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Interview of Michael MacCracken by Nils Randlev Hundebøl on 2013 April 19,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Michael MacCracken discusses topics such as: his family background and childhood; climatology; undergraduate work at Princeton University in engineering; being interviewed by Edward Teller for a fellowship; University of California, Davis; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Michael May; Chuck Leith; geophysics; Project Plowshare; National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Ames Research Center; Climate Impact Assessment Program (CIAP); United States Department of Energy; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); climate change; George Hidy; Peter Mueller; Fred Koomanoff; National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR); Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Bob Watson of NASA; Dan Albritton of NOAA; Chuck Hakkarinen; United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP); Jerry Melillo; Climate Institute.
Good morning. This is Nils Hundebøl. It’s April the 19th. It’s 9:30 a.m. We are at the Climate Institute in Washington, D.C. interviewing Michael MacCracken. Good morning, Mike.
I’d like to know about your background. Where and when were you born?
I was born in 1942 in Schenectady, New York, so it was during World War II. My father was going to enlist in the Navy but got pulled back by General Electric to work in their Creative Engineering Laboratory. He was an inventor, and he was working on the development of the jet engine. That he was an inventor sort of sparked a lot of my curiosity because we talked a lot about it. He later set up a business on his own, and so we were constantly discussing different inventions and how things worked. So, I was always curious. It was an area of a lot of thermodynamics, and that’s sort of what determines the climate. So, after Schenectady when he established his company, we moved down to the New York City area and I was raised most of the time in northern New Jersey.
Who was your mother?
My mother was actually the daughter of a medical doctor who was a medical missionary in China, so she was actually born in Shanghai, although he was born in I think Kentucky and raised in Kansas and then went to the University of Pennsylvania. So that was an interesting sort of perspective. Her name was Martha McCracken. They were actually third cousins. My father’s father was president of Vassar College and took in students to live in the president’s house with him, often students from overseas. But in this case, he took in this daughter of his second cousin to go to Vassar because as a medical missionary in China, he didn't have any money. So, on that side of the family, we got a very interesting international perspective of what went on. If you’ve seen the movie Chariots of Fire where a British athlete competed in the Paris Olympics but did not compete on Sunday because of his religion and then went to China to become a doctor, well, my grandfather competed in the 1900 Olympics in Paris, did not compete on Sunday, and went to China to be a doctor.
There was a movement in the late 19th century to send enough Western doctors to China to take care of all the Chinese. It took them until the early 20th century to realize that wouldn’t work, so they started teaching Chinese to be doctors and then a decade later started teaching Chinese to be professors of medicine, to teach Chinese to be doctors. So, my grandfather went through… When he went over there first in 1907, I think it was to establish Union Medical School with different contributions from different colleges, and became dean and then turned over the deanship to the Chinese and then went through World War II, was traded back in exchange for Japanese diplomats and nationals. So, I had a sort of creative and intellectual engineering background. My grandfather was president of Vassar, was this sort of Chaucerian expert and Shakespearean expert, so I had quite a range of interesting backgrounds to draw upon.
How were your school years — primary school, high school, things like that?
Well, we moved to northern New Jersey when I was at the end of first grade, and so I went through public elementary school, public junior and senior high schools in Tenafly, New Jersey, which is a suburban community outside New York. It was reasonably well-to-do at the time, not that we were particularly well-to-do, but all things considered, it was pretty well-to-do.
Any special interests of yours in high school? Did you like math? Did you like physics?
Well, I very much liked science. I was much better in science than I was in English or foreign languages or other things. My father being an engineer, I was involved in a lot of that. I worked a couple of summers at his company on some of his more interesting inventions, which actually tended to be way before their time. He was working around the late 1940s on high efficiency furnaces, for example, and everything that he sort of picked up and developed because of what he thought about for the jet engine during World War II. It almost really caught on in development, so it was manufactured by a major company in the United States. But there was too much focus on initial cost. It cost a little bit more, but then the operating costs were low, and so the places it ended up being placed were on the Arctic DEW [Defense Early Warning] line, the Air Force stations, and in the Antarctic because getting fuel to there was very expensive, and so they wanted as efficient a system as they could. So, it was used in a number of really interesting places, but didn't catch on so much.
Then sort of in the ‘50s, one of the tasks he worked on was adding an air conditioning component. So, we were living in northern New Jersey. It’s a pretty humid environment. We’d like to have had an air conditioner. He was really interested in redoing the energy systems. In those days homes had a coal-fired furnace or something that then heated water and then ran a radiator system. How do you do an air conditioning system? How do you get off of coal to oil or natural gas? So, he developed these flexible ducts that went up in the spaces in the walls and came to a register, and basically for the heating, [the furnace] heated the air up to a relatively high temperature and pressurized it through [the ducts], and then when the air got to the room, the register drew in the room air so that the air that came out was at an acceptable temperature. Cooling sort of did the same thing. The system sent pretty cold air through insulated, flexible ducts. Now it turns out that [flexible ducts] was an idea that 40 years later is what’s being done everywhere. Instead of constructing rigid ducts [out of aluminum], the system had these insulated ducts, [with pressurized air flowing] in something that’s much smaller. So, he had a very interesting idea.
One of the most interesting learning experiences with respect to that was when we were putting the air conditioning system into a neighbor’s house to test it. In the summer in New Jersey, it’s very hot and humid and then [a day later] a thunderstorm comes through and you have a nice day and then [a few days later] it’s hot and humid. So, we put it [the air-conditioning system] in and we turned it on. It ran and ran and ran, and the house didn’t get cool, and the second day it ran and ran and ran and the house didn’t get cool. The third day it didn’t run much at all and the house was cool. The fourth day a thunderstorm came through and the people opened their windows. They didn’t need the air conditioner and they were having very nice cool air, so they had the system sort of turned off. The fifth day was hot and humid again. They turned the system on; the house was still pretty warm and the air conditioner was running a lot. The next day, the air conditioner wasn’t running much, but the house was cool. We’re going, “What in the world is going on?”
It took us a bit to realize that what my father’s air conditioner did, in order to get a lot of cold air going through these relatively small ducts, even though it was being blown through, not just sort of drifting through but being blown through, was cool the air down to a lower temperature than normal. It was down to, as I recall, a dew point of near 50 degrees [Fahrenheit] instead of what the typical ones do, which is up around 60 degrees or something. So that meant the system had to get all the moisture out of the air that was basically above the dew point of 50 degrees. So, what it was doing was working, those first few days for example, very, very hard to get all the moisture out of the air plus out of the walls, out of everything, because if you were there for a hot, humid summer, people opened their houses. So, you were typically having this 90°F air with very humid conditions and stuff, and so it worked to dry all that. So, once it got the moisture under control, then it was very simple to keep the air cool. If you actually do a calculation of relative energy content added, you spend about 20 to 25 times as much energy taking the moisture out as you do cooling the air. So, it was absolutely fascinating to work on that.
It wasn’t long thereafter that J. Murray Mitchell, who was a famous climatologist in the United States, wrote an article about what to do for keeping the energy use down in major office buildings, and he advocated having it so the windows could be opened. I wrote to him and I said, “No, that’s exactly the wrong thing you want to do and everything because you let all that moisture in and you’re going to be working on it so much. You want to keep the moisture under control. Then it’s easy.”
Now it turns out that’s the case in the eastern U.S. I ended up going to graduate school, so I’m jumping ahead a little bit, but out in California, where the humidity of the air is controlled by the temperature of the Pacific Ocean, which is down in the 60s, so the dew point is quite low. So there, when the sea breeze comes through, you do want to be able to open your windows. There’s no reason not to open your windows because the [absolute] humidity is so low. So it’s very different conditions on the East and West Coasts.
I think one of the unfortunate things is people don’t very much understand how to operate their house and air conditioning unit. I remember we went to a potluck dinner for some students here in Washington. It was the middle of the summer, and these people were [trying to be very green.] He worked for the Environmental Protection Agency, and she was an environmental health person. They basically tried not to use air conditioning. They basically closed their house down each morning to keep it cool. So here they were having a potluck dinner. Their house was starting off humid and people were bringing in all these steaming hot dishes. By the time I got there, and I had just walked a few blocks in very humid weather, I was pretty hot. They said, “Well, we’re going to turn on the air conditioner,” as if that would do any good at that point, as if it would take enough moisture out to make you feel cool. It was just… I mean if you’re going to do that [be able to cool the house quickly], you have to keep your house dry.
My wife is from California, and so she’s used to always opening the windows, and I keep telling her. I said, “No, you can’t open the windows until we have a low dew point and the temperature goes down. Then you can open the windows.” That’s a little hard for her, but people here don't seem to really catch that. So I learned enough from my youth to get some understanding.
My father was actually… That was a time in the ‘50s and early ‘60s when people were thinking that engineers could do anything. You could make nuclear power plants; you could do this. There were proposals to actually go up and melt the Arctic. He talked about putting a dam in the Bering Strait or something and what would happen. In fact, he worked at GE with Vincent Schaefer and some others who were interested in weather modification. That was where the early testing on weather modification with seeding of clouds was going on. So, he worked there and he knew all that, and so I heard all that when I was growing up… So, I was really pretty interested in geophysics even at a young age even though our school didn’t have any courses or anything.
When you graduated high school, what were your thoughts about colleges?
Well, my father had gone to Princeton, and I had gone back a lot of times with him to reunions and other events there. It’s a wonderful place, and so I applied to Princeton. The guidance counselor was so sure I’d get in at the time because I was doing pretty well in the class ranking that she didn't even want to fill out a second application. But my second application was to Dartmouth, which I also liked. I mean I was not all that much a city person for some of the other schools, and so I really wanted to go to Princeton. So, I went to Princeton as an engineering student.
It was interesting. At the time, Princeton, normal classes started sort of mid-September, but for the engineers, they brought them in three weeks early, the freshmen engineers. They taught us three courses. One was surveying. It turned out engineering had always been sort of dominated to some extent by the civil engineering departments; those were the oldest departments. That department had insisted that all engineers had to have surveying, so there was this three-week course on surveying involving laying out a railroad along the lake there. There was a second course on slide rule, on how to really use a slide rule and make it work because at the time there wasn't much computing.
But the third course was actually on computing. Princeton had what I think was an ICM-650 that had 2,000 words of memory: the second thousand words were reserved for the operating system, and the first thousand were ones you could use. The program was machine language. Basically each word identified an operation that took what was in this cell and that cell and put it in a third cell; our assignment was to solve our surveying problem on this computer. This computer had no geometric functions like sine and cosine that would be nice to have for geometry; you had to approximate those functions. It had no computer diagnostics, so if you started a “DO” loop and didn’t end it, it would just cycle right up into the operating system. The operator couldn’t really tell what was going on there, but they had a microphone attached so you could sort of hear the sound, and you could tell when the sounds were getting strange or the lights were doing something wrong. Then you would stop the run and then, having read in 2,000 cards, 1,000 blank and 1,000 with the operating system, the operator would say, “Well, go figure out what you did wrong.” So, you sort of learned you had to figure out pretty carefully what was going on with each step in time. So that was a really interesting experience because it taught me how a computer system works, really down in the nitty-gritty what the computer program was doing. FORTRAN came along later, so by the end of college, we were learning some FORTRAN and solving problems with that. But it started out with machine language, so that was a very fortunate kind of thing.
So, at Princeton, I had engineering classes; I had physics; and I had math and chemistry. Because I’d been to a pretty good high school that had given us a lot of theoretical aspects, for example, in chemistry, I tended to be in more advanced classes. That was good in one sense, but in another sense it meant I should have had knowledge about lab chemistry and things that I didn't have, and so I ended up sitting in on some other [lower level] chemistry classes. So that was very interesting, but I had a lot of those. But I also was taking courses in philosophy and religion and literature. [I took these courses partly because] Princeton had a distribution requirement, but partly I was interested because I wasn't quite sure engineering was right. I sort of wondered if one always wants to follow one’s father or something like that. So, I had a range of courses. There weren't any that I recall that were really about geophysics. I don’t think I took a geology course at that time or anything, and Princeton didn't have the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at the time and all of that close association, so I didn't have that [opportunity].
Are there any professors you remember from your Princeton years?
Well, I had some engineering professors in atmospheric flows. I think one of the ones whom I later was involved with in geophysics was George Mellor, who was interested in flows and turbulence and other kinds of things, so I had a range of interesting professors. Princeton was trying to get engineers to think broadly at the time. They were still teaching courses, though, on automobile engines and making you do PV [pressure-volume] plots and stuff. We as students decided, “Well, what I’d really rather do is put an oscilloscope on there and make it plot for us and I’ll just take a picture! I don’t want to do this all in plotting.” The professor basically said, “Well, do the plotting once, and then you can do it with an oscilloscope.” [Laughter]
Then because I was partly having to earn some of my support, I worked with a fellow and I should remember his name [Robert Luna]. He was a graduate student and he was doing an experiment to try and understand turbulence and using fiber optics to try and do it, so some of the very early fiber optic kinds of things. He had a device that he created that had a small gap and that he would cause some particles to flow through and could measure some of the flow variables and the turbulence by looking at the breaks in the light that you could see [could be detected]. I had a roommate who was involved in some of the very early laser work as well, so I was getting a touch of a number of different things that are common today.
I should say that I later ran into the graduate student when he worked at Los Alamos, so that sort of came back later.
When you finished your degree at Princeton, what options did you have? I guess you would have a number of them.
Well, okay. So, it was 1963, 1964, so our senior year was pretty eventful. That was when… in the fall of ‘63 Kennedy was assassinated. That was also the time of gearing up to… The Vietnam War was gearing up. All of us were potentially subject to the draft and had been deferred in college and were trying to figure out what to do. The summer of ‘62, I’d gone to Europe and sort of wandered around for three months, been to East Berlin and other things. Actually, if you go to the Newseum if you’re in town [i.e., in Washington, DC], you can see there’s a part of the wall right from near where I was. We arrived the day that one of the young men from East Germany in 1962 tried to climb the wall, got shot, wounded, and died. There were riots in West Berlin at that time and stuff. So, I actually ran into history.
So, everybody was considering their choices. I basically applied for Air Force Officers Candidate School because it had generally some more technical aspects. My eyesight is not quite good enough to be a pilot or anything, but for navigation or other things, I had a good sense and some research interests. So, one [option] was thinking about the military and what would happen and another was thinking about graduate school and thinking I would go on in engineering. I ended up applying to both Berkeley and Stanford on the West Coast. My father had actually, after going to Princeton, gone to a year at MIT and just didn’t think that was the right environment. [Laughs] He thought it was just too much. He just didn’t think that would be right. It turned out that there were sort of other family reasons that he was sort of pushing me away, I think. So, I was applying to Stanford and Berkeley with an NSF Fellowship in engineering.
Then right in mid to late December, Professor Suppiger, who was a continuum mechanics professor and the advisor to seniors on what they might do, came in and said he had heard about a new fellowship and that we might want to apply. He had this very poorly mimeographed form, and it was for The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation. So, I and a classmate or two took it. There were only seven of us in mechanical engineering, I think it might have been. I took the form and I filled it out and sent it in. It was a reasonably generous fellowship. I don’t know how much you know about The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, but it’s interesting.
Fannie and John Hertz were immigrants to the U.S. in 1906 or 1907. They moved to Chicago and started Yellow Cab. That became a rather big franchise. They started Hertz Rent-a-Car, and so they had a fair amount of money accumulating in various places. They established a foundation to try to help with science-oriented education for undergraduates based on need. That went for some years until universities and colleges basically started saying, “Well, if you’ve got outside support, we will deduct that from whatever we give.” So all they [The Hertz Foundation] were doing in the end was feeling they were subsidizing colleges and they didn’t like that because they wanted to really be special. So, they had a number of people on their board, among them Edward Teller, who pushed them to go to graduate fellowships, and to get fellowships so you didn’t have to work [e.g., as a graduate or teaching assistant] so you really had more free time [to do research]. You had more flexibility for other stuff. So this was actually [almost at the beginning of their graduate efforts]… it started slightly earlier. There was a student who was in the class from ‘63 to ‘64. There were a few they awarded. So, this form started me off, and so I didn't know what was going to come of it.
But sort of in mid-January, the middle of exam period, I got a telegram — a knock on the door and a telegram at 7 a.m. in the morning. I never got another telegram in my life, I don't think. “Can you meet me at 30 Rockefeller Plaza on such-and-such a floor on this date? Signed Edward Teller,” and I said, “Whoa!” [Laughter] So I said yes.
I sent back a note saying yes. It was not a day I had exams, but it was right in the middle of exams, and I said, “Yes, I can meet.” So, I went up [to New York City] by train, and it turned out to be the office of I think Laurance Rockefeller; that was where we met. There were two others there, two other applicants, it turned out, and what he was going to do was take us upstairs to the Rainbow Grill on the top floor and interview us. The one thing I had done that made sense was the night before I’d gone to the library and done a bunch of reading on Edward Teller. [Laughter] So I at least knew how to recognize him, and pretty clearly the other ones hadn’t done that. So, we ended up sitting at this luncheon table. So, there was Edward Teller. I was off to his right, and then he had another person whom I’ve always wanted to know who that was. But there were these two other applicants, and Teller took a piece of 8 ½ x 11 paper, folded it in thirds, and was going to take notes. So, this other person tended to sometimes ask general questions, and Teller would sort of bore in. I’m trying to remember.
Let’s see. I guess the first question was about what’s your favorite subject. I mean Teller, I later learned, is really interested in looking for peaks, not your valleys. So, he wants to see how far you’ve gotten in your favorite subject. I talked about continuum mechanics and some things in tensor notation and stuff, and I didn’t think I did very well, but I understood a little bit. The next fellow was a mathematician. I should say this [fellowship] was for [study in] applied science. One of the things I had learned was that Teller thought all the interesting issues would be between scientific fields, and so he wanted to get some people who worked across fields. He sort of despaired of teaching physicists about other fields. They were all so off in their sort of nuclear physics kind of thing that he sort of despaired of that, and so his notion was to get engineers, mathematicians, chemists, anybody else he could think of, and you were going to go through a master’s program in physics and then he hoped you ended up somewhere in between for your Ph.D.
So, the next person [applicant] he asked was a mathematician, and he asked him to define Fourier series, and the fellow clearly knew what he was doing and rattled off this quite mathematical expression of it. Teller turned to the other two of us and asked if we understood, and about the only smart thing any of us said at that time was —” No. “[Laughter] He asked the mathematician to do it again. He gave the same definition but slower. It didn’t help much, and then Teller proceeded to explain it to us in his traditional style of words of one syllable or less that were very clear. He was very good, and he was very clear that he expected you to understand things, and you ought to be able to explain complex physics to anybody. The third fellow was an electrical engineer, and I don't quite remember how he did.
The next one [question], Teller came to me and he asked, “So what books are you reading?” So, it was January 1964. I was reading the books that Kennedy, who had just been assassinated, was reading, which were James Bond novels! [Laughter] So Teller says, “Oh,” and then goes on to the next fellow who was reading histories of Russia. They got talking about some remote purge. The fellow got a little, I think, over his head, but he knew about that. The third fellow, the electrical engineer, said he read technical journals in his spare time, and I thought, “Oh great. I read James Bond novels!” [Laughter]
Then there was a question on sort of your extracurricular activities. I was a cheerleader and played squash and other things like that, and Teller goes, “Oh,” and goes to the next person. Let’s see. He did photography; he did emulsion chemistry with his photography or something like that. Or maybe he was the one who built stereos and knew electronics or something, and the other one did emulsion chemistry and I’m like, “Oh, what?” [Laughter]
This went on for a while, and then Teller finally asked us where we wanted to take the Hertz Fellowship and I said “Berkeley.” That’s what I had planned. Teller said, “Sorry. It’s not allowed at Berkeley.” There are only three schools that you’re allowed to use it [the fellowship]: MIT, then it was the University of Chicago, and University of California Davis. Well, it turned out what had happened was Teller had tried to get accredited for forming a department of applied science at Berkeley, but the physicists had turned him down. So, he had to go to the School of Engineering at UC Davis to form this department. So, I had the wrong UC campus.
Then there was another question about, “So what do you want to do?” I sort of commented about my father being an inventor and about wanting to be creative, and Teller gave me a lecture about the new science being done in teams, not as individuals. [Laughter] And this sort of went on. The other two wanted to go to MIT, so I wasn’t competing directly with them, I guess.
So, at the end of this interview, Teller said to me, “I think you’d better write me a letter about what you’re really interested in doing and where would you think about doing it.” I was so depressed going home on the train I ended up writing a letter to this young lady I’d been dating. It was so discouraging we sort of ended up realizing we were breaking up and stuff. But yes, it was pretty discouraging. So, I didn’t expect to hear anything… Oh, so I went back to my room.
Now it turned out for the summer job that I’d been applying [for positions], and since I was going to go to Stanford or Berkeley I’d applied for summer jobs [in that area]. It turned out I’d applied for a job at Lawrence Livermore National Lab [then named just the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory], which I thought Edward Teller was head of at the time (it was an engineering job there), but Teller had actually stepped down. He’s sort of too outspoken to lead a laboratory. He wants to express his views and not be responsible for representing an institutional view, which is great. So, I wrote him a letter basically saying: well, I really thought individual creativity was important and individuals could make a difference and that by the way I’d gotten a job at Lawrence Livermore Lab for the summer and I sent it off and didn’t know whether I’d hear anything. It sure didn't sound very promising! [Laughter]
So, the acceptances at Berkeley and Stanford came back. The NSF Fellowship came back, and I was just about to accept and there came a letter from Hertz saying, “You’re appointed a Hertz scholar. You’re going to get a fellowship,” which was more generous than NSF. Plus [because of the fellowship’s generosity] you had more flexibility because of how they were doing it. I didn't even know where Livermore was. Now it turned out I’d actually driven through that on a family trip when we’d driven around the country in 1961, but I didn’t really know where Livermore was. I didn't know much about the school, but I figured if Teller was going to take me, I was going to go. So, I accepted and went off.
Meantime, my application to the Air Force was being considered, and they ran into sort of, I guess it was, three problems with me. One was the different spelling of my parents’ names, which was confusing because it was off by one letter even though they were third cousins. One was my mother was born in Shanghai, and the other was I’d been in East Berlin [Laughter] during my trip around Europe. So, they wanted to have a little interview on this or something like that, since they didn't have an answer. So, I basically ended up with a graduate school deferment and went on. Deferments later sort of were ended. It turns out I had lost my sense of smell when I was young because of intense allergies, and so the allergies continued and so in the end, I wasn't qualified for service.
So, off I headed in the summer of 1964 to California for a summer job having essentially, as it turned out for strange reasons, essentially no money except just having [the promise of] a Hertz Fellowship. I had a suitcase and a trunk and that was it! But I started work in the summer, and they put us up at a set of apartments. I think it was about 25 miles from Livermore because there weren’t any [available apartments] in Livermore. I didn’t have a car; I didn’t have anything. Luckily a roommate had a car, although it broke down on the first day into work and we had to hitchhike into work. But I did take my Hertz Fellowship letter to the Hertz Rent-a-Car and said, “Can I lease a car?” [Laughter] That was my — And they looked at this thing wondering what it was, but it leased me a car. So I then could… because you sort of had to get around in California. It wasn’t a bikeable trip or anything until later on [when I moved to Livermore]. So, yes, I started.
So, Livermore was a major Department of Energy lab. It’s one of their two nuclear design labs, but it also has major programs in magnetic fusion research and environmental and health impacts. What else? It had several major activities, some in energy and other areas. So, it was a very interesting place. It had at the time about 7,000 employees. Roughly I think 1,500 to 2,000 had PhDs. Another 1,500 to 2,000 or something had other technical degrees. It had technicians. It had all kinds of things. But it had no students. It was located 30-40 miles from Berkeley and it just had no graduate students. So what Teller proposed to the University — and he was on the faculty as well, and Lawrence Livermore was run by the University — was, “Well, you should establish a graduate school here and take advantage of all these PhD people.” So, what they did was the University, for each professorial salary that it set aside, got three scientists as professors, and the Laboratory, in giving those people the time off to do that, got back in exchange graduate students with a couple of requirements. Of course, we weren’t allowed to work on classified things. There was some consideration by the University of California Davis about whether Livermore had enough culture to have a university department. Teller committed to solve that problem by saying he and his friends would put on concerts in Livermore to take care of that. [Laughter] So, we all had some culture.
But it [the Department of Applied Science] was initially housed in some old World War II sort of barracks or office buildings, and the students the first year, which were drawn from several sources… I think there were a couple of Hertz, maybe one Hertz Fellow. Teller did try and get the Air Force to put graduate students there and others from the military generally. It turned out Curtis LeMay, who was an Air Force general, was also on the Hertz board. So, they [some students supported by the U.S. Air Force] would come there, and there were some U.S. Army people who would come, and then laboratory people could attend. So, the Laboratory got students to do things.
The Laboratory is an interesting place, and it’s true of Los Alamos as well. Okay, so your major mission is nuclear weapons design. Nobody teaches that [i.e., nuclear design] in universities, so where [i.e., what disciplines] do you draw your people from? You draw them from astrophysics, from plasma physics, from geophysics. I mean there are only a few fields that really are doing this kind of thing, of big-scale modeling, which they had done. So, the Laboratory had a program that was like an internal sabbatical program that it basically provided its scientists. It realized that if you just take a group of scientists and all you’re working on is nuclear design, you don’t have a big enough core to make sure you get all the technical advances you want. So, they were going to, first of all, let them work a little bit in the fields they’ve worked in to keep their contact in it because they enjoy it, and then they’ll sort of give them a sabbatical year off after they’ve done something major to really focus on that [their former field], to go out to professional meetings to learn other things. So that was a sort of very interesting part of the Laboratory.
So, the idea of having graduate students there for material science and all these other things was very helpful to the Laboratory because the staff there could have… They could say, “Oh, gee. I’ve got a graduate student!” and do something in this field. I mean they come up with good ideas, and they’re supposed to be working on this job over here, but they want to work on something else. So, it [the Department of Applied Science] was a real advantage to the Laboratory; it was also a real sort of interesting thing for the University. The University of California Davis at the time was sort of viewed as an agricultural school with some engineering, and it was trying to boost itself up. I mean all the UC campuses want to be [the quality of] Harvard, and so it [UC Davis] was trying to compete. So, it was receptive to it [establishment of the Department of Applied Science]. So, it was a very fortuitous situation there for me.
So that first year… Well, I guess I should say I first went to work at the Laboratory for the summer and I was working in a division that was called X-Division. It was a division that was sort of about military applications. The project I was on was basically part of an effort that was trying to safeguard nuclear weapons. I mean for most time up to that point and a little thereafter, the protection that existed for nuclear weapons was a guard at the door with a gun. That’s not quite the [secure] system you really like, and so the idea was could you develop some sort of protection to put around it—an electronic shell, for example — that people couldn’t get through or that if they did, it would disable the weapon? So, the way to disable a weapon is have some contaminant in the core, and so you basically had it so that if you would break in, it wouldn’t pull this [contaminant] out. That would get stuck there and so the device wouldn't be able to really explode. I mean there would be an explosion because you’ve got to have a lot of high explosives, but it’s not going to be a nuclear explosion or anything. So they sort of had a red team/blue team kind of thing. There were those who were trying to make the thing as good as they could, and then there were others who were trying to figure out how to break into it with dentist tools and all these other approaches and stuff. [Laughter] The question was how long could you protect it from a whole bunch of other attacks. So, it was a very interesting experience.
But I got a call from Teller’s secretary saying, “Can you come over and see me?” and so I went over to see him. He wanted to talk about my courses and what I was going to do. What was pretty clear from looking at my record and talking was that I had a gap in electromagnetism, which I hadn’t done much with, and he said in his wonderful German accent, “Oh, you should go over and talk to Dr. Michael May.” Dr. May was a physicist who was quite prominent. He was one of the teachers that Teller had recruited for this school. He was actually French originally and a paratrooper. You sort of wonder by his stature how that could be, but… So, he sent me over to see him, and he said, “Oh yes, well there’s a course being taught this summer (for the military guys mostly who were coming in) about electromagnetism.” So, I went over to a fellow named Wilson Talley who was teaching the course. I think it [the course] was like a third over, and his comment to me was, “Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you a zero on the first two weeks and we’ll start from there.” [Laughter] It turned out since the military guys didn't have anything else to do, they were doing the course full-time and I was going to have a job, so it just wasn’t going to quite work out. But I mean there was that solution. That was sort of known as a weakness I had.
So in the fall, then we started courses. I started being a full-time student. It was really interesting. I mean we had [courses in] statistical mechanics and quantum mechanics and physical chemistry and a whole bunch of other broad physics courses from people who turned out to be very prominent. One was in the National Academy of Sciences; others were well known. This particular semester I didn’t get Teller as a teacher, but other years he did teach and some of us would go and take it. There were maybe 15 or 20 of us, I guess, and we’d all sort of feel totally baffled each lecture. But three weeks later, that [what had been previously taught] was clear as could be and we were still baffled by the new stuff. [Laughter] But it was fascinating. So, it [the course work] gave a real good background across a wide range of physics, so that’s really helpful to try and put a lot of things together. So that was great.
So we did some computing that time. At the start of that, I remember problem that I was trying to solve. There was a fellow, Lowell Wood, whom you may have run across. He was one of the sidekicks of Teller. Teller was very interesting. Although he’s known and sometimes is thought about as conservative or something like that, he actually had around him as his close advisors one person who was rabidly conservative, it seemed, one person who was very libertarian, and another one who was a very progressive Democrat. [Laughter] They were all very good [physicists]. I got to know all of them. Because one of the things you learn, if you suggest a lot of ideas, is that only some share of them are good ideas. A person with ideas will have lots of ideas, and the question is how do you filter them out? Teller had a lot of good ideas, but he ended up being in trouble [being criticized] sometimes when he had ideas where there weren’t enough strong people around him to say, “No, that's not a good idea. You should think about it.” So, he really needed strong people around, and he expected you to know things up there [in discussions with him]. I mean what I had learned when I’d read about him the first night before the application was he thinks in orders-of-magnitude and you’d better be able to think in terms of order of magnitude of everything. He’s going to ask you questions about order of magnitude.
