Notice: We are in the process of migrating Oral History Interview metadata to this new version of our website.
During this migration, the following fields associated with interviews may be incomplete: Institutions, Additional Persons, and Subjects. Our Browse Subjects feature is also affected by this migration.
We encourage researchers to utilize the full-text search on this page to navigate our oral histories or to use our catalog to locate oral history interviews by keyword.
Please contact [email protected] with any feedback.
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Gordon MacDonald by James Fleming on 1994 March 21, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/32156
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
In this interview, Gordon J. F. MacDonald discusses: his family and childhood; Harvard University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Carnegie Institution geophysical laboratory; atmospheric nuclear testing; fluid dynamics; weather modification; National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR); President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC); Council on Environmental Quality; Operation Popeye and cloud seeding; JASON Defense Advisory Group; Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA); greenhouse effect; carbon tax; Union of Concerned Scientists. Individuals discussed include: Kirtley Mather; John Huston Finley; Jim Thompson; Walter Munk; Richard Nixon; Warren Washington; John H. Sununu; James Gaius Watt; Donald P. Hodel; Richard Elliot Benedick; George H. W. Bush; Al Gore.
Gordon J. MacDonald at the University of California San Diego. The date is March 21st, 1994, and the interviewer is James R. Fleming. Well, as I wrote to you, I just hope we can relax for a few hours and talk about things.
And perhaps we could begin with how you got started in life and a little bit about yourself before college, and then we’ll move into college years and then into geophysics.
Okay. Now I was born in Mexico City in 1929. My father was British; my mother was from the U.S. She was working at the U.S. Consulate in Mexico City and my father worked with the Canadian Bank (?). Shortly afterwards, as a result of the Depression, we left Mexico City and lived in a variety of small towns in Mexico, including Poditlan (?), Matawale (?) before settling in 1934 in San Luis Botisi (?). It was there that I started grade school in a Mexican school. But that was interrupted in 1939 when I came down with polio, which was not immediately diagnosed. And I ended up in Dallas, Texas in a clinic. I spent a year or so there before going back to Mexico and recovering. Finally at eighth grade I spent a year in Kerrville, Texas doing eighth grade work and then transferred to San Marcos Baptist Academy, which is a private military coeducational school in which I did my high school work.
Did you have a large family, extended family?
My family consisted of of course my parents and one sister, Barbara, who was two years younger than I.
And did this military school education have any influence on your — did you have a career path at that point in life?
The career path actually grew out of the summer work. My father, who was by that time working with the American Smelting and Refining Company in San Luis, they ran a large smelter, principally lead, some copper, at one time the world’s largest arsenic producer. During the summer of I guess beginning in my junior year and then in my senior year I worked in the laboratory of the smelter and became very much interested in chemistry, so that the science interest was in part picked up during my high school education and high school chemistry and high school biology. And physics and math were certainly enhanced by my experience actually working in an industrial setting and looking at analytical methods.
Was the primary interest in that laboratory on lead compounds?
No, it was right across the board. We would analyze for a whole variety of elements. Some of the key elements were cadmium, which was a byproduct, in order to capture as much of the cadmium in the outgoing stack gas using bags of various sorts — sulfur pontine, selenium, several things. The analytical chemistry covered a wide range of elements. And there was both the short term, which is the analysis that we would undertake in an hour or so to feed back to the engineers who were monitoring the smelting process, and then the longer term analysis concerned with changing process, trying to develop alternative techniques.
And this was in 1939.
That was, no.
I’m sorry, this is in high school.
This was in high school, so this would have been in ‘44 or ‘45.
I see. So part of the chemistry was recovering other valuable heavy metals from the process.
What was the-was there any inkling of environmental impact or concern?
No. There was simply a great deal of environmental damage. There was hardly a green thing growing because of roasting of the oars put out very large quantities of sulfur dioxide. Later on, actually in my college years, I participated in actually changing the process so that the sulfur dioxide was captured and made into sulfuric acid and then sold as a product. But the concern was not with the health of the workers per se. There were some very significant concerns about occupational health from Drinker (?), who was a leading epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School. He used sound waves as a way of studying arsenic poisoning, as it was a habit of the workers and when I was working at the plant dipping your fingers into the arsenic and licking them as a way of guarding against accidental-building up an immunity.
It was the then tradition. Obviously highly misguided, but nonetheless practiced by the people in the plant.
Well, to explore your first trip to America, could you give us just a first impression at age 10 of — (?) It was obviously a medical situation.
Well actually I had been to the U.S. before, because my grandmother lived in Kerrville, Texas. We visited her on a couple of occasions when I was 6 or 7. The trip in 1939 of course was highly traumatic. I had very bad paralysis of both legs and some in my arms, and being left in a hospital by myself was not a very pleasant experience. One very positive thing that came out of that was an uncle, Dudley Woodward (?), who was an attorney and had served as chairman of the Board of Regents of The University of Texas, made a practice of virtually every day coming by to see me and the two of us would then discuss the news. He subscribed to the Dallas Morning News for me, so I would read the paper and be ready to discuss world events with him every morning, and including sports events which very much interested me.
Okay. So you’ve had an active reading and discussing.
Yes. It was, he’s somebody highly intelligent, with a good deal of experience in both the legal world and the educational world, had strong feelings about politics. He was a Democrat, as virtually all Texans at the time were. His leanings were to the conservative end of the Party and he had misgivings about President Roosevelt. These evaporated in time with the coming of World War II.
Okay. If we could move through your entry into college I suppose would be a transition.
Yes. In high school I devoted a great deal of effort to overcoming physical disabilities. I played football and achieved some recognition.
Guard for that. And I was encouraged. Originally I applied only to two colleges, Rice and Caltech. At sort of the last moment a family friend suggested that I apply to Harvard, and I did. And quite surprisingly, I was accepted at Harvard, with a scholarship. And this really of course shaped my future career.
What was the element of surprise?
Well, I didn’t think that somebody coming out of a small school in South Texas — I had excellent grades, but I don’t think my whatever corresponded to the SATs at the time were all that good. And clearly had no [???] with what would now be advanced placement courses. All pretty much — But, I suspect coming from a foreign country, having had significant work experience, having participated in athletics stood me in good stead.
And so you entered the department of —
[???]. Of course I had never been to the Northeast. Texas was the only part of the U.S. that I had visited. So it was a great experience taking a train from San Luis. We stopped, I stopped for a short visit with an aunt in New York City and then continued on to Cambridge, landing at a south [???] station and taking the subway out to Harvard, all of which was brand new. By a very good fortune I had been placed in Massachusetts Hall, which is the oldest of the dormitories at Harvard, and my room was actually right over the room of Jim Konat (?), who was president, a man whom I got to know very well later in life. I even met him at the time because he made a point of letting us know that we were living over his office and to be appropriately quiet during the daytime hours.
And this year was —?
This was 1946.
And which course of study did you take then?
The first year it was very, no specialization at the time. I thought I was going to major in chemistry, perhaps going into chemical engineering given my background. I took the introductory chemistry course, which was a wonderful experience, brilliantly taught by a man by the name of Nash (?). The second semester, however, was analytical chemistry taught by Professor Forbes, who was then in his middle to late seventies and was totally out of date. I knew far more about analytical chemistry than he did. I was totally bored and decided that chemistry may not be the best choice. In my sophomore year I took a course in geology taught by Curtley Mather (?). It was totally engrossing. A wonderful, wonderful course, filled with lots of illustrations and intellectually very exciting. I decided that geology was to be my career path. It also coincided with my desire to overcome physical difficulties because I knew geology involved a lot of walking and climbing and so forth and so on, and this fit in with my general view of what I should be doing. Subsequent to that I then took the courses in the geology department, without exception interesting, taught by very good teachers who knew their subject and did it very, very well, and at the same time built up my math background. I was able to take math courses both in the math department and the applied math at a fairly high level. Physics was a different story. I took the introductory physics course the first year I was there. It was taught by two professors whom I found deadly dull. The laboratory exercises were totally routine and right out of the book. I decided that, I swore up and down I’d never take another physics course, which I have never taken another physics course, though I’ve taught physics at graduate level at a number of institutions.
The geology department encouraged you to take the math?
No, that was largely my doing. The geology department had not yet recognized that it was important to have their students with a good background in other sciences. The one exception was Jim Thompson, who was a trologist (?) and clearly recognized the need to have, or for students to have a good background in chemistry as well as in geology.
Other than living above Konat’s room and getting to know him personally, did he have any teaching in your time?
No, no, no. At that time of course it was the postwar years. He was still very heavily involved in Washington activities. The people who had the biggest influence on me were the geology faculty and then subsequent to the first year we then move into a house, that house was Elliott, and the housemaster took an interest, was John Finley (?) whose background was in classics and Greek but nonetheless somebody who really cared for the students in his house.
Was he one of your biggest influences outside of your [???]?
