dictate what those are going to be.
Weart: So the five staff would sit down with senator Gore?
Jensen: That's right. We'd decide what it was we were going to do.
Weart: What about the other committee members?
Jensen: Oh we did hearings for them as well. In fact the first year, in 1981 in the first session of Congress the subcommittee held 65 days of hearings on probably 20 different subjects. I was often assigned, for instance I spent time in Decatur, Illinois and Las Vegas and Las Cruces, New Mexico doing hearings for members of the subcommittees as well. We had a wide range of course because as the oversight subcommittee for the full committee we had the entire jurisdiction of the full committee. Any [???] civilian R & D related issues or science policy issues we decided to look at, we did.
Weart: Was there any specialization among the staff? Did you take on any particular role?
Jensen: I did a lot of the investigatory things. Everybody was doing some of that. We had another fellow who was a lawyer from Tennessee who got into the tougher environmental stuff, especially in anything related to toxicology, superfund, industrial occupational diseases, OSHA(?) type issues. We were pretty broad ranged. I did hearings as varied as corporate R & D planning, to fraud at FEMA, to biotechnology, to human genetic engineering and what kind of protections were available for patients, informed consent —
Weart: Very broad. How do you inform yourself on the scientific issues?
Jensen: A) you try to get yourself an automatic… a network with whatever issue you are dealing with, in other words you have to develop a very fast 'who is generally trying to inform the Congress and who is grinding an ax' — you use both because it's part of your job —
Weart: What axes are being ground —
Jensen: You have to distill what the political cosmos of a particular issue is and advise your boss accordingly but you also just learn to be smart. You do that by talking to people and doing a lot of reading. That was at the time when I became quite familiar the OTA. At any given time I would usually have four or five GAO studies, two or three OTA studies, and three jobs going on at the CRS. In some respects a committee staffer is a research manager.
Weart: What's the CRS —
Jensen: Congressional Research Service — at the Library, you always have these people moving along doing the study work for you.
Weart: Turning to global warming, was there anybody on the staff who took a particular interest in this?
Jensen: First it was a fellow named Tom Grumbly who was my first boss. He asked me to help with the hearing. Then later there was a chemist who worked for, first at one time was assigned to one subcommittee and was then assigned to Gore for years and his name is Jim Green. He was a Ph.D. chemist. Jim and I used to do tandems we did joint hearings because both Congressmen Scheuer and Al Gore both had an interest in the greenhouse effect. We did a lot of our hearings jointly. That was a sort of a classic, where Jim knew a little bit about this and I knew a little bit about that. He knew the substance better than I did. I knew how to put out a hearing and call the media and get that sort of business organized, so we just sort of joined forces. Gore and Scheuer always hit it off on a number of issues. They were simpatico politically with respect to environmental issues and we used to do a lot of joint hearings. That's a way of coagulating resources.
Weart: Let's go back now and pick up on those. It's 1980 — now I don't know how much you knew or were aware at the time of the previous history about for example the attempts made during the l970s to build up a climate research program — is that still?
Jensen: I was vaguely aware but that was not really in my beat until 1981. I got up to speed on that — of course there were people on the committee staff, George Brown being the main one. The Science and Tech committee has jurisdiction over NOAAs R&D programs —
Weart: That's congress representative — Representative Brown?
Jensen: Yes, and he was instrumental — his subcommittee had jurisdiction over that. Later that became Scheuer's subcommittee and Scheuer had jurisdiction over NOAA so the evolution of the climate program office was part and parcel(?) now. Later people became upset about how that necessarily came to pass but be that as it may that is where the awareness of the committee sort of bubbled up. People were aware and therefore had contacts with the atmospheric community. There are contacts, especially through the federal R & D agencies where the committee, if they're savvy, part of their job is to know what's current in the scientific community. That doesn't mean that everything in the scientific community can be automatically translated into action but that is one of the ways you can come up with ideas. You maintain contacts with the various professional communities. In this case people got interested.
Weart: Let's talk about the first trends(?) you were involved in which was in 1981. Where did the impetus for that come from?
Jensen: From Gore.
Weart: He said what?
Jensen: He said ‘I want to focus on the greenhouse effect, let's get some stuff going and see what we can do.’
Weart: Not environmental pollution in general or atmospheric conditions?
Jensen: He had been doing plenty at that time.
Weart: There was ozone —
Jensen: He was involved in the clean air debate, he was involved in superfund — he was instrumental in the creation of the superfund.
Weart: Right, but these hearings were to be specifically made on the greenhouse effect —
Jensen: The greenhouse effect — that was really the first hearing to our knowledge that was specifically focused on that. That is the title on the publications — The Greenhouse Effect.
Weart: This was the senate committee, not a joint one?
Jensen: No this was the House Committee. The House Committee on Science and Technology, the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight.
Weart: I guess I am confused because it is Senator Gore.
Jensen: Senator Gore became "Senator Gore" in 1984.
Weart: Of course — he was Representative Gore. Now I understand better. He says 'let's hold hearings' and then what do you do?
Jensen: We go set about the business of finding out who knows what. He was aware of some of Roger Revelle's declarations. To a remarkable degree — because I have worked for other members of Congress — Al is aware of what is going on in the community. He is not a staff-driven sort. He understood. So we began investigating the issue. You isolate those issues you want to focus on and it became a chance for Revelle to talk about what he thought. There was a long discussion —
Weart: So now you have to set up the people who are going to come.
Jensen: That's right.
Weart: Revelle was an obvious choice.
Jensen: Revelle was a choice. We of course had NOAA come in and NASA and NSF.
Weart: When you say you have NOAA, NASA and NSF come in — do you go into NOAA and say ‘send somebody’ or do you have somebody particular in mind?
Jensen: Well, both. Whichever works. Now in this case, if you're smart, what you do is find out who is the most knowledgeable and then you invite them. To a degree a federal agency is allowed to send whoever they want as long as it's on point. In other words, they can send somebody more senior to the person selected. But in this case even though this was an investigatory subcommittee there were often times when we would hold hearings that were really more in the nature of a seminar. Gore was moderating a seminar and witnesses were making statements about things and there was dialogue between the members of the subcommittee and the members of the witnesses — so it was not hostile in any way.
Weart: What time of year was this and about how many people showed up?
Jensen: This was in late July; there were nine witnesses. I think there was less than 20 people in the audience, probably many of whom had some sort of professional, personal attachment to the witness. It was not heavily attended.
Weart: I see.
Jensen: It was considered very obscure.
Weart: Was there anything like a conflict — a difference of opinion among people?