So I had a bunch of these courses. There was one that started to be on geophysics kinds of issues. So, I did fairly well, although I didn’t do very well in electromagnetism, you know. It turned out one of the requirements for a PhD from the University of California in scientific fields at the time was to have a reading knowledge of two foreign languages. Well, I had only had two years of French and two years of German in high school, so I was in trouble. [Laughter] So for the summer, I enrolled in the Yale Summer Language Institute, and most people there took one course, and I took two. So, I had two hours of… I think it was the German that came first from 8 to 10 a.m. and then two hours of French from 10 to 12 noon. Going from one to the other was a little bit of a challenge, but I basically studied all the weekday time. New Haven is not the place to be in the summer. I spent my time doing nothing but French and German through the summer. Weekends I’d sort of escape to where I could go around the area, but I spent a lot of time there in New Haven.
So, when I went back [to Livermore] in the fall, I was going to take my language test. So, Teller gave me the German one. The tests were sort of two parts. One, they had given you a book in that language, the science in the language, so mine was this encyclopedia [Handbuch der Physiks] or something like that was hard science. You sort of read it and got familiar with that, and they were going to choose a passage from that, and then [they would also choose a passage] from something you hadn’t seen before that you were supposed to translate. So yes, Teller gave me the German test, and I passed. That’s about all. [Laughter] Then Mike May, who was French, gave me the French test, and again I sort of passed. Some of my colleagues who did it, when they got the passage that they hadn’t seen before, they got one with the abstract in English. Well, that tells you all the key words or something! But mine wasn't that way. But in any case, I did survive that, and so the physics studies went on.
Then I had a seminar class that was taught by Mike May and Chuck Leith, who I’ll say a bit more about in a minute, on geophysical and astrophysical hydrodynamics. So that was what really intrigued me. There also were courses about… one was about numerical methods and some other classes were really interesting. But that [the seminar on astrophysical and geophysical hydrodynamics] was the one that really intrigued me. So, we got wonderful tensor notation analyses of how the Sun worked and of how geophysics worked. My study in that course was about hurricanes. I think the most memorable thing was doing a calculation of how much water was coming out of a hurricane or something like that and comparing it to some things. I found that one day’s rainfall from a massive hurricane would supply New York City with water for five years or something. It was a huge amount of rainfall coming out. That [type of calculation] comes back later, in another story. [Laughter] I’ll try and remember ones with some questions from Teller.
But right in the middle of the semester, Mike May got appointed director of Livermore Lab where he served for maybe six years and later went on to become a member of the U.S. delegation to the SALT talks, the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty talks. So, it was an interesting connection. But that sort of gave me… and throughout my studies, these connections high up in laboratories, so I was known and doing interesting things. So that was a fun kind of part [of being a student in the Department of Applied Science].
So, I wanted to do something in geophysics, and Teller called me in to talk about my dissertation topic. We had to go through a master’s exam and everything. He had a few ideas. Now I should say something about Chuck Leith at this point because it related to that. So, Chuck Leith (or Cecil Leith) was a student who graduated from Berkeley and did graduate work there in mathematics and got recruited into the weapons design team during the start-up of the Laboratory. After he’d done it for a while, he got to work on his sabbatical. One of the things about the weapons labs was they had the most advanced computers in the world at the time, and so he got very interested in… There was talk about doing the weather and constructing a weather model. So, while there was work going on at Princeton on barotropic models and other things, and Smagorinsky was working to get to a hemispheric atmospheric model. Chuck just sort of plowed ahead and put together the first global atmospheric general circulation model. It was a six-layer GCM [general circulation model]. It ran a perpetual January sort of condition, so it was generating a lot of storms in the Northern Hemisphere. It had fixed surface temperatures and it started running and would generate winter like weather. So, he was very interested in a lot of the different issues that came up with simulation, so he got it going in, I think, 1963. It was a very interesting model in how he did radiation transport and how he did convection; way ahead of his time in how he sort of formulated these things — ahead of Manabe and those others in how he put together mechanisms. I mean he just sort of did it.
Now this was all done in some FORTRAN, but pretty crude FORTRAN. Because he had a very limited number of cells, his code… he worked in very strange units. The units were bars, kilometers, and hours (or something like that), and so you’d have to express what gravity is when you know those are your units and air pressure and all these other things. [Laughs] So, he had this model going, he and a few others. There was a fellow, Pat Crowley, who worked with him who was doing an ocean model similarly. He was only though on a pretty short sabbatical from the weapons program, and so he went back. So, it [the ocean model] was never really carried on quite so much as the one Kirk Bryan got going at GFDL. But he [Crowley] got his model going.
They had a number of interesting things they did with it [the atmospheric GCM]. In getting it going, one thing they saw was it just didn't seem to be working right. The way they used to print out results from computers was on these rather large pieces of paper. You would print a symbol of a certain kind to get isopleths or other things from the model, and it wasn’t working well. So, he figured out how to put the results our on an oscilloscope and flash up the picture on an oscilloscope with contours. What they found the problem was, was that in specifying surface temperatures around the Earth, they had made a mistake in one place in Siberia where instead of putting in 273 K, so 0°C, they had put in 0 K. So, they had a really cold temperature! So, they generated a lot of very cold air coming out and it affected the weather. So, they used the graphics to diagnose a problem, and that’s one of, I think, the first times that was done.
They also then, once they got that fixed, used the oscilloscope outputs to make a movie, and they made one of the very first computer graphic movies by taking 35 mm shots of this oscilloscope screen and then taking it to cartoonists in a laboratory in southern California and having them make it into a movie, and in doing that, to put color filters on and sometimes to overlap pictures of different fields. It’s a fascinating movie when you’ve seen it. I mean I think it’s available. So that was a very interesting thing that they did. It goes back to the mid ‘60s. I remember… it was either… it may have been the fall of 1967 or maybe a little earlier when the first NOAA geostationary satellite went up. Chuck came in. He always had his meetings with all the students and graduate students Friday afternoon at 3:00 so you couldn’t sneak off to the Sierras and go skiing or anything else. [Laughter] You had to be there. So, he comes in for this session. He had his movie, and he shows his movie of the model results. Then he had made a filmstrip out of the first day or two’s pictures from the [satellite showing the] Pacific and showed that, and the scales [of the motions were very, very different — much smaller systems in the observations than in the movie. I mean one was a view from the North Pole, so you saw it a little differently, and one was from over the Pacific, but you could tell that there were a lot of differences. That sort of prompted Chuck to, I think, look a lot at this, so instead of developing the model, trying to understand turbulence, and so he ended up going on to do a lot of research on two-dimensional turbulence.
Now he had one of his graduate students working on this, a fellow named George Nichols, who was trying to understand what was going on on the [surface of the] Sun. The Sun is very interesting; the Equator rotates faster than higher latitudes, and the question is why? How does it get energy? What Chuck proposed was… And so the question was can you model this? And let’s figure out what’s doing it. It turned out when you have these thin layers of fluid in turbulent motion, it isn’t like three-dimensional turbulence where every eddy breaks down to something smaller. In order to conserve the vorticity, the turning of the fluid, you push energy both to smaller scales and to higher scales, and that is what was happening on the Sun. So, his [Nichols’] dissertation was actually about what was explaining the differential rotation in the Sun.
Leith did some experiments with the atmospheric model. One of the things he did in the model, of course, was he had day and night! GFDL didn't do that for another, I don’t know, 12 years or something like that, or decade or something. He had day and night, and the model showed a semidiurnal tide [in equatorial latitudes], which is something that is observed. Everybody wants to know what does this — You’d think the atmospheric tide would sort of be synched to the Sun, but it isn’t. You have two periods during the day that the pressure varies. A fellow named Bill Plows was working on that. What they could do with the model, of course, was change the rate of rotation of the Earth. They basically found, I think it was, that if it were rotating at 22 hours or 21 hours, you would get a single tide, that that was the natural oscillation frequency of the atmosphere. But since we’re going at 24 hours, you’ve got a beat between 12- and 24-hour components and you’ve got the semi-diurnal tides. So that was kind of a fascinating result from a model in the early 1960s.
Then there was another fellow who was from the Air Force named Monty Coffin, who was a fellow graduate student. He had taken the model, and instead of doing it in a three-dimensional sense, he was doing just the latitude and height. He was applying it to the Martian atmosphere. Now at the time, no satellite had landed on Mars. Pioneer satellites hadn’t landed there, and so the question was to try and understand the Martian atmosphere before anybody got there. There were some dozen hypotheses about how much air was there and what the air was and what it was composed of, what the white polar caps were, and stuff like that. So, he had to construct this model, and he did make an atmosphere that had a major fraction of CO2, and that sort of snowed out of the atmosphere. Now that’s very different than precipitating out rain, which was treated in Chuck’s model very much as a trace species that you didn't worry so much about. I mean, water vapor was used in the calculation of geopotential height, but it wasn’t like it affected the pressure so much and some other things, and wasn’t part of the math. So, Coffin had been simulating the Martian atmosphere.
So, at the same time then, what Teller talked to me about, because Teller was always interested in applications, was to address the discussion at the time going on about possibly melting the Arctic. Now this was not Teller’s suggestion, although some people sort of attributed it to him. But it was other people, prominent people, who were talking about warming the Arctic to get at its resources. It was part of the attitude that “I can make nuclear reactors that give free energy. I can do this. I can do that.” It was part of the great optimism. Teller’s question was ‘Well, at the time, we don't understand the reasons for ice ages, and we’d better understand that before we go playing around in the Arctic.’ [Laughter] A prominent [glacial-interglacial cycling] hypothesis at the time was by Ewing and Donn [A Theory of Ice Ages, Science, 123, 1061-1066, 1956 and later papers] who were at the Lamont-Doherty Geophysical Observatory, and their hypothesis was that it was changes in ice cover on the Arctic Ocean that was part of this cycling. So, if you were to start from now where there is basically not much snow and ice on the continents around the Arctic Ocean, so the continents are relatively warm. The warm continents would tend to warm up the ocean, and eventually the warming of the ocean would cause enough melting to melt the Arctic sea ice. Once that happened, the Arctic would tend to stay open because the ocean has a lower albedo than when covered by snow and ice. The idea would be that the open Arctic would then provide a source of moisture for snowfall around the Arctic, and this would build up the glaciers around the Arctic. They would build up and eventually, they would get so large and cold that the runoff into the oceans would get cold. The oceans would then get cold. That would allow the Arctic to freeze, and that [lack of enhanced snowfall] would deteriorate the ice sheets back to today. So, it was actually an interesting hypothesis. So, he proposed this to me to test.
He had one other proposal for me that I didn’t choose to pursue. One of the other very challenging problems at the time was L.A. smog. There’s actually a very interesting paper by Morris Neiberger in Science in 1957 [Weather Modification and Smog, Science, 126, 637-645], I think, about all the schemes that had been proposed to get rid of the smog, which included sucking the air down through the storm sewer system, or cutting a hole in the mountain passes and pushing air through, or creating heat plumes with power plants that would push pollution up and stuff like that. Teller’s idea was to go over the smog and add strips of black soot. The idea was that the sooty area would get warm and the other area would be cold, and you would create waves in the inversion that would eventually mix the pollution up and wind would carry it away. Interesting idea, but it wasn't quite my cup of tea at the time, but an interesting idea.
So, Teller’s view was Chuck Leith was sort of spending a lot of time on the theory of things [atmospheric motions], and he [Teller] wanted to get to applications. He was very much an applications person. So, the first part of my effort was to go back and understand, “Well, what are all the hypotheses about ice ages?” That’s a really interesting learning experience. I mean the first theory was that, well, the Sun is getting colder. I mean we went into the Little Ice Age. That was the first the mechanism in geophysics… Sun is colder and so it’s getting colder. We’ll have ice everywhere. But it turns out that’s pretty hard to reconcile with having ice sheets that are a couple of kilometers thick on the continents. Where did all the moisture come from [it requiring solar energy to evaporate the moisture that would become the snow and ice]?
So, the next hypothesis was, “Oh well, we’ll explain glaciation by having the Sun get warmer,” which, being a thermodynamicist, that’s sort of a nightmare. The idea that a warmer Sun would cause a colder Earth was — what’s going wrong. So, the idea was that by evaporating enough moisture into the atmosphere, you’d evaporate enough moisture and it would get carried up there [i.e., to high latitudes], and the increased clouds up there would reflect enough sunlight that it would be cold enough to snow. But then the geologists discovered ice age cycling and other kinds of things, and so that was kind of interesting.
So, people had a bunch of other hypotheses. There was one about the Antarctic ice sheets spreading out. There was one that had glaciation ending when the ice sheet got down into the Mississippi River Basin and cold drainage water went down the river and cooled the oceans. There were a bunch of them. I had 15 or 16 of them, and I remember giving a seminar that was equivalent to my qualifying exam, part of my qualifying requirement, where I went through 10 or 15 of these. It turned out that every geology book at the time seemed to have 25 or so chapters, and the first 24 were about all this geology stuff, and the 25th chapter was about why and how it worked. In one or two sentences, each author would dismiss everybody else’s idea — and then they would spend the rest of the chapter on their own, which somebody else would dismiss in a sentence or two. So, I went through the seminar with one of these fellows that worked a lot with Teller sort of building each idea up, “This is it,” you know, and then I’d shoot it down. Then I’d build it up and I’d shoot it down, and then I’d build it up and shoot it down. We never got to a satisfying answer at the time. So this was before the first ocean sediment core that showed the cycling that Milankovitch [orbital forcing] had caused because Milankovitch in the end sort of solves that problem or something. It’s kind of interesting.
So, I went through the theories, and so the idea — so my challenge — was to take Leith’s global atmospheric model, which had really no surface energy balance — it kept the climate constant with prescribed surface temperatures, and condense it to two dimensions and try to represent north-south transport, which I actually did with a parameterization that Peter Stone had actually been doing some work on, and put in a whole energy balance and make sure things were conserved. It turns out Leith’s model didn’t even really conserve atmospheric mass. He had a slow drift in surface pressure, and so his view ultimately was that the finite differencing scheme I came up with, which did conserve mass, was the best thing from my dissertation. So, when I ended up writing the results up, there was some discussion about this in the front and the ice age theory analysis was more toward the back.
So, they had a nice computer. It was a CDC, I think, 3600 or something. It was in a building just offsite [of the Livermore Laboratory]. It ran as a system available to all graduate students from about 8 a.m. in the morning till 6 p.m. at night. At 6 p.m. at night, you could sign up and take it over. You had to do everything. You had to make the computer run. You had to fix the printer. You had to run the air conditioning system. You had to do everything. I’d run from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. or something. You could hear your model cycling and crunching away and do it and get printouts and all these other things. Leaving a dark industrial area at 2 a.m. sometimes attracted the police, and they would sometimes stop and ask questions and wonder about these strange graduate students who were doing crazy things. [Laughter] But it was actually a very interesting experience. I got into the six-more-months-to-go phase, and then would sort of held at that point for six months trying to finish things up, but then eventually got through.
But it was interesting. I tested the Sun getting colder by reducing solar radiation and it doesn’t really work [lead to glacial formation]. I mean all I could do in this model was run it for hours… I mean a lot of computer time. I don’t remember how long it took, but I could get through three simulated years. So, all I was really testing was the stability of various stages of the glacial cycle. So, I could put things in and see if the climate could possibly go to the next stage. So, for the Ewing and Donn hypothesis, those four different stages could be tested. Of course, the solar increase hypothesis didn’t work at all. It turns out it’s pretty obvious that clouds aren’t related to how much moisture is in the air; they’re related to what the relative humidity is, and that’s controlled by the atmospheric circulation. If you go from high to low latitudes, you go from relatively stratus clouds, which are pretty reflective, to more convective clouds, and so as you get warmer, you get more convective clouds and they don’t reflect as much solar radiation. So, the model results sort of helped one’s thinking. I mean this model had variable cloud cover, something else Manabe and those at GFDL didn’t have for another ten years or something like that. But my model had that. It had a really interesting convection scheme that was 10 or 12 years ahead of its time, so it was actually a fascinating representation that Leith had developed. So, Ewing and Donn didn’t work as a cycling hypothesis, so I didn’t really come out with an answer for what caused ice age cycling. But the Milankovitch hypothesis became very interesting because basically it provides an explanation — you build up ice when there’s extra solar radiation on the Northern Hemisphere in the winter and less in the summer. So, you don’t melt as much snow in the summer, and you do build it as you have moisture available in the winter. So, it’s a very interesting scheme even though you have to have some other feedbacks to make it work. So, I had developed this interesting two-dimensional model that done some analyses.
Now I wrote up my dissertation and turned it in, and Teller read it and said, “Oh, you have to completely rewrite it,” and I go, “Oops.” This fellow whom I knew [and who was a confidant of Teller], Harry Sahlin, came out and said, “No, no, no, no, no. You have to understand. Teller wants to hear about the applications first, not the theory. He’s now read the whole thing. He knows the application. He knows the applications. All you have to do is rewrite the executive summary putting the applications up front. You’ll be through,” and that turned out to be true.
So, I got through and I had a sort of final oral exam — or maybe it was on my qualifying exam. Teller asked a really interesting question that also makes you sort of think about how the system works. There was a discussion at the time of a substance called polywater, which I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of, but the idea was there was this substance you could mix with water and it would make the freezing point go up. Antifreeze makes it go down; this would make it go up. So, his question was, “What if this started leaking from the bottom of the ocean into the water?” So, you had to realize the bottom of the ocean was pretty cold, so presumably you might create some ice there and then presumably it would go popping up to the surface or something like that. [Laughter] It was kind of fun. But you sort of had to learn with him you just have to be able to think in a broad way and estimate things. So, I ended up getting through in four years because I didn’t have any teaching responsibility…you know, which is pretty short. He liked to get people through. But because we didn’t have any other teaching or research responsibilities except our own, we could sort of push through.
I’d like, now that we’re at this stopping point, to know a bit about your family relations in this time. You mentioned that your father had reasons for wanting you to look to West Coast. Can you…?
Well, he was eventually heading toward divorce, and so they ended up getting divorced a little later. I mean actually during my graduate years, I met my wife, Sandy, out in California. We got married in March of 1967, so I was working hard on my dissertation and research. But they got divorced about a year after that. They were sort of headed that way, and I think he was sort of pushing. I mean I had two sisters and a brother, and the two oldest of us sort of felt a little bit separate from where this all happened… My younger sister and brother had to go through more, and that was harder for them.
Can you tell me about Sandy and how you met her?
Well, yes. So, I met her because one of my graduate student friends played tennis and he’d actually met a person in town who played tennis. It turned out to be Sandy’s mother he mainly met, but he’d also met Sandy. So, he was going out to play tennis, and I had played a fair amount of tennis, and he said, “Oh, come out and play.” So, we went out to this recreation center in Livermore in late January of 1965. I’d been in graduate school and lived there six months and didn’t know many people. I’d actually had a couple of dates with somebody else. So, I was out there playing tennis with them. Sandy’s mom worked in this building right nearby, so she came out to say hi to me and Bob, and Sandy came out with her and I met her there. We just said a few words. It was just for a few minutes or something like that. But she went back in and told her mother that she was going to marry me. [Laughter] She made a decision pretty quick. I didn’t catch on quite so fast!
But I guess that was during — it must have been mid-January because I know we went over to her home sort of later celebrating after getting through exams in the first year. We’d all had a few whiskey sours or something. I’d had a few more than others, and this friend of mine, Bob, took me over to there. I was pretty… I was high, on a pleasant high or something like that. I came in and I sort of draped over the couch and was jolly and her mother sort of looking scornfully. But her father, who had been a coal miner and then gone to sea and graduated from eighth grade and no more and had heard his daughter was interested in a graduate student, was awfully worried about this. I hit it off with her father just great! [Laughter] So he really liked me. But I thought she was dating, well, this fellow and actually really some others, and so it took me a couple of months before we actually had our first date and started going together.
But it was interesting because her mother was very well connected in town. She knew an awful lot of people because of being involved in Recreation and Parks. So, I became involved in tennis in town and got to meet a lot of people. There were high-level people at the Laboratory who played, and so I’d play them at tennis and start to get to know them. So, it sort of greatly expanded the set of people that I knew.
Then at the end, it turns out there was an elected board in Livermore that runs the Recreation and Park District. I had become president of the tennis club, so I was president after we’d gotten married. They said, “Oh, you ought to run!” So, I actually ran in the 1968 election. I was one column over from George Wallace. So, it was Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace on the national list, and then over in the next column I was running. I didn’t win that election. It was just sort of… I didn’t know anything about it. We put up a few signs. But it did get me started… and I’ll say why I stayed at Livermore in a moment. But it did get me thinking about that. So, I started going to their meetings because they were actually working on building some new tennis courts and some other things, and so, two years later, I ended up running in 1970. Despite the establishment sort of saying, “He’s too young. He’s got too many ideas. He shouldn’t run,” or something like that, I did end up winning a seat on the board. So, I served and then got reelected. I served eight years.
That was a very interesting experience, serving as an elected official, especially because the last year in ‘78, I was chairman. They rotated the office of chairman. But I was chairman, and that was the year that Proposition 14 was proposed. Proposition 14 was an initiative that came up to reduce property taxes. It turns out what was happening in California was property assessments were going way up. So, people were complaining about it and fearful about losing their homes and how much they were going to have to pay. Livermore was a town that was growing 10% a year, and so a lot of the established residents were having to pay for new infrastructure for all the new people moving in and were kind of resentful of it. But it was a statewide issue. The state was accumulating money and it wasn’t helping lower property taxes.
So, there had been a couple of elections on the tax issue before, but in this one, the assessments went up and the election came. They went up very far, and it occurred before the government set their tax rate so that people didn’t understand that the governments weren’t going to take in all that money. So, Proposition 14 passed rather strongly. Sandy and I, I think, were two of 13 people in this town of 50,000 that put our names on something saying this was a stupid thing to do, but our view experienced an overwhelming loss. But as chairman of the board, we had to implement it [Proposition 14]. So, we had to tell… I mean the basic…Because there was no statewide implementing legislation for how it would work, we basically had to give all of our employees a layoff notice. The staff was saying, “For liability reasons, pull all the playground equipment out of all the parks and town and stuff. We don’t have money to pay for the water,” and all this other stuff. The board decided, at least, to keep the equipment in and said, “Well, something will happen for the insurance,” and then I went around, since I’d been elected, and started contacting Scout groups and others and got them to raise money to help pay the water bill through the summer so the grass didn't die while it took a few months for the state to get implementing legislation in place to try and help subsidize some of what was happening.
It was a really stupid thing because it’s local governments that actually work best. Yes, people were mad about their taxes. The state was accumulating all this money from our income taxes, but Proposition 14 wasn’t about the income tax. It was about what happened to the property tax. Now your property tax goes to the fire department, police department, education, parks, all the things that you really get value out of and all the people you can talk to. One of the responsibilities of the chairman of the [park and recreation] board was every two weeks you met with the general manager and signed every single check. I mean I like inventions, but the worst one is probably the automatic check-signing machine. Because we had to do it, we knew everybody there. When the expenses came up to the board every month, I mean there were people who if the phone bill doubled at a swimming pool, “Why is that doubled?” we checked everything, and the staff would have to know. So, people at the local level watch money really closely, and yet what Prop. 14 did was sort of punish the local level and passed authority upward. California has taken a long time to try and get through the crisis that happened because of that. It was very strange. Going door-to-door and listening to people about it. “No, I can’t pay my taxes to support the schools.” Two cars, a boat, a trailer home, a swimming pool and you go… [shaking head, and laughter]. It was a very different philosophy than the East Coast. On the East Coast, though, the tax limitation movement spread there, but not nearly as radically as it did in California. But it was a good experience in door-to-door politics.
The first time I did that was after Martin Luther King was assassinated. The town tried to create a human relations board just to try and negotiate things. People don’t think California had discrimination problems, but it did. It really did about housing and everything. So, this was just a board that was going to have no responsibility — I mean no power. It was just going to talk. It got referended and voted down. But you would go… 60-year-old ladies or something who would go door to door and talk about the importance of being fair and they’d get the door slammed in their face and you go [and get some very negative reactions]… So yes, I had some interesting experiences through the ‘60s and door-to-door elections and what people think and how to communicate and what issues are. So yes, it was an interesting part of my time there. Yes, so knowing Sandy opened a lot of experiences for me…
I should say how I ended up choosing my job. Okay. So, I was coming to an end on the PhD… So, I applied to a couple of places. Teller wanted me to come to Livermore and he wanted me to do that. I also applied to IBM in San Jose, which had a sort of separate group that used the computer; IBM not just made computers, but actually was a pioneering group in using computers. I applied to the Pacific Northwest Lab up in Richland, Washington. I think actually Livermore was the lowest salary, but it just seemed like the most interesting place to work, so I started work as a physicist in the Physics Department, which was run by Teller. I was put in the group with Chuck Leith, which was where people came to do their sabbaticals, so there were people doing all kinds of interesting things in various fields. Chuck left essentially at that point, though. He got so interested in two-dimensional turbulence that he left and went to NCAR and became head of their community climate modeling effort there. But he was really interested in two-dimensional turbulence.
I should say one other thing that was really interesting about [Chuck’s efforts]… I mentioned the [differential] solar rotation issue. Two-dimensional turbulence basically involves the conservation of mean square vorticity, and Chuck and George Nichols were the people who invented the term enstrophy for that. They went back to Greek about turning and came up with this enstrophy term. It is now so, I don’t know, strange to go to these scientific conferences and they talk about how everybody is conserving enstrophy and they’re doing all this other stuff, and it is said as if this is something like conserving mass that goes back centuries or something. Now they’re conserving it, and people sort of think it’s been for very long time and they don’t understand: ‘No, that was a term that was invented in the mid-1960s by two particular people.’ It turns out to be a very important concept. So, it was going on at the same time Lorenz was doing all his work on chaos and everything. But it [the time at the Department of Applied Science] was very, very interesting.
There was also a time that I think Chuck also came to understand with Lorenz this issue of chaos. If you go back to the first report to the President of the United States on climate change, which is that 1965 report from the President’s Science Advisory Council, the one thing they got wrong was predicting how fast models would improve. They basically said, “In a few years, we will have useful forecasts of what can happen,” and that meant regional forecasts for a 25% increase in CO2 — and we’re still struggling on that issue decades later. It’s because there was this very interesting view that everything was very deterministic and there wasn’t this understanding of chaotic behavior and the [climatic] noise [variability] that was created. So, Chuck was sort of right in the middle of that transition. When he showed that [computer model] movie versus the satellite [observations], it was just wow! This [representing the complex motions of the atmosphere] is going to be a huge [research] area. So, he went off and did that, and there’s actually a scientist at Los Alamos named Greg Canavan who was in the Air Force who was also a student of his [at the Department of Applied Science] and worked in that field and was quite a prominent person as well, but worked very hard in that field on this issue of two-dimensional turbulence. Yes, so Leith spawned a number of very interesting graduate students and ideas before he headed off to NCAR.
I guess one other thing to say about him — I mean he later came back to Livermore. It turned out in the Livermore Lab where everybody was doing these very interesting model simulations, there was this feeling that kept arising. It kept coming up. It was that if only good people were working on it, we could forecast the weather indefinitely into the future. We used to have to have Chuck come back and give talks on chaos and turbulence. [Laughs] But if you think about it, there were, I guess, what, four major fields where large-scale radiative hydrodynamics was being done. There was astrophysics, which is very interesting, very remote. You have a lot of different stars to learn from, but nobody in the public really pays any attention to or their results. There was plasma physics trying to contain a plasma within magnetic containers in various ways, so the plasma was very hot. Basically, as soon as the turbulence started, they stopped their calculation because they were trying to do hold the plasma without turbulence in the structure [i.e., in the magnetic field]. There were the weapons physics experiments that were done; they would do simulations and then go do a test in Nevada, creating an underground explosion. They would compare and they’d try and measure the behavior [and then adjust parameters in the simulation to match the experiment].
One of the early things I became part of after Chuck left was the mainline Physics Department at Livermore, and I was made responsible for organizing the monthly seminars for the Physics Department, theoretical physics. They really wanted to have speakers that understood theoretical physics and talked that way, and so they got me going to the Weapons Division seminars because what they would do in a lot of them would be to say, “Oh. Well, we ran the code and it didn't quite match, so we adjusted this parameter or this line, and now it works fine.” But they couldn’t explain why they adjusted the line. If I invited somebody like that to give a seminar to the physics division, not only did they roast them, but they’d roast me. So, I was very young at the time, but this was my responsibility. But it gave me a wonderful exposure to the different places around the Laboratory and what was going on and choosing speakers that really had an understanding of what physics was, and you could help raise the issues about what the theoretical problems were. So that was very, very interesting.
These early years after you came on the permanent staff, what kind of working environment was Livermore for a young scientist who just finished his PhD?
Well, I was brought into the theoretical part of the Physics Department… there was no real geophysics program at Livermore at the time. So, I was brought by Teller into the Physics Department to sort of work with Leith, and when Leith left, I was sort of it. There were a couple of meteorologists and a few others [interested in geophysics in the Laboratory], but not really very many, so I was sort of it. But that was a time in the country when air quality was becoming an issue. The environment was becoming an issue. Teller liked to see models used. He was interested in this climate thing [i.e., what caused changes, and could humans affect the climate]. He was actually on one of the founding committees for NCAR; he thought it was an important thing to be done. So, he had a number of slots that he could assign researchers to do what he thought was interesting, and so my job was to work on environmental issues and try and build an environmental presence there.