Yeah, outside at least, certainly at the undergraduate level.
And any others in elective courses, distribution (?) courses?
Not much. It was only when I got to the graduate school and the society of fellows that I began to know people who — [phone interruption; tape turned off, then back on]
And I believe what we should do is perhaps move on through your graduate work and then maybe if you could tell us when you began to get interested in environmental issues beyond your geology major.
Okay. After some debate, I decided to continue graduate work at Harvard. Ordinarily undergraduates don’t go on, but the faculty that it would be appropriate in my case. So at the time I considered working on experimental high pressure phase relations with George Kennedy. I had begun that work during I think my senior year and planned to continue it in my graduate work, partly taking Francis Birch’s (?) courses in geophysics, but mostly continuing taking courses in applied mathematics. The big break came during the second year when, through the encouragement of George Kennedy, I applied for the Society Fellow. This is an organization that gives you what for that time was a very generous stipend, and you have no responsibilities whatsoever. They encourage you to attend Monday night dinners in which junior fellows and senior fellows would get together with guests who would happen to be in the Cambridge area. And through those dinners I met many illuminary [sic]. My real introduction to environment was actually as a result of my membership in the Society Fellows. They provided a stipend for me to, in the summer of 1953, to do geology in Norman, Caledonides, i.e. Scotland, and then to work in the Alps. The purpose of that was to see the similarities in Scotland of the rocks that were of the same age and appeared to have gone through the same metamorphic and tectonic history as the rocks in Scotland. And in the Alps to look at a sequence that was very similar and sort of the sequence of rocks, the general structure was but of course was much younger than the caledonides. I was to meet Jim Thompson in England. We were to do this jointly. One area that we visited was the northernmost island of the British Isles at Unst (?) in the Shetland group and I did some field work in Unst and walking across the morals (?) I came across a bird that I later found out to be a Great Arctic skooah (?), and there was actually a mother skooah sitting. I didn’t know at the time of course. Some eggs could be seen. The male came screaming by down out of the sky to scare me off, and it was quite a sight to see a bird with a 10 to 12 foot wing span, clawed but webbed feet, coming at you. And I became very much interested in birds, their ecology, how they lived. The skooahs migrate to the South Atlantic every year from Scotland during the winter and then come back. I actually saw the young, one young hatch and the mother lead it to the edge of a cliff and then eventually got it after time to encourage it by a demonstration, got it off the cliff by sweeping it with a spot of the wing, and the young skooah started flapping and found that it would actually reach the ocean and it’s life as a skooah got started. And that was, I became an avid bird watcher from then on, which fitted in nicely with geology. You have lots of opportunities out walking when you’re not looking at the ground to look up.
And Jim Thompson was a colleague or a teacher?
He was my teacher. We did this as joint venture, and we spent time in the Alps and Sweden, Italy, Austria, France, and did a lot of observation noting the similarities and difference with the rocks in Vermont, which are much better exposed in the Alps. You don’t have trees growing out over them. Lots of glacial deposit. But that experience in the Shetland as I say got me interested in bird watching, which in turn got me interested in issues of what the bird populations were doing, what the impact of civilization was on birds, and started to learn about pollution. This was in the early 1950s when not a lot was known. Clearly I hadn’t decided yet to become a full time environmental scientist, continued on with I guess the ambition of any academic to try to write a sufficient number of semi-important papers to get a position in the university, and that’s what I did. Starting of course as an undergraduate student and then continuing on.
And your first position was at MIT?
Yes. I was offered a job at Harvard. I had three offers that I considered seriously. One was at Johns Hopkins, and I visited Johns Hopkins. They very clearly were a school that wanted to change from a conventional geology department to becoming more quantitative (?). They had been emphasizing laboratory experimental work as well as field geology. Harvard, which I knew very well, and MIT. I decided against staying at Harvard because I’d spent eight years. They were absolutely wonderful years. And one can look back and say whether that was a good decision or not, but I decided to move a little ways away to MIT, knowing that there would still be opportunity for collaboration with Harvard. MIT offered strength in areas of geophysics that were not emphasized at Harvard, and furthermore MIT was, there was work underway at MIT that involved computers. I was beginning to become interested in putting together numerical models of various processes and I thought that working there might be a way of furthering those interests.
And it was?
I see you then went to Carnegie.
Yeah. During the time at MIT I did two other things that were very important to my career. One was I became a research associate, or I forget what the title is, of the Carnegie Institution and worked at the geophysical lab. And what this meant was to go down to Washington about every month, spend three or four days working with the people at the geophysical lab.
Hat Onyoder (?) is at our meeting this [???].
Yes. And Hat of course I got to know very well at that time. I got to know a Vela Abelson (?), who was just becoming director of the geophysical laboratory, Gunar Coolarole (?), Hans Oyster (?), a full set of people that had done very important work in experimental geochemistry. The other aspect was that I became, through these interactions, started to become acquainted with some of the senior Washington people who were involved with shaping science and science policy. A particularly important person was Bill Ruby (?) who held I think it was Thursday evening seminars, in which he’d bring in a dozen or 15 people to his home in the evening and have a presentation from somebody. I remember giving several of the presentations. But Ken Hubbard (?) would be there, Ruby, Abelson, Tom Nolan, head of the Survey, some of the younger people, I think Hat Yoder (?) was there from time to time. And I got well acquainted with and started to learn something about what went on in Washington.
Ruby’s position at the time was —?
He was a sort of a senior geologist at the, chief geologist maybe of the Survey. He had shunned administrative positions all his life, and considered himself a true working scientist. I got to know something about the upcoming International Geophysical Year from Lloyd Birkner (?), who on occasion showed up and so forth. The other connection during my years at MIT was that I spent every summer at UCLA working with George Kennedy, Dave Briggs (?) and others doing high pressure experimental work. They had the facilities. MIT did not develop a high pressure laboratory. Harvard did, but Francis Birch’s interests turned away from high pressure phase relations. We worked together on the jadeite equilibrium paper. But after that he emphasized the physical properties of materials at high pressures, electrical properties. So there was, [???] experimental work that I did during the time was carried out at UCLA.
Okay. I’d like to weave a strand of the Cold War National Security feeling of how does this relate to your path at this time at all?
That was, yeah. I of course was very much aware of issues of National Security at Harvard during the ‘50s when I was a graduate student. There was very great concern about McCarthy, Oppenheimer — At UCLA I interacted very closely with Dave Briggs, whom I knew had played a big role in the Oppenheimer case. I became acquainted with some of the people on let’s say the far right of the Defense community whom I met at Briggs’s house — Edward Teller in those years, ‘55-’56. I met General Dolittle (?) and others. Briggs was very close to the Air Force having served as chief scientist for the Air Force, and learned something about their view of the world. But I at that time sort of stood back and said these are interesting questions —
Some of the people —
Generals and Edward Teller.
Edward Teller, other people from Livermore who frequently came down about their testing program.
And these were nuclear scientists and were there other geophysical science —?
Scientists, engineers and geophysics, yeah, a member —
People concerned with atmospheric — I got to know some of the people from RAND, David Kellogg was [???]. Then —
Is that W.W. Kellogg?
Yeah, W.W. Kellogg. And another person who had just come to UCLA was Bill Libby, and he was a member of the Atomic Energy Commission at one time, was very, and was closely associated with Teller and many of his views, a strong advocate for continued atmospheric testing. So in the California setting I heard many arguments why testing was important and fallout was not so much of a problem, and Cambridge milieu and view was quite different.
And was there any sense of a discussion of atmospheric tracers, their value for [???] upper atmosphere, for a galactocele cycle (?)?
Yes, certainly a good deal of that. Libby in particular and he was very much interested in using carbon 14 as a tracer and tritium as a tracer. There was a lot of discussion about the RAND Group, including Kellogg, were very much interested. But what was a terribly important aspect of my stay at MIT was the association there of a group, seminar group that met twice monthly on geophysical fluid dynamics. It was led by Willem Marcus (?) for a while, Jule Charney (?), Edgar Rumps (?) were all active participants, George Velunas (?) came up from Yale, and George Backus (?) involved for a while. Howard, who was teaching mathematics at MIT, C.C. Lillam (?). And it was a very interesting and active group, and I learned a great deal about fluid dynamics, I listened to [???], a pirate (?) of the days of discovery of chaos, but simply some of those thoughts were already beginning to percolate. This was ‘85, ‘86, ‘87. His chaos paper wasn’t published until ‘62. But the whole question of modeling fluid [???].
This was ‘56, ‘57?
‘57, ‘58, yeah.
And you were talking with Charney about numerical modeling?
Numerical modeling. Norm Phillips joined us and then was part of that group, Smagorinski (?) came up on occasion, something like that. So that was the —
Common, yeah, the group, and I was certainly part of it and heavily engaged in the discussions.