Jensen: Oh yes, especially at that time it was reflected that ‘does this exist or does it not.’ Moreover, there was a long discussion about what we jocularly termed ‘chartography’ because people were arguing about the Keeling bit. In other words, we had Keeling's curve there and we argued about what does it mean, 'is that an increase, is it only an increase if you chop off a certain amount of time, what if you put the Keeling data in a 300 year time span — does it look like much then' and all those sorts of debates were going on and on.
Weart: You know they almost cut that off in 1963?
Jensen: Yes, I know there is a blip in the data because in one quarter there was one part of the cycle —
Weart: They just barely had it going. So, was there any attempt to get people from different sides of it or was it just sort of who showed up.
Jensen: No, no, no. We were fairly careful not about trying to orchestrate or rig the witnesses but you do want to — well you have a better congressional hearing if the people are very sharp. Some people run their hearings according to sort of a town council type where they just open it up to whoever wants to comment at an open mike. We didn't do that but on the other hand you can stand accused that it's not at all useful to hold hearings that are rigged and unbalanced so we tried to get people from all walks, all the relevant agencies. You learn more that way.
Weart: Now Revelle presumably said that carbon dioxide might be a severe problem?
Jensen: That's right.
Weart: Was there anybody particular who took the other viewpoint?
Jensen: Yes but I can't recall the name. I can look that up before I get back.
Weart: You don't need to because I'll probably be reading these hearings.
Jensen: That's a good idea — I recommend that. I am sorry I don't have a copy. I used to but they got lost in the shuffle when I left Gore's office. So I don't have a personal copy, but I can tell you where to get them.
Weart: That would be handy. I can always look them up at the library but it would be much nicer if I could have some in hand. So, what were the resonances of this hearing?
Jensen: One was that there were a couple of other members there, especially Congressman Scheuer for a while but mostly it was then Congressman Gore. One is that we were able to make the statement that there appeared to be something of a growing consensus within if you have a careful fellow like Roger Revelle making statements, that's not a wild thing that's important. That's terribly important in political terms because Congressmen will rarely act until they believe there is at least something approaching a scientific consensus.
Weart: That's one of our grave problems here.
Jensen: Oh, indeed and that's once again one of our cultural gaps between the two is that a raging debate does not give — since Congressman Gore understands but the average garden variety Congressman does not understand basic scientific debate and his tendency, just like it is in politics, ‘until you guys have settled your differences I am not going to fund you or pay much attention to you — when you guys have made up your mind then get back to me about what it is you want me to do — do you want me to make policy act’ —
Weart: And yet Congressmen will act in the absence of a consensus of among, let's say, economists.
Jensen: If they feel like there is never going to be one, but they feel a lot more often, and they will act in the absence of a scientific consensus too if they feel on their own judgment like acting —
Weart: If they can see the real urgency —
Jensen: But at this time, which was a relatively obscure question of atmospheric — as you have pointed out a relatively small community really and the interdisciplinary ties had not developed yet — they said ‘why should we get involved at this point.’ But that was not Gore's attitude. Gore was beginning to see there was a terribly important problem and wanted to become a bit of a prophet I think.
Weart: Now when you were talking at the Smithsonian last week you mentioned that some of this had been picked up by the Washington Post.
Jensen: That's right. They ran an editorial and I will find that for you by hook or by crook. Again, like I say, I have a disadvantage with the materials. But they ran an editorial that said whereas the greenhouse effect was once thought to be a subject for the sandals and granolas crowd there is now appearing to be — I forget the exact term they used, it was a matter of scientific consensus, of growing scientific consensus that this may in fact be a real environmental problem.
Weart: Getting this kind of press attention was one of the reasons hearings were held?
Jensen: Always. The press is always an enormous part of a triad. If you need to publicize a scientific issue you need the help of the popular press. Again, because of the low level training in science and technology in Congress you have to utilize the popular press.
Weart: So the Post had somebody at the hearings?
Jensen: Maybe or maybe not — editorials are hard to pin down because it may have been just some guy reading the transcripts or it may have been some guy just reading about it. Editorials are much more of a black box. Bylines, of course, I know the reporters and I can see but I don't know if the Post was there or not. For all I know Roger Revelle may have called them. There is really no way to know because there are no bylines. But it was a reasonably important event because that's something we could xerox and pass out.
Weart: You did that?
Jensen: That's right.
Weart: And passed it out to whom?
Jensen: Congressmen. People who inquired about it. People were interested in this issue because the very next year there was another hearing where the agenda was to save the research budget in the Department of Energy.
Weart: Why don't we take that. How does that get started?
Jensen: That gets started really by Jim Green who was responsible as the staffer — now authorization subcommittees — I worked for an investigation subcommittee where the purview and the actual duties are more easily defined just by the chairman. The duties of a subcommittee that is authorizing for the appropriations of funds for agencies, they've got beats. In other words, they've got certain areas and programs that they are supposed to oversee and one of Jim's responsibilities was to oversee the DOEs budget on CO2 research. The Reagan administration had zeroed it out. They said no funds for that particular fiscal year.
Weart: That's right and they'd already been in office for well over a year at that time.
Jensen: That's right, Kumanoff was head of it at that point and they were to take it down to nothing.
Weart: Do you know anything about that? Did you talk to the people at DOE?
Jensen: Yes. They were aware — they never went on the record to say, you know, obviously they worked for the White House just like everybody else. The OMB was the one who zeroed it out. We knew it and so we sought to set about a record making the case on a front basis that these funds should not be cut, particularly at a time when scientific discoveries were coming to pass and showed if nothing else it was more real than previously supposed.
Weart: Did you personally deal with people at DOE? Did you call them up or did they come to visit you?
Jensen: Both. We called them up and learned — you get to be pretty good in those jobs at learning what is going on within the bowels of an agency. Jim in particular was very familiar with how DOE operated. He learned the characters and the players and he was supposed to be very familiar with that terrain. In this case what we did was also set about to seek what the most recent publications or soon to be published results, were showing. This brought forth Hansen and Broecker.
Weart: How did you come upon Hansen and Broecker specifically?
Jensen: Again, part of your job requirement is to have a network of contacts within varying scientific communities.
Weart: So it wouldn't necessarily be the DOE, it could be through NASA or NOAA —
Jensen: NASA, NOAA, scientific societies — I always had my own favorite set of just independent academic researchers — people at Brookings or where ever, depending on the subject. No good staffer is without his own stable who help him make judgements. Obviously I was not [noise] a scientist… Dr. Green, although I can say he was a Ph.D. chemist.
Weart: Is this done mostly over the telephone?
Jensen: That's right. It's all a verbal sort of thing. We had those guys arrive and in essence presented their papers to Congress.
Weart: [???]… recently.
Jensen: Those had both been published at that point. I think they were both published in Science — memory escapes me. In essence what we did is we made a scientific meeting out of the hearing which was translated for the Congressmen.