It turned out there were some other activities going on [at the Laboratory] that were related to this [environmental theme] that drew on other activities across the Laboratory. There was a program called Plowshare, which was the peaceful uses of nuclear explosives, and a key issue there was where do the radionuclides go? I also should remind you that Teller, during World War II, carried out the calculation on the question of whether a nuclear explosion would ignite the atmosphere, and there were other things [that sparked his interest]. He was very interested in geophysics and wanted to have something going on. But there was this other program going on in a separate division [from the Physics Department] on Plowshare that was studying where the radionuclides would go. So, when the environmental movement came up, a committee was put together that brought people together from that part [of the Laboratory] and from where I was, so we started in physics and drew from some other places. There were some environmental chemistry people who were worried about water quality and air quality generally and some other things. So, we put together some proposals to do things. One of the first was [globally focused]… That was when the supersonic transport was being proposed, and so the proposal was to look at the effects of the exhaust from the supersonic transport (SST), and in particular in the climate part of the effort, look at the sulfate that would be coming off because sulfate was in the fuel (as a lubricant), so SSTs would be putting sulfate out. What would it do? So, I became responsible for helping organize that proposal, which went into the Department of Transportation. They came to us because at the time — I guess I should say a little bit more about climate models at the time.
So, what existed at the time (in the late 1960s) were the energy balance models of Budyko and Sellers, which were just looking at the surface and just looking at latitude, essentially. They calculated the energy balance of the surface, but they didn’t treat dynamics. They didn’t have dynamics… Although [the climate model that I had developed] was just doing a longitudinal average, I actually did it as if it were a rotating orange slice, so the surface would experience the day/night cycle. In fact, one of the really interesting dissertation simulations I did was whether a snow-covered Earth would last [i.e., persist]? There’s still discussion about that today… what would result? So, I input a snow-covered Earth and started up my model to see if it would last, and the answer was no. What’s different about the other people’s [i.e., investigator’s] simulations? They tend to do [the simulation as] a diurnal average, one layer of snow, whereas I had put in a rather detailed snow and ice-layered representation of the surface. If you have a layer of snow on the top, while it’s highly reflective, it’s also a tremendous insulator. So, if you had snow on top under noontime solar at the tropics, phhht, it would melt. If the snow melted, then the water would go down [into the snow] and that would tend to reduce the albedo. So, one would start forming ice, and ice has a lower albedo than snow.
Now it turned out [in my calculations that] an ice-covered Earth, as I recall, actually did sort of last, but a snow-covered Earth wouldn't because the snow would melt. Ice, because it has a higher conductivity, can transmit some of that heat down [during the day] and then bring it back [to the surface to] radiate it away at night and so can stay pretty cold, but it still has a pretty good [high] albedo. Now that turns out, of course, how a number of us were modeling glacial ice…if you think about the Greenland ice sheet or other glaciers, we were doing it that way. Of course, what’s turned out to be different [from observations] is the water doesn’t just sit on the top and then refreeze. It goes down into the ice and so bypasses [the ice-forming process] — I mean all the models that I know of at least that existed, thermal conductivity was how you got the heat down into the ice. That was the only way to get heat down into the ice. The idea that you would have liquid water running down through holes to the bottom of the ice that would carry heat all that way, that’s a completely new heat transport mechanism that is really pertinent today; also important to be looking at because it may be reducing friction at the bottom [of the ice sheet]. It’s carrying a tremendous amount of heat down into the ice and warming the ice up as it goes. Absolutely fascinating. So, I did learn by trying to simulate an ice-covered Earth with my model.
But we worked on… So, we got support from the Department of Transportation, which actually came to us asking if we’d use our climate model on the climate part of their assessment. There were two main issues with supersonic transport aircraft, aside from economics and everything else, two scientific issues. One was the sulfate that came out, and one was the effect on the ozone layer.
The other project I started working on was an air quality model. It turns out all the air quality models that existed at the time were models where you started with a one-dimensional vertical model at the center of a city and then the model followed a trajectory of air going out [from the city center]. That was a real problem in the Bay Area. Where would one start?
Well, it turned out that the first air quality station in San Francisco was in the vestibule of the Union Square garage. Tremendously biased reading. It was there, so would one start there? But then when you go out to along a trajectory to get more air pollutant emissions, should the trajectory go out over the Bay and get no input or go down the peninsula, for example? I think it was SRI [the Stanford Research Institute] that had done some studies with these one-dimensional models that EPA was mandating be used, and their trajectory would sort of go back and forth to get agreement with observations. I mean, it wasn’t really relying on the wind field. So, my question was could we develop a two-dimensional model over the region, sort of consider the boundary layer… below the inversion. We would need to let the boundary layer go up and down [i.e., thicken and thin], and consider the air below it trapped with chemical reactions going on. This meteorologist in our group who later became (well, he was always) a skeptic… he was from Missouri, so from the “Show-Me State,” but he was always a skeptic. He said, ‘You can’t possibly do that. Where do you get the winds and other conditions?’ We sort of had a bet over a donut about whether I could do it [i.e., come up with an approach], which turned out to be very inspiring because I had a sweet tooth. So, I sort of developed a way of approximating it… because we didn't have enough computer capacity [for a full calculation]. The initial version just had some cells that were drawn [to roughly match logical, coherent air masses]. They could be different shapes. They were a little bit like that puzzle [that has different shaped pieces to fit into a square], but we put them together as similar air mass types and assumed air could go through them.
Then there was another fellow [Robert Gelinas] who worked with me who was really interested in solving ordinary differential equations in a new type of solver that existed; he was starting to use that and was interested in doing that also to treat the stratospheric chemistry [in the SST project]. It was great in solving coupled chemistry equations. What this solver did was really very interesting. So, for a set of ordinary differential equations, you have a matrix with some entries; what you would normally do in a simple case [to solve the set of equations] would be to add and subtract rows or columns and come out with a nice, single equation. Well what this new solver did was to do this automatically. So, it just did what you would do, but automatically; it could do it for up to a matrix that was like 50 by 50. One would end up with a set of these long, explicit equations of what each term was. So, we had an air quality model that had 50 cells, and we handled both the transport and the chemistry together. The Bay Area Air Quality Modeling District was very interested in that because the region was having ozone exceedances and they were very interested in doing something about it. The EPA model just didn’t make sense to anybody and wasn’t very useful in having just one column model to go along a trajectory.
So, the Livermore Lab, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), and NASA Ames Research Center combined their efforts. NASA was going to — What they were going to do was fly an instrumented aircraft and get a lot of observations on a couple of particular days. NASA had all these aircraft and observation instrumentation, so they were leading the observations. The BAAQMD was doing surface observations and constructing an emissions inventory, and we were doing the modeling. So that was one of the projects. It was funded by the National Science Foundation Research Applied to National Needs (RANN) program. So, I had two threads going. One was the climate model study for the supersonic transport assessment, and one was the Bay Area model. Those actually were the threads that went on along with the rest of the projects that grew from these projects.
So, the Plowshare program — and Teller was active in this — was proposed as, for example, a way to build a trans-isthmus canal in Central America. And Teller was proposing to build a harbor up in Alaska, and there’s a book about that called The Firecracker Boys. It’s pretty interesting. And there were nuclear tests going on, too. Cannikin was a big anti-ballistic missile warhead test going on up in the Aleutian Islands; that was one of the few times that they recruited me to help draw lines on maps and do old-time meteorology. It was great fun. Interesting.
But the modeling that was done was interesting too… So, the traditional model one used for emissions from a power plant stack was called a Gaussian plume model, and that model assumed that, on average, the plume was going to spread out in a broadening shape. Well, that’s very nice. That’s the average. If you look at a plume, sometimes you will see it meandering back and forth the way the smoke from a cigarette goes up. It’s meandering. A Gaussian plume model would represent that by generating some sort of spreading envelope of what the average concentration would be. But if you’re doing a one-time explosion [as was the case for Plowshare events or nuclear tests], that’s different. So, the way Joe Knox created the model for that was to create a bunch of disk-like layers in the atmosphere; that is, he had a number of disks that he started with in the atmosphere. Then each of them followed its own trajectory and also spread out, but not as rapidly as the Gaussian plume. The Gaussian plume counted these meanders as part of its diffusion spread, and Joe basically kept it much narrower [i.e., the way a particular part of a cigarette smoke plume would spread our]. So, the different layers could go in different directions, and the model would follow them. In the law — the treaty provided that a measurable amount of radionuclides couldn’t go over U.S. borders, but of course… at least one atom would. So, what was the amount that would, and what is the meaningful concentration that would or wouldn't go over a border? He had a really interesting model [to make the estimation].
What he [Joe Knox] and another colleague, Mark Dickerson, when joined the effort, did was say, “Well, we shouldn’t be worrying just about nuclear tests. We should be applying this technology to nuclear facilities,” so that if there were a release from the Livermore or Los Alamos laboratories or one of the production plants or something like that. So, they proposed a set up called the Atmospheric Release Advisory Capability (ARAC); for that they needed a model more like what I was doing over in the air pollution area that would get the winds for them. I mean, one could get the large-scale winds from a big weather model, but those had pretty big grid cells and didn’t do the geography well. What I had done was, if you had a bunch of local observations, it did a sort of least squares fitting to estimate where the wind actually went in a mass-consistent way. Mark Dickerson came in and improved that simple approach, and that became the basis for doing ARAC calculations. So, the air quality project grew into and joined with what had been the Plowshare effort to help the program to grow. So, I was always involved in some of the air pollution science, and then I was also doing the supersonic transport science as part of the Climate Impact Assessment Program (CIAP), continuing into the 1970s.
How was the process around this Climate Impact Assessment? It started with the interest in SSTs, and then they eventually produced a report in the mid ‘70s.
Well, CIAP was a responsibility assigned to Alan Grobecker. He was lucky; he could go out and find the research groups he wanted. CIAP was run through one of the Boston laboratories of the Department of Transportation; I don’t remember who it was named after. Alan Grobecker went out and recruited people whom he thought could make a difference and just supported a lot of very interesting modeling. Our climate modeling wasn’t the main part of the effort. We actually had at Livermore efforts that did a couple of things. We were involved in a part of the program that started at the aircraft and calculated the spread of the exhaust and what would happen in that domain. We had an effort on the atmospheric chemistry, using a one-dimensional, vertical model. So, the solution method that I was using in the two horizontal dimensions for air pollution chemistry with Bob Gelinas could be used and Julius Chang joined the effort and turned the atmospheric chemistry model into a one-dimensional vertical ozone model. So, he was solving a bunch of ordinary differential equations in a column. It turned out that the original way of solving them (i.e., of writing out all these equations) turned out to be improved upon by Professor Gear at the University of Illinois and some mathematicians at Livermore who improved the method for doing the computing so that you didn't have to write out the equations that way, which was really good because these equations were… I mean, they would go on for half a page (some of the printouts were kind of hilarious). So, Julius Chang started working along on that, and then later Joyce Penner, a little bit, and Don Wuebbles worked on a two-dimensional version, and a bunch of others worked on the project, so it was a major effort. Then there was the climate part of the project. So that was the CIAP project.
CIAP held major annual conferences, produced some really interesting volumes of papers, and then did a major assessment activity. So, it was the equivalent of a predecessor to the IPCC. They did a major assessment with several thick volumes. I have them if you’d want to come over. My basement has lots of things! There were volumes on the natural troposphere… well, I guess the natural atmosphere, and then they had one on the stratosphere [so ozone chemistry] and they had one on climate and on several other things. So, it was actually a very interesting series of reports. CIAP was where the work started on a lot of the science on the ozone layer that went on with Harold Johnston and Mario Molina and Sherry Rowland and Paul Crutzen and all the others. So, they did some very interesting work.
The project had an interesting Livermore relation because of one of the checks — I mean there’s a question: Do these models work? Foley and Ruderman, who were professors at Columbia I think it was, basically said, ‘Well, nuclear explosions create a lot of nitrogen oxide, so let’s put that in the model and let’s compare what happened to the ozone layer after the big nuclear tests and compare this to a model.’ Their initial analysis was that there were differences. What Julius Change did was, basically, to make his model into a time-dependent model, so the model had to treat the spread and timing of the injected materials. The models that were running and that Foley and Ruderman used were equilibrium models, and so if one did an equilibrium calculation, large ozone destruction would happen. But if you allowed for the spread of the injected nitrogen oxides and accounted for that, you wouldn’t get that [and so would be in better accord with observations].
So, Julius Chang did some of the early calculations that really matched what observations indicated was happening in time through the 1960s. So, this was a nuclear weapons related issue. He was doing the calculations in the early 1970s. He made a slight mistake in coding at one point; instead of putting in, I don’t know, whatever it was, the nitrogen oxides generated by 10,000 kilotons or something like that [to represent the emissions from the atmospheric nuclear tests in the 1960s], he put in 10,000 megatons. All the ozone disappeared, and he went, ‘Oh my!’ Now, it turns out the total explosive capacity of the U.S. and the Soviet Union was reported to be something like 10,000 megatons, so he immediately noticed the potential significance of this, of course, and we reported it up in the Laboratory. Initially, it was thought the result should be classified. But, it turned out a researcher in Canada must have made the same mistake, and reported the result. But the idea came up here at Livermore. We soon had had a program going on looking at this question, and we were telling Lab and DOD science leaders, ‘Look. You can’t keep this secret. This just isn’t going to stay secret long any way. Other people will do the same calculation and get the same result.’
So partly because I knew people sort of up the chain (e.g., one of the people I played tennis with had become… I think at this point he was of a little later… head of DARPA, or head of Defense Research or something). So there were good connections from Livermore into these different places to DOD to say, ‘You don't want to classify this.’ Basically, what the results indicated was — and the DOD sort of agreed — was that, the problem occurs for megaton-size weapons because it takes a megaton explosion to get most of the nitrogen oxides up into the stratosphere. So, DOD was at that time starting to go to the MIRV warheads [i.e., Multiple Independently-targeted Reentry Vehicle], so different multiple warheads, and so they weren’t planning on there being megaton-sized explosions. So if you had a scientific result that said, ‘Don’t use megatons,’ their response was sort of, ‘Well, okay. We can do that.’ In the ensuing years, it turned out there was a whole shift, perhaps partly because of the vulnerability of the stratosphere and about what would happen… about what megaton-sized explosions could do, and so the work probably contributed to getting away from them. So that was sort of an interesting change. They went to smaller kinds of devices.
Now I should say that at the same time, work at Livermore, on the air quality side of the branch, was looking at not only what would happen if there was an accident at a nuclear facility; there were also people starting to look at what would happen if smaller scale nuclear weapons were used as tactical weapons in Europe. What was realized pretty quick was that if a nuclear exchange in Europe happened when it was raining, that would put all kinds of fallout on the ground, and that would really cause horrific problems — both for operations and for recovery after wards.
I remember one of the things that happened in our group… I think it was a security guard that issued a warming at the time. A scientist who was working on the potential rainout issue drew a picture on his board that he called Dr. Rainout, some fictitious kind of character. Somehow (I don’t remember if “Secret” got written on the blackboard or something like that), when he left it up there on the board and the guards came through at night, they locked up his office and considered it an incident. So yes, we had to keep track of what was going on over on the pollution side of the Laboratory’s research effort. So, they were looking at rainout and also working on air quality at the same time we had research for CIAP going on.
Then, and I guess it was in mid 1970s, I was coordinating a number of these things, and Laboratory management combined all our atmospheric groups into one division in the Physics Department. So, I became the deputy division leader, which was great, because, while normally deputies get the junk work, I got to do the science. My boss, the division leader, liked to do the administrative stuff, so he did that. It was great — we had one side of the division doing the air quality work and the other doing the climate part.
So, this was sort of going on and we were doing studies looking at, for example, the changes in climate if you had a lot of solar collectors located in one spot. Or what if you had reactors? Some studies were about vegetation changes — was Jules Charney right about what the effects would be of changing the albedo of the Sahel? So, studies like that. So, we were doing this, and then meanwhile, there were air quality things going on that were feeding into the Bay Area Air Quality Maintenance Plan on… It turned out that when (or soon after) I joined the Laboratory in 1968, the Bay Area District put a surface ozone measuring station out in Livermore. They started it up, I think, in mid-July. So, the first year, it had 30 or so violations. The next year, of course, since it had run the full year, it had 60. There was a fellow at Livermore who came for the summer who said, ‘30, then 60. We’re going to be at 365 in ten years.’ [Laughter] So we were having to deal with people like that who simply extrapolated. There was even a friend in our group who said, ‘I have a moral obligation to move my family away.’ He happened to be an outdoorsy type and liked to chop wood and stuff, and so he wrote to the Chamber of Commerce in Edmonton, Alberta to inquire about moving there and they said, ‘Oh, this would be great!’ They sent him the Sunday paper, and the front center story in the paper was about all the air pollution from burning wood. [Laughs] So he sort of learned that it is likely best to stay where you are; that you’ve got to deal with the problems where you are. But we did have a lot of interesting projects going, dealing with air pollution and then the national atmospheric release advisory effort, and then we were doing climate research.
I’m trying to get through that early part because then all of a sudden, in I guess it was late 1974 or early 1975, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was combined with some other parts of the government—because of the energy crisis that had gone on in ‘73, ‘74 — forming the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA), which became the Department of Energy a couple of years later. So, within the Atomic Energy Commission, there was a division doing biological and environmental research. Its biological part had grown out of the need to study the consequences of the bombing of Japan, of course. Questions included what do radionuclides do to people directly? The environmental part of the AEC had really grown up, however, mostly because of Teller proposing to put the harbor in Alaska — this was a serious proposal. Teller was up there and urging it be done. So there started to be studies to address key questions. What happens with the radionuclides? The sequence of steps had sort of been identified: the radionuclides would first be taken up by the lichen and then by the moss and then by the caribou and then by the people.” So, they started developing these chains for what happens to heavy metals and how they bioaccumulate, and so that was the major focus the AEC was involved in studying, this bioaccumulation of radionuclides. So, a project was looking at radionuclides in Alaska. Another was looking at Eniwetok where nuclear tests had gone on, and I think there were some studies looking at impacts in Nevada and other locations. So that was what the AEC had been doing.
But when they became ERDA, it’s like, ‘Whoops! We now have a much bigger mandate to look at all energy-related effects on the environment,’ and so they held a conference to identify additional topics to be looking at. They’d held annual meetings of researchers focusing on their previous areas of study, and so attendees were mainly the people who tested radionuclides (including in dogs and other species). The meeting also was to include a bunch of people who could talk about other, non-AEC related, issues, and so they invited scientists from each of the laboratories. We were the only Laboratory at the time that had a research program on climate — basically, the AEC staff did not know much about climate, but they were really interested in acid rain. That was the big issue, and that was getting a lot of attention in Europe, so they wanted to initiate a research program in that area. So, a fellow named Bill Duewer, who was an atmospheric chemist, and I went back from Livermore. It was pretty clear where the assembled group headed. It turned out there were a number of laboratories interested in acid rain, in particular: Brookhaven, Argonne, Oak Ridge and Battelle (even though it’s out in Washington, it was managed by a group in Columbus, Ohio that was interested). So, there were four laboratories that wanted to pursue acid rain research, and there were a couple of others of us from the weapons complex laboratories that were there sort of sitting listening and stuff.
Two things happened from that meeting. One, the atomic energy labs had all been taught to be competitive with each other. I mean the whole idea of Livermore versus Los Alamos was to come up with two different designs and then to iterate to an even better design. The labs weren’t supposed to be hostile to each other… I mean, being friendly was encouraged, but the labs were supposed to be competing to do the best, and that practice had been carried over by the Atomic Energy Commission into these laboratories. So, the senior level environmental people in each of these laboratories were very competitive with each other. Joe Knox—my Division Leader’s work was controversial because he did radionuclides from Plowshare events and other kinds of things, just as other labs did from surface sources. They were very competitive — they went after each other tooth and nail trying to make sure they were doing calculations and analyses in the right way. But the idea of the ERDA people at this early meeting was we’re going to have to run an acid precipitation program in which all of the laboratories.
So, Brookhaven presented what it wanted to do. It was going to have an aircraft and a van or something. Well, then Argonne had to have an aircraft and a van. Then Battelle had to have the same — I mean, everybody had to have what everybody else had. Bill Duewer and I from Livermore were just sitting and listening to these guys, and the ERDA staff asked for our recommendation at the end. We said, “These guys need a czar in charge (like a Russian czar) who will say, ‘You’ve got to work together.’” So, we said that and left. Well, I also said to them, “And by the way, acid rain isn’t your only problem. Climate change is another problem you’ve got to deal with; you’re going to have to focus a program on CO2. You [ERDA] are taking over components and responsibilities from the Department of Mines and Commerce, or wherever it was, and you’ve got to deal with this.” So, from back in Livermore, I sent a letter back to them.
So, what they did was to take my letter and start passing it around. For specific input, they decided to take my letter and send it around to a bunch of experts. I actually have the letter here if you are interested or something. They got a bunch of responses, which went from saying that climate change is the most important problem the world faces to climate change doesn't matter at all. This mixed response led them to propose a workshop to be led by Alvin Weinberg, who was a former director of Oak Ridge, but then was working at Oak Ridge Associated Universities, to be held in Miami Beach in 1977 on carbon dioxide and climate. I was asked to help organize. The main person they were looking at to get input on this was Lester Machta, who was at NOAA (and an expert in carbon cycle science). It turned out that NOAA, to assist the Atomic Energy Commission, ran its trajectory model on radionuclides. If the AEC had a nuclear test in Nevada and the radioactive cloud went over Kodak film, it would expose (and so ruin) all the unexposed film. So, the AEC had NOAA give them trajectories so they could warn Kodak to put all their new film stock in caves or in containers or whatever to protect it. So, the AEC had had a long relationship with Machta whose office was right near to them and so was already involved with the AEC staff. He was researching the CO2 cycle as well and atmospheric composition. The AEC (now ERDA) also had the Health and Safety Lab (HASL) in New York City that was doing a lot of the atmospheric radionuclide observations and had expertise in how the stratosphere moves because they were also running the program to watch for and get samples of debris from other nations’ nuclear tests. So, there was a whole bunch of radionuclide research going on here.
Lester was interested in CO2 and other phenomena. This conference was coming some 20 years after Keeling had started measuring the atmospheric CO2 concentration at Mauna Loa and Revelle was measuring it in the ocean. So, NOAA had a very active CO2 program. They were running the CO2 programs. So, the letter [prompted by the transformation of the AEC into ERDA and a resulting meeting to plan an acid rain research program] did ultimately prompt DOE to get a research program going on climate change.
Okay, going back to developments regarding the acid rain program, the leaders from the other laboratories said, in response to our comment that they needed a czar to unify their efforts: ‘Oh, we’ll go off and put together a plan,’ And they did put together a plan and submitted it to the AEC. Our meeting had been in, I want to say, April… it was something like that. In November they had the plan together and it was sent around; all it did was just say exactly what they’d said before. So ERDA’s leadership designated one of their staffers and they said, ‘Okay, we’re going to go around and do a review of the plan,’ and they appointed me and Bill Duewer, who was the fellow I’d been working with more perhaps than anybody else, to this review team to go around and interview those in the other laboratories and talk to them about their plan. We did this and came back and said, ‘Same as before. They need a czar.’ So ERDA staff then talked to my boss and said, ‘We want MacCracken to be the czar,’ because I had modeling experience and they thought I could also oversee the observations and direct the program. I really wanted to do climate research, and I didn't want to go anywhere. But they said, “No, no, no. We really want you to do this,” and so the air quality research was passed over to Joyce Penner who had come over to our Division, and our climate research had slowed… We weren’t doing climate research for the Department of Transportation any more. There was still some of DOT’s research going on at Livermore that was looking at the stratosphere, ozone and UV-radiation, but there was no more climate part of it. There had been a National Academy report that went on regarding the environmental effects of nuclear war about the ozone air and about dust, and I’d been a contributing author on the dust section. So ERDA said, ‘Okay, you can lead the acid rain program,’ and I said okay. It turned out to be a very interesting experience.
So, the leaders of all these groups at the high level were very obstinate, but I’m sort of a cooperative guy. The people below them in each of the labs were actually pretty cooperative, scientists who wanted to do things together, so I teamed up with them. We also teamed up with EPRI [at the time, the Electric Power Research Institute]. This is where I met George Hidy and Peter Mueller and staff on acid rain, because it turned out that we wanted to do a field experiment to better understand acid precipitation, we didn’t have enough resources. EPRI also didn’t have enough resources [to do all that they wanted to accomplish]. EPA, which we also cooperated with, also didn't have enough resources. So, it made sense to explore the idea of field programs where all of us were doing an experiment together. Pretty much, for field programs, everybody’s a winner [as a result of a cooperative effort] because the more data you have, the better for everybody. In modeling, not so much — each modeler says, “This is my model” and so there were conflicts, and I wasn't able to really resolve some of the conflicts that existed in the modeling but sort of managed them a little bit. But it was a good learning experience.
So, I had no [official] power — I mean I didn’t have any control of the money. I couldn’t change anything [with respect to the financial resources — that power resided in DOE]. All I could do was make — I just had the ear of these guys up here so I could make — recommendations. The laboratory program leaders, of course, they’d all had long connections up to DOE in getting things done, and so they had to make decisions about, “Well, who are we going to pay attention to?” and that was my only chance. So, it was only really good ideas that would work [in gaining their endorsement]. In some sense, I became the common enemy to them because they knew if they didn’t come up with something that made good sense, then I’d come up with something, and they…
They didn’t want that, yeah.
…would rather do it themselves. But I got to meet a lot of them. I had a tremendous experience meeting people in atmospheric chemistry around the country, so it was really a wonderful experience. The MAP3S project continued until President Carter came into office. He brought some new young blood into the Office of Management and Budget, and they said, “Wait a minute! What’s the Department of Energy doing sponsoring environmental projects? They do energy. What are they doing environmental things for? EPA, you’re doing research on emissions control devices. Why are you researching emissions controls? That should be DOE. We’re going to switch these efforts,” and so they sat there and switched them. I said, “Be my guest.” They formed a national advisory committee on acid rain that got involved, a group that was eventually led by James (Jim Mahoney), who sort of comes into my story again later. So, I met Jim Mahoney there. He’d been working with Travelers Insurance. So, I met a lot of the people who were later involved in climate change research way back in the ‘70s.
It (MAP3S) was a very interesting program. It was an international program. We went over to Europe [to meet with European researchers in the field]. It was one of my first trips to Europe for a scientific meeting. There was a meeting in Dubrovnik [then in Yugoslavia] in 1977, I think it was. Strange meeting. The Europeans had just agreed on which country contributed how much sulfur to each other country. They had this grid and it was all carefully filled in. It was decided that the U.K. did not contribute any SO2 or sulfate pollution to Scandinavia. But we knew where the sulfate was going. That’s crazy! And they’d say, “The politicians have decided. They’ve adopted this.” We said, “That’s crazy! How did you do that?” What the scientists actually had done was to use one of those Gaussian plume models and they ran it for air parcels that were carried across the North Sea. But they never put the surface inversion in. Okay. So, the North Sea is cold, so the air above doesn’t mix down to the surface. They had allowed the removal processes, however, to go on all the way across the North Sea. Well, okay. Then you get rid of the pollution by deposition and you don't have to worry about it reaching Scandinavia. We’re going, “But that’s scientifically crazy!” They said, “The politicians have decided.” So, we had a very interesting… it was an interesting experience to learn how all those things work and the challenge of dealing with acid precipitation. But it was also fascinating because I just met lots of different people and heard about many projects. [This happened in the U.S. as well: We (the MAP3S program) set up an acid precipitation network in the U.S. and I actually met a former high school classmate who had become an oceanographer and was working with another scientist, Jim Galloway, in Virginia. They were putting up an observation station in this nice, particularly good place.] So, it was a very fascinating experience to meet a lot of people, which was later very helpful for my career.
I’m describing all of this because later, when I went on assignment to the Global Change Office, being involved in these various projects provided both insights and skills. There’s another experience I’ll talk about with the University of California, but, in general, finding a way to get people to work together is a challenge, especially when you don’t control the money. For climate modeling, Jay Fein [program manager at NSF] controlled the money, or at least some of the money. We in the Global Change Office didn’t control the money, so success and cooperation involved, basically, about thinking of good win-win ideas, and that was fun because you have to think about the science in that way. So, the discussion so far probably gets me to the what, late 1970s, I guess, or something like the late ‘70s.
So, after my stint leading the MAP3S program, I went back to doing some climate kinds of research. Meanwhile, through my work on MAP3S, Jerry Potter had come in as a young scientist, working with and using the two-dimensional model. I mention him because he later became very instrumental in the PCMDI [DOE’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Inter comparison] led originally by Dr. Lawrence Gates. So, there was climate research going on and I was trying to do a little bit of it while involved with MAP3S, but I was doing an awful lot of sulfate [acid precipitation] research and learning how to try and help get everybody to work together.
Meanwhile, over in the division’s air pollution area, with this new wind model extending over the terrain and being able to follow puffs of emissions going out (rather than plumes that you did statistics on), the model could be used for a real emergency response, and, first of all, our idea was get all of the DOE facilities on-line. Well, the other DOE labs that do research didn’t want to really be on-line, so we focused on first getting the DOE’s nuclear weapon production facilities on-line. But I at least knew the individuals at the DOE labs who could do their own evaluations were going to keep doing it. To get DOE approval, my colleagues at Livermore basically put on a skit imagining an accident and how they would respond and who would be onsite and how a model-based emergency response would work. Just as their project got officially started, the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor had a meltdown and so two of my colleagues at Livermore actually went to Three Mile Island. They assisted the on-site response team, and so forever after, Livermore colleagues have had their suitcases packed and ready to go because Livermore is one of the Nuclear Emergency Response Team laboratories, I think is what it was called. But they’re ready to go when something happens, and the modeling team basically can pick up meteorology from anywhere in the U.S. So, they were involved at Three Mile Island trying to worry about what was coming out and where it would go.