Now these are, to my mind, the fluid mechanics, the atmospheric sciences. In a sense you’ve just described yourself as a geologist with mathematical training. And obviously you were looking towards a much broader view of geosciences in this.
Oh yes, yes, yes. And that was helped along through the start of my interactions with Walter Munk. And that basically started [???] came to MIT, gave a seminar, I raised lots of questions, and was probably mildly obnoxious. And so we went off to a bar afterwards and he made the offhand comment, “Why don’t the two of us collaborate on some of these subjects?” I came back to him and said, “You’ve written a lot on the subject. I haven’t written anything. But it would be a good thing to try to bring everything together.” And that was essentially the genesis of work on rotation of the earth.
And that’s pretty much considered basic science.
Yeah, yeah. And that contains a lot of fluid dynamics, with rotation of course is dependent on the angular momentum in the atmosphere and in the oceans and in the fluid core and changes in [???] fluid bodies influences rotation and we have to worry about how these systems are coupled, groundwater comes in, changing moment of inertia, and the products of inertia and so on and so on. So I found the topic just wonderful, because it was able to bring together many disparate parts of things that I had been interested before —
Including the moon and tides.
And the moon and the tides. So that was an extremely exciting time. Talked about a good deal but actually didn’t start work on it until I moved out to UCLA. I commuted between UCLA and here and [???] come up to UCLA and work there.
Okay. And was there any sense of —? About the same time, actually earlier, in 1955 or so there was this Marsh (?) conference on human impact on the planet. Was that in your awareness of [???] you knew had gone to the Marsh meeting in Princeton?
No. I didn’t know. I had heard about the meeting, and I felt at the time it would have been nice if I had been invited, but I wasn’t, so —
Right. I’m sure you’d be invited if there was a repeat done.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
But also about the same time Johnny Von Noyman (?) popular piece about “Can We Survive Technology?”
Laying out — I think it was in Fortune magazine.
Of many of the big threats facing humanity, which sound to me rather modern and up to date for the ‘90s.
Yes. Of course I had interactions with Von Noyman, largely through Bill Libby, who was a member of the General Advisory Committee to ACE when Von Noyman I think was chairman of the committee. But Von Noyman by that time [???] was already ill and confined to a wheelchair. But we had a number of good discussions. I remember the technology article extremely well, and also the fact that he had this enormous confidence in computers and being able to predict weather very precisely. And looking back at it, even at the time I had argued with him not on the basis of chaos but just on the basis of how to mark (?) initial value if you can make small changes in the initial conditions and not get large changes. But that didn’t seem to bother him, so that computers of the future will be able to really make very good predictions. Of course with the work of Laurentz [???]. His concerns about technology were real, and appropriate to the modern, to our times.
Right. Well, his list included overpopulation, nuclear weapons, many other things that my list is falling short right now, but —
Well, I think he talked about weather modification.
Okay. That’s a nice connection here, because we’ve talked about weather modeling. Now weather modification was another issue on the table. How did you get first involved in thinking about that?
I was asked largely in 1962, or maybe it was ‘61, the present Science Advisory Committee had a subgroup on meteorology and were particularly worried about setting up of NCAR. And the subgroup was chaired by John Tookey (?) of Princeton. And I was asked to be on it, and I know Jule Charney was on it, Harry Wechsler (?) was heavily involved. I don’t remember all the people that were — Tom Malone. And I participated in that. And shortly thereafter, Jule Charney came to me and said the Academy was setting up a group to look at weather modification because it was becoming a highly controversial issue. There were strong differences of opinion basically between academics and the operational people, and would I chair an Academy group that looked into [???]. And I yes, because I liked Jule. I also felt that this would be a challenge. I had just been elected to the National Academy, and we put together really an absolutely first rate group of people — Lou Botten (?), radar meteorologist; Jim McDonnell (?), also from Arizona, who did some very good work in [???] physics; James Workman (?), who was president of New Mexico Institute of Technology, who is another [???] physicist; Joanne —
— Malkus-Simpson, or Joanne Starr Malkus-Simpson.
Several others. Anyway, it was a very good group, and we did a lot of work, published an interim report in ‘64 which raised some of the questions that it’s very hard to evaluate cloud seeding (?) because it’s so hard to get good control. Lots of people never ran controls, the statistics were not appropriately doubled (?). And all the usual sorts of things. And furthermore, we didn’t understand the physics of what went on in a cloud. And when we published another work in 1966, which was somewhat more controversial, because Jim McDonnell had really settled down and done some very good statistical analysis and some of the operational results from the various programs, both seeding or graphic clouds over the Rockies, seeding of cumulus clouds in the summertime over in the Midwest, some results out of Israel, France, Russia and so forth. And a report came out with a sort of guarded optimism saying that under some conditions you might be able to increase rainfall, and not 100 percent, but maybe by 10 to 20 percent. And this got lots of people — it was the statistical techniques were taken to task. Some very famous mathematicians, Jersey Maymon (?) got upset. It was a controversial report. But the report also contained a section on climate modification. In fact the report was labeled weather and climate modification. And the climate part contained one of the first and I think fairly, for that time, good discussions of the anthropogenic effects on climate, both urban heating, aerosol, CO2, and cutting down forests, changing albedo (?), changing — And with the emphasis that really in the long term one had to take CO2 issues seriously. It was not the first report of the PSAC, the President’s Science Advisory Committee had put out a report in ‘65 that included a chapter by Roger Revelle (?) that discussed the CO2 problem. But those two reports, the President’s Science Advisory Committee Report in ‘65 and the National Academy of Sciences Report in ‘66 were really the first discussions that attempted to look at kind of as the [???] anthropogenic effects on climate.
And one of those categories I believe was called inadvertence?
Yeah. That was the kind climate modification was the inadvertent modification. The things that we do inadvertently and including changing local weather conditions by building cities. Cities have a greater degree of cloud cover and —
The St. Louis studies were done at that time?
Yeah, the St. Louis studies, yeah. And there were scattered observations that you could bring across and show that the precipitation was greater in cities than in the [???] countryside. It was cloudier, it was warmer, the urban heat [???] effect, on down the line.
Well now in some of the weather modelers I know that also there was some climate modeling beginning with [???] people.
Beginning about that time the JFDL (?) people, I think Manabe (?) published the first. And it was a very rudimentary model, but it’s still the very first model looking at CO2, and it was I think in either, it was ‘66 to ‘68, I’m not quite sure. It was in that time frame. It came after we’d put together our report, but it was essentially contemporaneous [???].
Was there any sense that — certainly there was no outfit that was doing some of this.
No, it didn’t exist at the time, but it was the Weather Bureau and —
So Manabe did this in Washington or at Princeton —?
Let’s see, I’m trying to think. The Princeton group existed, and Smagorinski was there, and there were —
I didn’t mean NOAA. I meant the Weather Bureau.
Yeah, it was the Weather Bureau. Yeah.
And it was, and Smagorinski was there, Manabe was there, and three or four others. I think even Kirk Ryan (?) was there at that time, [???] on several occasions.
Did you have a sense that the other side of the coin, the purposeful modification was looming as a National Security issue at all?
No. It was a possibility, but a very long range, or very low probability. But I did put together a popular article which I think it has gotten more requests than anything I’ve ever written called, it’s in a book called Unless Peace Comes.
Undergraduates read it for atmospheric science [???].
That was a reserved copy from [???].
Oh, that’s great. It’s gotten me into a lot of trouble. But nonetheless, it was fun to write and —
And this was approximately [???]?
It was published ‘68, but I wrote it in ‘66 and waited until ‘68 because in ‘66 I was working for the Institute of Defense Analysis and I don’t think it would have been appropriate to come out over the — if somebody sees [???] Institute of Defense Analysis talking about these things.
Okay. So your sense is — I had a sense that some computer at least building and modeling say in a group like ARPA was in fact stimulated by concerns of the large number of Russian meteorologists and potential.
Yes. Yeah, there was a worry. And then of course there’s the whole story of Vietnam. I trust you’re familiar with.
But at the — and the use of weather modification there. But there was concern in ARPA. ARPA sponsored computer modeling.
One of the projects was called Nile something?
Nile Blue was one project.
But were they informed projects [???] things Manabe was doing, or were they separate startup —?
There were — part of it came out of RAND. And I think ARPA put money into RAND to do that, and RAND was looking among other things at what would happen if you changed ice cover and —
When I studied with Bill Gray at Colorado State he wanted to dust the polar caps with carbon black on occasion.
Yeah. Those ideas were being thrown around. There was interest at Livermore. But it was sort of far out. It was never something that let’s say the Defense Department said this is a looming danger and we really have to go into it in a major way. Rather it was this is something that potentially could be important in the longer term; let’s try to keep up with the subject and see what’s going on. It was more in that mode rather than any big crash effort. The only big crash effort was the rain-making project in Vietnam.
Okay. Did you know this, when you got into the issue, the thing had been percolated for say a decade with Irving Langmuir (?) and Project Sirus (?)?