Weart: By translated, you mean you worked with them beforehand to coach them?
Jensen: You try to make sure you encourage them to put their testimony more in lay terms. They present the papers and say ‘look, we've got your paper here and we know what that's about — please try to explain that more in lay terms.’ That was made easy by working for a guy like Gore because he could actually read a paper in science magazine and make some sense out of it.
Weart: Right but you're not just doing it for him.
Weart: Were you meaning mainly you and Green?
Jensen: That's right.
Weart: You'd call them up and say ‘we want you to testify — here's how you do it.’ Was this their maiden run in both cases?
Jensen: I believe so if memory serves.
Weart: Actually I've talked with Broecker but not about the particular thing. I'll be talking to Hansen soon.
Jensen: He talked mostly to Jim Green, not to me. What we were seeking to do there was to present these results over two days. We also got Melvin Calvin to come testify.
Weart: Where did that idea come from?
Jensen: That actually came from another fellow on the staff who was a physicist and had been working at DOE and had recently joined our staff as a detailee from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and he said Melvin Calvin is real, real sharp. I remembered Dr. Calvin because I attended Berkeley. I never took his courses because I wasn't in Chemistry but he was an exciting speaker, a Nobel laureate, and those kinds of things are important because it helped to attract the media. NBC news came and covered it. They came with their cameras to the hearing. They came the day before to our offices and we sat down and explained what this was all about.
Weart: Just because you had a Nobel Prize?
Jensen: It was not lost on them — [???] Hansen's and Broecker's. We explained that to them also. It helps to have a draw with a Nobel laureate but if you've got a set of esteemed scientists with credentials making declared statements sometimes you can get the media to attend something like that and that's how we did it.
Weart: Also around that time the National Academy was having a climate review panel.
Jensen: That's right, with Smagorinsky. You just reminded me — two things were going on. One is Melvin Calvin — remember I think it was called ERAB, the Energy Research Advisory Board, at DOE — he was advising the DOE. We invited him as a member of ERAB to comment on the notion of DOE cutting their own funds.
Weart: I see. So ERAB would have been concerned about it.
Jensen: That's correct. You're jogging my memory here. So that is the auspices under which Dr. Calvin was invited.
Weart: Or was invited not necessarily by you but was sort of put forth by DOE also?
Jensen: No actually we thought of him by ourselves.
Weart: But he came under ERAB also?
Jensen: That is an example of how networks can operate. I don't know if the DOE would have offered him up or not but we called him up ourselves and he really had a legitimate claim to be there. As well we also had data that was coming out from the academy at that time and data was coming out from EPA. EPA was making their first forays into this area as well. Basically what we were doing is anything that was any noteworthy findings, we were going to put them on the record in terms of a hearing and use that as evidence and use that to counter the notion that the CO2 budget at DOE should be counted. It's really very factual systematically.
Weart: So NBC came and in fact put them on the TV —
Jensen: That night.
Weart: And what are the responses to that — when somebody in one of your hearings appears on TV what kind of feedback do you get? Do people from Congress come around and ask you about it the next day?
Jensen: Heightened awareness — that is a very tough thing to measure but you just know it. People are little more hip when you mention the word greenhouse effect – ‘oh yeah, I saw that piece’ and another important result was shortly thereafter NOVA did a piece: the PBS NOVA, which ran many, many times over the next three and four years. Journalists also watch television — print journalists — so they are more aware of what you are talking about. It just sort of raises the general consciousness so the next time you mention an issue to someone the response isn't ‘huh’ —
Weart: So you might be going to a staff member of another congressman and you don't have to explain to them what it is.
Jensen: In this particular case what we did is Jim Green and I went and saw the appropriations staff who actually it is the appropriations committee who writes the checks, and after this hearing we made a case to him and brought the hearing in hand, and said ‘Look, this is what we think — this might sound a little goofy to you but there is this thing called the greenhouse effect and it's terribly important — here is a bunch of important scientists saying so and we think the committee might perhaps start thinking about restoring the funding’ and they did to a degree. They didn't do all that we asked for but they did give it some. So it was not zeroed out that year.
Weart: So you know how that decision was made. You go to the staffer and he brings it to their attention?
Jensen: He brings it to the attention of the members and that goes into their mix.
Weart: And they may also have seen the thing on TV.
Weart: So the members of Congress didn't come and talk to you about it or anything? In other words you didn't get anybody coming back to you and saying —
Jensen: No not immediately but it was just a little — we got a little newspaper coverage off of it. There are internal information dissemination systems in Congress too. There is an organization called — which Gore chaired for many years — The Energy Environment Study Conference. They publish something called The Green Sheet. All the staffers for environment and energy read this thing religiously because it covers all the hearings before and after the fact. That is the one way they collected the information as exchange. Pretty soon probably every environmental ally(?) in the Congress had read that Gore had a hearing on greenhouse effect and then what happened to it.
Weart: And then that goes in here and out the other end goes a little money to keep this program going for a while. Now this was the DOE program which turned out to be one of the more important programs.
Jensen: At the time. At the time that was probably one of the biggest sources of funding I think for this kind of research. Dedicated funding.
Weart: My understanding — and maybe you can correct this — is that there was an attempt in the 1970s to put together a combined program that sort of failed and different people picked up different pieces. NOAA did a little bit, NASA did a little bit, NSF did a little bit —
Jensen: That's my understanding.
Weart: The EPA, as you said, started taking interest.
Jensen: There are people who could probably give you that derivation more expertly than I, like for instance Mike Hall at NOAA who is now the head of the climate research for NOAA. He was around in those days. There are people who remember and will give you all the precise data but that was my impression that they tried to stitch it together at that point. It didn't quite work. That was partly what, I think, Congress had in mind in the climate program office. It didn't entirely come to pass so each agency went about doing what they were doing. I think they were closely [???] enough in the evidences at CES — while there is some friction, of course — basically their agency group works.
Weart: Let's move on into this. It started happening in the mid-1980s. What did you know or what kind of interactions did you have with things that were going in, for example at NASA? I know that Brotherton(?) started up what eventually became the Committee on Earth Sciences; the academy was continuing to do studies. The Department of Energy was gradually taking over more or less as a lead agency it would seem. What can you tell me about those things that were happening in the administration? Did you have any interaction with that?
Jensen: Well some. I think what was felt is the aid — they stopped trying to whack the budgets. I think through the forces of their scientific advisory board, all of them. The various boards in effect, I think that is one of the reasons the cohesion amongst the agencies. If you look at the overlapping membership of the scientific advisory boards for these particular programs they tend to be the same people. In other words, there is great overlap. Their scientific direction comes from sort of a core group of people. There is a person named Deborah Stirling you probably need to talk to about that at some point. She used to be my boss at NCAR. She is the head of external relations for NCAR and probably one of the best scientific lobbyists ever. She used to work for Senator Hollings. She knows the scientific community, atmospheric community intimately because those are her clients. That is her beat. She is someone very much worth talking to and terribly knowledgeable about the political process because she was a committee staffer for Senator Hollings for twelve years.