So, I was indirectly a supervisor for some of these efforts. The way the response is done is that you basically run a calculation with a unit release — I mean you don’t know how much comes out in an accident, so you basically want to run a unit release, and then you can estimate the actual amount by scaling based on observations that you get from various locations. You try and do that consistently and get a sense of how important the release of materials is and what’s happening in order to be able to give people back information for their evaluation. What’s nice with the DOE labs is you basically were able to divert anybody you need from any job assignment to basically be responsive to an emergency need because of the way the contracts were set up. So, you could get people who were experts on this or that to come in and be involved, and that way of interacting all went well. Because many of my colleagues were all working so hard, I often ended up covering a fair amount of the public relations responsibilities. They put me out with the newspaper guys to try and explain things. So that was interesting.
So, the emergency response effort began taking on additional national-level responsibilities, and then came Chernobyl. So, the calculations for Chernobyl needed to be global, and the models they were using were not set up to do global. But we [the global component of our division’s research program] had, through projects I’ll get to, done some global modeling, and so we could sort of say, “Well, we’ve got models that could apply,” and so we could just transition them over to try and do calculations immediately and help support a U.S. evaluation and response capability. So, there were interesting links between the two parts of our division at Livermore, and I was partly the link since I was involved in both. It was very interesting.
So let’s see. How are we doing here?
Pretty good, I think.
So, the Department of Energy, after the workshop in Miami Beach, was trying to figure out how to organize a carbon dioxide research program. I became the climate advisor to the group back at their headquarters in Gaithersburg, MD. They started a program in the late 1970s, so under President Carter. Dave Slade who was in charge of the program and he had a quite wide [encompassing] view of how to do it, including social sciences as well as the physical sciences. That got him in trouble later, soon thereafter, but he had quite an impressive… quite a broad view of the research issues that needed to be addressed. There was a really interesting workshop done as a result; it was organized by the AAAS over in Annapolis and covered a wide set of topics about potential impacts and responses. So DOE’s program was going pretty well and building up under the Carter administration. Then the Reagan administration came in in 1981, and Reagan appointed a fellow head of the Department of Energy who was the dean of a dentistry school and then governor of South Carolina, named James B. Edwards. He couldn’t understand why in the world the Department of Energy would be supporting research about where refugees would go after the potato famine in Ireland, which was one of the activities that Dave Slade was supporting on the social science side to gain an understanding about how might people get displaced by climate change.
So, Edwards shifted Slade off and brought in a fellow named Fred Koomanoff, who was an interesting guy. He was a systems engineer. He had been working on a program about the potential for getting satellite solar electricity, and his program had just supported a National Academy of Sciences study on the issue. What had been going on in the late 1970s was planning for putting up huge platforms in space to capture solar electricity. They were structural things that were kilometers in length and were going to be assembled by astronauts going out in space suits. They imagined that the space shuttle was going to be able to go up every couple of weeks and carry things. It was just incredible. So, the industrial teams were saying, “This is what we should do. This is where to get energy. Don’t be subject to Arab oil boycotts. This is where we’ll get energy.” The academics on the NAS thought this was about the looniest thing they’d ever heard. So Koomanoff had to manage the project, and he was extremely proud of what the result had been. The result was that the Academy author had said, “Well, it’s an interesting idea, but we should wait 10 or 15 years to reconsider the idea.” So, the companies had some notion that, well, maybe it’s something for later, and the academics said, “Oh whew! We can put off this crazy idea.” So, he came in to manage DOE’s Carbon Dioxide Research Program.
So, when Koomanoff came in, the natural thing to do was to hold a program review and hear about all of the projects. It was probably December of 1981 because it was cold outdoors. I remember it was cold, and I know it was in Gaithersburg, MD. The first set of projects he was going to review were the carbon cycle ones. Those were the ones who were getting the most money to improve understanding of the carbon cycle. So he had 30 or 40 different project teams in. It was a three-day meeting and he was going to hear all of them speak. They were supposed to give a talk about what the project was, and then they were supposed to say what their products and deliverables were. He was a system engineer and wanted to know their products and deliverables. So, people started doing this thing, “And I’m measuring this and I’m creating a database and I’m writing papers in the journals and I’m doing this,” and this went on.
I think the second day it was that he sort of had the flu, so he was really a bit cantankerous, and Wally Broecker [Dr. Wallace Broecker, of Columbia University and the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory] got up. Wally Broecker, a chemical oceanographer, talked about what Wally likes to do, all kinds of fascinating things. But he didn't mention his products and deliverables, and so Koomanoff raised his hand. “So what are your products and deliverables?” Wally gave the perfect answer for Wally. He said, “My products are ideas,” and Koomanoff looked at him and said, “So how many ideas do you get?” Well, that was putting a match to gasoline, you know? That was just… I mean it was… oh. Those guys went flying apart. Wally tried to say he did generate ideas. So, he got asked that, and then he got asked the second question, because Wally at the talk — and maybe he got this other question first because he got asked a technical question — so Wally’s talk was about the carbon cycle and he got asked what we understood and how well. Wally basically said we understand the carbon cycle pretty well, and he was saying that because another person who was getting funding was George Woodwell. At the time, George Woodwell was saying that biosphere deforestation was leading to emissions of 18 billion tons of carbon per year, and we didn’t understand the carbon cycle at all. Wally said we understand it all; he said we know it within 10% or so.
So the other question Koomanoff asked him was, “Well, how come, if the carbon cycle is only a 10% uncertainty, why is the program devoting 90% of its budget to a 10% uncertainty when we don’t understand the climate change implications at all?” That’s a really good question, and Wally basically sort of stayed on the issue of that we understood the carbon cycle well. What he didn’t say and could have said was as long as emissions are going up at the rate of a few percent a year, which was happening in the 1970s, that is going to be the dominant influence, and what happens with respect to biosphere exchange and other factors don’t matter a whit. So, we can project ahead if we’re having CO2 emissions go up at some rapid rate, more rapid than they are now; I mean a couple of percent a year. So, with that, we can project ahead pretty well what the concentration is going to be. But if the world were going to try and control CO2 emissions and go down toward zero, which is what we’re hoping to do, we don’t have a good idea even now exactly how low you have to go in order to get a stable concentration or to cause concentrations to go down. So, on that basis, the uncertainties are quite large, and they’re quite important because if you’re going to try to push the concentration down, do you need to push emissions down from, at the time whatever it was, four billion tons of carbon to one billion tons of carbon or something, do you need to go to zero or one, etc.? I mean, the difference was a large fraction of what the emissions were. So, Wally sort of didn't answer that question as clearly as he could have, and then, with the controversy on the other question, they just flew apart — unable to deal with each other.
So, Koomanoff went through one question and went through another, but he and Wally couldn’t see eye to eye. So, what happened was that it turned out that Columbia University had a policy that major investigators couldn’t get all their research money from one agency. So, Wally was getting money from NSF, but he really needed some money from DOE. But Wally, like a number of prominent scientists, isn’t very good at — like Dave Keeling, who is another — could not write a really good proposal about what he was going to do. I mean what happened with Wally was he would do really interesting stuff. Six months later he would realize something, go off in that direction, and he’d get publications in Nature about doing very good science. But it wasn’t his proposal or something similar. So, he was bound to have trouble with DOE’s proposal process. So, when he sent his proposal in to get it through, he was having trouble getting through the administrative parts of the process. Koomanoff knew he had to fund him, but he knew he couldn’t get the proposal through and he was having a terrible time communicating with Wally. He happened to find out that Livermore’s laboratory director, the person who had been head of the Physics Department at Livermore and then became laboratory director, John Nuckolls, was an undergraduate classmate of Wally, and they knew each other really well. So Koomanoff’s solution was that DOE would send me money and I would be responsible for Wally. [Laughs] This was great! I mean I like Wally. I think he had really great ideas.
At the time, the Laboratory’s administrative practices came over from their Atomic Energy Commission history [the AEC was incorporated into DOE during the late 1970s]. The Atomic Energy Commission was mainly a bunch of accountants who kept track of the money. They didn’t inspire ideas. The science [mainly, of nuclear weapons design] was all done out in the laboratories, so they were willing to fund Wally by delegation to me at the Livermore laboratory. So, there was a lot of flexibility given as to how laboratories could write contracts and things, and I was able to fund Wally through a contract. He would say what he thought he was going to do, and I’d say, “Okay, Wally. At the end of a year, send me a letter. Attach to it your publications. I will write a cover note on it, and I will be able to get it through and make sure it keeps getting paid. We’ll be fine because that will get through our contract department, and that will go great.” That worked for quite a number of years. Wally came out and he gave seminars. He talked to our director and he talked about all kinds of interesting things, including, for example, engineering, and it was just great. Wally did fine, coming up with all sorts of interesting ideas. Until Admiral Watkins became head of the Department of Energy.
He was a former Navy admiral. He liked to have everybody in a tight structure, everybody play by the rules, and if you did one thing, he was going to get you. So, some contract managers at DOE’s Savannah River Laboratory (SRL) had ordered equipment for a big machine, and it came. It was large and so set down in a parking lot. The building that the machine was to be located in got slowed down somehow, and so the expensive machine was going to sit out there in the elements for quite some time. They had hurricanes and all this other stuff coming. So, managers at SRL diverted some funds to save this very expensive equipment and built a protective structure, and, in turn, they about got thrown in jail for doing this without the right permissions or approvals. I mean, their reasoning was something like, you know, “Look. I’m going to save this big equipment.” The punishment they were threatened with got the attention of every single purchasing contract manager throughout the whole DOE system, and they basically said, “You can’t continue this arrangement with Wally anymore. This isn’t going to work.” So, I had to sort of turn Wally back to DOE. It was six or seven years later, and so they’d sort of calmed down and they could work together. But I had a wonderful experience with Wally in that time. [Laughter]
So, we were going along I guess doing some climate research. I was advising the CO2 division, and I was also doing some CO2 modeling and looking at the climatic changes induced by the Mount Agung volcanic eruption. That was actually kind of interesting because model results indicated that it would change the winds and in that way encourage an El Niño, which was kind of interesting, and so there was a publication about that [MacCracken, M. C., and F. M. Luther, 1984: Radiative and climatic effects of the El Chichón eruption. Geofisica Internacional, 23, 385–401]. But then this issue of nuclear winter came up. We heard about it well before it got published in Science. I don’t remember all the details of where (perhaps Crutzen paper in Ambio), but we certainly picked up that there was a possible concern. There was a lot of interest, and so we were advised by Teller, “Oh, what about all this? We have to look at it.”
I should go back for one story about Teller because, again, as I say, Teller was very interesting. I would always get called up to his office about questions he had, and one of the times that happened was in the late 1970s. So, there was a big drought going on in California, and a colleague in Teller’s group had posed the question, “Can we break the drought with a nuclear explosion?” So, I’d gotten a call from Teller’s secretary [Genevieve Phillips], who I’d known for a long time. She said, “Mike, he wants to see you in two hours,” something like that, in one hour or two hours. I said, “So what about?” and she says, “Oh. Well, it’s this question [and she indicated the question]. He wants to know if it would work and if the models could tell us if it would work,” or something like that. Well, the answer to the second part of the question was pretty obvious pretty quickly that you probably couldn’t do a meaningful modeling experiment. [Laughing] The models weren’t all that good. But the first part was an interesting question. So, this gets back to how you had to address Teller’s questions by order of magnitude reasoning.,/p>
So, my sense was I wanted to find out the comparative amounts of energy. So, how much energy in the drought? Well, you could take the size of the state of California and multiply this by the latent heat of condensation and some amount of precipitation, and you could get a number. It came out at something like 1021 calories. Well, that was interesting.
To get a confirmation, I considered a couple of suggestions about the potential causes of the drought. Jerome (Jerry) Namias at the time, who was doing analyses at Scripps about the causes of seasonal variability, had been saying that the drought was possibly due to sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the Pacific that were causing shifts in the direction of storm tracks. So, I took an area of 2,500 by 2,500 km, multiplied by 50 m depth and by a possible 2 degree SST anomaly, and that came out at something like 1021 calories. So that was interesting.
The other suggestion was that the drought was a result of anomalously extensive snow cover in the Midwest, that there had been this persistent snow cover, and that it might be reflecting a lot of solar radiation, creating an energy deficit that was causing a persistence of the anomalous atmospheric circulation. So, I took some area and some albedo change, and that came out 1021 calories, and I said, “Well, that’s an interesting number, a big number. How big is a megaton?” That turns out to be 1015 calories. So, you had six orders of magnitude difference, and it’s when considering a megaton-sized detonation. I knew that anything over a megaton carries the energy into the stratosphere. So, I got 106 megatons as the energetic magnitude of the drought. Well, let’s say I can trigger something with 1%. I’m still 104, so 10,000 megaton-sized explosions. Well, 10,000 megatons, that was the size of the whole U.S. inventory [across explosive capacity of all sizes] or something close. So, I thought I had my argument clear for Teller’s meeting. There were a few of his people in his office. Teller had this tradition of putting you up at a blackboard, and so I was up at the blackboard. I showed them this calculation, and that was the end of that idea. But, for Teller, you had to be able to analyze questions in terms of their order of magnitude and give him a sense of these things, and so meeting with him was always very interesting.
So, on this issue of nuclear winter, having done calculations on nuclear war and other things before [recall he had been responsible for evaluating whether the first nuclear test in 1945 might ignite the atmosphere], he was just amazed at the assertion. Then, of course, it was coming out from Carl Sagan, who kind of a different perspective [on the world situation and the importance of a nuclear deterrent] in his view of things. So, we’re going up to see Teller. For Teller, his initial reaction was it couldn’t be true, and we tried to explain. It turns out the Science article that Turco et al. (TTAPS, with Sagan being the co-author contributing to the mnemonic of first initials of the authors last names) were publishing was actually part of the problem. The authors said the model they were using was sophisticated. It was actually in one sense too complicated and in one sense too simple. You’ve probably heard that story about “sophisticated.” They said they had a sophisticated one-dimensional radiative convective model of the atmosphere. There’s a fellow, Russell Seitz, who made a sort of wry comment at the time when he said, “The only sophisticated 1-D model in the world is Twiggy.” Remember Twiggy? She was an anorexic model who was getting all kinds of front-page coverage at the time. [Laughter] Based on his initial views, Teller did testify, I guess against accepting their analysis, and all the extension to deaths and other impacts.
But we tried to convince him this was a concern. I indicated that it’s really obvious, and I actually did an analytic [algebraic] solution to show this. If you imagine a two-layer atmosphere with one layer above the greenhouse gases and water vapor, and if you absorb all the solar energy above the greenhouse gases, there’s no greenhouse effect. I mean, the temperature would just be isothermal down below, and so if it’s isothermal, you’re at whatever the radiating temperature of the Earth is, which, with a 30% albedo, is -18°C, and if the Earth is totally black, if you have black smoke over all the Earth, then the radiating temperature is zero or something like that, so it’s going to get cold if solar radiation is absorbed above the greenhouse gases [i.e., in the upper troposphere or above]. But what the nuclear-winter paper authors had done in their model was to consider sophisticated aerosol physics and radiation — and really obscured the very basic physics of perturbing the Earth’s greenhouse effect.
But the paper did raise a lot of attention. And so with internal laboratory funding, basically what happened was the Department of Energy said to the lab then, “So what’s all this about?”, and our director [Dr. Roger Batzel], whom I had known for many years, basically set up a program with Dr. Michael May, whom I’d been a student of in the Department of Applied Science before he served as laboratory director as the coordinator and responsible person along with Teller. With their guidance and prodding, we set up a program to try and look at the various aspects of the suggested nuclear-winter effect. We were given responsibility not just to look at the climate aspects, but all of the aspects.
One strange thing we found concerned their nuclear war scenario. You have to have a nuclear war scenario to get all the smoke, so the first question was what about the scenario? Well, it turned out it was put together by a British medical doctor and a Soviet medical doctor, and what they did, in essence, was say, “Well, there’s this many (10,000 or 20,000, whatever they did) potentially independently targeted bombs and warheads in the world. We’re going to aim them at the cities of the world by order of population.” So, in essence, they started with Bombay, Calcutta, New Delhi, Shanghai, Mexico City and all these others. It turned out if you added it up, only 10% of the warheads landed in the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which were the countries that had them all. So, you go, “This is a pretty strange war if you’re even able to do it.” The whole philosophy of mutually assured destruction was to avoid having your cities attacked, the initiating nuclear-armed power would go after the other power’s weapons because you don’t want them coming back at your cities, something like that. That’s why most of the nuclear warheads were on missiles located mostly in the countryside or on submarines out at sea or somewhere else hard to target such as airplanes. I mean the idea that each power would shoot at cities of the world by order of population made no sense at all in terms of military planning. So, there was that problem — and it tended to discredit the original paper in the eyes of the Pentagon, which was following our research.
The other problem was, especially as results were interpreted in the accompanying Ehrlich et al. article and not so much the first TTAPS article (there were two articles in Science), they basically assumed that an exchange would freeze the world. In their impact assessments, what they calculated was that the first billion people would be killed by the direct effects of the explosions, so from blast effects. You say, “How did they do that?” I mean there were 250 million people in the U.S. There were 250 million in the Soviet Union. There were 300 million or so in Europe. I’m still only up to 800 million. I’ve got to add Japan and Australia. Hmm. How do I do this, okay? And they’re getting every single person, and you go, “What?!?” That’s what led us to look closely at their nuclear war scenarios.
Now the next thing they calculated was that a billion would be killed by fallout, and you go, “Okay… I’ve already killed all these people, and I’m going to get everybody in China or something by fallout.” Then you go, “What?” because one has to consider near and distant fallout. It was a very strange scenario, so that sort of led to some real questioning of what was being assumed. [The response to the concerns about the nuclear war scenario later led the TTAPS team to suggest that the climate impacting smoke could be generated by an attack on 100 of the world’s largest oil refineries — refineries quite possibly being legitimate strategic targets.]
An additional question we looked at were suggested city fires, and could a nuclear explosion lead to fires that would create a plume going up to the upper troposphere. This was possible because Livermore had models of plumes that might form after nuclear explosions because members of our group had been considering the potential for rainout of fallout following potential use of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. So, regarding the first, there was the question of how much heat could be generated and how much material is in cities and would a fire create a plume that would go up and inject smoke? Our results indicated that injection of very large amounts of smoke high in the atmosphere turns out to be pretty hard to do, so it was really hard to get that much up there.
Then the next assumption that the TTAPS authors made was, essential for their 1D model analysis, that the injected smoke would spread to cover all the world at the same time. Well, you say, “Wait, wait, wait. It’s all most likely to be injected over the combatant nations, and then it has to spread.” So, we wanted to do calculations of the spread, while we also did some calculation in some simple models by just putting layers of smoke in the upper troposphere. But to calculate the spreading, we had to construct a new model, and a colleague [John Walton] and I cooperated on this. I put it together conceptually and he programmed it; the model had puffs of smoke that would move around and spread out. So, it was a Lagrangian treatment of the smoke in the atmosphere moving around.
Now when they treated the spreading at NCAR, where the models used a Fourier transform representation of advective transport, what happened when they put smoke in at one place, if you try and put something like this in, its representation will have all these wavy parts represented by a spectrum wavelengths. As a result, there would be indications of smoke all around the world. So, in essence, their numerical treatment of the smoke caused it to instantly spread around the world, plus the technique generated some negative smoke amounts from the positive and negative representation of the waves. They basically discarded the negative values but kept the positive ones, so their model had a lot of trouble spreading smoke around until they later changed to a Lagrangian transport algorithm. So, we ran a Lagrangian smoke transport model from that start that more accurately represented smoke transport and spread it around, and so that was kind of an interesting and unique part to what we did. It took time to get this done but led to some interesting results. The plumes would run into things like mountain ranges or storm systems, and as a result sunlight was getting through some places, and this led to a whole bunch of other results (like continued rainfall in some locations) that others didn't have. Sure by absorbing heat in the upper troposphere tended to stabilize the atmosphere and reduce convection, leading us to suggest the key effect might better be described as nuclear drought. Ultimately, Steve Schneider and the group at NCAR coined the term that stuck: “nuclear autumn”. This made sense because the temperatures did not get quite so cold as in TTAPS.
Scientific consideration of the issue led to a large international assessment program that was run under the auspices of SCOPE (Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment, an entity charter by the International Council of Scientific Unions), and there were very interesting meetings around the world where you would meet all kinds of people going over the full range of issues. It was an absolutely fascinating effort, and it led to a pretty interesting report. It also led to one of the enduring “cold” cases from the Cold War when Alexandrov mysteriously disappeared. I don't know if you know that story…
Well, there was a prominent Soviet scientist, Dr. Vladimir Alexandrov, who was the leading Soviet scientist doing global atmospheric modeling. As part of the cooperative agreement between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, he had come over and been at NCAR for a while, and then been at Oregon State and the University of Washington for a while. He had amazing ability to move around. Everybody was sort of curious, you know, and the CIA observers were curious too: “Mmm. What’s going on?” There was a time that he testified on nuclear winter before Congress and later stayed at my home when he came to the Livermore laboratory to confer with Edward Teller on behalf of Dr. Velikov of the Soviet Academy of Sciences about the agenda for an upcoming meeting of the World Federation of Scientists. Yes, a sort of strange story.
Well, I don’t know how much you know about these meetings in Erice that have gone on, at the World Laboratory — in Erice, Sicily. There’s an organization called the World Federation of Scientists. It was started by Dr. Antonino Zichichi, whom you probably have heard of. No? Well, he’s the experimental discoverer of antimatter. He’s been a leading scientist at CERN. He’s also been, as I recall, deputy director at CERN. He’s an Italian scientist who came originally from Sicily. There have been some prominent scientists from Sicily: Enrico Fermi and then Ettore Majorana, who disappeared mysteriously in an airplane crash. What Zichichi started doing in maybe the late 1960s was putting together a location where leading physicists from around the world could come together during the summer, for a month, or a week or two, and have discussions about big problems, including the threat of nuclear war and nuclear war policies. He was able to get European physicists to attend, and he’d get Velikhov from the Soviet Union and other prominent ones. He’d get leading physicists from China, and from the U.S. and elsewhere. I mean he had a really interesting group going. They started paying attention to nuclear winter as an issue in the mid ‘80s, so I got to go to a couple of their meetings.
So Alexandrov was coming to Livermore to talk to Teller. Well, he was testifying in Congress, and then he was coming out to Livermore. But it was to talk to Teller and convey a message from Velikhov, who was deputy of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Now one of the purposes under the US-Soviet scientific agreement was to help get to know people from the other nation. The visit was at a time right when the U.S. Catholic bishops had approved a pastoral statement indicating that their objections to the concept of nuclear deterrence. They basically favored banning nuclear weapons. So, the Livermore laboratory turns out to be in the same Catholic diocese as Berkeley, and there are quite different views between Berkeley’s anti-nuclear activists and those working at Livermore on nuclear weapons and deterrence. So, the local bishop had decided he would hold meetings and try to get the two sides talking. It was a very interesting set of sessions, but that’s a separate story.
In any case, a few clergy members in Livermore, including the Presbyterian minister that I knew and then there was a Catholic priest and a nun, if they could meet with Aleksandrov. They said, “Here we are. We’re hearing all this debate on nuclear weapons and nuclear winter. We have weapons designers here and also meet with our colleagues who minister to those in Berkeley. We know about the Cold War. We’ve never met a Russian. Can we meet this person visiting you?” I responded that “I’ll ask him.” So, I asked him, and we ended up having a lunch on a Saturday morning where they came to my home and they got to meet with him. They got talking about simple things about what your family does and how Russian schools are switching over to teaching the “new math” just like the U.S. and he didn't like the idea. He didn’t say anything on Soviet views other than what’s in The New York Times, but you know, they talked personally and got to know each other. Okay.
So, Aleksandrov comes and he meets with Teller at the Livermore laboratory. A local reporter had heard he was in town and wanted to talk to him, but he didn't want to talk to them about his discussions with Teller, so he didn't meet with the reporter. But that Wednesday night, I was asked to talk to a citizens group about nuclear winter. Officially, the talk was supposed to be off the record, but reporters could come and then follow up with questions. So, they came and I mentioned this meeting that Alexandrov had had with the clergy, and so the next day one of the reporters tried to call around to find out about it. I was on a trip down to the Scripps Institution in San Diego, so I couldn't be reached by the reporter. So, he called the minister and priest and they indicated that they weren’t going to talk about their discussions; it was just a private meeting. So, they weren’t going to talk about it with the local newspaper’s reporter. So, the next day in the headlines, front page of The Valley Times, was “Soviet visits lab, clergy, holds secret talks on social issues” and they gave my home as the location. I went, “Oh, geez.” So, I talked to the reporter a little bit, but it was kind of too late… you know, the word “secret” means something special in the national security context. The meeting was private, it wasn’t secret. There wasn’t anything classified discussed, and it wasn’t like we were discussing the world’s large issues. We were just talking about how people lived! Okay, so that was whenever it was, March or something like that.
So, I was over in the Soviet Union in June or July was invited to Alexandrov’s apartment, which was just off Red Square. He was having a little potluck with his staff, and the first person he introduced me to was “Uncle Yuri,” who was pretty clearly the KGB guy and who had obviously seen this article and wanted to hear my version of this story. [Laughter] So that was the summer and everything seemed fine.
Aleksandrov’s involvement in the international scientific effort went on. He went to several SCOPE meetings. He was a prominent person doing research in the field. Then the next spring — I guess it was March or April — he flew to Madrid and was going to give a talk at a conference in Cordoba, Spain. It was the only town in Spain with a Communist mayor, and he was going to talk about the potential for “nuclear winter”. The Soviets were playing up nuclear winter as a big threat, presumably so all nations would give up nuclear weapons, I guess, and President Reagan, of course, at the time was touting “Star Wars” as his answer. So Aleksandrov was going to be going to Cordoba. After arrival in Spain, he stopped first at the Soviet embassy in Madrid. He always stopped at embassies or consulates when he came to country for a visit. He then went up to Cordoba, apparently gave his talk, and after that the story isn’t really clear. But for some reason, a car was sent to pick him up and bring him back to Madrid, and the story is that he disappeared at some point. Nobody quite knows what happened… I mean to this day. I think Andy Revkin’s story in Discover magazine (he later became a reporter for The New York Times) did the most thorough media investigation of what happened. His story indicated there were reports that he was acting as if he apparently may have had too much to drink up there, although he wasn’t into that much drinking when visiting in the U.S., and so had been driven back to Madrid and that Cuban security guards were doing the driving; they were the guards for the Soviet embassy there. One hypothesis goes that he may have tried to run or escape or something and got killed, although his body was never found. Another was that he just disappeared, totally disappeared.
None of us knew about this at the time. Later in April, however, CIA staff started coming around asking, “Do you know anything about Alexandrov?” They asked some people where he had visited in the U.S. In particular, he’d stayed with J. Michael (Mike) Wallace up at the University of Washington, and they asked his wife about it. She started asking around, and people started saying, “Where is he? We don’t know.” I mean he just had disappeared off the map. Another hypothesis goes that because his wife was sick, he may have been trying to get her out of the Soviet Union for treatment; she had liver disease and later died of it but there is no real indicating this was what caused his disappearance. He may have been trying to get medical tests for her or something, but his wife and daughter were back in Moscow and why in the world you’d have a person disappear in Spain because of this was just not clear. The CIA was always suspicious of him because he came out of a laser physics background.
He had also visited Livermore at an earlier time. On that visit, he also met with and talked to a student class about Russian culture. We found a book of Pushkin poetry got him to read in Russian so the students could hear the language and he talked with them about the papers they’d written and about life in the Russia, well, the Soviet Union. So, on the two visits, he made a real impression in our town. The kids really liked him. When he disappeared, it was a big deal and got headlines in our local paper. But it was really sad. So, nobody quite knows what happened. It was weird to have such a mystery associated with our scientific research activities.
I mention this incident because most of the way through the 1980s, I was U.S. co-chair for the U.S.-U.S.S.R. project on climate change [a project under the joint U.S.-U.S.S.R. agreement on the environment signed by Presidents Nixon and Brezhnev] and so there were activities that came out of this project in which he was involved. But he just disappeared. Really sad and too bad. We keep asking to try and find out what happened, but the CIA says, “We don't know.” They sort of thought he might be a spy and he was coming over here and he would take information back because he was running on the UCAR computer and might download the operating system or something, as if their computers could possibly use it. I mean it was pretty clear he didn’t have that sort of skill with computers! [Laughter] I mean the favorite thing that visiting Soviet scientists wanted to do generally was to go to K-Mart and buy little things that just weren’t available in the Soviet Union and take them back.
So, there was a lot of nuclear winter research that went on. That effort led to a fair amount of improvement in the models because researchers were looking at a potentially realistic kind of problem. We at Livermore started looking, for example, at what the models were doing on simulating the day/night cycle in various locations, and it was terrible. The Amazon was represented in the Oregon State model that we were running on some of the time as if it were a slab of concrete with a very large difference between maximum and minimum temperatures. So, there were problems in the models. Even though the averages looked reasonable, the details were sometimes really suspect, and so it’s good that there have been improvements over the years. But that sort of research at Livermore went on until 1987 or 1988, I guess.
Let’s see. PCMDI started getting funded right around that time. I should go back because PCMDI got funded in part because of Ben Santer. Ben was a student of — Well, I’ve also skipped over the DOE climate change program activities, so I’d better go back, I guess, to the mid-1980s!
So, in that I was advising and assisting DOE on climate, there were sometimes things that needed to get funded, and so one of the things they wanted to fund was the group over in Norwich, U.K. that Tom Wigley was part of. DOE, of course, was supposed to mainly fund research in the United States, so money was passed to us to fund Wigley and his group as they were world leaders in their research area. One of the activities that we ended up funding was Ben Santer as a graduate student over there. Then, when Santer came over and went to work for Prof. W. Lawrence (Larry) Gates at Oregon State, we ended up funding some of his graduate… or well, Ph.D. research. So, there was a lot of funding of that. He was very interested also working with… Now what was his name? The German.