Did you know Langmuir at all?
Yes, I met Langmuir, I know Ben Schaeffer (?) very well.
And Bernard Bronigut (?)?
And Bernard Bronigut.
Well he was at MIT.
He was at MIT for a while, about the same time. And then lots of the operational people, Bob Elliott (?) worked out of Santa Barbara, Molly Howe (?) out of a company making rain and [???] later in computer reclamation (?).
Did you feel you wanted to get back to the rocks during this period?
No, no, no, I was totally —
You were happy with the fluid mechanics and —
I was very happy with the fluid mechanics and clearly my interests were shifting to my sort of geology period in the early ‘60s. I then became heavily involved in space, planetary and space exploration. Spent a year at NASA when NASA was first set up to advise on what the early lunar and planetary exploration program should be, working on that. And became, published a whole slew of papers on [???] for life on Mars and so forth. So I had moved away from sort of optrology (?), geochemistry, field geology which occupied the ‘80s to space.
And you could dodge MOHOLE and things like that, or deep sea drilling?
Yeah, well, I was — On MOHOLE it caused some problems because Walter Munk was a great advocate of Harry Helse, who was a very close friend, who was a great advocate of it. I was totally opposed to it. I thought it was putting all your eggs in one hole, and knowing that what I believe to be the extremely heterogeneous nature of the quest and I assume of the [???] that one hole would not have any statistical validity whatsoever. And I didn’t go along with the argument that this was like going to the moon or something of the sort, and sort of had long and sometimes rather bitter arguments with Harry Helse and Walter Munk, [???] [???], other people who were pushing MOHOLE. In the end of course the very best thing happened. The Deep Sea Drilling Program, which was aimed at exploring the sediments in the ocean, and it’s been enormously successful.
Now you joined PSAC or the equivalent [???]?
Yes. In 1964.
‘64. Okay. So you were first with President Johnson’s Administration?
Yeah, it was first with — I had actually been or gone into NASA during the Eisenhower Administration. Actually had a chance to meet with Eisenhower on a couple of occasions to discuss space exploration with me as far as what could be done with the moon and planets and trying torn — And later I had several very nice letters from him, because he said, “You were right. We should never have put men on the moon.” And we were arguing the particular argument that you can do it better via instruments than you can —
Did you keep letters like that? Do you have a collection of papers?
[???]. Then I’d been on a PSAC committee during the Kennedy Administration, and then joining PSAC as a full member in the Johnson Administration.
And again, is this strategic positioning of U.S. sciences and education, or is it part of the job inevitably is National Security of geophysics and space?
Well, it involved a whole variety of subjects. I think you’ll see on the PSAC a list of panels that worked on that. That’s the kind of —
Well, we don’t need to repeat that.
Yeah. The one that I had a major responsibility for was turning out a report on the future of oceanography called “The Efficient Use of the Sea” or something like that, which tried to point out that the ocean had environmental values, it was important for the environment, important to commerce, important fishing resource and also strategically important. But much of what I did in PSAC was actually in National Security, different kinds of things.
Well, there was another — I know you went through Dartmouth College as well in your career. There was another Dartmouth professor interested in ocean, security of the nuclear submarine force. The name escapes me, but I think he was a Dartmouth earth science professor. Much, much after your time at Dartmouth. Was there some concern that the space program was opening up vulnerability of submarines at this time or not? Or was that too early of an issue.
I think it was an issue of right from the start —
How secure is that triad.
Yeah, exactly. I think that whether you could ever make the oceans transparent was a big worry even in the ‘60s.
Apparently science seemed to be doing everything. It was unleashing, it was — Was there a feeling that almost anything goes if people were bright enough and —?
Well, you see there’s where I was always, attempted to be a leavening (?) influence, because I think I understand something of the complexity of the oceans and the atmosphere and the solid earth, the fact that they’re not at homogeneous, easy-to-study systems that you get in the laboratory. They’re very complex, very hard to make measurements; it’s very hard to understand what’s going on.
That there was a lot of yeast in the mix?
That’s right, that’s right.
A lot of, I mean a lot of people raising these concerns.
Yeah. There was certainly a great deal of concern. I mean of course you use that as a way of saying yes, these are very complex systems. [???] understand them you have to study them and you have to spend money on the analysis of the atmosphere and the oceans.
To weave the environmental strain in some of your PSAC activities, included oil spills. This is apparently the Santa Barbara trigger or was there concern —?
Yeah, that was, by that time, January 28th, 1969 was when the oil spill took place. I was vice chancellor of Santa Barbara, and immediately got involved, a PSAC panel was set up, and it didn’t take us long to make a recommendation that made me highly unpopular at Santa Barbara, which was the best thing you could do — was to pump as fast you could to lower the pressure and at least control the oil that came out rather than having leaked out uncontrolled. That you have to lower the subsurface pressure so you don’t get the oil being pushed out. And advocated that way of seeding. Later, I think it was March, I got a call. I was actually in Princeton giving some lectures, and the White House called and said would you come out to Santa Barbara and accompany President Nixon on a tour of the beaches. And I said yes, and so that’s the way I got to meet Nixon. Flew out and met him at the Oxnard Air Force Base, flew with him, helicoptered down to Santa Barbara observing that he was an extraordinarily nervous person. And then we walked along the beach with Fred Hartley (?), president of Union Oil, who owned the lease on one side and I on the other. And the moment I remember best is Hartley said, “See, Mr. President, the beaches are absolutely clean and no damage has been done.” [???] of course raked off all the oil. And I said, “Mr. President, the tides come in, the tides go out, and right under this clean sand I bet you there is a layer of oil or oily sand.” And Hartley said, “Of course there isn’t.” So I kicked very hard at the sand, and great big oil —
Anyway, I think this event made an impression on Nixon, and a year and a half later when the Council on Environmental Quality was being set up, having been created by the National Environmental [???] Act, Nixon asked me to become a member of it and I accepted and spent the next two and a half years working in the White House.
Did you say you had part of the lease on this [???]?
No, no, no, no.
I misunderstood. Union Oil had part of it.
Union Oil had the lease. Yes.
So then there was a panel on the Union Oil lease.
Yes, that’s right, panel on Union —
Which generated some friends for you.
And some enemies?
That’s right. That’s right.
Well, we skipped a bit. We almost talked about Operation Popeye and things. Some of that is in the public record and you testified to Congress, but would you say a little bit about that that’s not?
Yeah. My background in it was I had worked on security things, including Vietnam kinds of issues, as a member of the President’s Science Advisory Committee, but also had been working on [???] the issues as a member of JASON. JASON [???] include the physicists who spend some fraction of a year working on National Security matters under sponsorship of ARPA and other Defense and Intelligence agencies. In 1966 I took leave from the University of California and that to become executive vice president to IDA. Maxwell Taylor was president with IDA and was very active in a number of other activities, so in fact I had a major day-to-day responsibility for the [???]. Both as a member of IDA and through my membership on PSAC, I was asked to look into a number of Vietnam kinds of issues. One issue that came up was a request by the Security of Defense Robert McNamara (?) to analyze the effectiveness of the bombing campaign against North Vietnam and to explore alternative measures to decrease the flow of supplies from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. I led a small group at IDA that conducted the study. It came out in a multi volume report. In the course of the study I came across the fact that weather modification had been used, was being employed, but it was held at very high levels of classification. And even though I was offered by [???] and Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs in the Pentagon access to that information, I said I didn’t want to know about it. I had had a briefing, that we had had briefings with the Science Advisory Committee on what was at one time called Project Popeye, went through several code name changes, and PSAC had advised against continuing the project on the grounds that there was no evidence that it was of any operational significance, and secondly that it endangered what had been very profitable cooperative international arrangements in the meteorological world. The Pentagon [???], National Security Advisor for President Johnson, overruled this recommendation and authorized continuation of this program. I requested that I not be cleared into it. I didn’t think it would have any impact on analysis, because what alternatives were there to the present findings [???] we outlined a number of them, and came to —
This is the bombing of North Vietnam?
Confidential report. It’s still confidential.
It’s probably in this declassification, at last going to be released, which will be, [???] fields would be intelligent assessment of North Vietnam is going to be a very important historical fact (?).
Would this include VM-2 (?) Top Secret?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
And you’re not allowed to say what VM-2 means?
Well, just Vietnam-2. It was a report that had several impacts. One, McNamara read it and used very significant portions of it in his posture statement, his last posture statement when he announced basically his resignation. And his name escapes me, McPherson (?), Harry McPherson, General Counsel to Johnson, read it and brought it to Johnson for attention (?). And according to McPherson, the report had lain out this rather grim picture of what the future held, saying that conventional bombing had not had— It’s major impact had been to strengthen the will of [???] to diversify their manufacturing and transport capabilities, and conventional bombing had no chance of having a significant impact on the war. That the alternative of nuclear weapons was a possibility, but that opened up obviously a very great probability of the Chinese entering, and therefore Johnson found it sufficiently pessimistic, at least McPherson’s summary of the report [???] to go forward with his statement of resignation. It was one of the — or the fact that he was not going to run again was one of the elements that entered into his decision, and that’s why the [???] report is, and I feel confident that it is being — We have had so many requests from historians to get it out, that it will be.