Weart: That is interesting. I am certainly going to get out to NCAR because I have people to talk with but it wouldn't have occurred to me to have looked her up.
Jensen: You should talk to Deborah. She knows the history from the scientific community's point of view better than I do, and dating back farther. Anyhow, so you had this cohesion. We were aware of what the academy was doing, what the EPA was doing, we kept abreast on what DOE was doing and all those things came to pass. Now mind you in 1984 Senator Gore was elected to the Senate and that took a while. That takes a lot of time and things were concentrated. He talked about the issue very much in that context.
Weart: But there wasn't much happening in the committee in 1983-84 because he was campaigning?
Jensen: That's right but we always kept abreast of the issue and made sure that nothing terrible was happening to the research plan.
Weart: But you weren't holding hearings at that point?
Jensen: No. Then when he went to the Senate initially he was assigned to both the senate congress committee and the governmental affairs committee. At that point Jim Green came over to work on the [???] committee for a while for Senator Gore. He was handling that almost exclusively.
Weart: Now you were still on the house committee?
Jensen: No I had gone to the senate with Senator Gore. I stayed with the committee for about a month or two until some things were worked out and then in March of 1985 I went to work with Senator Gore.
Weart: I see, as committee staff?
Jensen: Committee staff. This shows you how convoluted the structures can be in the in Senate. I was an employee of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs except that primarily my job was to staff Senator Gore on the commerce committee. There was another couple of fellows who took care of the governmental affairs work. I was a part there to get a paycheck but I was primarily doing his investigatory work on a number of issues including fraud in the music industry and that was right around the time — that I did a lot of work in air safety over the years — we were investigating some crashes. For instance, what was to be the federal result from the Gander air crash. Lastly though I was terribly busy at that time doing a lot of work because that was right after Challenger, during that period. In fact, Senator Gore was the fellow who discovered that the quality assurance personnel had been reduced by 70% at NASA during that time period.
Weart: I remember he was involved in that.
Jensen: That is the kind of stuff I was doing then.
Weart: So you were not involved in global warming at that time?
Jensen: Some. But Jim Green — Dr. Green — was with us by that time. In fact, he and I were still office mates. He was really doing the day to day stuff. Gore was pushing bills. I remember he worked a resolution very hard. He was still very much the leader on this.
Weart: I'll have to talk to Jim Green. Is he around?
Jensen: Yes. He works for the House Science Committee group. He's an interesting fellow. Right around 1986 is when NASA made the discoveries about destruction in the stratospheric ozone.
Weart: Of course ozone had been a problem all along and that was another question I wanted to ask you — rewinding back to the early 1980s — were you much involved with the ozone and was there any cross-talk, so to speak, between the ozone and global warming?
Jensen: There was awareness that there was possible damage, that CFCs were bad news — let's put it that way. Jim would be more the expert in that area because he was a trained chemist. At that point all that I could see, it was my impression in my involvement, if the greenhouse effect was an esoteric issue the CFCs were even more.
Weart: Is that so?
Jensen: They do fluorocarbon work —
Weart: Spray cans had already been banned —
Jensen: Aerosol cans had already been banned — there was that general thing. But it was not — I don't think — considered so concurrently as having the same amount of weight as the greenhouse effect in terms of being a public policy.
Weart: Did you have any feeling that there was any fusing between the two, that people had a hard time distinguishing between different kinds of air pollution?
Jensen: Not then because the CFC issues were so obscure that people weren't confusing the two because they didn't know of the existence of the other. The level of consciousness regarding the greenhouse effect was pretty low but if anything the CFCs was even lower. But that changed.
Weart: So it really wasn't until about 1986 when NASA discovered the famous ozone hole.
Jensen: Major event because now other members started to get interested because the media was interested and the congress was interested because now you have a demonstrable near term threat to public health.
Weart: Before we get to the hearings — were you involved in the hearings on that?
Weart: I see. There were hearings in 1986 on both ozone and the greenhouse effect. You mentioned NASAs discovery, do you know any role the EPA may have played in that finding?
Jensen: I know that they were making declarations about it but again, I had become sufficiently removed in terms of my day to day staff assignments and so busy — in the senate you become more specialized. That was something I didn't like but I did. I had a vague awareness — I had conversations with Jim but he was the one who really knew what each agency was doing. The one thing about this is there always is competition amongst these agencies for primaricy [primariness] just like there is amongst politicians. EPA wanted to be the lead agency, Kumanoff wanted to be the lead guy, NASA and NSF were a little more cooperative especially these days. But everybody was trying to push their own button. Some people felt EPA was the most aggressive. Moreover that also gets reflected in a certain ‘clientitis’ that goes on amongst the committees of congress that authorize those—
Jensen: I call it ‘clientitis’. For instance when you have a lot of work hub-bubbing around whether or not there should be an IPCC-like organization and how we should cooperate with them. Then you had the State Department being pushed by the foreign relations committee, and the science committee pushing the scientific agencies, etc.
Weart: What they call the watch dog is actually a lap dog. So you haven't been too much involved then in these global warming issues directly since then?
Jensen: No, that's not true. What happened is that after I left Senator Gore's office in February of 1987, and at that point after I was briefly a consultant at the Health Effects Institute up in Cambridge and then down in Mexico City trying to put an agreement together to study pollution — urban ozone — because they had such terrible levels of pollution, the notion was is it possible to start doing epidemiological studies since you have a living laboratory where ozone is at unacceptable levels 100 days a year. That was my job. Then I went to work for NCAR. It was in March of 1987. That was right at the time they began to set up CES in a serious way. That's when the directors were coming down — the three heads of the NASA, NOAA, and NSF got together and said ‘this shall be.’ I was helping them essentially deal with Congress.
Weart: Now what were you doing for NCAR specifically?
Jensen: I was placed as a fellow at NOAA. I was working out of Rockville. I went to Boulder a lot because I was technically being paid by UCAR — University Corporation for Atmospheric Research — which is the overseeing body. I worked for Deb Sterling but they had me part at NOAA and I was helping them put this package together — how do you sell a package like this to Congress, what's the best way to go. So then I suddenly got back in a real big way.
Weart: So you wouldn't call you a lobbyist but a liaison expert.
Jensen: No. Liaison yes. And I didn't lobby anybody either. I was making some people — some of the committee staff — aware of what was going in within the agencies, making them aware of the science that was involved.
Weart: What was the objective of the exercise?