Klaus Hasselmann, yes, on detection and attribution techniques and things like that, although actually the first use of the word “fingerprint” in referring to climate change detection actually came, I think it was, at a 1981 DOE-sponsored meeting in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, when we were talking about this issue of trying to identify signals. Larry Gates, I think, was the first to use it, and the term got published as a phrase in a summary of the meeting I did with Harry Moses that appeared in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society [MacCracken, M. C., and H. Moses, 1982: The first detection of carbon dioxide effects: Workshop summary, 8–10 June 1981. Bull. of Amer. Meteorol. Soc., 63, 1164–1178]. I think that’s where the community first started talking about creating the distinct fingerprint for particular forcings and looking at different variables and how it all matched. So, we had a lot going on.
So Koomanoff, as I said, was leading the program, and he wanted there to be an assessment of scientific understanding. Along the way there had been a couple of National Academy assessments, but there hadn’t really been a full U.S. scientific assessment, and he was sort of wanting to show that DOE was sponsoring leading research on the climate change issue. So, he proposed a set of volumes that to be called State of the Art. We really wanted to say State of the Science, but that abbreviates to SOS and did not seem desirable. So, they ended up being State of the Art assessments. He wanted one on the carbon cycle. He wanted one on climate projections. He wanted one on detection and attribution, and then there was one he wanted on CO2 fertilization. There were going to be more ones on impacts, but there just weren’t leaders of the program to lead the effort. And there was a National Academy one done on glaciers and ice that was led by Dr. Mark Meier that was a very interesting report. So, he called for a number of interesting reports, and if you go back to read them, you will find that we basically commissioned a lot of very interesting scientists to serve as authors. For example, Phil Jones wrote on some of his early research and all this criticism so many years later — all those issues [e.g., urban biases, etc.] were raised in the chapters, and it’s been a shame that they’re not available on the Web. I don’t think they’ve yet been scanned and put on the Web. That really should be done because it’s a really interesting part of the history of the program. Indeed, I’ve got, as I say, lots of reports from back then. I think a lot of them haven't been put up on the Web, which is unfortunate because they address a lot of the issues that still come up today.
As an advisor to DOE, I started giving talks that covered the field. One of the things I found a year or two ago was a two-inch videotape of a talk I gave at the Sandia National Laboratory [in Albuquerque, NM] in the summer of 1982 on the science of climate change. It’s now up on YouTube in multiple parts, though it’s got a few gaps. Interestingly, I’m still using a slide of the Mauna Loa CO2 record. My talks today make some of the very same points! If you listen to the understanding of the science, it was all essentially understood back then. The 1982 talk was really weak on impacts because there hadn’t been much done on impacts and we didn’t know where we were. But the science has been understood pretty well for decades. The posting of my talk I think got to Jim Hansen and he actually found a 1978 talk he did and posted it; indeed, understanding of the science goes back earlier than that! [Laughter] And as I say, it goes back at least to the President’s Science Advisory Council report in 1965. So, the basics of climate change science have been really well understood for many years and that there’s so much controversy is just unfortunate. There’s going to be a Chapman Conference this summer [June, 2013] where they’ve invited me, and the question is to try and reflect back on how did we blow it? How were we scientists not able to communicate effectively? Did the scientific community play a role or is it something else that’s caused all this problem of perceived uncertainty? That’s going to be an interesting discussion.
So, we at Livermore worked through in organizing this set of State of the Art reports, getting very interesting people to serve as authors, and actually, there are a lot of, as I say, intriguing articles about how the climate system worked. We addressed some of these concerns that are still on skeptic websites today. I was just writing a comment back to one of them. “Well, you’re just discovering something that we addressed almost 30 years ago.” [Laughter] It was a problem that Reggie Newell [Prof. Reginald Newell of MIT] raised. He was one of the scientists who was asked originally about my letter to DOE about what he thought regarding the threat of climate change and who had replied that he didn’t think it was much. He was basically a tropical meteorologist, and he knew from experience that if you put a pot of water out and heated it up, that to heat it one degree it took about 15 watts per square meter. He said, in essence, “You guys are only talking about 4 watts per square meter for a doubling of CO2, that’s only a quarter the amount needed to raise the temperature of water by a quarter of a degree, so the climate sensitivity is a quarter of a degree.” It took a while to respond to that; and a lot of things we did do that time was try to respond to these early, skeptic-kind of remarks. What Newell was forgetting was that it isn’t enough to just consider heating this square meter of water. In reality, the problem needs to be viewed as if the world is covered by such posts of water, all being heated — it’s this one, this one, this one, this one. So, when you just heat one, the additional water vapor that is evaporated can spread over the whole Earth, and so it has no real feedback effect. If the evaporated water has to stay in that one square meter [which is the essential effect with the whole world being heated], it has a big feedback effect, and Bob Watts [Prof. Robert Watts of Tulane University] did a really interesting calculation that indicated a warming of over a degree [Celsius]. That’s in low latitudes, and at high latitudes, you get more. But this criticism still comes up today. I mean people say, “Oh, but I made this observation,” or “I used this empirical relationship down here.” Yes, that’s great, but what happens at one point doesn't always apply for the world. Helping people understand that is really hard. So, I don’t know if we haven’t done enough of that or what. It’s going to be interesting at the Chapman conference to reflect back on some of these things. But we did try, and we’ve been addressing these skeptic issues all along.
So, the State-of-the-Art assessments were put out. They got a fair amount of attention. Koomanoff did run them through an AAAS-run review process and had a lot done responding to the comments. It was a quite an interesting set of pieces of work. It was the last of the major assessments done before Internet came along, and so for some reason, they just haven’t been scanned, I don't think, and put up and people could see it. The reports were prepared during the Reagan administration, too, so there was a little bit of reluctance in accepting them. But there was recognition that climate change was an important issue, and the science started going.
Now you’ve talked to many other scientists. You’ve talked to Francis Bretherton, who started the thinking in terms of Earth systems science, which I think was a little earlier in the 1980s. There had been National Academy reports, so all the things were united in understanding what human-induced climate change was. I mean, the scientific community was pretty well together on the issue. We did need to do more. We needed to do calculations of time-dependent changes and various scenarios and add oceans that really circulated and a whole host of things. But the basic physics had been really well established. So, it was realized after those assessments that the scientific community had to do more. One had to include more of the Earth system components, and the need for Earth system models came up. I think I have the timing of that right. [Yes.] So, there was Bretherton and his group [sponsored by NASA], and there was work at NCAR [sponsored mainly by NSF] and other activities that were happening.
NCAR’s original proposal, though, was very strange and led to a reaction by those of us at Livermore. So, their proposal was responsive to their situation, and it’s important to understand that NCAR is run by a consortium of universities, and there’s always been this tremendous battle back and forth on who does what. So, the idea initially was that NCAR would just be a coordinating center and that they’d get a couple of university groups to do an atmospheric model and a couple to construct an ocean model, and all these things would be done out in the academic community. NCAR would just put it all together and everybody could then run the resulting Earth system model. I always thought that was the looniest idea we’d heard, that there had to be a core group trying to make it all work together.
At the same time, groups were starting to think about use of massively parallel computers for Earth system studies, and if you were going to do that, you had to make all of the components work in an integrated way. I’d have to look up the exact date, but it was in the late 1980s that we at Livermore started putting together the concept of an Earth system modeling program. It was sort of a carryover from our nuclear winter studies where we’d done atmospheric chemistry and coupled models together and we wanted to do that more completely. It turned out at the time, the weapons program at the Laboratory was sort of shedding people, and that meant it was shedding a number of very good computer modelers who wanted to take on new challenges and were convinced they could come over to join our efforts and make a real difference. So, a number of them came over. For example, Michael Wehner joined us and is now quite prominent in the field. Bill Dannevik came over and did some work on representing turbulence, and there were a number of others who came over to join us. So, we got some director’s funding to do research to try and put the various components of an Earth systems model together.
It was a little unclear how NCAR was going to really move to massively parallel computer systems because their models used Fourier transform techniques for horizontal transport, and using massively parallel computing when you have these global connections through the Fourier transform equations was not at all easy, so it was not clear how it was going to work. So, we were going to try and pursue using the finite difference model that scientists at UCLA had developed. That model was sort of an upgrade of the Oregon State model that we’d been working with. So that was our choice in representing the atmosphere; the ocean modeling isn’t done with Fourier transforms, so it’s pretty simple to think about how to build an ocean component to the Earth system model. So, we started out.
Now, with the [George H. W.] Bush Administration coming in, that led to a couple of new research initiatives being proposed. That was the time when the nation was starting to put together the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and different agencies wanted to do different things. So, what happened with DOE, they decided that the biggest uncertainty in climate sensitivity was due to clouds. They developed a proposal for an observational program to address climate sensitivity and clouds. In fact, there is one of the people who is now considered a skeptic, Will Happer, who is now a professor at Princeton and was instrumental in their proposal. At the time, he’d been appointed to serve as head of the energy research part of DOE. His background was as a laser physicist, and he was known to be really good at that, with a reputation that if you put him in an empty room and locked him up, he would come out with a laser. He would find a way to put it together. So, he had a very good reputation with that. When he was going to do climate research, his first notion was, “Let’s do something experimental.” He apparently suggested that the way to resolve this issue of climate sensitivity would be to put out an observation station and then, upstream of that station, put out a big puff of CO2, have it go over the station, and measure the temperature difference and thereby observationally determine the climate sensitivity [i.e., the temperature response to an increase in the atmospheric CO2 concentration].
Well, he put this proposal forward pretty seriously, and there is a provision in the law that civil servants aren’t supposed to share their initiatives with anybody outside of government, so this meant not to share it with the scientific community in the laboratories. So, DOE staff put their proposal together and it got forwarded somehow to Congress and got to Senator Tim Wirth of Colorado, who gave it to Steve Schneider saying, “What’s this?” and Steve Schneider came to us and said, “What the hell is this?” We looked at it and said to DOE, “What are you proposing? This won’t possibly work!” Happer didn’t like the idea that his idea was getting shot down so widely [e.g., it would not allow time for water vapor feedback to have its influence, to come to equilibrium, etc.]. The set of agencies, through OMB [the Office of Management and Budget] had a requirement at the start of the Global Change Research Program that every agency had to approve increases to every other agency’s budget, and on the proposed project, the agencies voted no. Happer was outraged, and Admiral Watkins was really outraged. But they explained what the problems were, and eventually Admiral Watkins accepted it. But Happer still actually today is very upset about what happened and how he was treated in Washington. I’ve been up to Princeton — I’m an alumnus — and I heard him talk to some of the students on his views. He indicated that it was when he was in Washington and they wouldn’t explain the science to him that led to his skepticism about human-induced climate change. So, apparently his extreme skepticism is sort of a carryover, for it is very strange for a physicist to carry grudges over for a long time. It’s like with those old arguments with Daniel Rutherford and everyone over phlogiston.
So, in response to rejection of their original proposal, DOE got working on developing a major, better designed experimental effort on radiation. It turned out that Fred Luther, who was a colleague of mine at Livermore, had been a leader in a lot of the radiation and cloud modeling and radiation model intercomparison studies. He was involved in starting a big intercomparison experiment. He got virtually every group to participate. The idea was to focus on the basics, to see if they could get everybody to make sure their radiation models worked the same way in clear skies, and then to put in clouds and see how results compared with laboratory observations and very detailed model simulations. It was a wonderful start. He ended up dying of cancer not too long thereafter, and the site in Oklahoma where DOE eventually set up its major field observation program is named after him. But it was a really interesting intercomparison study.
So, DOE started that initiative, and then another initiative they funded was to start using massively parallel computers; I ended up being head of the effort to design that program and came up with the name CHAMPP. I can’t remember what it stands for, but that was the program at the time to move models to the newest massively parallel computers. Our group at Livermore was trying to do that with one particular type of model, and we had a good start on it.
At the same time, with DOE funding, Larry Gates had agreed to come to Livermore to start and lead PCMDI (the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparsion) and really focus on model intercomparison studies. He was a person who very much believed in moving toward new models one increment at a time. He didn't favor taking big jumps, and so he was a little uncomfortable with our Earth system modeling project jumping all the way to doing an atmosphere, ocean, chemistry, all these things, and all of these components coupled together. He was not particularly comfortable with it for that reason, and he wasn’t particularly comfortable with it going on as PCMDI was organizing model intercomparison studies — he wanted Livermore to seem neutral and not doing its own model development. And he also wasn’t very comfortable in the laboratory structural framework. He sort of felt that he should be independent and off and doing this, more like as in a university where he’d worked in the past and he didn’t seem to realize that the Lab had procedures that he wouldn’t really want to have to worry about. The best thing in his mind was to not be part of the division — independent and doing their own research, but I think he wanted more independence than the Laboratory was willing to grant. That did create some friction over a few issues. I tried to give him as much freedom as I could, but when you’re working at Livermore, you were under, first, the rules of the University of California [which had the contract for Laboratory management from DOE], then the State of California, and then the Department of Energy. So, there was a set of rules, and you had to know how to work within them. You had to know people, and Larry was coming in as a senior person not having known any of these people, virtually all of whom I knew and had been involved with. So, I was trying to help him with interactions, but there was a little bit of competition. He was a great mentor regarding the science and had lots of advice, but this idea of jumping ahead in Earth system modeling and he was a little uncomfortable with doing so much all at once.
DOE sort of started changing its management style at that point. It turned out money was getting tighter at that time. Their practices were supposed to become more transparent, and so parts of DOE would have advisory committees offering advice and reviewing programs. Well, you couldn’t have scientists from laboratories advising on themselves, so the advisory committees were mainly composed of university scientists, and they would be advising about laboratory programs. I guess my view is we’ve lost some of the champions in thinking about the practices that have made the U.S. scientific establishment work well. That is, the U.S. has a wonderfully diverse academic community that is excellent at probing very deeply into particular research questions, but they’ve been relatively weak at trying to conduct efforts that integrate across scientific disciplines. They’re very good at going deep. The laboratories tend to be oriented in generating outcomes (or products, like a design for a nuclear weapon) and working across disciplines, but they are not necessarily places where there is the time and support to delve into issues all that deeply. For that, it is best to be drawing in the universities. So, to have a really effective program of both, what you need to have is good cooperation between the two. What happened, in my view, when the universities came to dominate the advisory committees was that they saw all this money going for laboratory activities across disciplines, and they suggested that a lot of the parts could be done a lot better with a graduate student. Well yes, you can carry out some of the research, but such arrangements don’t typically integrate together across disciplines over sustained periods very well because graduate students come and go and an organization will lose its inherent skill. I mean, universities and laboratories are just different kinds of places. Europe relies a lot more on laboratories for doing their research, and it didn’t, until recently, have quite so many people out in the universities with all the diversity of ideas and approaches as in the U.S. It was picking up a lot of ideas from university people in the U.S. and elsewhere, but it didn’t quite have anywhere near the fraction of the resources going out to the university community as in the U.S. Europe just seems to have had a much more central laboratory-related research effort. That’s made some aspects of its effort work very well, while other aspects could benefit from having more diversity and independence [and it has recently moved in this direction]. So, laboratories and universities are sort of different places, and it’s important, in my view, to appreciate that in managing such institutions.
So, what happened was the Department of Energy decided that the CHAMPP program was going to be more broken down into smaller efforts and even in the labs to have relatively small projects instead of fewer large projects that pulled the smaller university and other efforts together. That sort of led to the demise of our comprehensive Earth system modeling effort at Livermore, even though what we were trying to do was have a good core group that did some internal research, and some outreach to the university community, because if you are going to put an Earth system model together as we were proposing, you really needed some very large core funding. Now, interestingly, the effort at NCAR eventually developed that way. They have a good core group, plus they have wonderful committees and outreach to the universities and outside community. I love how NCAR’s Community Modeling effort has turned out to be organized. For GFDL, the situation was a little different. Under NOAA, it was pretty centralized to start out with, and it was originally hard to get many university people involved there. Most of the key research staff were civil servants. If you look at Hansen’s group at NASA, it was done even a little differently. While his group had some civil servants, he had great outreach into Columbia University and other educational institutions to get them involved to some degree. PCMDI was put together as a real core group. It has had considerable outreach since, but it was organized mainly core group. It was a nice and appropriate function to have in a laboratory and to do that way, and it’s not something that would done at a university very well, at least in this country. So, the mix of approaches was very interesting.
While I helped get CHAMPP organized and started, it was kind of disappointing that we didn’t get to push forward with a comprehensive effort on Earth system modeling. We were funded to do that by EPA for a while, but that sort of ended, partly because everybody was criticizing EPA all the time in fear of pending regulations and because they were not a primary atmospheric research agency. As a result, the EPA-sponsored effort collapsed and shut down, and so we didn’t get to pursue full Earth system modeling even though some of the component parts of our group then went on and got funding from DOE, but it wasn’t as much fun as having a whole project effort. I sort of frankly thought, that it’s great DOE went and supported so much at NCAR, but it got virtually no credit on the Washington scene for doing so. I mean DOE was doing a significant part of the research, but NCAR, that was viewed as an NSF funded organization. That isn’t the DOE modeling effort now — they now have a major effort organized at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Los Alamos made some choices that turned out very well. They basically went after simulation of the ocean first, and it turns out that an ocean model is a lot easier to transfer to a massively parallel computer than an atmospheric model. The ocean doesn’t have clouds and doesn’t have radiation. So, you can really divide each location pretty much into an independent column of cells, and so you can structure the problem in a way that can run really fast on certain types of massively computers. They got a lot done and also helped and fed into NCAR’s efforts. So, they got a lot of attention doing that by that particular choice. Focusing on the atmosphere was much more challenging.
To assist NCAR, DOE went in and indicated they would help make the NCAR model work with all its fast Fourier transforms and figure out how to structure those for calculations on massive parallel computers. Well, that’s a really interesting mathematical question, but those Fourier transforms and the other spherical ones have this ringing if you have sharp edges. For example, if you look to some of Manabe’s early results, if you have the Andes, which are really a sharp divide, the results showed this ringing in the convective adjustment process going on down afterwards just because of how that model algorithm worked. The small-scale features in the results were all due to the mathematical solution method. So, there were people like Michael Wehner and some others who put together some comparisons of approaches on how to solve equations on the surface of a sphere that turned out to be very interesting. They brought a lot of really interesting massively parallel computer experience into their analyses. So, expertise from the weapons program activities at Livermore did feed into the atmospheric sciences.
So, that was mostly what I was doing. I was telling you a bit ago about our interactions with Soviet scientists. For example, we jointly authored the book Prospects for Future Climate [MacCracken, M. C., M. I. Budyko, A. D. Hecht, and Y. A. Izrael (Eds.), 1990: Prospects for Future Climate: A Special US/USSR Report on Climate and Climate Change. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL, 270 pp.], which came out in 1990 when the IPCC was doing its first assessment. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. had had this collaborative project for 15 to 20 years and Yuri Izrael (Soviet leader of the overall bilateral agreement) and others with the Soviet Academy of Sciences wanted to have some products from it. They proposed preparing a book, and that was eventually agreed and turned out to be a really interesting experience; for example, it taught me a lot about the differences between Soviet and U.S. science. Budyko was a wonderful, interesting scientist, but did not want there to be any deviations from what he was saying; in particular, he was never good at understanding the need to express uncertainties and wanting to put them into a book for policymakers. I think the first or second time I went over to the U.S.S.R. in the early 1980s, Budyko wanted the meeting’s communiqué to say the climate sensitivity was three plus or minus half a degree, and he was very upset with what GFDL and Manabe were doing because Manabe’s model had a sensitivity of three degrees, but he had three different version and each indicated, for a different reason, that the climate sensitivity might be lower by half a degree. One was cloud feedbacks, one was treating seasons instead of the annual average, and one was representing realistic global geography in the model instead of just treating a smooth sector of the Earth’s surface. The possibility that the climate sensitivity could be three plus or minus 1.5 by adding together all of those possibilities, no, no, no. It couldn't be that. There were quite some go-rounds in trying to get an agreed statement over there.
So, the idea was to put together a book. They wanted everybody to be the author it, but they wanted to write their chapters and have us write our chapters, without input to each other’s chapters. Our view was well, if you’re going to write your chapter but then we’re all going to be listed on authors on it, we will all have to agree with the text. Well, he wanted to say, “No, you are the experts on modeling so you do the climate models and we’re the experts on past climates, so we’ll do the paleoclimate chapters.” So, we had quite some go-rounds about that. I had a Soviet scientist come and say, “Oh, we’ll give you a medal if you do this.” I said, “I can’t do that; if all our names are to be on all of the book, then we all have to agree with the presentation.” And their writing style at the time on science papers was just very different. It was sort of not to talk about how you built up to the findings, and so I ended up doing a lot of rewriting and revising. But I think it actually came out as a pretty interesting book. We did try and estimate a climate sensitivity based on the paleo-records that they had assembled. The Soviet Union covers so many time zones, paleo-records over that domain likely give a pretty good indication of the extent of the global changes in climate. Budyko was also arguing at the time that the paleoclimate results meant that future warming would lead to beneficial impacts on the Soviet Union — that the world would get warmer and, using reconstruction of the climate 6,000 years ago as a warmer period as a result of more summertime solar radiation, that the Northern Hemisphere warming would pull the monsoon somehow over the Himalayas — I could never quite figure out how. We kept saying, “No, no, no. We don’t want to say that.” With considerable effort and compromise, we ended up with a book. The chapters don't have authors; everybody’s author of the whole thing. But getting to an agreed text was quite a go-around.
Budyko came to one of the early IPCC authors’ meeting in Bath, England, and tried to convince John Houghton, head of Working Group I at the time, about the value of using paleoclimatic periods as an analogue. Well, at least that paleo results should be included, but WG I in the end didn't put the paleoanalyses in, partly because Budyko had been arguing so much for them and their favorable implications that they left the whole area out of the report, even though we did invite Houghton’s colleagues to come down to observe final authors meeting in Orlando, Florida — and they did come. But it was a very interesting experience with the Soviets. That we were to prepare the book was mentioned as a requirement in one of the Reagan-Gorbachev summit communiqués. Most of the text was about doing big things like getting rid of short-range missiles in Europe or something similar. But down at the bottom, it said the U.S. and Soviets will prepare the book. So, when it was done, I sent a copy to the Reagan library and indicated that I just wanted the President to know that this request did get checked off and here’s a copy of the book. In response, I did get back a letter saying “Thank you very much,” signed by Reagan. [Laughs] So it was fun. I mean it was just a fascinating experience going through all of that.
Yes, so we at Livermore had the CHAMPP modeling program activities, and that started getting going. The project was more dispersed across the labs and universities than I wanted to see and the overall effort wasn’t getting as much funding as needed because the ARM [Atmospheric Radiation Management] program [the name given to DOE’s radiation and climate sensitivity initiative] and the cloud-radiation research was pulling off so much funding. But in the end, I think the CHAMMP program turned out to greatly strengthen the modeling program in the U.S.
So, I was involved in a good bit of scientific research. With the retirement of Joe Knox, I was also promoted to be the laboratory’s division leader for atmospheric and geophysical sciences in 1987. I’d been the deputy division leader since the division was formed in the mid-1970s, but mainly been having a great time just doing science, spending a few percent of my time on administration, mainly doing encouraging evaluations of people on the global research side of the division. So, I became division leader for six years (1987-93), and that’s sort of the tenure they like at Livermore. Just as for department chairs in universities, they like to recycle to new leadership every several years. I could have stayed working in Livermore and gone into laboratory management higher up, but that just wasn’t my interest. I’d been complaining so much about Washington and how I thought it wasn’t running its climate change research program as it could best be run that, as the agency program managers started setting up the office to manage the new U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), that Ari Patrinos, who was head of the DOE part of it and whom I’d actually met way back in the acid rain project [MAP3S], said, “Well, why don’t you come back to Washington?”
So, as they were starting up the Global Change Research Program across the agencies, there was a real question of how to run an interagency program. It turns out in the United States there’s a basic law that you can’t transfer money from one agency to another. So how do you organize and manage a cooperative research effort? For it to happen, program leaders from different agencies have to get together and agree or plan, and so they had people from all these different agencies. Since I was a modeler and Mike Hall [J. Michael Hall] from NOAA was responsible for looking over and coordinating the modeling component of the multiagency USGCRP, I became his half-time staffer to help do that. The way they were going to manage the program at the start was each of the members of what became the Subcommittee on Global Change Research (SGCR) would provide a staffer for part of the time, and these part-timers, with the designated agency program leader on the SGCR, would all help make the coordination happen for their area of responsibility. So, I’d be helping in the modeling component of the program, and I started in early 1993 commuting back and forth from Livermore. That was interesting, but then, four or five months later, Bob Corell (from NSF, and who was chair of the SGCR) said somehow — and I still don’t know this — he told me that they wanted me to be head (executive director) of the Office of the USGCRP, so the first head of their interagency office. I thought there would be some other people who better knew Washington, but Corell knew Washington. He said that wasn't the problem–he wanted somebody with links to the science community, so I accepted and moved to Washington for the position under an Interagency Personnel Agreement (IPA).
I should go back and say something more about my experience for working with scientists across agencies. Well, I mentioned once that I did work across the DOE labs at getting them to work together as part of the MAP3S program. Well, during the 1980s, recognizing that the various campuses of the University of California (UC) and the DOE Livermore and Los Alamos (and Berkeley) national laboratories are all under the authority of the UC Board of Regents, there was a program across these organizations set up by three of us: myself from Livermore, Richard Somerville from Scripps, and Chick Keller from Los Alamos. It turned out that the Department of Energy paid the University of California to run the labs, and some of that money the University chose to use to promote cooperative efforts between the campuses and the Labs. So, together we applied for some of those funds. The idea was to get a pool of money that would be used to support graduate students and post-docs on the condition that they worked on a project that involved at least one campus and at least one laboratory. The University of California is the largest scientific entity in the world, if you think of it as a whole, and so this was like providing a gold card to work anywhere across UC for the students. Professors, of course, loved it because they didn't have to support the graduate student or the post-doc. This was free! Similarly, the laboratories would have access to students for at least part of the time, also for free. Okay, so a lesson I learned that a key to promoting ideas across organizations is to think up good, win-win ideas.
So, that was another project where coming up with ideas mattered — and it was also a situation where one didn’t really have much control of the money to make it happen. So, the lesson and the challenge were to come up with ideas and get people and agencies working together. Getting the different campuses (e.g., UCLA, Berkeley, Irvine, San Diego, Davis, etc.) of the University of California cooperating together was likely more of a challenge than getting the different DOE labs to work together because each of the campuses was competing to be the best and whereas DOE labs were expected to become cooperative with each other. But this was a way of trying to do it, finding some sort of win-win strategy that everybody could contribute to. The across UC-effort did get started. It unfortunately didn’t get continued long enough because it took time for students to realize all the potential opportunities open to them. There were a few who did really move and figure out something productive. And we didn’t quite figure out what point to get them going on this because, if one waited too long, they’d usually come in to the effort closely affiliated with one professor. So, a number just decided to go spend a summer at a lab and run their model on the computer or something not as well connected to the laboratory program as had been hoped. But there was a real opportunity within the project to do some things, and the interactions with most of the appointees turned out well.
So, the job assignment in Washington that Corell was offering to me was to become the first executive director of the Office of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which meant getting ten agencies to work together without controlling the money, and, in essence, also not even being able to be in on the planning of what they did with the money from the start of their planning effort. Some people thought that was a crazy job to take! [Laughter] But Corell convinced me and I said I’d do it. It was originally for a year to get started, or maybe two years. It actually wasn’t completely clear. But I got started working with Bob and the SGCR. It actually, I think, worked pretty well. My time in Washington began before the budget restrictions of the Clinton administration had come down tightly on them, and so they all knew that to get any more money, they had to be doing things cooperatively. I was suggesting things, and we did get to suggest some possible increments for doing research, including for some for modeling, social sciences and some other areas. The proposal, however, got cut in half by the administration (i.e., OMB) and then cut further in half by Congress, so the increment wasn't so much by the time it came through. But at least we did start looking closely at program priorities.
With respect to priorities for U.S. modeling, one of the questions that came up at the time was that the Hadley Centre was getting going, and it was an impressive entity. So, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) asked, “Well, how do we compare?” So, a report was prepared. I talked with those leading the efforts at GISS, GFDL and NCAR and then also Livermore’s PCMDI about the affiliations of their people, where they got their money, how it worked, etc., and we at the USGCRP Office put the information together for GAO. It turned out if you're just focusing on the large-scale climate modeling part of the national modeling program — so not all of NCAR and not all the other things that GFDL was doing — you had to add together all that GISS was doing, all that GFDL was doing, all that NCAR was doing, and all that Livermore was doing to get to what the budget was at the Hadley Centre. That was an eye-opener, and we went “Holy Toledo!”
Our centers were really not coordinated in any way. In proposing more money for this part of the USGCRP program, I wanted it to go out to the different centers so that each could do with the funds as they saw fit because each of them faced a different problem. For example, at GFDL, they had mainly civil servants, and so they wanted to apply their money mainly to get some more students involved, and they wanted also, I think, more resources for computer time. At NCAR, they needed support for their more distributed kind of modeling effort. At GISS, Jim Hansen was so frustrated at having to share computer resources with other people that he had his own Sun workstations and was running his model on them. Even though they were slower, he could run his model faster because he had complete control of the time on the computers. So, Jim’s problem was that he had civil servants that covered some areas of the modeling effort, but had to find ways to build the links. If the model didn't have an adequate sea ice parameterization or something, he needed to find somebody to do that. So, he needed support. So, my view was to give the money to each group — and Gates was sort of separate at PCMDI. Eventually what happened was all of the modeling increment got put into resources for computer time at NCAR, and then different people in the academic community could apply and get it some and NCAR could get some, etc. But I wanted it to go out in roughly equal shares to the four different major groups so that each of them could figure out how they could best use it to build up their program. But for various reasons, that was not a prevailing view. So, as a modeler, I’d gone to Washington to try to do something about enhancing the overall modeling effort and I didn’t get that part accomplished.