But this lack of prospect in the North Korean —
I’m sorry, North Vietnam. It was on my mind because it was in the news today.
Yeah. Now and the — So I —
But this had an effect on Johnson.
It had an effect on Johnson; it had a very important impact on McNamara, important impact on Johnson. A number of people were asked to comment on it. RAND was asked to comment on it. They came in and said we find the report, we support the conclusions of the report; the CIA was asked to comment on it, and they came in with a very strong recommendation [???] the commendation of the report.
This is just about the time when you write “How to Wreck the Global Environment,” right?
Because that obviously was — Well, there was Agent Orange, there was the Rome Plow (?), there was bombing of dikes, which is an environmental act. Was all this coming into your consciousness?
If you read the article, you’ll see none of those things are really mentioned, except for the rainmaking. And the rainmaking was not in the context that it was used in Vietnam. Basically I had written that back in ‘66 just as I was [???] to IDA. But it wasn’t published, and at my request wasn’t published, until I got out of IDA.
I see. Well you did mention the possibility, in that “How to Wreck the Environment” of cutting a hole in the ozone layer as a potential offensive act. Could you say something about [???] in the 1960s setting?
Around ‘66 there were clearly a whole set of chemical reactions. [???] will not say that I thought of chlorine (?), but there were other chemical reactions including sulfur (?). Anything that would be, that would be readily oxidized by ozone would immediately — So you could think of a whole set of things you could put up there that could take out ozone. So it seemed like an interesting conjecture. The [???] didn’t get me as much space in [???] as the brain waves. I still get calls on that.
Okay. The other [???].
Yeah. Focusing on the brain waves and by alternating the resonant cavity between the earth’s surface and the ionosphere.
Okay. Well there is a potential difference too that there is some voltage that’s in the clear air that might affect tall people more than short.
Seriously, with your statement that when you did meet some of these people they were much, and military types like generals were quite more conservative than you. Do you have a sense, or have you met counterparts say to yourself that were more of the Dr. Strangelove possibility thinkers in this environmental warfare techniques?
Well, there are the great advocates of rainmaking in Vietnam was Pierre St. Amaund.
You may run across his name.
I’ve heard the name. And there’s some sense that this was used — I don’t know if you mentioned it or who mentioned it about the CIA operations to disperse. The French might have tried it at an earlier stage. It could have been used in other venues than Popeye.
Yeah. I don’t know. As far as I know. Not to my knowledge. But Pierre St. Amaund was in a group at China Lake, the Naval Ordinance Laboratory and they worked very hard at their contribution, and actually it was important in later times. We still get very much more effective ways of dispersing silver iodide.
Okay. Well there was one project that put silver iodide into tracer bullets and then that could shoot them into cumulus clouds, and some of this wild stuff.
They’re really wild.
You were the Leaven (?), not the —
That’s right. Look at our report. We were very, very conservative.
Now, on inadvertent climate modification issues, the ‘70s at least were concerned, well the concern was particulates and perhaps a global cooling.
No. During that time my main concern was global warming and CO2, and the first report of the Council on Environmental Quality put out in the Nixon Administration contains a lengthy chapter on climate modification. It was — it’s interesting not so much because of what it says. It says some of the same things that were said in the Academy report in ‘66. But since it comes out in a presidential document it has to be reviewed by all agencies. And what this did was raise the level of awareness that climate change was a significant subject. And some of the agencies started putting money into their projects that deal with climate change. NSF clearly had already started. But both on the military agencies and in agriculture and interior, EPA money started to go into looking at climate change. So that was just sort of a bureaucratic way of raising the level of awareness, by having a document that you have to get cleared.
Well, let’s skip back to the ‘50s and the first wave of 20th century temperature rise, some popular expressions about worries about rising temperatures and rising sea levels, Gilbert Plass and Roger Revelle’s kind of work. Is that part of your background?
Yes, yes. Certainly both Plass and then Revelle’s Suess article, again summarized into a PSAC report in ‘65 and a later Academy report. I took it as a serious policy issue and recognized that it had important connotations for energy and energy policy. In the early ‘70s there was a good deal of concern. MIT put out a study; I can’t remember who chaired it. Anyway, it advocated shifting away from oil and going to coal. And [???] recognized right away that was a wrong direction to go in.
Is there a sense of competing schools of thought on this, or just thought they were wrong?
Yeah. There were competing schools of thought, there was in parts of [???] everybody was convinced, stimulated largely by the Wisconsin school, that the climate was going into another Ice Age. And in fact the CIA put out its infamous report on the world becoming cooler and the Soviet grain crop going to [???]. And it was views that were I can remember I think it must have been ‘78 I debated Bob [Robert] Jastrow on The MacNeil Lehrer Report in which he strongly argued that we were going to become cold and I argued the Greenhouse point of view.
And it’s 1978 on MacNeil Lehrer?
On the television?
On the television. As far as I know, that was the first discussion of the Greenhouse on [???].
Oh, is that right? Actually Jastrow was the name I was thinking about, because he went on to talk about oceans and separating [???].
Yeah. He was at Dartmouth. Yeah.
Yes. He went on to talk about the security of submarines and — so you were on different sides of —
Completely different sides.
Well, do you think it was politically informed, or were you both just earth scientists that had different readings of the data?
Well, now I had gotten to know Jastrow in the middle to late ‘50s and had worked with him at NASA, and he was very instrumental in putting together NASA’s lunar and planetary exploration program. Tom [???] since I was Dartmouth I encouraged him to come to Dartmouth, but his interests had shifted. He had never worked on National Security matters, and as far as I know had refused ever to be cleared into classified work. But he became a strong advocate of the Strategic Defense Initiative, and spoke out as you point out on the danger of, possibility of finding submarines from space, and so forth and so on. And in those cases I just think he was not very well informed. And I think on the — He continues to argue that the Greenhouse is totally overblown, that it isn’t a problem. He’s associated with the National Institute and Fred Sykes (?)
And Fred Singer and Sykes?
Fred Singer and Sykes and —
[???] Virginia environmental —
Yeah. Pat Michaels at Virginia.
But what about the MIT Fellow, the [???] on global warming?
Yeah, Dick Limson (?). Limson was a respectable scientist. I mean he has done good research. Obviously it’s been many years since Jastrow has been involved in real research.
Would you say the same for some of the rest of the crew?
Yeah, yeah. Singer, none of them has ever worked on modeling or written papers on [???] that have been published in scientific journals the science. Limson has. And Limson’s hypothesis is a perfectly reasonable one, is that the water vapor feedback. Warming causes more water vapor, the water vapor adds to the blanketing effect of the infrared that causes more warming. And it’s been much overestimated because the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, particularly the high atmosphere, has been badly overestimated. When he initially made the argument, it was apparently reasonable. Since then lots of measurements have been made, some of them within the last year, going out into the tropics and measuring water vapor [???] down from the stratosphere and develop a troposphere and so forth. And the water vapor comes [???] concentrations that people use in the general circulation models. So that part of his argument has more or less been demolished. But he continues to be critical, and he’s critical of global circulation models. I’m critical of global circulation models. They’re incomplete, they’re imperfect, and they don’t give the details. But all I can say is, when I first testified on the Greenhouse in 1966 I used an estimate, the doubling of CO2 would cause a warming of about 3° Centigrade. The range today is between 1 ½ and 4 ½. And that was based on the fact that [???] calculation. You don’t have to do the whole thing to get an energy loss. You know, how much energy is coming in, how much energy is going out, and change how much energy is going out to get an estimate of what the average global temperature will change. And you don’t need a computer to do that.
Did you help the policy makers interpret computer model outputs from different groups and —?
Yes, yes. Now my involvement with the Greenhouse became intense starting in 1978. I wrote a small report that Midor (?) Corporation put out which sort of gave the facts as we understood them then about the Greenhouse Effect and discussed a little bit about [???] impacts would be.
Is that in the public record at all?
Yeah, yeah. It’s listed there.
It should be.
Yeah. Raith Pomerantz (?), who was then head of Friends of the Earth, saw it. He was an active environmental lobbyist. And called me up and said this was a problem that he felt was very serious. And first he wanted to understand the science, and we spent many, many days discussing the science. And then he said, “What I want to do is for you to brief as many people in Washington as we can get to, to tell them about this problem.” And so as an environmental lobbyist he had many, many contacts on the Hill in the Carter Administration, with the Carter people. Now so early on I started to meet with people like Tim Worth, Al Gore. The first substantive testimony in this effort was given before Government Operations, in part because Raith Pomerantz was a cousin of Abe Rivakoff (?), who was a senator and chairman of the Government Operations Committee. And the subject was should the U.S. fund the synthetic energy program, a version of coal, natural gas and oil. I argued very strongly that this was a step in the wrong direction because in order to turn the coal into oil and gas you have to use energy which turn produces more CO2, so you use about twice the CO2 as burning coal directly. And so we got that into the record. And then the subsequent ten years, up through ‘88, we met literally with dozens of people both on a conventional side and in the Administration.