Jensen: The notion was to have a coordinated federal effort on what was now called global climate change, which included both stratosphere ozone destruction and the greenhouse effect.
Weart: Clean air… earth sciences. Right. That got set up in 1988?
Jensen: Eventually in 1988 but the origins of the meetings were happening in the spring of 1987. It was a fairly serious business. Meetings between the agencies, amongst the agencies, the agencies were getting themselves internally organized.
Weart: Where did the impetus for that come from?
Jensen: It sounds really silly but I couldn't tell you in some respects. I know the general strands. One is that in the budget climate of that time, which still exists, there was no way the Congress was going to fund each agency to duplicate each other. There was much too much concern about funds. That was the year that Gramm-Rudman was passed in 1986. Getting new ventures going was a very, very tricky affair. In fact the CES venture, the global climate change program, has been one of the few new starts that's been allowed since 1986 in terms of a big ticket item. Another big impetus for this was that the guiding lights within the scientific community — here I am talking about Francis Bretherton, Berrien Moore, or Jim McCarthy at Harvard, or Jack Eddy at UCAR — so that the real doyens in the scientific community were serving. They were beginning to realize that a) it was an interdisciplinary problem, and b) that the research agencies had to be coordinated — they couldn't be tripping over one or themselves. It was too complicated and too much of a ballet that needed to be done for people to just simply all go out and get their own bucks and fight it out.
Weart: So to some extent it came from these scientists…
Jensen: Absolutely. Like I say, if you look at the overlapping membership of the major advisory boards for the three R & D agencies they were very simpatico. I remember the very first meetings — in fact we had big meeting up at GFDL in April of 1987 and some of the people were just snickering that you couldn't even get the line organizations within NOAA to cooperate let alone get all these agencies to do, but they made it stick. It was largely due to the efforts, I think, that the agency administrators were committed to making it happen — they knew it was silly for them to try to build up their own empires because they weren't going to get the bucks for an empire. People were truly savvy about the Congress. The lower levels I think were snickering a bit because they thought 'I'm just going to protect my own turf' but really I think it was due to the efforts of three people — Shelby Tilford at NASA, Mike Hall at NOAA and Bob Correll who had just come out of the University of New Hampshire along with Barry Moore to NSF. In other words, those are three very broad-minded guys who understood what was at stake. They were at the very senior level where the guys would make it stick.
Weart: So somehow there was a vision that it would be possible to put together a combined program and get real money for it.
Jensen: Get real money and make it a new start. The main thing, and this is where I came in and I served as the little voice who people knew had congressional experience, and I said ‘you guys are crazy if you think you are going to get new start money and if you don't walk up there acting like you are totally organized, because if they smell the slightest whiff of duplication, they will cut down on the budget.’
Weart: So they would pull people against one another —
Jensen: That's right or they would just ignore it. They would just say there were three bureaucracies trying to get a hot topic going and gild their lily.
Weart: So by getting it together they were also making a more convincing case that there was something important here.
Jensen: That's right. They came out with booklets. And following that there were problems. They didn't get all the money they wanted but they got some. They didn't get all they wanted but it really began to move in a real direction. Meanwhile, of course, crackling back again and updating, the amount of awareness was skyrocketing in Congress. Now you have a lot of congressmen — it wasn't just Senator Gore anymore it was Senator Baucus, Senator Glenn, Senator Wirth — suddenly more and more people were taking a very avid interest and while there were some people who were calling it greenhouse effect — at that point we started calling it global climate change. It was somewhat obscure and a lot more activity. It was not in the darkness.
Weart: Going back to 1987 this is when Senator Gore was running for president and mentioned greenhouse warming as part of his — were you involved at all in his campaign?
Weart: Were you involved in that aspect of it?
Jensen: Some. But by that time Al had other people working for him who had been doing it for him. I was, in this campaign, more responsible for his NASA program. He was very much identified with the space program, and that was really my beat. I came to work at OTA in October of 1987. I wasn't at this NCAR a real long time. At that time it was really tough for me to participate in the campaign because this is a bipartisan agency. I work as much for Ted Stevens as I do for Mo Udall so I can't take campaign activity [???] that significantly.
Weart: Let me just ask you though if you know anything about what response, politically speaking, he got to global warming?
Jensen: As a major platform in his campaign?
Weart: Yes. What difference, if any, did it make?
Jensen: I will tell you what you actually need to do is talk to a good friend of mine — Larry Harrington. I will either get a hold of Larry Harrington or Thurgood Marshall, Jr. Thurgood “Goodie”, as we called him, was the issues director for Gore. Larry was the deputy head of the campaign. They would really know. I would just be guessing. I got into a lot of meetings which the average outsider wouldn't have in the Gore campaign but I don't really know compared to what — I can't really give you a decent expert answer.
Weart: I can just call him up sometime, maybe you can give me some phone numbers?
Weart: Maybe I can interview him over the telephone for a short question like that. That would be very interesting to me.
Jensen: I know Al felt it was terribly important. I know that Al had made [???] to stick. It's funny, this is an example among others of how I think there are times when people felt Al Gore was sort of involved in obscure esoteria — they didn't quite understand. And, all the while he's gone from being a relatively junior congressman to a definite presidential contender and the major platforms are still these issues. For instance, organ transplantation — nobody else saw that but he did. He has an uncanny ability to pick out an issue that everybody else would label as esoteric and then transform it into getting the kind of policy attention that it deserves. That's really one of his true geniuses. I say that in an objective way. Even though I've watched it and participated in the process, he was amazing that way. People wonder why he's running for president at the age of 42 — well, that's really why. He's got a much more sensitive radar screen than many other people do.
Weart: Technical things. So going back to 1988 when the CES and so forth started to get underway, what role do you think — there were hearings but you weren't involved, with Hansen's testimony and so forth. You must have been paying attention to that at NCAR.
Jensen: By then I was at OTA as well but during 1988 we started a major project on global climate change which just came out last February.
Weart: At OTA. Oh, so that early you started on —
Jensen: Our projects take 2 1/2 to 3 years but 2 years is a more average.
Weart: Before we get to the 1988 thing, who started that project?
Jensen: We got a request from Senator Gore, Senator Baucus, Senator Worth, Congressman Brown, Congressman Scheuer — all the people, we work on a distilled basis.
Weart: That's right — in fact I have a list with like 16 different people. That was in connection with legislation that Worth introduced.
Jensen: It's all part of the same deal though. At this point you have a high level of visibility. I think the public really became rapid — becoming much more aware of global climate change because you have declarations about the drought, I have to dig up that piece up from CBS about Hodell's statements about what to do and how to and how to counteract(?). By now the thing is getting a lot of media. In terms relative to other scientific issues that are not medically related this was getting a hell of a lot of attention.