Also, since there were so many types of modeling problems and questions, I wanted to have regular meetings of these leaders and say, “Look. There’s this set of problems that we have to get covered. We need to have at least one center doing each of these different problems. If there is more than one, I don’t have a problem with it. I’m not going to tell you exactly how to do it or anything, but we want to make sure we cover the full range of issues and that you know what else is going on and maybe think about that in making your choices.” We never really got that going either or indeed any type of coordinated activity. I mean modeling centers are pretty distinct places — they each have their own culture of how they do pursue modeling, and it’s really great on the creative side. Now with so much computer power, the ability to undertake modeling is sort of spread differently and lots of people can make use of each model, but the US effort wasn’t anything like what the Hadley Centre was doing, which was too bad, at least in some sense.
I remember in this period in the mid ‘90s there were writings in Science, for instance, about the crisis in U.S. modeling, that the U.S. was falling behind. Was this the general feeling in the community? How was it viewed?
Yes, I think it was the general feeling that we were falling behind. We had been leaders and we were falling behind. We were falling behind first in terms of weather forecasting because the European Center for Medium-range Weather Forecasting had been funded at a quite significant level. They’d been provided lots of resources and big computers and had a lot of groups feeding their research into it and everything like that, and so US weather forecast models were clearly behind, and the forecast accuracy was less. So, we were certainly behind in the weather forecast community. Similarly, in the climate community, when you looked at how the Hadley Centre was able to have a really coordinated set of efforts going on — I mean in pulling some people from universities — they had much more resources and a closely coordinated research effort.
Now, it was recognized that the U.S. had an awful lot of strengths out in the university community working on process-oriented research, and these other centers in Europe were picking up on all their progress. I mean they were benefiting from that. It’s not like scientists hold or should hold their research close — it’s all published and available. So, the U.S. role in advancing understanding was much more in carrying out a wide diversity of research and helping make the whole effort go forward. But the Hadley Centre, because of the way its research was feeding directly into IPCC assessments and other evaluations and the runs it was doing were getting all the publicity. It was well deserved. The Hadley Centre was doing lots of very good simulations that we weren’t doing.
Now Jim Hansen was sort of keeping going on these things and doing really great research on the strengths of feedbacks that was excellent. The U.S. was gathering information and observations on cloud-radiation linkages, and Hadley was doing innovative simulations as well… and so they were part of that effort. So, each U.S. group had some areas where it was very strong and was sort of up with the cutting edge. But across the board, the collective U.S. modeling efforts weren’t doing as well. So yes, that was really true.
The question was so how to do something about that? That’s part of, I think, why DOE did not to want to have another modeling center at Livermore, even though the kind of coupler that NCAR finally developed was similar to what we had been working on, I don't know, five years before that. NCAR’s effort had thus eventually come to the kind of coupler we had developed and adopted because, in part, some of the scientists who were involved in the Livermore effort joined the NCAR teams. I mean those of us at Livermore were really doing good research. So, we at Livermore had really good modeling and capabilities.
It turned out we at Livermore had had problems getting the UCLA model really going well on massively parallel computers. While we had had some problems, but we had some really good elements of that eventually fed into what NCAR ended up doing, which has now become, I think, very successful. So now US modeling efforts are doing pretty well. I know the Hadley Centre scientists have sort of complained about how controlled they are in terms of which runs they have to make and all the various analyses. I mean they’ve done some wonderfully interesting things and it’s great. Now there’s sort of more flexibility. I also think that PCMDI has helped in trying to promote intercomparison of models and shown what’s going on, so a lot’s happened since the early 1990s. For example, the Japanese put together a fantastic computer system. They picked up some of their modeling capabilities from other places and what they learned about making insightful simulations. But if you were to look at the type of impacts that are going to happen, tropical cyclones is what Japan’s got to be most worried about, and to do that, you have to have a very high resolution model to do that. So that they went off and concentrated on that, well, they’re doing it to meet their needs. We tried to try and say, “Look, we’ve got to do the things that meet our needs because other countries aren’t going to necessarily run the problems that are going to be of most concern to us in the U.S.” Like what’s going to happen in the Great Plains in the agriculture belt or something like that is going to be a really huge issue for the U.S., and yet it’s still not being looked at closely enough by some of our modeling groups of looking at warming the Arctic and how that affects gradients and what that did to weather in the U.S. In my view, there are some university people looking at that, but it’s just not getting done enough attention given its potential importance.
What President Clinton did when the budget tightness came on in the mid-1990s, what he did, to his credit, was he didn’t cut the budget for USGCRP research, but he did keep it level dollars so researchers were having to eat the costs of inflation, and that went on for 5-6 years. When President Bush came in, he tried to say that was what he was doing, but he was playing so many games [with the budget] that he wasn’t doing that. He basically started counting things in the USGCRP total that we didn’t count before. When I was head of the office, we had good track of what the agencies were doing and what they counted. They might change the name of a program from this to that. We would figure out what they had done. We had a budget analyst who was from NASA, and NASA’s budget involves more complications than most agencies. So, he was pretty good at helping spot and explain these different budget actions. But that all got dropped when Bush came in and when I left the office. I was head of the office, for the whole USGCRP Office, for four years, and that was the end of my Intergovernmental Personnel Agreement, and so I was supposed to return to Livermore. But the SGCR leaders said, “Oh, you’ve got to stay!”
At the time, I was getting frustrated because the program leaders, basically agency staff selecting and managing the actual research contracts and awards, the Jay Feins [Jay Fein was head of the atmospheric section of Geosciences at NSF] and the other agency experts, really had a good idea of what should be done. But what the leaders were saying is, “We’ve got to ask the National Academy of Sciences for their recommendation.” I had been working with the agency program leaders. We had been trying to put together the 10-year research strategy for advancing the USGCRP, and the SGCR leaders said, “No, we’re going to ask the National Academy.” The National Academy committed to prepare a short report, 60 pages in 60 days or whatever it was, and it would identify the needed highlights of the research effort. Their report was supposed to be the opening part of what our strategy would be, about a vision looking ahead at what would be accomplished and its significance. Well, the National Academy took two years, and their report ended up at 900 pages long. I just thought that was so crazy because they were focusing down in the minutia that the academics can tend to get down into instead of some of the big, over-arching issues. So, I was ready to go back to California.
But, the SGCR leader said, “Well, come lead the National Assessment,” and I responded something like, “What are you thinking about this?” I’d been pushing, being an assessment is required by law to do. They indicated that only have eight of the agencies would be participating because two of them really can’t participate. But we’d have eight of the agencies, and then we’d be going to do a number of regional assessments. As it developed, we sponsored workshops in 20 regions, and then we organized five sectoral teams and it all came to be overseen by a federal advisory committee and I was going to have to make all of this work, again without really controlling the money. This U.S. National Assessment activity was a very interesting project. I really enjoyed working to focus on the potential impacts of climate change. I think we accomplished a lot. The Administration is only now [13 years later] getting to redoing a comparable or more comprehensive assessment, and they still struggled to be as extensive at outreach this time as we were that time. So, we had a really fantastic time doing that one. So, I very much enjoyed doing that.
One of the things that I would like to hear from you, as you have been involved in the IPCC and in the U.S. assessments, is about the various assessments that have been made, going all the way back to CIAP. How has the thinking about these changed, how has the structure changed? What were the aims? How are they supposed to address issues that are important to politicians, et cetera, and still keep in touch with the scientists doing it?
Well, yes. I think, for climate change, that the President’s Science Advisory Council report, done in 1965, was the first real, integrated kind of picture that drew it all together in an interesting way for political leaders. The next one that came up was on the supersonic transport, and there was a great deal of public controversy. It was interesting that they went to ask the scientists about what to do; the Department of Transportation (DOT) stepped forward and funded the effort. I guess over at DOD that there were all kinds of evaluations going on separately, sometimes related, sometimes not. But the transportation aspect was interesting. Alan Grobecker was leader of the DOT effort and an interesting fellow. He was given the charge to get answers to all the questions and to put out interesting and informative reports. He was given a lot of flexibility about how to do that, so he could go out and fund research by many groups. That assessment was not like the later IPCC process, the leaders of which can’t really fund research. Grobecker could go out and he would fund a bunch of different people and expect them to be there at his conferences and to offer their views. Other experts could come to the conferences as well, and sometimes there were experts from other countries coming. So, he was a very open kind of person, and he did a lot to start the evaluation of potential consequences to stratospheric ozone and related impacts and get that going. He promoted that issue over time, and the Department of Transportation carried that program on stratospheric ozone on for quite some time, even though people sort of asked, “Department of Transportation?” I mean, it’s not a traditional scientific research agency, but it did get and keep a lot of research going. It led to HAPP, the high altitude pollution program after that was created after CIAP, and NASA got very interested in the issue of stratospheric ozone and other agencies got interested as well. But researching stratospheric ozone was an effort where, to do it well, required a lot of funding to support a lot of groups. For both the CIAP and the later international ozone assessments initiated by NASA, they organized author teams to cover subjects, much like IPCC has also done.
The National Academy has also done prepared many studies all along, also doing some wide-ranging assessments. Its big climate change one was in 1981, I think. It was a report titled The Changing Climate.
It was ‘83 with Nierenberg and Revelle and…
Yes. Well, it may have been published in 1983, but I think the process started in in 1981.
Yes. That was an interesting assessment. The Academy of course doesn’t pay anybody for anything. [Laughs] Now some people can go out and do some research, but it’s really summarizing the research and having discussions about their significance. The NAS has a pretty internal review system as opposed to the very open system of the IPCC. The one for the Department of Transportation was also pretty open. I mean there was no Internet and so the review was all done by exchanges of written drafts, but the process ran a pretty wide open system for getting comments and considering them. The Academy tends to be pretty narrow in its solicitation of review comments, and in that way can sometimes, in my view, make mistakes in their recommendations [e.g., in how they analyzed some of the problems such as how agencies were having to deal with declining budgets] because it just doesn’t always get a broad enough set of inputs. But they do scientific analyses pretty well.
So, then the later [in 1985] came the Department of Energy State-of-the-Art assessments. Their approach was to appoint a couple of scientists as editors and then have them go out and choose convening lead authors (CLAs) and rely on the editors and CLAs to get the assessment done. The assessment had a review carried out by AAAS as the independent organization organizing the review, and they asked a lot of questions on many points. That was a very helpful process. The participants also knew the SOAs were going to get a lot of exposure. That assessment was mostly carried out by US authors. We did have Wigley and Jones and some others involved, so we did have a few from outside the U.S.
But I think it was those series of assessments that were starting to go on around that time that led to the WMO/UNEP meeting in Villach, Austria, which basically said concluded we could no longer rely on the past as a guide to the future. That meant, as people were thinking that if all the countries were going to be acting together and thinking together, that there had to be some sort of international assessment carried out. I think that was sort of a starting point of working toward the formation of the IPCC. There’s a lot of different people who claim they involved in the start of IPCC, including Zichichi and those at the Erice meetings. But there were a lot of different starting points, and there was quite a process to get to the IPCC structure with Bert Bolin of Sweden really being the leader and driving force.
So, IPCC has been a learning experience. All assessments are learning experiences. I think the first of the IPCC assessments that I was involved in was mainly as a reviewer. When the Department of Energy received the drafts, they sent them out to its labs and asked for comments. We (at Livermore) turned in our comments, and I was involved mainly that way. But by 1992, having done so much research on climate, I was the scientist who went to the meeting in Guangzhou in China as part of the U.S. delegation, being one of the few experts they took along. The 1992 report was sort of a partial one covering only a few subjects, but that was the lead-in report for the Rio conference, so it was done for the Earth Summit conference.
By 1995 and the Second Assessment, I was back in Washington as executive director of the Office of the U.S Global Change Research Program. Now, I was also still interested in science and doing the science, so I had sort of a mixed set of activities I was working on. I think that was the assessment, I’d have to look it up to be sure, but I think that was the one where when the first draft came in and Santer was Convening Lead Author of the detection-attribution chapter, I wrote so many comments about why I didn’t like it that they made me a contributing author. [Laughter] So sometimes if you write too many review comments that can happen. I was watching that chapter pretty carefully because I was really interested in it, and I was interested in Ben and his chapter because we’d hired him at Livermore and I had supported him earlier.
But I was also responsible for helping coordinate the U.S. government review as the head of the USGCRP Office. The State Department is the official U.S. member of the IPCC, but they didn’t have the staff to carry out a full review. So, they turned responsibility over to the Global Change Research Program, and the participating agency program leads indicated that they did not want to do it. So I became the person who was to help make it happen with for the U.S. government — I was always on assignment from the University of California and I was never a government employee, always being on assignment [that way, if I fouled up, all they could do was send me back to California], So, as part of the review, I could offer thoughts and criticism and then we also had a person, a leading expert, in the area from the agencies who would help be the front person for the government review, but we in the Office of the USGCRP had to make it all happen.
So, for each chapter, what we did was to get an agency program manager to handle each chapter. We had a multi-part review process, and each country was able to structure their review on their own. We did it our particular way. So, the program manager was responsible for getting roughly ten scientific expert reviews of the chapter they were responsible for. As experts, the program managers knew the area covered by the chapter they were responsible for, so it might be Jay Fein in charge of review of the modeling chapter — to get ten experts to really give them their comments. So that would happen. We also sent the draft chapters out to each of the agencies, and the agencies could do whatever review they wanted to, so some would send it to their labs and others review internally. Then, as a result of what happened actually in review of the 1994 special report that was done, we were asked by a corporate entity that said, “Well, how come the IPCC will send the draft to private organizations that are accredited to it,” the Global Climate Coalition [representing quite a number of industrial groups that generally downplayed the problem of climate change] being one example, “and we can’t get access to the drafts just because we’re interested but we’re not involved in that way?” So, thinking about the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act, we could think of no reason whatsoever, so no answer to the query, and so we decided we would make the drafts available through the Federal Register so that anybody could request a copy for review. So, we published a notice about that in the Federal Register.
Well, it turned out, of course, that we didn’t do citizen checks on people who asked for copies, so we didn’t know who were citizens of this country [i.e., the U.S.], and this would actually not have been easy as the present political debate on immigration indicates. So, there are all kinds of foreign students and experts over here legitimately. So, if they were to ask, we weren’t going to try and check citizenship on this their request. So, that meant that basically anybody in the world could have access to the draft report. Requesters could be a foreign scientist who was over here or they might be an American scientist working abroad. How were we to know? So, we distributed a lot of copies of the draft chapters. Given its restrictive policy on the drafts, that upset IPCC a little bit, but we said essentially, “Hey, we’re allowed to do the review our way, and we’ll do this wider review at the last stage.”
So, we got all these comments back and then integrated them. Since I paid so much attention to some of the program managers around, the agencies knew they could say things really forcefully and that I’d edit it out or make it more diplomatic, and some would seem to just tweak me by putting in really wild comments. But we took all kinds of comments, and so they were not just from scientists, but we’d get some from interested experts in corporations as well. Some of the comments were not about technical issues. They would misinterpret things, and we figure out how they could misunderstand a point because the author just didn't phrase the point well. Or some of the comments would note that the IPCC authors were not addressing the views of Lindzen and what he was saying, and we would send in a comment that they really did need to address Lindzen’s criticisms. We did not indicate that they had to agree with him. We were not telling the IPCC authors what to say. We didn’t have a government position on what the science was saying. The authors were the experts, but we could say that they express a position on some points. And we could suggest to the authors what needed to be covered and whether the explanation was clear or not.”
So, one of the issues that came up, as you know, in IPCC’s Second Assessment Report was Santer’s chapter. We were a little unhappy with the near final draft of his chapter — not in terms of the science but in terms of the jargon. Basically, what was happening was the chapter would say, essentially, that “We cannot convincingly demonstrate that human activities are changing the climate.” Well, stripped of jargon, that meant that they couldn't get 95% statistical significance on a finding that human activities were changing the climate, and our view was, if that’s what is meant, say it. Don’t say it in this other way because what was happening was the Global Climate Coalition was taking that text out of context and presenting it as an indication of there being no indication at all of a human influence, so putting the text out to the press and indicating that the words indicate that they don’t know what they’re talking about with respect to whether there is a human influence. So, we were very worried about use of jargon, and that certainly came up even in the final comments into the review process and we were urging Ben to work on that. I think a lot of this language actually came from Tim Barnett, who was one of his co-authors whom I also knew really well. But I’d say, “Look, you’ve got to explain that phrasing, and explain that it’s the denominator that you’re having trouble with. You don't know what the natural variability was because we don't have measurements that go back before human activities. So, you’re having to estimate noise and variability and mean values and everything from proxy data for which we only have limited observational data sets.” So, Ben was starting to move in the direction of the fingerprint approach looking for patterns in the changes in climate, and that was relatively new research that came up toward the end of the chapter development. But most of the problems and concerns, in my view, related to the presence of jargon in that chapter.
So the overall IPCC review process went pretty well. There was some confusion over what terms to use to express uncertainty through the Working Group I report and then across the set of three Working Group reports. One of the interesting things at that time was particularly interesting. So, Working Group I expressed its conclusion that the range in temperatures change for 2100 was going to be some range of numbers, whatever it was, two to seven or eight degrees or whatever it was — it had a pretty wide range. Well, I also sat in on the review by the U.S. Government of the Working Group III draft report, which was coordinated for us by Joe Stiglitz, who later won the Nobel Prize in Economics and is now at Columbia. The WG III estimate of the economic costs of the impacts of climate change was 1 to 2% of GDP. So, Richard Moss, who was mostly involved with Working Group II, the impacts and social science assessment, and I were in the meeting and we basically said, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. For the physical science results, IPCC gives a range of possible warming two to seven degrees. That’s a quite wide range. WG III is saying their range is only one to two percent. Where did this come from? Did the authors do the same statistical type of analysis that Tim Barnett and everybody was doing in WG I?” The answer was, that, no — there have been two economic models run, the Nordhaus model and somebody else’s model. For a three-degree climate sensitivity, one model got one and another got two per cent, so the range used is one to two per cent. We went, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute.” [Laughing] “Okay. That may be your tradition. Maybe that’s how you do your uncertainty calculation, but that's not our tradition. So, the WG III report really, really needs to explain how the narrow one to two percent range was derived, what it is, how you do all of it. We’re not going to say you change the conclusion, but we’re going to say it has to be explained.”
So, Richard Moss and I pushed hard on really explaining how uncertainty estimates were being derived. Our concerns later contributed to the convening of a workshop sort of in the mid, latter half of the 1990s at the Aspen Global Change Institute to try and look at this whole issue and prompt IPCC to move toward its lexicon, that is, a more structured and defined lexicon. I’m not ecstatic about how they ultimately decided to do it, so, for example, where they say 67% to 90% is “likely.” I mean, I think they should be saying “likely” means a likelihood of more than about two out of three or something similar so that they have some softer edges on their ranges. But they’ve chosen to be precise.
I should say this issue came up in our U.S. National Assessment, which we did after the Aspen workshop. We were trying to figure out an approach to use to express uncertainty about potential impacts. We first considered the lexicon that the Weather Bureau uses when they say chance of showers and use other such expressions. it turns out that, at the time, they ran an ensemble of 12 or 20 models as an ensembles set of runs, and so they can generate some statistics and they actually pretty tightly define their terms, for example, they had a term for outcomes between 45 and 55%, etc. We sort of realized that, on impact studies, we wouldn't have that statistical basis for making judgments, and research results would not be precise enough. There were also review comments on our draft from — well, I was making some, but also from the American Petroleum Institute and others — making the point that we couldn’t possibly establish the difference between a 66 and 67% likelihood as was required if one used the IPCC WG I formulation. So, if you look at our diagram used to give an indication of what specific words mean, it looks like a set of fuzzy pillows. It reflects a sense that we could indicate the likelihood was about this or that. I actually wish that IPCC would use somewhat fuzzier definitions for their lexicon, but they have chosen to stick to what they’ve got.
So, I think there was a real advance about how best to express uncertainties between the Second and Third IPCC Assessments, and they also started having review editors because they wanted to ensure attention was paid to all review comments. Then, going from the Third to the Fourth Assessments, they sort of had to go through the process again of how best to express uncertainties, and do so even more intensely, and they eventually went to their two-dimensional matrix that also gives an indication how confident the authors are in their analyses, which is interesting. So, for the Second and Third Assessments, I was coordinating the U.S. government reviews. For the Fourth IPCC Assessment, I was a review editor.
One of the things that happened in the Third Assessment drew particular attention — I guess I should go back and talk about the problems in each of the assessments; indeed, IPCC has had an instance in each assessment where it almost froze up the IPCC. It’s been different issues in different assessment. There was one early on, I think, in the First or Second Assessment. I think maybe it was the First Assessment where an author for a chapter in the WG III report presented the imputed value of a human life to try and convert to the cost of impacts. So, for an individual living in the developed world, they came up with $1.2 million whereas for an individual in the developing world they came up with $200,000, and the choice affected which set of nations would experience greater costs — well, the formulation of the analysis felt so inequitable that it led a whole bunch of prime ministers to not participate in various meetings. The apparent unfairness was a big deal, and there were sit-ins in the author’s office in the U.K. Then, in the Second Assessment, Santer’s chapter ended up being the cause of a lot of controversy. In the Third Assessment — well, there was actually another one in the Second Assessment — where in evaluating the potential for renewables, there was a reasonable assumption made that their cost efficiency would improve over time. But for fossil fuel combustion, there was an assumption of no improvement in performance/cost efficiency over time, and the U.S. Department of Energy basically said the U.S. had to vote not to accept the chapter. The issue went to the final WG plenary and led to a committee being appointed to resolve that issue and present the result at the final IPCC plenary on the whole process.
So, in the Third Assessment, we put the draft chapter through our review process. One of the checks that we had in our review processes occurred when the final version came back, so just before the final WG plenary. What we did was send the final revision back to the ten scientists that we’d had review the previous version and asked whether the authors had been responsive to their comments? The reviewing scientists would normally indicate that they did and they were okay with the final version. For one chapter, however, we got a letter back from seven prominent U.S. glaciologists: Richard Alley, Bob Bindschadler, Mark Meier, all these important experts — saying the U.S. should reject the chapter on sea level rise. No country had ever rejected a chapter, and we go, “Holy Toledo!” Their concerns were quite specific; for Richard Alley, who is an expert on Greenland, he basically said that the authors are basically saying that as Greenland gets warmer, there’s going to be more snow on Greenland. However, if you do a correlation coefficient between temperature anomaly in the Northern Hemisphere and snow amount on Greenland, you get a negative correlation, not a positive one. It’s the wrong sign. Bindschadler said for the Antarctic, we’ve got these ice streams that are going much faster than we can explain. We don't know what’s happening. The authors, however, have relatively high confidence in their findings. Where are they getting this? So, we had some very serious comments on the chapter from real experts in the field.
So, the program manager who was coordinating review of that chapter for us was Jim Titus from EPA who has done a lot on analysis of the potential for sea level rise. So, Jim and I arranged to the chapter’s Convening Lead Authors, John Church and Jonathan Gregory, at the AGU meeting in San Francisco in December of 2000. The plenary was going to be in January. We said, “We’ve got a problem and you’ve got a problem. We’ve got a problem that we don't want to have the U.S. vote not to accept the chapter, but we’re being strongly urged to do this. You’ve got a problem that you’re apparently not representing the views of the scientific community, which is what you’re charged to do. So, some revision or clarification needs to happen.” So, by the IPCC plenary in Shanghai, they had come up with some changes in the chapter and throughout the WG I’s report to better deal with this issue of uncertainties. If you go back and read the IPCC’s Working Group I report for the Third Assessment, you will see some very strange phrases in some places. For example, in the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) where they have the diagram showing the future temperature going up and they also a plot showing sea level going up, reading along in the caption it says something like, “The estimated sea level rise does not include the effects of the dynamics of the ice sheets,” and a natural reaction might be, “We’re telling a policymaker that the results don't include dynamics.” They likely don’t have the foggiest idea what that term means or its significance, but the uncertainty is mentioned in there.
Now, what happened was that the U.S. agreed to the edits because the chapter had a range for sea level rise by 2100 of from, what was it, 9 to 89 cm or whatever it was. That is a huge range, and so the authors were accounting for and indicating what the uncertainties were, even though the cause of the uncertainty based on the chapter was mainly due to uncertainties in the storage of water on land and the expert scientists we had heard from were concerned about uncertainties in ice build-up and ice flows. But we (the U.S. delegation to the IPCC plenary) agreed that we would go along with the edits in the SPM, and there were similar phrases in other places. But, not properly treating the dynamics of ice (i.e., not doing the motion of the ice), well, that uncertainty came to the fore in the Fourth Assessment, and it’s still not resolved and agreed how to express it. So, this controversy all came up in the Third Assessment with the authors and the expert reviewers. We did get the chapter authors (Church and Gregory) to write a letter back to the expert reviewers saying what they had done and responding to the specific comments, but it was a very close call about what was going to happen and the concern that the chapter’s conclusions were actually too confident on their projection of sea level rise by 2100. But the range did go up to about 90 cm.
So, when the Fourth Assessment came out, of course, everybody was hoping that this uncertainty about the dynamics of ice sheets would have been addressed. I was a reviewer at the time, as were others, and there was just tremendous discussion about the sea level projections in the Fourth Assessment, which appeared in the modeling chapter. The summarization of the literature was done again by Jonathan Gregory, looking primarily at model projections. There were a lot of complaints about… you know, scientific criticisms of it. What Susan Solomon [co-chair of IPCC’s WG I for the Fourth Assessment] ended up doing… Well, first, a bit of background. I’d sort of been in on discussion about her getting nominated by the U.S. to serve as co-chair of WG I for the Fourth Assessment because, recognizing she was a NOAA employee, we wanted to make sure the arrangements would ensure she would be independent. Susan’s a pretty independent person, so she was nominated and selected [but it was agreed her WG leadership would be based in Boulder rather than Washington DC]. But, with respect to her leadership of WG I, I think she sort of made sure, following the traditional scientific approach, that every conclusion in the report would be rock solid. So, the draft chapter basically said, again, that the projected rise of sea level did not include the ice dynamics term, although they gave a little account of that term. But this issue, that is, of how the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets were (or were not) moving, goes back to the Third Assessment. I mean, the IPCC was having a real problem with providing a quantitative projection for that. So, the handling of this uncertainty was very interesting, in both the Third and Fourth Assessments.
So, the IPCC WG I plenary for the Third Assessment Report was in Shanghai in January 2001. I think it was the 18th to the 21st or something like that. The plenary consideration of the text went down to the last moment, being approved on the night of what was, in Shanghai, the early morning of January 21st at about 1 a.m., which was 12:00 noon January 20th in Washington, D.C. — the exact time when George W. Bush was getting inaugurated as president, and everybody was wondering what was going to happen right at that time. It turned out nothing, and so the IPCC WG I draft report was approved. The report’s findings were really interesting. But there was a lot of controversy about the projections of sea level rise. But again, it was a question of (I mean, I tried to keep everybody focused on) the science, and we tried to keep it so that the U.S. government didn’t have a position, except that the report had to represent the views of the scientific community and cover things responsibly. With the new Administration, we tried to keep the review process and that philosophy of science being the driver going, but they didn’t have similar leadership at OSTP, I guess… They became more interested in the process than they were in having an independent scientist like me offering comments as well as being part of the U.S. government review process. For example, I sent in independent review comments on the WG II or II reports, and the diplomat over in the State Department who was coordinating the IPCC process for the State Department got all upset at me. “What are you doing sending in independent review comments? You’re supposed to be representing the U.S. government.” I said, “No, no, no. I’m supposed to… I’m a scientist, too, and have been all through the series of IPCC assessments.”
So, I think that the IPCC has tried to work harder and harder on the assessments. They’ve got some real problems, however. It’s hard to choose lead authors, and particularly convening lead authors (CLAs). I put in a sort of long set of statements to that international review committee they had. We had problems in, I think it was, the Second Assessment where the CLA for the water resources area was, I think, from one of the countries in Eastern Europe. He was of the view that even though the United Nations was saying access to sufficient water was becoming a problem virtually all around the world, that (and he was sort of a Corps of Engineers mentality) societies could engineer there was around the problem by constructing channels and reservoirs. The chapter’s recommendations suggested engineering the water system could solve everybody’s problem, and, as reviewers, the U.S. review team is, “Holy Toledo!” There were also problems early on in some of the regions that didn't have really strong author teams. In all those cases, what we did, when we could see the problem in the first draft, was to try and find scientists in the U.S. who cooperated and collaborated with the appropriate authors and try and say, “Can we get you to spend some extra effort on helping with this chapter?” When we were reviewing results relating to Latin America, for example, we’d ask ourselves “Can we send people down to help? Can we talk about that issue with them? Can we help in smoothing the English? Can we help in other ways?” So, we tried to help scientists around the world become part of the process. Now it’s great because the scientific community in developing nations has really developed wonderfully through the efforts that have gone on through such groups as the Asia Pacific Network and the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research, and there’s one that Europe has established covering African nations, and, as a result, the author teams from these regions have gotten much stronger. It’s really impressive now.
But the IPCC is also getting scrutinized so much more. I still don't understand how those problems with the Fourth Assessment on the Himalayas got in there, I mean through the review process. I mean that’s just very embarrassing… I don’t think the inquiries ever got to the root of who wrote the text, who put it in, who didn’t review it and take it out. If reviewers in India can’t ensure IPCC gets the area of the Himalayas right when reviewing its report, it’s not doing its review very well. As I said, for the U.S. government review, if we’d been doing it as in the past, we would have had ten scientists reviewing each chapter, and we would likely have had an expert spot the problem. Our experts for different regions often came from the U.S. Agency for International Development. It was people who were really familiar with the areas who would read the draft chapters and comment. These reviewers would only have responsibility for one chapter, so it wasn’t like they had to read the whole volume or large parts of it. I think they would have caught the errors… And, if chapter text indicated that the glaciers were all going to disappear by 2030, how that didn’t make the executive summary and highlights and get criticism, I just don’t understand. So, I don’t know. But one has to realize it’s a process. It’s working through many things. It’s trying hard. The IPCC process gets better and better each time. It needs all of us participating and actually doing reviews, and yet that’s harder and harder in the newer assessments, especially since their review cycles started overlapping. In order to ensure all the WG reports are current, they started overlapping the periods when you’re doing the reviews.