Who were the best ears?
Gore of course. Gore was the sharpest, quickly understood it. By the way, Tim Worth never has understood the science but he [???] impressed by the [???].
I guess Limson said at one point he felt a little coerced by, or imposed upon by the committee. Are you familiar with that story at all?
No. The important testimony that I gave, most important, at least in my mind, was 1987 before the Senate Energy Committee. Worth was on that committee. Rubina (?) Johnson [???] happen to know very well was chairman of the committee. And there it was really looking at the energy implications of the Greenhouse, and I tried to lay out what we knew about the science and then what did this mean in terms of how we manage energy.
The Senate Energy Committee.
Energy Committee November 1987. And it hit upon the energy efficiency, the shift to natural gas, a need to do something to make it economically, to provide economic incentives. I discussed in detail a Carbon Tax and how that would work. Tom Tietenberg agreed with the arguments that I used.
What were your major sources of influence for thinking of a Carbon Tax, or you just thought it was a good idea?
It was a good idea.
And I wasn’t aware that there was this large literature out. I’m sorry. I did know a good deal about emission taxes, because we had pushed for emission taxes in the Nixon Administration. [???] the Nixon Administration, Nixon sent up a bill suggesting a tax on sulfur, and we dealt with the acid rain problem, and much of it the way that it had gone in 1970. But I was given the job of shepherding that through Congress. There was no sell. I went to Ways and Means, but —
Were there too many coal-fired power plants or —?
It was not only that. There was, to some of the old conservatives — I don’t think they were quite as strong as they were then, but Wilber Mills, who had other problems, said, he said, “That tax is not to raise [???],” and I said no, one of its side effects will be to raise revenue and we can use it to reduce income taxes and corporate gain taxes, but its real purpose is to influence behavior. So the Constitution says we raise taxes, we use taxes to raise revenue. And I said well, we’ve had taxes on alcohol since 1812 or something like that. That was an aberration. You know, a very — That basically clearly it wouldn’t have flown, one as a Carbon Tax didn’t fly recently because in the light of these very entrenched interests. But in point of fact, it never got to the stage where you had to bring the coal companies into argue against it. It was argued against basically on the sort of philosophical grounds. As I say, my reading of both the Ways and Means and the Finance and the Budget Committees today would be that that argument wouldn’t carry as much weight as it did in ‘70.
There’s been a big change between the leadership under say Bird and the leadership under Mitchell.
Was there a change, or was there a sense that Bird was influential then or —?
Oh yes. Bird was extremely influential.
Does this make all the difference?
It makes a lot of difference.
Or quite a bit. I didn’t mean to say all the difference.
Quite a bit. You know, during my lobbying days I’d go and talk with Bird and his staff. And he pointed out that we agree that there may be some problems, but he had to worry about his constituents and there were lots of families of coal miners and people who depend on coal mining. Well, it worked out. But there were also people — Lyndon Johnson, from an oil state. My most recent testimony, just a year or so ago, was on the possible association of increased storming aspect of global warming, looking ahead and pointing out that the insurance industry has in the last three years suffered $60 billion worth of casualty losses from the winter storms in Europe. The winter storms in Europe, the storms in the Pacific, the storms here. And he says, “Yes, I know all about it. The insurance rates along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana have skyrocketed and people have complained.” He said, “I’m totally sympathetic. I think we do have to start to think about these things.” So even, I see it as a very, as a long term process of education, and you have to keep coming back and [???]. But for ten years I have spent a lot of time doing just that.
Okay. ‘Now I’d like to get back to that as well, eventually get to the 1988 scenario when the publicity really took off. But could we talk for a minute, you mentioned the CIA reports on Russian crop failures and the downward or at least not upward trends in temperature in the ‘70s.
Well, no. The temperature trends between 1940 and 1970 were basically flat, some dips and in ‘70 it started growing up again.
So even the CIA was, by the time they published — I think it was ‘74, maybe it was ’76 — they were way late. Yeah.
Okay. So there was no upward trend. There was a leveling.
It was —
I never pictured it (?).
It goes down, goes back up, and then ‘70 it starts going regularly up [???].
Yes. There was a discussion of Contrails in the 1966 Academy Report, and the general conclusion was that at that time the Contrails, if anything, would have a warming impact, the reason being that yes they were flat, but lots of Contrails are so visible. And but much more importantly, they have a big effect on the infrared radiation, because they’re up high and they radiate at a very cold temperature. So, unlike low-lying clouds which reflect sunlight and have very little effect on the infrared because they are more or less at ground temperature so there’s no change since [???] Dependence on this.
So like other Cirrus kinds of clouds, they tend to have the biggest effect on the infrared.
Clouds there. They have the biggest effect on the infrared. And we understood that in [???] middle ‘60s. No. There were others. Walter Roberts (?) discussed some aspects of it. And in fact it probably had an influence and NCAR played very little role in getting into climate change [???], much after GFDO (?) was heavily involved and other groups, the UCLA group [???].
Do you know the climate modelers at NCAR?
Warren Washington for example?
Warren Washington. Yeah.
Apparently he’s been a Presidential Advisor since Carter I suppose, or am I —?
Well, he was close to Sununu (?) and provided Sununu with his best climate model. So [???] climate gains and —
What do you think the net effect is of having a climate modeler in the White House? Is there a story in there?
No. I think it was very healthy. Warren Washington thinks the Greenhouse is a very important problem that has to be dealt with.
I was actually fishing for what John Sununu could do with a PC climate model.
Oh, you know, you can put a very simplified version of a climate model on a PC and you can see some of what doubling CO2 will do, and you can see that it depends very much on what assumptions you make. You can get all kinds of — Any given locality may either warm up or cool down. And I think Sununu’s big point was it doesn’t matter much if everybody warms by a couple of degrees. You just have [???] go far very in latitude to get the same amount of warming. I totally agree. It’s not the mean (?) that counts, it’s the [???], and particularly what happens to the extreme values, because there is where the payoff is. And that we don’t have a very good grip on. Not very many people have tried, or models cannot capture storms, and it will be quite some time before we get a better idea of what happens with the frequency and intensity of storms as you change the atmospheric composition.
Okay. We almost got to 1988. We talked a bit about the decade beforehand. Now what was your experience in the summer of 1988 with the Hansen —?
Yeah. There was a great deal more interest. A lot of testimony, I testified several times to the ADA mining [???]. Much more importantly, at least in my view, was that negotiations, international negotiations, got underway. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up and established and started a process where one could on an international basis review the data. The negotiations eventually got started on a framework convention which actually [???] much more than the typical framework convention because it indicates goals that a country should work for. And so I think that established a certain momentum in and of itself. When the international community starts worrying about these things, people become involved, they continue to worry about them, and eventually something happens. And I think we’ve learned to — we’re in that process now. I suspect that at the first meeting of the parties of the convention which will take place next year in Berlin there’ll be, by that time negotiations will have begun to set limits at least for the developed (?) goal.
Did you stay involved with every President since Johnson in some way or in national issues?
What was your experience contrasting say Carter and Reagan years? We know some of the basic outlines of the story, but I’d like to hear something inside.
Well, Carter gave a high priority to environmental concerns. He put in emphasis both in getting good people at EPA and at the Council on Environmental Quality. But at the same time he initiated the Synthetic Fields Program. And that clearly was headed the opposite direction, worse than the CO2 effect, adding all kinds of toxic emissions and other — And to a large extent the Carter Administration was taken by the energy shortage issue and trying to deal with that. And that got much higher priority than the environmental concerns. Reagan of course did not consider environment an important issue. He eventually did bring [???] back to salvage EPA, but in favor of Reagan, he gave the approval for the U.S., one, to negotiate and sign the Vienna Convention on Ozone, and then to take the leadership in pushing for the Montreal Protocol. He did this over the objections at one time the objections of the Secretary of Interior, Hodelle (?), and sun lotion, everybody should wear sun hats.
Was it James Watt?
James Watt. Hodelle succeeded Watt in Interior, and then eventually —
Was Hodelle a sunglasses and lotion person too?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, he was the one that —
Okay. I think the popular perception of it was Watts.