Weart: You saw in my talk, I gave the statistics that the attention tripled between the spring and the fall of 1988.
Jensen: Incidentally that's one thing I'd like to mention to you — I am still tracking it down — but I understand now there is an indexed guide to nightly news.
Weart: Yes, that may be so. There are people who tape it and index it.
Jensen: That's going to be my next curve. I am going to go down and do everything —
Weart: Sometime within the next year or two I am going to do searches on Lexis.
Jensen: I've already done that. Would you like my stuff?
Weart: Yes, thought would save me some money.
Jensen: I would be happy to provide that. That's expensive work.
Weart: Great. I was going to do some statistics on it. I have some funds for it but if you've done it then it would be silly to reproduce it. I also have some polls that is a service up in, — I have forgotten where but I will look up old polls for you. I found that the public's awareness of greenhouse effect was about 40% of the people knew about it in 1980 and about 75-80% by 1990. There weren't enough polls in between though to figure out the curve.
Jensen: That's a steady rise though. That's interesting. I am surprised it's that high in 1980, to be frank.
Weart: Well a lot of people confused it with smog and so on. They had a vague awareness, it was there in the public mind somewhere but not very clearly differentiated.
Jensen: That is more than I would have intuitively given it at that point.
Weart: By the 1988 polls it was differentiated and they did understand to the extent that 50% of the public ever understands any of these! So, to what do you attribute this big jump in 1988?
Jensen: The drought.
Weart: There was the drought but there had been droughts all along.
Jensen: It was correlated, at least in the public's mind. Regardless of what Jim Hansen did or didn't say the media thought that he said it was the drought. By now you are talking not just about Science Magazine and nightly news, you are talking about USA Today.
Weart: Yes, the time has to be right. Jim Hansen's testimony — would that have done anything if there hadn't been this coordinated push by the agencies which as you say was already in place and they were already pushing for a legislation and money and so forth?
Jensen: Although they are related I don't think the scientific push — the push for the research — you really almost start getting a two-track effort because a) the environmental community is into it big time by now and they're pushing almost a [???] policy in the research. Even amongst the champions of this new research program guys still sit there in an open meeting making a declaration that they're not sure there is going to be a cataclysmic greenhouse effect. As scientists they —
Weart: I'll tell you that right now. I'm not sure there is going to be a cataclysmic effect —
Jensen: I understand that, but that was not the kind of message that was driving the policy side of the bills(?). By now you're getting bills dropped in that have policy in them, whether it's adaptive or —
Weart: Let's catch that track because that is something I was wanting to ask you about also. At what point did you first become aware that people might want not just money for research but can you remember when the first policy pushes came in and from where?
Jensen: The drought.
Weart: Not until 1988?
Jensen: 1988. Now, excuse me! Again we're talking on multiple tracks here. As far as CFCs, the minute the ozone hole was discovered…
Weart: I'm not talking about CFCs.
Jensen: Montréal and all that was set in motion already but as far as the CO2 emissions reductions I think probably in 1986 you start to hear about it that people should start thinking about it. I would have to go back, frankly, and look for the bills but by 1988 it's at full war.
Weart: Now there were people even earlier — Kenneth Boulding, Stephen Schneider — were saying from the early 1980s that the painless steps should be taken.
Jensen: Absolutely. And the steps they were describing to many make good public policy sense anyway, whether you are going to have massive global warming or not.
Weart: Although somehow the steps always seem to be the ones that particular people think are the right steps to take.
Jensen: Sure. Fuel efficiency, CAFE —
Weart: Whatever —. Did these people come around? Was there any strong push from anywhere or was this just sort of ideas that were floating around?
Jensen: Ideas were floating around by now. Like I say, you had the professional environmental community looking after it and coming up with options. We were cooking up options.
Weart: Who were the professional environmental community insofar as you have been aware of them?
Jensen: Sierra Club, World Resources Institute, Gus Speth —
Weart: Who does Gus Speth work for?
Jensen: He is president of WRI and by now Ralph Pomerantz has gone to work for him and he was doing a lot of work on that issue. Those are the most visible that I had contact with and that I remember but by now it is becoming a major agenda item of the environmental community. Those that are identifiable enough as a group to have paid lobbyists in Washington and a paid presence, and whose concentrate on transferring information is becoming a real deal. In fact, I just thought of one way to track this, in other words another curve. If we could talk the EESC and their greensheet — I don't know how heavily indexed their past stories were but we could come up with a good curve there about bills and interest. Anyway, I digressed!
Weart: Interesting. If they had it on a data base then it is probably searchable. That would be interesting. So now tell me about the current study, that is the one that has been going on for two years or so. [cross-talk] What was your involvement with this study?
Jensen: Well, it's like at OTA we have 25 studies going, we have 50 studies going on sometimes at any one time. This was one obviously given my past history they were asking me to make sure all [???] [noise] clients were served equally and properly. In a way you are sort of inventing a new discipline to try to come up with models — not so much the models of damage or the potential damage of the warming but models of what is available, what is actually possible in terms of a policy response to reduce CO2 emission, so that was tough. It is an interesting document because it's requested by all the people in Congress who are interested in this issue. Therefore, it's really a distillation of what their common interests are in many respects. There is a lot of [???] bills that were punched out during this time but this is one place where they really all wanted to know — it's sort of the ‘$64,000 question’ — can you slow it down or not, and for how much.
Weart: Were there any conflicts in the writing of the report? Were there sides chosen or attempts to influence and so on?
Jensen: All of our reports… that's sort of the uniqueness of OTA. We are very much different from an academy committee in that we don't… aren't just being doyens of science. We put together what we call advisory panels and groups [noise]… develop what's possible there. We have people from Rockefeller, people from environmental groups, from Lawrence Berkeley lab, we have people from the State Department, we have independent consultants — in other words, we try to get everybody from all walks of the issue; all the scientists and the experts involved as well as the political and policy stakeholders. All of our workers are [???] stilled through them before we put it out.
Weart: So they all have a chance to take a whack at it.
Jensen: So, yes indeed there is disagreement that by the very nature we try to set it up so that all people, for instance just as an analogy yesterday we had a similar workshop on whether or not there should be a waiting period and what kind of advantage you get out of having waiting periods for firearms. We had the NRA and the gun owners and the police to come forward, and the handgun control. We had written a piece and we wanted all their comments at the same time. That is our method.
Weart: Now I know what there what their lines are but I am not sure what the lines for this. Not necessarily two sides either — what characterized the main sides that are pushing and shoving?