And there is another problem. I think for Working Group II this time, the solution to having problems of not enough reviews the last time was go to from whatever it was, 20 chapters, to 30 chapters. My wife works for the IPCC WG II Technical Support Unit, and so I’m sort of more familiar with what’s happening with Working Group II now than with the other WGs. But it is really hard to get good reviews done on all the chapters that need to get reviewed, and that yet that review process is what IPCC relies on. So, the question of whether the IPCC can switch to a different process [e.g., only updating some of the chapters, relying more on special reports, etc.] that doesn’t try and update everything every time has come up as a question. That was something that we thought about for the U.S. assessment. Could we do that? Could we have centers in places and then each region would update its assessment as it needed to? Then, you would periodically do an integrated look over everything. I don’t know. But there’s got to be some way — having all these people do the writing and reviewing who are mainly not supported to be doing this and not getting support for participating in the reviews and having the review periods overlap such that reviews have to be done quickly is really hard.
Can you tell me more about the U.S. role in the 1990s, how it started and what the reasons behind it were?
Well, I think there’s been a strong sense that you want to have peer review of reports, and you want to have different perspectives. When you have an issue that’s important, you want to make sure you get different views considered. So, I think there always was an interest in having reviews. Now, for the First IPCC Assessment, my understanding is the agencies sort of just did the reviews with their people, so the U.S. government process was mainly an internal effort. Now, I guess I should make clear that there are several IPCC review stages. I mean, the authors are expected to run their own zero-order review by experts in their field, and then they also choose some experts out of the field. Then IPCC does their expert review, and the U.S. would always submit lots of names for consideration and could encourage their participation. Then, after appropriate revisions, the IPCC also organized a government stage review, which the U.S. government would participate in. Now, we (in the Office of the USGCRP) would sort of watch these reviews go on, and some of us were scientists involved in the review process and so we sort of knew how the chapters were coming along, what controversial issues were coming up, etc. Since some of the ideas for organizing the IPCC assessment process grew out of the U.S. running other assessments (e.g., running the international stratospheric ozone assessment) and the U.S. was initially a co-chair of Working Group II, there was a real interest in trying to make sure we had a good review process.
I think early on we recognized that published papers weren’t so strong all around the world, and so there was more willingness to consider gray literature and then use the chapter review process as the way of reviewing the material used, so it was really important to have a strong review process for an international assessment. Not to say that all peer-reviewed literature that is published is right. I mean, it’s not. But there are all kinds of different standards and I think we had a sense that it should be strong review process. Then the question became, as I said after the 1994 IPCC report, which was one of IPCC’s special reports. As I mentioned, after this 1994 assessment we were asked basically to think about having a review process that was more broadly based than just relying on the federal agencies.
I should note that there were a whole series of assessments that we haven't talked about which are the international ozone assessments, which began in the late 1970s. Well, they grew out of the CIAP program on the SST (i.e., the proposed supersonic transport aircraft fleet) when it was realized that chlorofluorocarbons could impact the ozone layer. So those had been going on quite frequently during the 1980s, and the same people who were involved in that assessment process were the designers of what happened with the IPCC, namely: Bob Watson (of NASA), Dan Albritton (of NOAA), and some others.
So this issue of evaluations and assessment carried over across. A lot of U.S. scientists were involved in both assessment activities and had expectations about the needed IPCC review process, but in agreeing on an expanded U.S. review process, we wanted to make really sure that the full range of issues were being covered. There were, for example, differences of opinions on climate change from scientists Richard Lindzen (a professor at MIT) and others, and we wanted, through our review comments, to make sure their views were getting represented. US scientists had done research with the Russians [well, Soviet scientists] about paleoclimate and thought that should get covered — that there were a lot of lessons to learn from paleoclimate about potential human-induced climate change, and the IPCC assessment shouldn’t focus, as was happening a lot, on just the model results. So, we wanted to see if we had a consistency in covering the scientific literature, so we were working, I mean… So, it was an effort, and it was just a decision to ensure that look we got the best scientific review of the IPCC draft chapters. We also wanted the agencies to be involved and do their review.
And, especially for Working Group III, which was talking about energy and technology options, there was an awful lot of expertise out in the energy community among those who didn’t publish papers all the time but have tremendous knowledge. So, if you’re going to communicate with them, you’d better have a review that includes them and you’d better let them see the report. If they don’t feel they’re part of the report process, they don’t contribute. So, we pushed to get those groups involved. The IPCC had this process where professional groups and NGOs could be accredited and so they could become involved in that way. Distribution of the reports was really kind of an amazing process for the Second Assessment (and also, the third one, I guess) in that it was a time before the drafts were routinely put up on the Web by the IPCC. Thus, we and the IPCC WG II TSU that we sponsored, photocopied them and then FedExed them to everywhere, or, in some cases, we used DHL — for example, when mailing to Afghanistan in the middle of the Soviet invasion. It did seem a bit humorous that the TSU was sending the draft chapters to the environmental minister in Afghanistan saying, “Can you pay attention to this?” They did get some reports back. Also, in the U.S., we were not supposed to send mail to Cuba, but our IPCC sent the drafts to Cuba. I mean, there was all this strange mailing going on, and we were just sort of a crazy scientific office making sure things happened. We figured out how to make sure that the work went on, and that the comments came back, and, in general, there were very good questions and criticisms and suggestions that came in.
When Santer’s chapter was considered at the plenary, there were a number of countries that were concerned that the conclusions were reaching too far ahead. They wanted to understand the new pattern-approach being presented, and so Bob Watson’s way of dealing with that (at the time he was chair of the IPCC) was to form breakout groups, so assign a breakout group from the interested delegations to go meet off on the side to discuss the issue. There would be representatives from the involved delegations entering into these discussions while everything else was continuing to be considered in the full plenary. I mean plenaries are crazy, very busy events. In the breakout groups there were experts discussing and explaining an issue and then coming back to the plenary and trying to get agreement on what the wording should be in the SPM. At the IPCC WG I plenary for the Second Assessment Report, the session went until 1 a.m. on the last night in Madrid with no break for dinner. So, we went out to dinner at 1 a.m. That was okay; we could do that. So, that was sort of fun. But it did kind of impose on the time when we tried to go to the Prado [Art Museum] the next morning. Our plane was at noon, and we wanted to go to the Prado. Well, the Prado opens at 9 a.m., so we woke early after going to bed very late and were there at 9 a.m. The Prado is a wonderful museum, and merits spending a long time there. They have these professional guides out front that you can hire, and so we told one we wanted a tour of the Prado. He said, “How long do you have?” and we said, “One hour,” and the guy about died. Then he said, “You’ve got to have more.” We said, “No. One hour. Then we have to go to the airport.” We got a very quick tour of the Prado. [Laughs] We did then get to the airport, but then we got out on the runway in the airplane and it sat there for two hours waiting for air traffic controllers to allow departure. We could have been in the Prado!
But the IPCC assessments are really a fascinating process to try and get through, and when you think that it’s 190-something nations, in principle, that are unanimously agreeing and without dissent… I mean the strange thing in our country is that people think that IPCC is some sort of special green, way-out entity. Nothing that gets 190 countries to agree is cutting edge. I mean it just isn’t. It’s amazing how much the IPCC assessments say given how cautious an organism or organization it is.
One of the things that I’d like to explore more is the way that various industry related organizations, for instance the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), have been involved in all these various efforts in relation to acid rain and then later to climate. Can you talk about some of the experience that you have had, for instance, with George Hidy and Peter Mueller from EPRI?
Well, yes. I think when I was back at Livermore and was asked in 1976 to lead DOE’s acid deposition program, EPRI had a big sulfur research program going; sorry, I don’t remember what its name was. The name of the DOE program was not very clever — Multi-state Atmospheric Power Production Pollution Study (MAP3S). So, we had a program and we were proceeding with it, and we just realized that we might benefit by working with EPRI… I had met George Hidy and Peter Mueller in association with our air quality modeling research in the Bay Area, and so I knew what EPRI was. I guess I should go back to say about what happened in the Bay Area on air quality because my association with them sort of started there.
So, in 1971 or so, having developed an initial version of an air quality model for the Bay Area, we went over to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (at that time the Bay Area Air Pollution Control District, BAAPCD), and eventually our joint project with them and NASA Ames was formed. But the industries, of course, that were going to potentially be controlled were really interested in what was going on and the basis for the modeling. In the mid-1970s to establish the regional air quality plan, what the regional government entity (i.e., the Association of Bay Area Governments) did was to appoint several committees; they had a citizens committee that had all kinds of people representing groups such as the Gray Panthers and this and that. It was a wonderful group. They also had a scientific committee and a liaison with the EPA and its scientific capabilities, and then there was an industry committee. The philosophy was to seek agreement on approaches. Okay, so we had generated a series of model results during the project that ran from 1973-76. We’d run the model for two days — two high air pollution days, and then we ran some cases with various changes in hydrocarbon and/or NOx emissions. So, we created a few additional points, including for a 40% reduction, 20% reduction, 20% increase or some set like that. Now we’d only run the simulations for these one or two days (all the days that we had sufficient data for), and then drew a straight line right through the data points — just a line. Not a band, a line right through them. The analysts figured out they needed, as I recall, a 39.6% reduction in hydrocarbon emissions to meet the National Air Quality Standard for ozone.
It turns out that the air pollution chemistry in the eastern and western parts of the country is different. The peak ozone concentration has been found to depend on the ratio of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, so at the right ratio, there is a peak ozone concentration. In the western U.S., where it’s very dry, there are very low natural hydrocarbon emissions, and so the best way to get the peak ozone concentration down (because the region is on the part of the curve where it’s most effective to cut the hydrocarbon concentration) is to cut hydrocarbon emissions and practice benign neglect toward emissions of nitrogen oxides. Indeed, the model runs indicated that if you cut emissions of nitrogen oxides, it would cause the ozone concentration to go up. Now, EPA’s perspective was based on their thinking about the ozone situation in the eastern U.S. where there’s all this green vegetation and there are high emissions and concentrations of hydrocarbons. In their view, the approach should be to cut emissions of the nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons, so they did not really recognize the different chemistry in the different parts of the country.
So, we had done the calculation, and this was the gist of the policy discussion. They agreed they would aim for a 39.6% reduction in hydrocarbon emissions, and they were going to achieve, roughly, 20% by reducing automobile emissions, 15% by improving manufacturing facilities and refineries and controls implemented affecting stationary sources in the Bay Area, and then roughly 3% by diamond lanes and traffic management practices. After all of this, they had 1.5% to go, and the regional government staff proposed by shifting housing growth in the South Bay where San Jose is to the North Bay up where the vineyards are. That proposal about caused the whole organization to explode apart. We were sitting there as scientists thinking that they are assuming that we know this value of 39.6% within 1.5% — they’re crazy.” [Laughs] To avoid the population shift proposal, some adjustments were eventually made in the other numbers so that they didn’t have to talk about moving the population growth around. The approach to implementation in the Bay Area actually reflected an interesting way of dealing with the uncertainties. The BAAPCD knew they had to reduce hydrocarbons, but really didn’t know exactly how much. The Bay Area District also knew that they could enact only a certain number of regulations at a time. So, what they agreed to do was to start regulating hydrocarbon emissions in cost-effective order. So, they asked industry, we want you to form a group and provide priorities starting with the least expensive to cut emissions; so to say here is where the controls will be least expensive. Then the idea was that the BAAPCD would just work down this list and see how effective reducing hydrocarbon emissions was working in limiting peak ozone concentration until they got to the standard. So, they weren’t going to force industry to do everything at once; they were just going to move incrementally. So, it was a really pretty rational plan.
With industry involved, they naturally asked what the strategy was all based on. So, we had to defend our model results with industry. In particular, we had to explain it to representatives of the key industries. In the Bay Area, there was Pacific Gas and Electric. So big power plants burn fossil fuels. Mainly what their combustion puts out [relating to ozone air pollution] is nitrogen oxides. PG&E wouldn’t want to put out hydrocarbons because that’s fuel, that wastes fuel. So, it’s putting out nitrogen oxides. Then there’s also the Chevron refinery, and the Chevron refinery, of course, leaked hydrocarbons and doesn’t put out any nitrogen oxides. So, PG&E was saying, cutting hydrocarbons is a great strategy; we don’t have to do anything, while Chevron was going to have to do all of the heavy lifting in reducing its emissions.
So, we said, “Okay. Get a team of scientists. You’ve got scientists, chemists, and others, and let’s go over it. We’ll go over the model results in detail.” So, we did. As a result, the industry committee basically came out with a report that they understood the argument; they understood what the rationale was, and it was scientific. Okay, so in the Bay Area, the process started, and the political leaders started approving regulations to reduce emissions of hydrocarbons, and darned if the number of ozone exceedances didn’t start going down. How much of it was coincidence and how much it was due to emissions reductions took a while to determine. But the regulations worked and got the air quite clean by gradually working through that process in a responsible way and by having industry involved.
On the other hand, ozone exceedances in Los Angeles were way over the standard. EPA went in and said, in essence, “We’re going to cut off your highway funding and everything else unless you do this and that,” and the regional air pollution agency basically said, “You’re crazy. We can't do it. If you want to do it [i.e., the drastic cuts in emissions that would be required], you’re going to have to send in the National Guard and do it.” So, they had a very different experience. But in the Bay Area, with the citizen involvement and industry involvement and sticking to the science pretty well, the region really made progress. It was very effective. Emissions were reduced so there were only a few exceedances. I mean the standard allowing one exceedance every year can be broken just because of the atmospheric mixing of higher-level ozone down to the surface, and so the regulations need to be a little more lenient with respect to numbers. But the Bay Area got down to pretty low levels of exceedances, and that made the politicians happy because they were making progress, and the companies sort of realized that gee, we’re being asked to do the things that are the most cost-effective to do: control emissions from paint shops, switch from oil-based paint to water-based paint, seal valves and tanks, etc. — and they did all these things that were pretty inexpensive. It all worked pretty well until they got to trying to control the hydrocarbon emissions associated with the aroma from bakery shops, but other than that, they did pretty well. So, it was actually a very interesting approach and strategy. It became a case study for the Harvard Business School or Kennedy School regarding how to do something with citizen outreach, science, and industry involvement. So, it was actually a very interesting learning experience.
So, we had had contact with industry. EPRI was interested in what was happening there, and so I met these people and had been over to give a talk. So, when DOE organized MAP3S, we started doing sulfur research together, that was just a wonderful opportunity. EPRI was contracting with certain groups, and everyone could get more measurements if we cooperated. To do that, we coordinated our field programs a lot, and that worked very well with both EPA and EPRI. We all got data that we all valued. So, I had a good interaction with George Hidy and Peter Mueller. Well, Peter started I think up at the Department of Public Health in Berkeley. So, this whole study in the Bay Area when we had gotten all these people together, was when I first met Peter. So, it was not surprising that we could work pretty well together.
And I should say in working with agencies, so in coming back to Washington, I learned a lot from my experience with the Global Change Research Program. When you want to do a field program to investigate an El Niño, well, if NOAA can provide ships and NASA can provide data from satellites and NSF can provide aircraft, everybody wins by getting better measurements. So, the scientist sort of like that instead of having stovepipe — that is, one agency — field programs. So, I was able to propose cooperative, inter-agency efforts. And, agency program managers are just like everybody else. They like a pat on the back, and if you have scientists happy because they’re getting all this data, they can cooperate on projects, then they pat the program managers on the back. [Snaps fingers] Things are great. So, things can work. You know, it was coming up with those kinds of lessons that helped me make my time with the Office of the USGCRP work.
So yes, I’d had contact with industry and stuff. I mean there were also contacts because of people who were married to people. Bob Watson was married to his wife Elizabeth who was the person who worked for the CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) industry association when they were switching over to alternative refrigerants to deal with stratospheric ozone depletion. So, word gets around. I mean Washington, there’s always word getting around and that had led to those complaints about why some people could get access to the IPCC drafts and some could not: Why can't we see this? We’re involved in this,” and it was then such queries that led us to say, “Okay.”
Now when all the review comments came in for us to consider sending in to IPCC, we had a filtering process. We did send as an appendix all the comments pretty much as they came in, but for the comments that the U.S. government was going to send in, we did an evaluation about whether they made scientific sense. So sometimes people would say, “Oh, this paper says this,” and “Lindzen says this.” Well, we would say, “Well, Lindzen’s argument has to be addressed. You may not have to agree with it, but you have to address Lindzen’s argument.” Or people would misunderstand something and we’d say, “This has to be written more clearly,” or whatever. So, our government comments were integrated, learning from the experience of hearing from everybody.
With respect to soliciting industry comments on the IPCC reports, we had a great relationship. In fact, Chuck Hakkarinen at EPRI saw us sending out all these hardcopy versions of the drafts, and I think he was the first person to put the chapters up on the Web as part of our coordination with some of these industry groups. EPRI basically said, “We’ve got a whole bunch of people in industry that want to review the draft report,” and we said, “Okay, we’ll tell you what we’ll do. The first day it comes in, we’ll make a copy, we’ll give it to you, and you can distribute it. You can then coordinate all the industry comments and put those into our process. If that’s what you want to do, that’s great. All you have to do is make sure that those who are doing it are technical experts. I mean we don't want a political statement. We want technical input. You’ve got chemists all over the place. So, if they want to comment on the chemistry and radiative forcing, terrific.” So, we worked with them, and so I think Chuck actually was first to put it up on a Web site.
Now making it available in the Federal Register also meant the press could get it. We did try and encourage the press not to quote from the report, but the press for some reason seems to feel that in order to show they actually have a copy of the document, they have to have a quote out of it, a real quote, okay? I mean, my view, and a number of us felt the same way, was it would be great if the press would cover the different chapters. Each of the chapters in IPCC is addressing a different interesting scientific question, and there are a range of issues that come up. If what they wanted to cover was the kinds of issues that come up, these are the people who are looking at it, these are the kinds of discussions they are having, great. But we wanted them not to be quoting from a draft report. They would basically say, “Well, we’ll do something like that, but we have to quote at least one sentence or something.” The problem is that that sometimes gets you in trouble because particular sentences are going to get changed. So that was part of the reason for IPCC saying, “We don’t want you to do it [i.e., make the report generally available]. Why don’t you control it or something?” whereas our view was that, in a global society where you’re sending it out to 600 scientists and 600 private organizations in 190 countries, why are you saying that somebody can’t see this? I mean it’s hard to justify that. Yes, we’d want them to be responsible when they see it. If they have good comments, we agreed we would consider the comments independent of the source. I mean, we didn’t worry about where the comments were coming from. If they had good comments, we wanted to have good comments. So, on Working Group III particularly where the text covers, for example, how cogeneration works and the efficiencies of various processes, that information isn’t always published in the normal literature. But the industry experts know it and they can tell us and we can get all these comments and find out how well technologies are working. And, on various parameters, you can get them to say, even if the precise information is proprietary, “Well, it’s someplace here,” or something like that.
So, given the breadth of what the IPCC report covers, we really valued getting industry input, and there’s been a general view that their input should be sought more. But, we also looked over and tried to help IPCC’s process by making sure it wasn’t just wild and overrun by industry. Now, the Global Climate Coalition was accredited to the IPCC, so they could get their comments in directly without being subject to our filtering. We’d sometimes see their comments. But they could interact directly, and so IPCC had to deal with that. But we tried to be good and get a good range of comments and other input. I saw a real benefit.
One of the things that I am interested in is that in the late ‘80s, EPRI was considering going into climate modeling and got involved with NCAR. As part of this, they tried to get other agencies involved in order to help fund the computer that they were operating.
I don’t recall that we had much specific interaction with EPRI on this. I mean, Chuck Hakkarinen would come to meetings and we certainly invited them. It was great. They were funding computer time for researchers. At Livermore, that wasn’t generally an issue. We had our own computer, so we could pretty much deal with the need for time. There were also issues of classification, classified computers versus unclassified, that sort of changed over time at Livermore. So, we didn't have as much of a problem in terms of the need for computer time as others. So, I think because EPRI was interested in getting certain kinds of studies done and in helping to provide the resources to do that and in finding a modeling group where they could be involved and participate. Chuck Hakkarinen liked to participate in the meetings. He’s got the technical background to do that. He often offered comments and suggestions. He asked good questions and offered constructive comments. It was a different perspective, and it was often a real applications-oriented perspective.
The National Assessment was another place we tried to get the industry involved. It turned out when I was leading the coordination office for that effort between 1997 and 2000, it was a little hard to do because the industry was, or at least a number of the industries were, so worried about the Kyoto Agreement was under negotiation that they were reluctant to participate. Well, there were two concerns. One, they were worried about Kyoto, and so admitting there was a climate change problem and participating in the analysis of impacts was a little bit hard for them. But the second thing was with respect to discussing impacts, they don't want to tell you how vulnerable they are — that’s proprietary information. That’s part of what they need to deal with to compete against others. They don't want to disclose their vulnerabilities. So, we would ask them, “Well, tell us this and tell us that,” and they’d say, “No. We can’t tell you that. I mean that’s our proprietary information.” We would try and get them to at least explain what kind of information they needed? At the time, what they wanted, quite understandably, was information about extremes, how extremes are going to change. That’s of course the hardest thing that science was trying to deal with at the time, and because we did not have much information to offer, there wasn't much industry involvement in our U.S. National Assessment. It’s becoming more now, but all we could do was explain what we knew and didn’t know to them.
Now, sometimes on industry’s behalf, a group like EPRI would come in and sit in, and that was great. You have them there and they could ask their questions and participate. But a lot of particular companies — I heard the representative of one oil refinery company basically say, “We have refineries on the Gulf Coast and on the Atlantic Coast, and every one of our refineries is protected and resilient to a direct hit by a Category 5 hurricane.” I looked at him and said, “Really? You have to be kidding.” He said, “No. We can get the refinery going if a hurricane hits — but getting the fuel from the refinery to where it might be needed, you know because the rail lines are working or this, that may be a problem, but we’d have the refinery working.” I said, “Why? Why are you investing so much in doing this for such a low probability event? I mean that seems a little strange.” The industry representative’s response was basically, “Well, if we’re not up when people need our product, then we lose market share. They will go somewhere else.”
It’s just like there was recently a strike in the U.S. against UPS. United Parcel Service drivers went on strike. So, every business made sure after that that it had at least a little bit of its business going through FedEx so it could ship that way in the event of another strike — all because they don’t want to lose market share. And same with the data streams to and from satellites. If your equipment works off satellite communications (e.g., of charges, etc.), if a satellite goes out, then what do you do? There have been tremendous disruptions when that has happened, so companies try and spread out their resources and linkages.
Thus, it is because of keeping market share that industry wants to know about changes in extremes, and, based on the information we had for the first National Assessment, we couldn’t say much. We learned they’ll come. They’ll listen. They’ll take stuff information. Maybe the umber companies will decide they’ll plant a certain tree because they know ecosystems are changing and switching zones — the paper companies will plant differently or whatever. We’re not going to know all that. They’re not going to tell us all that because it’s all part of what makes them competitive and successful. So, in interacting with them, you have to sort of say, “Okay, it’s hard to get metrics on that and everything, but feel free to come to our meetings. Be involved. Ask questions.”
Yes. Now on impacts. I’d like to learn a little bit more about how the working group on impacts is viewed in the community, how has it developed (e.g. among the climate modelers and those organizing climate modeling). To what extent has the awareness and the understanding of what it is that these other groups will need, how has that developed?
Well, so the U.S. Global Change Research Act of 1990 calls for there to be assessments every four years. There actually had been an assessment in roughly 1989 done by EPA. They chose, I think it was four, maybe six regions of the country and did that. One of those regions was California. So, I was out in California. I didn’t know about their assessment until it came out, it turned out. It turned out what they did was to appoint their own scientific committee. It had 13 people on it, I think it was. One person was from California. It had no virtually connections within the state and it didn’t come out very well. But it was an assessment about how impacts in California might develop.
The Office of Technology Assessment, which was supported Congress until closed down in 1995, had also done some assessments, particularly in the early 1990s. So, the U.S. didn’t really do a comprehensive early assessment. It did, however, summarize impacts for North America by participating in IPCC. The Second Assessment of IPCC divided up the problem by looking at sectors; it ended up needing to be followed by a regional summarization of impacts because, not surprisingly, nations are located in particular places. So, there were some assessments going on. But the U.S. didn’t really pursue an active national assessment during the early 1990s. There was a person whom was a congressional staffer named Rick Piltz on the staff of the House Science Committee who was badgering the leaders of the Global Change Program about not having an assessment underway. When the Republicans took over the Congress in 1994, he got laid off. So, I was at the Office of the USGCRP and I hired him in and I said, “I agree with you. We’ve got to do an assessment.” So, he and I pushed hard from then on to do an assessment.
It didn’t really get going until IPCC’s Second Assessment and the statement that human activities are now affecting the climate, now causing “a discernible human influence.” So, at that point, our pushing led to the pushing ahead for a U.S. assessment. Gore got interested. Jerry Melillo took over from Bob Watson as Associate Director for Environment at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and so the effort got started. The question was how do you do an assessment in the United States? We looked a little bit at what had been done elsewhere. So, it pretty quickly became clear. On one hand, you wanted to do some of the analysis regionally. What was going to happen in different places? That’s where people live. So what matters where people live? That’s how governance works in some sense — regionally determined. But in a national sense, we also realized we wanted to have some sectors to look at and see what could be said. So, we decided we had to do both. We got started a little earlier on the regional efforts, and some in that part of the effort thought they should be the only ones supported and some didn't take too kindly sometimes to sectoral efforts. But we got started. Then, we really needed to have a national integration of the regional and sectoral perspectives, so there was a notion of putting together a national committee — it turned out to have to be a federal advisory committee. So yes, I’d been pushing for an assessment and supporting efforts, and so, when my time as executive director of the Office of the USGCRP was ending, I was going to have to go back to California, and they said, “Oh no, no, no. You stay on. You’ve been proposing the assessment and impact analyses. You have to stay and do it. You help make it happen.” So, the National Assessment Coordination Office was formed.
So, we started off on the regional activities to get that part of the effort going. The first question became so what regions? There’s actually an interesting book called The Nine Nations of North America, which was written by a Washington Post reporter that used to travel around the country. He got a different sense from people in each area: the ecological people and the green-living people up in the Northwest and the people in the Rust Belt and the empty middle. He had all these different wonderful perspectives, and so we were trying to think about how to do that in a more rigorous sense. Well, we first asked, “Well, EPA has regions, so what about those?” But it turns out EPA had different regions than the U.S. Geological Survey than NOAA than the Federal Reserve Bank. Every agency had their own regions, and the each made some sense.
We decided that regions had to be communities of people who sort of think alike, and so we also even thought about defining them by the areas covered by U.S. football conferences because people in football conferences sort of think alike. But in the end, it seemed to end up being regions became defines as groups of states (or parts of states) where people could get together for a one-day meeting. I mean that turned out to be in essence how it came out. So, California was a region — they had the airlines to do this and everybody could get together easily for a one-day meeting. In the Southeast, it was most of the Southeast because of the Governor’s Council, but most people could fly into Atlanta for a one-day meeting. In New York, it was just the metropolitan area because getting across there with traffic was really hard. New England was sort of a region. So, each of them was sort of distinct. We ended up with regions having a wide variety of sizes. [For the sectors it was easier: there are some sectors that are mandated in law and we chose them (out of a much larger set of possibilities).]
But the interesting thing we did, I think, was in starting the regional workshops, we asked the participants to address four questions. The first question was “What are the long-term environmental-related issues you’re dealing with?” So, in very dry areas it was not having enough water or in other areas it was changing land cover. Then the second question had to do with how might climate change make it worse or better or introduce new stresses? The third was about what research needs to be done to give you better answers, and the fourth was about figuring out possible win-win solutions?
Some regions never got beyond the first question. I mean if you go down to the Rio Grande Basin, they have so little water there that their issues are water, water, and water right now. The idea that they were going to be asked to be worried about conditions 30 or 40 years from now was kind of hard to get to. If you go out to the Pacific Islands, which we did have a workshop about, it was El Niño related consequences. El Niño events change the amount of water, the rainfall on particular islands, by very large amounts, so there were islands that, as a result of El Niño, were having to lay off 30% of their teachers or impose 30% pay cuts, because the lack of water and related effects caused a significant decrease in tourism revenues. So, it was very interesting to get all these different inputs and get those facing changing the climate considering these different questions.
I was going to ask you a question. It’s about what people think about the United States; indeed, what is the United States? Well 50 states. Oh well, yes. 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Okay. Oh yes, we’ve got the Virgin Islands. Yes, we’ve got Puerto Rico. Yes okay, we also have control of some islands out in the Pacific. Keep going. It turns out there’s another group that turns out to be over 550 domestic dependent nations, which is how the reservations for all of the Indian tribes are described. So, they’re essentially like states. They actually have the power of states. That’s why they can build casinos if they want and the states can’t stop them. Except for foreign policy, they have considerable independence. So, they’re domestic dependent nations. Europe probably has similar kinds of complications, but the U.S. is really quite complicated. So, one of the assessment regions was Indigenous Peoples, the Native Americans, which happened to, through their reservations, encompass about 3% of the land area of the country, not counting all the land that the Inuits in Alaska control, which is a large fraction of that state. So, the U.S. is very diverse, so the region ones were very important.