It was Hodelle who actually made the statement. And I think there is a very interesting story to be told. I don’t know all the details, but it’s clear that George Schultz went to Reagan and said we have to take a position on this issue. Schultz clearly got a strong [???]. He was convinced, and he had a leader of the U.S. Delegation, Dick Benedict (?), a very capable and forceful guy. And he went to Reagan and argued him into it. He may [???] told actually Schultz said it to me once but he may have been joking, that he used the fact Reagan had had a couple of skin cancers removed as an argument this was not something that was a trivial problem. But despite the strong anti-regulatory tone of the Reagan Administration, they led the fight for the Ozone Convention.
Is Benedict —? Well, he has the well written book on the ozone [???]?
Is he involved in global warming issues?
No. He wanted very much to head the U.S. negotiations on global warming. Clearly it could have been follow on to what he had done in ozone, and he knew many of the people involved, and had a way [???] another scientist could work his way around him in the scientific community. But it was a Sununu and Bush decision that he was much too able a person to lead the ozone negotiations, I mean the climate change negotiations. So they turned it over to less capable people.
And with the change of administration is it just a missed opportunity then to have him back in?
Yeah. In this administration Benedict has gone on to do other things. This administration of course has put in some very capable people. The sort of, at the next to the highest levels the guy who is dealing with climate change is Lloyd (?) Pomerantz, who worked with me in the lobbying effort of ‘78 ADA is now Deputy Assistant Secretary of State under Ellen Constable (?). His responsibility is to lead the negotiations on climate change. I think also his portfolio includes biodiversity.
We skipped over Bush quite quickly. Could you tell us some, give us some insight into those trips to Washington?
Yeah. Bush was — I got to know Bush when he was head of the CIA and I head of the Chief Advisory Committee to the CIA, and so I met with him.
That was scientific advisory?
Yeah, scientific and technical (?).
Across disciplines and across the various components of the Intelligence community, not only CIA but NSA, etc., etc., etc.
So you knew about this global cooling thing the CIA did.
Oh yeah, yeah.
They did it in spite of your —
Yeah, yeah, yeah, totally. Anyway, and I was very much impressed by Bush. He was interested, he knew of my environmental interest, we talked about it, it was clear he was an outdoorsman, he appreciated nature, you came away thinking well maybe this is sort of a modern day Teddy Roosevelt type. And in fact I in the 1980 election I supported Bush. I thought Carter had been a disaster, and I thought Bush would be a good successor, but he lost to Reagan. And I met Bush on a number of occasions during his years of vice presidency, and all I can say is, he wasn’t the same person that I knew in the middle ‘70s. He just —
Any sense of what happened?
Just he wasn’t thinking for himself. He was delegated to do all kinds of second rate jobs, and his staff was not very good, just intellectually seemed to wither away. When he came in I again felt that there was a chance that he [???] push a strong environmental program.
What do you make of that campaign issue that he was an environmental, would be an environmental president?
Yeah. I don’t know what exactly the quote. I’m trying to think of it. “People wonder about why nothing has been done about the Greenhouse Effect. Now when I become President I’ll show what the White House Effect is.” Now clearly giving the signal that he was going to take this very seriously. A personal friend of his, Russ Train (?), had been chairman of the CEQ (?) when I was on CEQ, and so I worked with Russ to try and make sure that Bush— And but before long Train got discouraged. And it was largely Sununu, or I’d say almost entirely Sununu was a man, again whom I’d known. Actually he was an advisor to CEQ back when he was a professor of engineering at Tufts.
He was an advisor to —?
Council on Environmental Quality. In the Nixon Administration he was on one of our committees to deal with auto emissions. And Sununu had several characteristics: one, totally self-assured. He believed that having an IQ of 180 or [???] set him apart from everybody else. And furthermore he spoke with enormous self-assurance about any technical. And so he totally dominated the technical side of the House. Allen (?) Bromley, the science advisor, was very much more sympathetic to concern about the Greenhouse. But on the Greenhouse issue he had nothing to say. It was Sununu who had the say. And so his, Bromley’s, role was pretty much relegated to helping push this NSF budget up and dealing with nuclear physics and related kinds of issues. But —
The climate research budgets were expanding or —?
They were expanding, but when it came to policy, it came to Sununu and he was totally opposed to any action whatsoever, because he wasn’t convinced it was the real thing. And if it was the real thing, he wasn’t convinced that anything wrong (?) would come out of it. Since then I met with him on several occasions when he was White House Chief of Staff, and since he left there I’ve been involved in a couple of conferences with him, and he says, I agree with your science, but you haven’t convinced me that it’s time to undertake any sort of policy.” [???] “Would you think that Carbon Tax would be a good thing just on the basis of promoting energy efficiency?” He says, “No, it would wreck our economy.” I don’t know how he gets at that, but that’s — And he just absolutely, and said, “I know you’re a great advocate of nuclear power. I also think nuclear power should be revived as technology had advanced a great deal since 1960 when most of our plants were designed.”
You’re referring to some of the German safe reactor designs and —?
Yeah, yeah, yes. There are a lot of things that, there are numerous things that can be done. And he says, “Yes, but I’m not going to use the Greenhouse as a reason for it, because I just won’t believe that it’s real. And if it’s real, I don’t believe it’s going to have adverse effects.”
Well, it almost became an issue for non-carbon-emitting nuclear plants that the nuclear industry tried to promote.
No, the nuclear industry was always — And the reason being that the nuclear —What is the nuclear industry? The nuclear industry is the utilities and the manufacturers of utility equipment. The utilities, all of them or many of them or most of them burn coal and oil as well as nuclear energy. So they don’t want to go on either side. The manufacturers manufacture mostly equipment for fossil fuel burning plants, and so they don’t want to prejudice their position in that market. So the nuclear industry has been very worried (?). I tried very hard to get the U.S. Committee on Energy Awareness, which was a strongly pro-nuclear group, to start talking about the Greenhouse. And after consulting with their membership they decided not to.
And their counterpart would be the Union of Concerned Scientists?
And the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Which produces energy literature and slides and teaching [???]
Yeah. They have a good educational program. They of course their early concern was on nuclear weapons and safety of nuclear plants. In more recent years they’ve been concerned with the Greenhouse and energy policy in general. One thing that I think they’re beginning to think about, and it’s a very I hope a very profitable avenue to follow, is worrying about what happens in the longer term. One of my arguments in recent years has been that the way we do economics we discount the future enormously. The World Bank used discount rates of 10 percent, we’ve [???], and that means what happens 50 years from now doesn’t matter in terms of present met (?) value. And clearly if we’re talking about energy policy and long term climate change we have to be thinking not only 50 years ahead, we have to be thinking 100, 200, 300 years ahead — particularly since some of the feedbacks, the important feedbacks may have that time scale of melting of the methane [???] and release of those. How do you bring up long term thinking into economics? Well, the questions I ask, if you still want to use a discount rate, if you do want to use a discount rate, which discount rate should you be using? It certainly shouldn’t be the investment discount rate. I think I would argue that you should use the rate of return of very, very safe investments such as Treasury notes, which brings you down to 1 to 2 percent. At that kind of discount rate the future begins to look much more important than at the traditional discount rate. So. And hopefully Union of Concerned Scientists is now doing is trying to identify what segments of society have a long term view and then say well it’s the religious organizations. And so are beginning to work with groups of religious organizations that perhaps have a longer term view than simply the view of the politicians which is two to four years and the view of the development economist which may be 10 to 20 years.
So it’s a time scale issue.
It really is a time scale issue.
With so many voices I guess the lacking voice in our era seems to be the grand, or in a sense prophetic philosopher or in other ways humanist voice in all of this.
I think it’s, given the nature of the culture, given the runaway track of technology, it’s going to be very hard to have the philosopher be listened to.
Do you have some that you particularly listen to or have hope that will get through the noise?
I don’t see anyone in the present, again the name escapes me. Who is the guy at the AOL (?) who, historian who has argued that America’s destiny had run out and —?
Oh, Paul Kennedy?
Paul Kennedy. Yeah. In his most recent book he deals with some of these longer time issues I think in a very sensible way. It pointed out that —
Preparing for the next century.
Preparing for the next century, yes. And I think we somehow have to get that kind of — Now the economists are not helping. Rezla Tawn (?) is still there.
Well, he’s trying to get beyond the — A lot of good economic work has been done on Point Source pollution and local issues. The global ones still need a lot of work.
Global warming aside, Bill Klein (?) at the International Institute for Economics has written a very nice book on the economics of global warming in which he looks at the discount rate issue in a very critical way. But I really wonder about one of the reasons for using discount are people are impatient, they’d rather pay a high rate of interest so they can use credit card and get something now. But I think it is really rather I don’t know, arrogant behavior to think we know what future generations will [???], and to impute to them our evaluation is, I think there is some rather deep philosophical — And Kennedy touches on this.
There is a group at MIT working with I guess it’s McArthur funds to look at the humanities in the defensive environment, and to see if literary types, historians and otherwise, anthropologists, that the unrepresented groups — I don’t know if they want to belly up to the same policy table, and they want to use a different metaphor I suppose, broaden the mix to —
Yeah. And there is another effort being sponsored by McArthur that involves the World Resources Institute [???] in Santa Fe in which to get together the poets and the historians and the scientists. Maury Gellmon (?) has been pushing that very hard. But if anything comes of it [???] somewhat dubious.