Jensen: One is I think there is going to be a long — I think this may be the next step as one is going to be is are we truly going to able to, is there any hope to slow down the emissions and therefore reverse or slow or retard the so-called greenhouse effect or are, in that respect, are we whistling dixie and shall we become adaptive now. The classic example is should we start building sea walls around Miami because it's inevitable what's going to happen or should be start building new plants so that we can slow the emissions rate down. That is a basic demarcation.
Weart: I can think clearly the nuclear industry is for slowing emissions and the coal industry probably is not — what other players could you identify?
Jensen: Oh boy! just about everybody — urban planners.
Weart: Which side would urban planners be on?
Jensen: It depends. Some of those people it depends on whether they're on a coastal low-lying city or not. Agricultural people, architects —
Weart: Well with agricultural people what would determine which side they would come on?
Jensen: It would depend on which models they happened to believe and how dried out they think they're going to become, or whether or not they're from an arid part of the country that they think the water might actually change for the better.
Weart: I see. If you're in a really dry area you have nothing to lose.
Jensen: If you're in New Mexico it might actually get drier but if you're from North Dakota maybe you'll get a piece of Iowa now.
Weart: I see. So it really depends on what they see in the models that they have.
Jensen: That's tougher to call. I can summarize all that and this is where you get — If you address the issues as winners or losers of course that implies that this is not uniformly a bad thing. I know that it's been a delicate subject. It has been tippy-toed around at the international conferences today.
Weart: Well, the Russians when they gather again are in the middle of one of their winters they really don't worry much about the prospects of global warming.
Jensen: Oh, of course. On the other hand, people can be somewhat narrow-minded. Of course crop patterns can change but on the other hand if your coastal cities start sinking that is not good for anybody — whether frozen or whether it's a warm port or not. So I think basing your planning on some of the current models might be kind of a foolish way to make policy but the basic thing is are there winners or losers, is it going to happen and if so, what is our response? Do we tend to retard — those are sort of three basic cuts at the kinds of the forces that went into report. Also there is the age-old thing about models — my brother used to be a model and I don't know if you can use this in your piece —
Weart: What kind of models?
Jensen: Well any kind of model and the old thing is ‘can you quantify bullshit.’ Just because you happen to come up with an algorithm doesn't mean you've made it true. We have good people here who are very, very good with numbers and cannot be fooled by a false model. I think that is one of our values to Congress is that we screen out any type of mumbo-jumbo or tough data because we've got as good as anywhere in the country to take a look at this stuff. If we don't like other people's stuff we do our own.
Weart: We don't know whether Iowa will get wetter or drier right now.
Jensen: That's a tough call but also in terms of the model what is possible in respect to energy sources? What's going to happen with CAFE?
Jensen: With CAFE standards — Corporate Average Fleet Economy — in other words, gas mileage. There are big disagreements about gas mileage standards. There are big disagreements about emissions reductions. What is possible in terms of nuclear? What's possible about the penetration of solar? What is interesting is that the global climate change I think has wedded(?) the notion forever, in terms of a public policy especially, energy and environment are indistinguishable — they really are. In fact we have to do a great deal of coordination because we have an energy program here at OTA and an environment and you come to a subject like this and they're talking about the exact same things. One begets the other.
Weart: Now going back to the climate scientific community itself, how would you characterize — and we can go right back to the 1980s and up to the present — the divisions of viewpoint there? What were the different sides?
Jensen: That would be an interesting one and I encourage you to talk to Rosina Bierbaum who directed this project — Dr. Rosina Bierbaum who is very, very sharp. She is from Stony Brook. She directed this project.
Weart: While you were setting up hearings, while you were at NCAR and all these places, what are the different viewpoints?
Jensen: The big division is this: very simply, was the greenhouse effect real? Once you come to that agreement, which of course became a consensus by the mid-1980s, most people believed it was happening at the rate and getting both the rate and the degree — I've seen very, very responsible guys who just think ‘yeah, well this is occurring but by god if it's more than a decatal process I am not sure if it's going to be more than +3 and we don't know enough about cloud cover anyhow.’ So in other words, the end effect of the degree of catastrophic effects is a major demarcation or split [???] on the side. In describing it as a split is perhaps a little erroneous because you can almost get a range of people all along the spectrum.
Weart: Have you run across people who feel that we're going to have cooling? Or is that mostly a debate of the 1970s but I didn't know whether that persisted during your period.
Jensen: Somewhat, but I wouldn't anywhere near describe that as mainstream thinking but I think there were guys, especially on two lines — one was cloud cover and two, these guys were actually very convincing although I am not an oceanographer so I could never come to a real judgment myself, was that there apparently is little know about the absorption qualities of the ocean in terms of its ability to absorb CO2. If you talk to some of the oceanographic guys they could really get you going on this notion. We don't know what it's going to do. There is stuff coming up now that is centuries old — these conductional(?) turnovers in deep parts of the ocean take hundreds of years. How do we really know how much CO2 the ocean can absorb. If you listen to that —
Weart: This has been one of the big problems — are there any particular people you associate with that?
Jensen: A whole bunch of conservative guys at NOAA. I wouldn't want to put them on the record because they didn't say it in public. I used to go in and ask a lot of scientists their gut instincts — is this really going to happen or not, what are you thinking. Often guys, mainly responsible guys, would say ‘yeah, well I think it's going to happen except that I would really like to know more about oceans and cloud cover’ and that's the thing I heard about repeatedly. That was the most convincing beyond simply ‘it's not going to happen.’
Weart: Why would they be reluctant to go on record? Is there now becoming a consensus in the agencies that we should push this as a possibility as a way of promoting research?
Jensen: I think that is current thinking now.
Weart: This is a very leading question.
Jensen: I understand. I think more though, however, is just the native caution of scientists which has been consistent throughout. That's a more charitable view. That is not to say that the other doesn't exist but the people I am speaking of — because these are people I base this judgment and I trusted — is just their native caution. It was a real education to me working in the scientific community, working with people who want 99% certainty out of everything as opposed to guys who will go with a 51% judgment. That is a huge difference.
Weart: This is a new accusation I am making. I am just putting it to you as something I haven't really heard anybody claim but it could easily be claimed that the consensus view of global warming as a really bad problem would emerge as a result of a desire to get funding.
Jensen: Sure. It's just like SDI did to the scientific community — the rally behind SDI because the bucks were there.
Weart: Except that they didn't rally around it, of course.
Jensen: Some people did.
Weart: But most of them didn't.
Jensen: I understand.
Weart: What would be your feeling about that?
Jensen: I don't think it is true and I will tell you why. I never saw any scientific meeting at least which I attended which [???] was not totally representative by — from some of these periods, and I attended a lot of these, and I've never heard anybody hesitate to pooh-pooh them. On the number of people who were pooh-poohing them, granted it has decreased but I think it is just more a part of the mainstream that the scientific process would be to convince people.
Weart: So what about the argument that the climate is simply fluctuating more or less at random, that we can't really see any signal?
Jensen: I have heard that as well. I am not professionally capable of evaluating that but there are guys who show me curves that are certainly interesting. Alternatively I have heard equally conservative guys say that it could go the opposite way. For instance, if you've ever talked to Mike Hall at NOAA, he gives a fascinating story about Greenland. He believes that it was possible — and Michael is very conservative himself — the data shows from what they could tell in terms of climate (and this is interesting for your climatological historical perspective) that he thinks it is possible that Greenland may have gone from a relatively benign habitable climate where vineyards were growing to its almost uninhabitable current conditions, in a period of about 20 years. There is some evidence to suggest that it just changed in two decades. This is a conservative guy so I think the historical evidence points in both ways.
Weart: That's interesting. This I haven't heard but I have seen lots of evidence that we haven't resolved yet. We don't know how fast it can change. Going back you can see that it changes within a century but how close within a century you don't know.
Jensen: The Greenland story is one part of a range that is 20-50 years. Even that is pretty fast — that is a lifetime, less than a lifetime. I don't know. I think that from a public policy perspective it means so many of the policy options, for instance that we recommend there make good sense in terms of a renewable resource perspective that you ought to march out anyway. At some point, like I say, if I had to guess (and I am supposed to be a forecaster here for what the agency needs are going to be) our next study will be on what policy options are possible within the realm of reason in terms of adaptation. I think that will be the next wave. People are already beginning to push it.
Weart: One last question. What do you personally think should be done? I am now talking to you as a government employee, what do you personally think should be done?
Jensen: I think you've got to get an earth observing system up there any way. We have to know more about this planet. Whether it's CO2 buildup or not there are lots of things you can learn from an EOS system and I hope they continue to spend the money to do that. I am totally convinced of that. I think that you have to get a lot more oceanographic sensing stations out there. You have to learn a lot more about the ocean. In terms of science, a lot of these scientists are going to be admittedly — they would self-admit — they are going to be whistling dixie until they get more data. Although, there are real problems with how they will handle the data. That is another internal drum beat you may have heard of. You know, we've got these observing systems up there and we buy ourselves a bunch of cra(?) and we really wouldn't know what the hell to do with all this stuff.
Weart: Yes, there would be an enormous data flow.
Jensen: In fact the very first scientific meeting I ever went to, that was the first thing out of their mouths. The working troops said ‘what am I going to do with all this stuff — you promised me all these platforms.’ I didn't understand what it meant at the time. So, that's a real problem. Already the investigatory arms of the Department of Commerce are figuring this out.
Weart: It is a severe problem. We missed the ozone hole for a long time because of exactly that and we had the data but didn't see it.
Jensen: I think we should begin to implement a number of policy options with respect to hydrocarbons anyway because even the Texas oil men who advise this agency, most of them think we're running out. There are others who believe there are going to be more giant discoveries. But OK, can we find another Prudo(?) Bay in five years? So what, I have a five-month old daughter and that's not going to do her a hell of a lot of good. So we have to start doing that. I think that if we were going to pursue a nuclear option that we ought to follow more of a French model, even at this late date. If we are going to go nuclear we have to have a standardized model. I think one of the things that frightens the hell — if you can get over the fear of nuclear power, which I equate with shark attacks in this country. The media reacts the same way. It's really interesting; air crashes, shark attacks, and nuclear power. We should have a standardized sort of reactor design and that way the federal government would more easily have local licensing capability. I don't have any real confidence that you are going to be able to put a lot of nuclear plants on line in the next 25 years. You have a new generation, which is going to have to be my daughter's generation, before people are going to stand for it. I think that we have to aggressively pursue fusion. We wrote a report on fusion here too and it's probably as much close to a [???] but say 50 years from now it turns out we do have a climate problem we are going to be more desperate than ever for sources of energy. They've got to come up with a base new energy technology. It can't be fission. Now it may be solar –- [???] somewhere, I don't care what it is but there has to be an aggressive program of pursuing energy alternatives — renewable energy alternatives. I am not very much an environmentalist but it just makes sense. We are running out of the other. The adaptation is interesting. I don't know enough about it. I don't know who knows a lot about it. I don't know if anybody has really studied it very much yet but I think we ought to be very, very cautious in our planning. I wouldn't buy land in Miami. Nor would I buy land in New Orleans or anywhere south Louisiana.
Weart: You haven't mentioned nor have most people mentioned population control.
Jensen: We've got to do it.
Weart: It doesn't normally get mentioned.
Jensen: It's a tough issue. It's a little bit like the winners and losers — it's touchy. Although, I will say Senator Gore and Mr. Wirth have both said it. For instance my boss who has forgotten more about energy than I'll ever know, believes that is a critical problem.
Weart: Who is this?
Jensen: Jack Gibbons. He used to be the head of environment studies at Oak Ridge and also was a big shot at the FEA in the early days. He believes that we are suffering in what he calls the ‘Cowboy Economy.’ He approaches population by saying that it is going to get us from an across the board resource problem. Another thing I didn't mention is I think deforestation is a real problem. That's very problematic as to how is it going to stop because it's a third world and the people we're asking to do it have no other place to turn. Every year an area the size of Tennessee is disappearing. Everybody used to say 40,000 square clicks or the size of New Hampshire, bla bla bla — well I fed it to Gore one time that it was the size of Tennessee. That is a terrible, terrible problem and I know what the reaction was to Gore and Worth when they went to Brazil, it was the ‘ugly American.’ The other problem given is just as insolvable and I don't know how we'll face it, is the Chinese.
Weart: With all their coal.
Jensen: That's all they got and with one arm we're saying this is a bad idea but also they're getting a lot of their export… their [???] technology from the United States — there's a lot of Chinese people! Again, in that respect they don't have other options. So population is a huge problem that I put in an insolvable category because the Catholic church is not going to change in the next 10-15 years — it might! Maybe with mass starvation that will affect the Church but I don't think so. Like I say, I've studied Mexico for a long time, for a while close-hand, and there is no intention of slowing down. Mexico City is bigger than Tokyo now — it's fantastic. The infrastructure is shrinking(?).
Weart: I've been there at long intervals and it does not improve.
Jensen: That is the only country that I really consider myself at all familiar with and I know what the attitude of the Church is there. I know the Church is more powerful than the government in the terms of affecting people's behavior — they ain't changing! I suppose if the next Pope said if it was OK perhaps you might make — But even in that, what will that do for China and Indonesia — absolutely nothing.
Weart: Well we better stop before we get too much more discouraged. One last thing. This is basically for my personal research use but would you have any objection if I deposited it in the library so it could be used by other scholars?
Jensen: That would be just fine.