Puts a potential source of some hope in the gloom, but— But the other event that is upon us is the end of the 20th century and you can see this as an Apocalyptic discourse that has become more Apocalyptic or —?
No. I think it certainly provides an opportunity to think seriously about the 21st century and to encourage, hopefully foundations will encourage much deeper work [???] icy now going on. And the changes are so fundamental, and just in the way technology — [???] suspect you sell this story to [???]‘s paper Microsoft and Corel going in for an 840-satellite communications net in which it can not only transmit voice and data but video, 340 small satellites, constellations of every place in the world you could send information —
Reruns of I Love Lucy.
Of I Love Lucy. Exactly. Or medical imaging if you want to —
Okay. Well, let’s be serious about —
But I mean that the world obviously is going to be quite different in the 21st century and it’s hard to maintain certain values, and particularly how to maintain the respect and consideration of future generations is I think a critically important issue that we are only dabbling at the edges of.
There is a minor version of that with some radical disjunctions between the — Well, there was one in the ‘60s with the World War II Generation and the Sixties Generation.
There seems to be another generation gap now with the twenty-something’s. And you see this being magnified through a much bigger issue. If we wreck the global environment that —
Well, the big tragedy that I see in the Greenhouse issue is yes, we can go through economic analysis, and then so far as [???] the U.S. will not be affected in a major way. We can make the adjustments, shift the agriculture, bring new species in, so forth and so on. But what about the developing world? They don’t have the economic resources, they don’t have the technology. Change comes in and there are very deep difficulties. Now, let’s start with the small islands, and then to them global warming and sea level rise it’s taking their land away, just like a country invading them. And [???] discussed this with Little Nordhouse (?) and other economists and they say, “Oh, all we have to do is move ‘em.” And I say yeah, but you have something like 800 different languages in the South Pacific and many dozens of distinct cultures and you just wipe that out. We should be concerned about preserving the diversity of humans and cultures as well as biodiversity. How is a country, poor country [like] Bangladesh going to deal with increased tidal surges and storms? And on and on and on. And so what we we’re doing is transferring wealth from the poor in the future to the rich of today. And I think that is just morally unjustified in every way, taking what could be a livelihood for future generations and using it up today.
And do you see actions like —? Well, there’s plenty of environmental refugees, etc., but with for example the direct involvement of UN troops in Somalia as something that will be perhaps more common in the future?
But clearly what’s happened there, and Gus Smith (?) who is now at United Nations Development Programs, [???], you are taking resources that ordinarily within the UN family would go to building up infrastructure and so forth and using it to conduct —
…imposition of say UN troops into Somalia not only draws the resources out but has other side effects?
Side effects that really displaces people, as we all know. And just the direct effects of war have an impact on environment and [are] probably related to global change throughout Africa as you have desertification (?) you change the albedo (?), change it off of the reflectivity of the earth, and this clearly is going to be seen in the energy balance.
It also seems that we’re simply not; our source of, sense of order is simply not the same as a native Somalian’s.
Well, but that’s, again it’s the arrogance that comes with power and the arrogance that our way of doing things is in some way the only right way. People fail to understand the enormous diversity of cultures and diversity of how people believe we in this country prize dolphins, and movies on Flipper and whatever else, but in India you prize cattle and don’t harm them. So we may think we understand the Indian point of view, but the Indians find it very difficult to understand why we place such a great emphasis on dolphins. And then of course dolphins come into all kinds of trade issues related to environmental kinds of questions.
[???] that they cannot possibly be that intelligent because they don’t have this big technology that —
That’s right. That’s right. Well, I think the world is undergoing a very, very rapid change and that our societal organizations are having a very great deal of difficulty keeping up with the technological structures. And I think that that’s a source of very great concern, whether it’s the technological changes that are reflected and global climate change as we exponentially increase worldwide use of energy or technological change [???] greatly increase communications without really worrying what is being communicated of information, of what is not information. And so on down the line. There are relatively few institutions that are trying to tackle these issues and worry about them.
Is the U.S. government mainly concerned —? I mean I know we’re in the era of Al Gore, but in the era of Sununu and historically in your time in the government, have we been mainly concerned about the winners and losers issue more so than the ethical? Are there things that —?
Oh, without any question. We are worried about first we promote technological change without necessarily adequately questioning its value or how to adjust to the technological change. We’re very much worried about winners or losers. Very little concern is given to the ethical issues or the morality, issues of morality. I think it was of course the very worst during the Reagan Administration. Let’s get as much of it as we can, consumption was at its peak. Many people sort of laugh at Al Gore, but his book contains [???] some of the spiritual aspects of it troubled me greatly, but it does contain a sort of feeling for human values that I think needs to be much more fully appreciated than we do. And Pm personally pleased that someone understands the science and has some regard for future generations who is in a position of influence. But even being second man is not enough to change government bureaucracies [???] pace bureaucracies have their own agendas, and those agendas often are largely with the enrichment of that bureaucracy or pushing its rather narrow purposes. And it’s a failure not to step back and look at the larger and longer term issues.
Since you mentioned Earth in the Balance, there is, before we say the strong praiseworthy things about it, which we will get to, there is one chapter at least that raises issues that may be somewhat frightening to people: the metaphor of the year without a summer and great political upheaval in Europe begins one chapter. There is a sense that there is some climatic — if not determinism, there is a climatic link to the human affairs which could have a very great political downside.
Well, historically I think there has always been a link between climate and history, and some very good historians have written on this subject. From the climate perspective, Lyon (?) has written at great length, attempting to link events in climate. And it’s clear that civilizations have destroyed themselves through wanton disregard for the world around them. If you look at [???] today and what it was at one time, you see a people can destroy the very essence of their civilization. In reading Earth in the Balance, as I mentioned earlier, I have some strong reservations about part of the book and I do think that Gore, writing with background as a journalist, tried to paint a possible picture of the future that is more extreme than I would think. But the value of the book is not in the details, it’s in the concept that we have to look far down the path and worry about the things that we do today that are going to affect future generations either adversely or in a hostile (?) way, simply by leaving the future generations with a wealth of new technology and lots of capacity, technological capacity where we’re helping them. But if we in the process destroy the very things in which the civilization depends, certainly we’re not. And there are only so many VCRs and tape recorders [???] to satisfy the population if we make them better and fancier. And [???] do that, but those instruments cannot replace clean air, water, the sort of environment that we live in.
And the potential then, the metaphor of a Global Marshall Plan, could you speak to that a bit?
Yes. I think — Personally I believe that something we should work towards, that we do have to make or find some way of transferring some fraction of the wealth in the north to the south. The disparity in quality of life between the richest countries and the poorest countries is beyond imagination. We are continuing to live very rich lives at some [???] the expense of those in the poorer countries. Al Gore’s book unfortunately came out at a time when we were in a Recession, and since then other countries have slipped into a Recession as we begin to work our way out of our Recession. Therefore just the notion that the country in Recession could mount a Marshall Plan — But that’s very short term thinking. You have to look at the longer term and try to even out the bumps of downturns in the economy and plan to how we can effectively help the countries of the south to improve their conditions in such a way that it benefits the globe as a whole and therefore improves in the long term the lives that the future generations will live. In thinking now of let’s say Honduras, where you are in the process of cutting down forests, you’re doing that in order to provide firewood and to clear land. The global effects are clear. You’re converting stored carbon, carbon that goes into the atmosphere, into the ocean, and you are also wrecking the local environment, because you increase erosion, you fill up the dam, Honduras now has to go to World Bank for a very large loan for that country to build another dam because their water supply has now, cannot supply [???] and all of this. Some assistance at land or [???] land education, how land can be used, the value of trees and so forth, and maybe even [???] financial assistance, money for — But development assistance is not in vogue, certainly not in this administration. Clinton follows Reagan and Bush; actually it goes back to Nixon, “trade not aid.” But there is still a great deal that needs to be done to provide the technical and the planning support for the poorer countries. And I really do think that our current biggest problem is the poverty of the south, and in the long term it’s a very important global problem.
Do you ever think radical solutions are needed, that the system is so —?
No. I don’t think radical solutions. As much as you’d like to think of radical solutions, bureaucracies don’t work that way unless its revolution and I don’t think we’re at that stage. I think —
Would you say something about your wife and family before we finish the tapes?
My wife Margaret and our children are all off and grown, into a variety of things.
Do you have several children?
We’ve got two sons that we’re very close with, our oldest and youngest son; a middle son who lives in Washington and does computer work and [???] talk too occasionally.
Well thank you very much.
Thank you. What can we do to help you on the transportation?
Just call me a cab or — I’m going to Mission Bay.