Our plan was to have a meeting in each of the score of different regions we identified. Well, we had to get the process going quickly, and so we initially chose to work with groups that had some experience, generally, in the particular regions where we started the effort. The groups were supposed to organize a workshop and go through the four questions, and we had then had a meeting of representatives of all of the regions. One of the interesting things that we had done when I led the Global Change Office had been arranging monthly seminars on Capitol Hill. So, the attendees were mainly Congressional staff interested in climate change, but we also covered related topics. We had one speaker, Dr. Virginia Burkett, who was from the U.S. Geological Survey Wetlands Research Center in Louisiana, and she gave this wonderful talk about the Gulf Coast. My worry listening to her — I mean we’d invited her and I had met and talked with her — was that she wasn’t connecting with people in Washington. So, after her seminar — she gave this nice seminar and everything — I raised my hand and I said, “Well, that’s all very nice, Virginia, but I live in Maryland. Why should I care about what happens on the Gulf Coast?” There was this sort of stunned silence that anybody would dare ask a question like that. After just a moment, she started responding, “Well, where do you think the shrimp come from? Where do you think this comes from? Where do you think all the grain in the country is shipped out?” and her friends started chipping in as well. I was just quietly writing down saying, “Exactly. This is just what I wanted you to say.”
So, we posed that question when we got all the regions together. “Why should we care about what happens in your region?” The New York representative said something like, “Oh, we’re the financial center of the world. We send out all this information.” Each region had all these different answers. The best answer turned out to be from the representative from the Northern Great Plains. George Seielstad simply said, “We grow 80% of the hops, you know for the beer.” [Laughs] But that answer turned out to be particularly interesting because the representatives from New York realized that their region sort of takes in resources and ships out information, and the Northern Great Plains ships out resources and takes in information (e.g., about prices around the world and commodity prices changes). So, the groups really came to realize how interconnected we all are, and so that helped build connections for a really interesting group of people trying to understand climate change impacts.
For each of the sectors we had, we established a team jointly led by a university scientist and government scientist… a lot of the sectors had government departments that felt they were responsible for the area. So, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is responsible for what happens in the forests, so the idea that they should do the assessment as part of an effort jointly with the broader scientific community was hard to accept. But we insisted, “No, it cannot be just a USFS assessment. We’ve got to really have a scientific assessment with credibility, so we’re going to insist that there be a co-chair from the academic community with a co-chair from an agency.” Ultimately, they had to accept that, and it ended up working well. It was good to have that different perspective. For example, the Forest Service didn't really like to say there were problems with forests — it would mean they were not doing their job. The Center for Disease Control didn’t want to admit that epidemics could start or any disease could get out of control, and so it was really good to have an academic chair that was not so restricted.
Then we also had a federal advisory committee focused on national integration. It turns out there’s a rule in the U.S. that if you get any group together consistently to advise, then you have to form an official advisory committee. The process has a bunch of procedures and requirements for open access and broad participation. It all ended up working very well.
I then led the coordination office where there was a small staff that could help coordinate, a couple of people who were coordinating with the regions and sectors. It turned out that, because of federal contract law, the agencies could not give advice along the way on their preferences for what to do, but we could talk to the regional and sectoral teams because we were not federal agency employees and didn’t have control of their contracts, so we couldn’t tell them what to do either, but we could offer suggestions. The agencies were not allowed to do that… If an agency gave them a grant, they couldn’t tell them what to do; that would be a violation of the procedures governing the grant because the recipient can do pretty much whatever they want. An agency could decide they won’t give them another grant, but they couldn’t tell them what to do. If it’s a contract, if an agency program manager tells them what to do, that can be considered a contract modification and might require paying them more money. So, they weren’t allowed to do that. But being in our office, which was non-governmental, we could say, “Wouldn’t it be great if you did this? Or wouldn’t it be great if you did that?” So, our little office of a few of us had a lot of — not power, but a lot of potential influence, and so we could help get the different regions to do some things in common and come together for some of the effort and to discuss their efforts with others. But the idea was that the assessment process would start up and become an ongoing effort, that we would get the regional activities all started and then they would be kept going. The idea was also that they would have the capability to do some research.
Unfortunately, there was no specially allocated money for the first National Assessment, and so how do you make something like this go without money? There was a little money for the coordination office, but not much. We funded it by basically distributing the responsibilities to different agencies, and so to each agency that was participating. We had 25 or 30 tasks. We said, “Okay, pick a couple that you’re most comfortable with.” So, NASA picked regions to support where it had senators who were important to them in Congress, you know, the senator for their budget or something. Or there was a big data center or they chose Texas because the Space Center was there. The Department of the Interior chose the mountain areas and Alaska, and so it was interesting to see how each agency chose. It got them each thinking about their regions of interest. The agency efforts, however, didn't sustain itself through the Bush administration to a large extent, but the overall effort was a really active effort when it was going. It did get a lot of people talking, and so it did encourage support of impact studies pretty well.
When you asked about how the assessments are generally done, there was a meeting convened up in Canada, brought together because they did their assessment differently. They had a very centrally organized effort, and they appointed one person in each region or to do this or that sector. It was just one person as an expert, or maybe two. They were not able to organize workshops and getting extensive public input. Roger Street, who had led their effort organized a meeting where he got people to come from Germany and Australia and the U.S. and Canada and a number of other countries, and we all talked about how we were doing our assessments, how we were working through them. Everyone was a bit different about we handled our regions. We all also had done some sectors. But how we put them together, how we got them going, and how we involved the public were all a bit different. But we learned from each other, and the discussion ended up being pretty productive. It was great. A lot of those involved started their professional lives as part of it.
Now with respect to modelers, which was how your question started. Okay, so one of the questions we had to resolve was what are we going to assume is going to happen to the climate over time? Well, we wanted to use model results, but there were also people who didn’t like using the model results for impact studies. So, what did we want to do? We actually ended up doing it a couple of different ways. In addition to using climate model results, we asked them to consider, “So what would happen in your region if you had another 100 years with the present climate? So how vulnerable is the region? How vulnerable would the region be if the 1930s drought came back, assuming that’s natural? If you’re in the Great Plains, the aquifer is now much lower. So, the water in the aquifer saved them before, but now the water table is much lower so it would be much harder to rely on that for the region to recover. So how one question we asked them to consider how their vulnerability might have changed compared to the past?”
The second approach for evaluating vulnerability and impacts was to use results from some models. There was some of controversy over which models to use because we ended up using, primarily, results from the NCAR and the U.K. Hadley Centre models. We chose not use results from the GFDL model, which had Jerry Mahlman furious. It turned out at the time their model didn’t include a diurnal cycle, and the impacts modelers just said, “We are not going to recalibrate all our approaches and analyzes to use the results of a model that didn't have a diurnal cycle.” We had to tell Jerry, “If you say and insist we use the GFDL model results, we’re going to have to say this and come out and give the reason. We just can't get the ecologists to do it.” Now it turned out that for the Great Lakes regional assessment they ended up using the results from ten models because they had their model all set up and they were mainly concerned with the different rainfall results and runoff coming in the Great Lakes. So, their assessment did use results from the GFDL model, but a lot of the groups didn’t do that. So, we basically encouraged use of results from two models.
We did later get sued for using the results of two models. It turns out that there was an act passed by the Republican Congress — it snuck through in an Omnibus (end of the session) bill — called the Federal Data Quality Act, which was just a few lines long. It said agencies are not allowed to have up on their computer things that are incorrect. Okay, sounds innocent enough, but… This act was prompted by EPA posting some information about what diesel exhaust does to public health. The companies involved in that issue didn’t like the particular studies EPA was relying on and thought the proposed standard should be looser, and so they wanted this act to be passed. So, there were some issues that arose because of the act. So, the lawsuit against our use of results from two models basically said, “Well, you have two scenarios for the future. They’re different, so clearly one of them is wrong.” Now scientists would say, “All scenarios are wrong. We wish we had ten, and they’d still all be wrong. Or 100 would all be wrong,” or something like that. So that was kind of an interesting challenge to what we were relying on.
Now, it turned out the Office of Management and Budget, in implementing this law, had written that, for the purpose of the regulations indicating how the act was to be interpreted, indicated that the word “data” meant something about the past. So “data” were results describing conditions that existed in the past. They also gave an exemption to NOAA regarding weather forecasts as data because they of how they were doing forecasts, namely by relying on data and making relatively definitive forecasts using a verified approach. But they said for all these long-term model simulations we were relying on, that’s not data; that’s just a hypothesis or possibility. They may be fancy hypotheses developed with detailed models, but they are all hypothetical and they are not data. So that sort of quashed that lawsuit. The lawsuit was also not looked on favorably by some of the other entities that had wanted to use it as the basis for a lawsuit anyway because they wanted to sue EPA about past data and did not want an unfavorable ruling ahead of their lawsuit. Of course, we were telling OMB at the time that “Well, if you say that we’re wrong, we’re going to ask that the president’s budget projections be taken down because they’re different from those from the Congressional Budget Office and so are clearly wrong.” So, OMB actually wrote the regulations pretty clearly. But the Federal Data Quality Act did also have some requirements about agencies needed to be careful about where data came from and how review processes had to work.
Yes, so on models to be using, we also didn’t feel we had an appropriate model simulation from Hansen and GISS to use. We also didn’t use results from the NCAR as they had not yet completed the type of simulation that we wanted. So, we used results from the Canadian model and the U.K. model, and we didn’t use results from a U.S. model, and that became an issue. So, some in Congress offered the criticism that we were not using a U.S. model to generate a scenario. NCAR didn’t have its results done in time. They were saying, “I shouldn’t believe the results because of this. The results are from a foreign model,” as if that somehow makes a difference in how the science works. What was fortunate about the results from the two models was that one projection was for a warm and moist future for much of the U.S. and one was for a hot and dry future. So, we basically encouraged our regional and sectoral teams to think about those differences and to consider what would happen if conditions got hotter and drier and what would happen if they became warmer and moister. Some of the detailed ecosystem models did actually run using the detailed climate model results as input.
Then the third type of climate scenario that we asked them to apply was to consider how much change would it take for a particular vulnerability to become important? So, how much temperature change would really be important for the region, or how much precipitation change would be really important? How resilient is the region? So, looking back at the paleoclimatic record for your region, can you say anything about the potential length of droughts or other changes that have happened in the past, that you know are somehow part of the way the climate system can respond? Not many groups were able to do that. Indeed, it was a little hard to figure out how to do it. Granger Morgan tried to encourage the regional teams to put together a 2 x 2 matrix with one-axis indicating a lot of climate change or a little climate change, and the other axis considering, for example, low vulnerability versus high vulnerability for a sector, just to sort of give a sense of what types of combination of factors might be important. But we sort of ran out of resources and efforts and didn't have enough social scientists in there, so this turned out to not get looked at very much.
There was another problem. While the climate modelers wanted to be involved, they had so much else going on they really weren’t providing the outputs of the model results that were needed. So, we actually did hire a sort of post-post-doc to help be the link between getting information out from the models and getting it to people in the format that they needed. IPCC has sort of since taken over that role and has a regional modeling group that can do that, and some of the other modeling groups have also helped in that way. But there was (and still is) a real need for people other than the actual climate modelers to do this because there was a real gap between the impact modeling activities and the climate modeling activities.
As an example, we were getting questions like, “I’m a tomato grower. For tomatoes to set their fruit, the nighttime temperature has to go below 70°F. Is that going to happen?” Well, no GCM modeler is going to be able to answer that question; their models don't have mountains represented, and some of the tomatoes are grown in the mountain valleys. This is not a question can go look for at a particular time — they’ve got a lot of things to do. So there needs to be a whole community of people who are interpreters of the model results. That community hasn’t really developed very well. There are a couple of centers NOAA has funded and groups that can extract results from models and go and do that. In doing this, they may have to go through a regional model. We had some regional models covering some parts of the western U.S., for example, and some of the ecosystem models could interpolate temperatures and account for mountains and different altitudes. But there were some really tough questions that were getting asked. They were good questions, perfectly legitimate questions. We realized it would be very helpful to have someone who could go in and try and look at the model statistics to extract useful information. But the modelers are a little reluctant to give out results that they haven't been in charge of, and that continued up until maybe the lead-in to the Fourth Assessment when the model intercomparison studies really got going.
I know in the U.S., and I think around the world, agencies funded a whole bunch of small analysis efforts to look at the results of models for various situations. How is the monsoon changing? These groups were formed under PCMDI — and Larry Gates was an initiator of the effort. They formed these little groups around the world that would look at particular phenomena or conduct certain diagnoses, and evaluate how well the models could do this and that and the other. That was a very useful effort. They were successfully extracting data from the models. But there needs to be an interface between the climate model developers and the large scale they’re focusing on and the groups using the model results.
Right now, and it’s something I’ve been pushing for since that assessment, is to have more efforts seeking to get at the weather in the models. If you look at what’s happening as a result of Arctic warming, it turns out the most efficient circulation in the atmosphere to get equatorial heat to a cold pole is, perhaps surprisingly, a very zonal circulation. So, if climate change warms the pole and doesn’t draw in as much heat, that lets the jet stream meander more. That doesn’t slow the jet stream down; it will just meander in loops more, and, as it’s looping, it can run into orographic features like the Greenland Ice Sheet or the Himalayas that cause it to get stuck sort of going around one way instead of the other way. So, were we on a flat Earth, the jet stream could sort of continuously change and everything would keep moving. But, because of the orographic and geographic features, we get these blocking events occurring, and this causes there to be more persistent weather episodes and anomalies occurring. That result just doesn’t come out when presenting the 30-year average seasonal results from the models. I mean, that 2010 event in Russia was roughly six standard deviations looking at monthly anomalies, so huge. But if you look at the conditions averaged over the year, it was one standard deviation. I mean, you wouldn’t even see it essentially, and over the summer it was only like three standard deviations or something like that. So, I think we have to get looking more at the perturbations to the weather statistics and get in at these results, but that’s hard to do. The atmospheric components of climate models are just like the weather forecast models, and in some countries, they are the weather forecast models. So, there’s no reason that we couldn’t put out the information about the weather of the future in the same sort of data pipe and form that is used by all the weather forecast community and then we could put the results into their analysis tools and mapping programs. Now, we’re not predicting conditions for a particular day in June of 2034 or some specific data, but if we were to collect ten-day forecasts in a statistical sense for the 2030s, we would get a sense of what the distribution of the weather looks like, and how compares to today’s weather? Jim Hansen sort of did an analysis close to this in his PNAS paper where he looked at changes in the observation-derived distribution of summertime average temperature over land; he got interesting results for the seasonal average — it would likely be even more interesting for analysis of changes in weather statistics.
I remember getting called by a reporter after, I think it was, the IPCC Third Assessment, and he said, “Oh, we’re looking at the Northeast and the IPCC results say there will be more precipitation in the Northeast in the summer. Isn’t that good?” My comment was, “That’s essentially useless information. For example, to a farmer, the real questions are: Did it all come in one rainstorm or not? Did evaporation go up more than precipitation or not? Is the rainfall spaced out in time? Do you have extended dry periods?” I mean it’s essentially useless to tell a farmer the change in the seasonal total to determine if the result will be beneficial or not. So, if we’re going to really do impact studies, we have to be considering lots more information. I haven’t gotten very far in urging this step be taken. I’ve been pushing and trying to find a grad students to explore the question. But we really ought to be looking at the weather that comes out. I mean the models do the calculations, and we ought to be looking at the results. We ought to be able to look at the changes in the weather for any region and see if more fronts occur, if, for example, tornadic fronts that are simulated are occurring further north so that people further north could build safe rooms in their homes to enhance their resilience. There’s just a host of things about downpours and precipitation and what that means with respect to designing water resource and flood protection systems and all these other potential vulnerabilities that need to get looked at. We’re not getting to look at that, and it’s unfortunate.
Another thing that also is often discussed, among some of the other things that have not been fully addressed in climate assessments, is the involvement of social scientists. How have you, for instance, when working with the various agencies funding the various scientific efforts, been able to discuss with them about involving social science more?
Well, that’s been a problem in the U.S. certainly since the very beginning of the USGCRP. We’ve never gotten very far, even though a lot of different things have been tried. Partly it’s because the only funding for social sciences in the U.S. really comes out of NSF, and so it’s university-based behavioral sciences. So, I mentioned earlier that in the early ‘90s, we got a budget addition for the USGCRP, and we had an amount set aside, $6 or $7 million a year, for social sciences research. We knew a lot had to go on as there was virtually nothing going on. I mean it was down at a percent of the overall USGCRP interagency budget and the funds were mainly for a social sciences data center, not really for doing social sciences research. So, it turned out that the way the budget rules were set up, the additional social sciences funding had to be put into the NSF budget, but, the way it was put in, it wasn’t fenced off carefully enough. The first year it was fenced off for social sciences relating to global change, but the second year, there was no fence. So, the money got diverted to study teenage pregnancy. So, how do you weigh using social science research? As a research manager, how do you weigh funding studies relating to building on a long-term change and climate change versus on teenage pregnancy? I mean it was hard to see. So, on the one hand, that was a problem with expanding social sciences research.
On the other, that community really hasn’t seemed to come up with a cohesive program of what they want to do and get funded. The science part of the budget grew because there were scientists wanting to go study El Niño, to put ships and buoys out there, or to launch a satellite, or whatever. The social science research proposals would come in saying something like, “I want to do a survey about how people look at risk,” or something similar. So, it’s very small funding request and there just hasn’t (or hadn’t) been a cohesive program put together. The Department of Energy tried to build a program on economic analysis out of its policy office. That kind of got beaten down by the Bush administration when they took over — the first Bush administration. They then got a little bit going during the Clinton administration, and then the second Bush administration really demolished it. A social science program has also been attempted a little bit by NOAA to try and understand how forecasts and projections are used and what information is needed. For example, their way of going at it was to look at well the forecasts of El Niño were being used? It turns out in the western U.S., the El Niño causes a pretty big signal between what’s happening or not, and so NOAA did the studies as an evaluation of the utilization of their research programs results So they started looking at it, and they had a small social sciences effort going for a while. Then it sort of disappeared. So, there hasn’t been a supportive and cohesive government agency location for sponsoring such research.
Now the National Academy of Sciences (well, really the National Research Council) in every single report seems to say we’ve got to do more research on social sciences, and that’s great to say, but they never seem to suggest where to really house the research. They just don’t say which agency and where. They often do generate a list of questions, but they don’t say which agency and where they should be addressed. If you search around the government, there’s a fair number of social scientists in the Census Bureau, and that’s in the Department of Commerce like NOAA, it turns out, for a very strange reason. They have a lot of demographers and other social scientist, and they fund research in that area. Could applied social science research that’s really directed at getting an answer about how people respond to climate change be done there? They send out questionnaires all the time to the public about this and that that recipients are required to answer, and they get data on employment and lots more.
But again the question is where can such research be done? The Department of Energy could conceivably support social sciences research, but most of their research funds for to building big energy machines, and doing experiments on them, even though what we might want them to do is focusing on projections of demand and supply and what efficiency will do and what policies might work. So, they have some of that type of research. DOE also funds a bit of the integrated assessment model research, but not a whole lot. So, there’s been a real problem figuring out where in government to house social sciences research, where you would find a place where there’s a program manager who was really out to make a strong program out of it, and where it’s going to get supported consistently in the budget process. That’s hard. I mean, the trouble is particular projects can get picked out. For example, Senator Proxmire used to pick out projects that were getting funding, often selecting poorly named social science research projects. There was one in one of the agency budgets that was about learning about how the songs of birds changed with the climate; while the proposals have interesting applications, often a poorly chosen name could cause them embarrassment. There was also a program about sex between crayfish. Oh, Proxmire had a field day with that. Well, that project turned out to have to do with the survival of a huge industry in Long Island Sound or New England — basically the project was about understanding how to sustain the crawfish industry. It was really an important study, and yet it got mocked as being silly. So, in practice, there have been real problems getting social science research going.
We also had a real problem during the National Assessment in finding social scientists to work with our project teams. We had one social scientist who was very good, Prof. Ann Fisher from Penn State, who actually became leader of the project there, which was great. They did some interesting studies and promoted some useful outreach and interactions. For example, she was very good in involving users from the Delaware River Water Basin and many other regional groups. And her group at Penn State did a study about potential evacuation of the south Jersey coast as sea level rose, because if you want to protect the ocean, you would do it as the Dutch have done. Following their approach, the appropriate step would be to build a levee and to build a road along it so you can sustain access to it and protect it. If instead the plan is to retreat, the approach needs to be to manage a retreat; to do that, roads need to be built perpendicular to the coast so that they don’t get cut off by the sea and prevent retreat, and then the community could just keep pulling back as sea level rose. So, for the communities in south New Jersey, the Penn State study got them thinking about, “So what are they going to protect? What can be protected and what can’t be protected? How’s that going to go?” They were actually lucky the eye of Hurricane (super storm) Sandy went north of where they were, and so there were offshore winds instead of onshore winds or they would have been swamped. So, while this was one project, there’s just not much social sciences research that is going on. It’s really unfortunate. I think overall the field just hasn’t been effective in organizing and pushing for a big research program.
One of the things we urged after the first National Assessment for how to do it and how to conduct the sector assessments — so the forests or waters — was to go out to the professional societies and say that we really need them to put together a committee in their field to look at this sector. We wondered also if we could we go out to some of the social science organizations and ask them to help put together a broad committee that could talk about impacts and how to present the social science aspects, that the government just doesn’t seem prepared to treat social sciences effectively. Unfortunately, as I said, the Bush administration sort of shut the assessment effort down, and so we never got to do that. But that was sort of a notion. It hasn’t really been tried. This assessment that they’re doing right now, they did write to a large number of organizations and asked them to participate, and they’ve gotten various members from the social sciences areas on the advisory committee, a quite large advisory committee. It’s much bigger than we had. And they invited a whole bunch of organizations to send in inputs and materials for the assessment, and hopefully they get useful inputs. So, dealing with the social sciences research area has been a real problem, figuring out how to get them in there as well as how to integrate climate change with all of the other issues they consider, which is really the challenge. It isn’t necessarily climate change.
One of the activities I was involved in, because I was sort of a free-roaming scientist and an employee of the University of California rather than officially attached to an agency in Washington. I could participate in all kinds of efforts. One was with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which has a committee focused on encouraging a dialogue between science and religion. They usually get scientists together with religious leaders and talk about biotechnologies and reproduction and all related issues. But in the year 2000 they organized a dialogue on climate change and human values, and it was very interesting. They had representatives of various major religions talk about the different way that nature is thought about in their tradition. I participated as a climate change scientist in the dialogue, and as a consequence got asked by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops if I would serve as a science advisor to their committee, which was putting together a statement on the Catholic perspective on climate change. A lot of the churches in the U.S. were putting together statements, “We support Kyoto” (or “We don't”). The Catholic bishops recognized that it traditionally took them two years to develop and approve a statement. As a result, the recognized that they were not going to be able to develop a statement about any particular policy because by the time they did it would be too late. But they did want to put together a statement. They actually ended up putting a very good one about equity and stewardship together [“Global Climate Change A Plea For Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good, downloadable at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/environment/global-climate-change-a-plea-for-dialogue-prudence-and-the-common-good.cfm].
The key question we [National Assessment co-leader Jerry Melillo and I met with the environmental justice panel of the bishops that was overseeing development of the statement] got asked by the bishops as the draft statement was being considered was, “So why should we pay attention to climate change? We’ve got urban centers that are polluted and decaying. We’ve got poverty. We’ve got all of these other urgent issues.” The answer back suggested that they really needed to have two lists — a short-term list and a long-term list, and you’ve got to be careful as you’re working on all of your short-term issues that you don’t make the issues on the long-term list more difficult to achieve. So, try to think of win-win actions that cut across what are doing. On the long-term list, how the climate changes the coastal environment and changes risk, for example, is a really important concern, so as you’re taking steps to help the poor in a city or feed the poor or worry about toxic waste sites or something else, keep in mind that the amount of rainfall is going to change. The temperature is going to change; all these things and more are going to change. They actually ended up passing the statement unanimously. As I said, it’s a very interesting statement. It didn’t get much attention because the meeting it was approved was mostly focused on issues relating to priests who had gone astray, but they did approve a very thoughtful statement.
But, again, including social sciences issues are always a challenge to deal with. I mentioned the Native American involvement earlier. That was an interesting situation because we were approached after the first set of five or six workshops, or their representatives came to us, and said, in essence, “Look. You’re having these workshops. You’re asking each workshop to identify the top three or four issues. We’re always only a minority of the population in a region. Our issues are never going to be in the top three or four issues in a region, but collectively, across the United States, we’ve got issues that need to be addressed. Can you do something?” NASA stepped forward to fund a workshop and then some analysis and assessment. NASA did this because they were working with the Native Americans on use of satellite data to locate their cultural sites and villages, so NASA had a special interest in advancing their relation with the Native Americans. You might have thought that the Bureau of Indian Affairs be the sponsor, but no — they weren’t anywhere close to considering this. So that was one way the assessment reached out to at least one minority group.
I also helped in reaching out another one as part of the Gulf Coast regional assessment. It turned out that when I was at Livermore, the DOE labs had to have an outreach program to minority groups, and what Livermore’s outreach program found most effective was to provide funding so students from, for example, historically black colleges could come to Livermore to work for the summer and to also provide funding to bring professors from those schools to Livermore and then also to have Livermore scientists visit and work with those at the colleges as part of an exchange program. As one example, the Laboratory teamed up with four historically black colleges along the Gulf Coast, and so a number of us went down there and their students came to Livermore and encourage various interactions. I’d been on some of the visits to the colleges, and so I knew people there working in the climate change and other areas. As part of this cooperative effort, Livermore had also hired a person onto their staff, and, using the Laboratory’s funds, based the individual [Dr. Robert (Bob) Shepard, formerly a chemist with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission] in Washington to help the four colleges apply for grants from the funding that is set aside for historically black colleges. Because there’s money set aside and if Bob (heading an entity called the Science and Engineering Alliance — SEA) could get NSF or another agency to fund the colleges and they have a student and a professor funded and then they come to Livermore and they get to work in that environment and work with staff at Livermore, that was another way of, in effect, Livermore scientists getting access to college and graduate students to help on projects. It was like getting a free employee. This was great! So, Livermore that was an important part of Livermore’s outreach effort.
So, I knew Bob Shepard and arranged for EPA, which was sponsoring the Gulf Coast assessment, to go over and meet with him indicating that the Gulf Coast regional assessment would be covering the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and parts of Florida. We recognized that SEA’s member colleges covered these states, so why not have them organize the workshop for the region. So, EPA, being the responsible federal agency for that region, arranged to work with them. SEA had arrangements with the colleges and a system for working with them together, and they could choose the lead, and divide up the tasks among them. It worked pretty well, except Exxon Mobil tried to sabotage the effort down there. I mean it was very unfortunate. But the four colleges, assisted also by Virginia Burkett’s group at the nearby USGS laboratory there, did some really interesting work and was able to get different groups involved.
We were particularly interested in having minority leadership for this region because there are individual that say, “Oh, in the assessment you’ve got to talk about the benefits. For example, the people in the northern states, they won’t have to pay as much for heating oil in the winter.” Well, yes, their homes are airtight, so they save a little bit of money doing less heating but they also have to pay more for air conditioning. Also, if you go down to the Gulf Coast, those people have very open homes. If it gets hotter, they can't just put in an air conditioner; they’re going to have to rebuild their whole home! It’s a very different equity issue. So, we wanted to make sure we got some different perspectives, some perspectives from the poor and those who live in the quite open homes. So, in choosing who organized some of the workshops, we did make an effort to try and get different views.
But what I was disappointed about was that when they appointed the assessment’s advisory committee, they didn’t go out and actually get minorities appointed to it so they could have a wider range of perspectives. Based on the appointees, the members represented mainly a range of views of scientists, but the committee did have a good representation of women, but they didn’t have any ethnic minorities. So, when the Native American inquiry came up and asked to participate, the advisory committee didn’t have anybody to serve as a liaison, so, in my role as head of the National Assessment Coordination Office, I ended up being the liaison. I learned a tremendous amount — for example about the 550 domestic dependent nations — I didn’t know that. I read and learned a lot and have been affiliated and joined in meetings with that community ever since. We even now at the Climate Institute are cooperating on a project with tribal colleges. So, while it has proven difficult sometimes to figure out how to do that social sciences outreach, but it can get done, and a lot did get done.
And there are certainly interesting opportunities out there if one thinks creatively. As an example, one of the projects the SEA group put together, this coalition that started among black colleges, was both very effective and interesting. One of the agencies wanted to know what the state of health in the inner cities was. I don’t remember if it was EPA or one of the health agencies. Okay, they wanted to do that, so they were going to organize a survey team and send it into the cities. Basically, they were going to get a survey team of a whole bunch of whites to go into all these minority, urban neighborhoods and ask questions about a lot of sensitive information. Well, it turned out if you went to the black colleges, they could organize and carry out the survey effort. They would be sending minority groups in there, and they would very likely get much more complete and reliable information. SEA also had a project dealing with brown fields, that is, urban sites polluted by toxic dumping, etc. It turns out that in order for a company to buy a polluted urban site and develop it, it has to have a history of who owned it, what the state of the soils and local hydrology is, all about the pollution, all sorts of information. It’s really time-consuming and expensive to put the needed information, and they don't know if everything will work out. As a result, companies are very reluctant to move to these sites, and so the jobs working for these companies end up being built elsewhere and inner cities continue to decay.
So the SEA-group basically said, “Okay. What we’ll do as this consortium is, as part of the courses and field activities we offer, we will get students in our chemistry departments to do the soil sampling. We’ll get students in our legal schools to do the tracking of ownership. We’ll get all the needed information. We will prepare then prepare the needed reports.” Because it was mostly done with student labor and a lot of student volunteers, it didn’t cost that much. Then they were going to sell the reports to industry as they sought them to purchase and utilize the site. So, the effort would train students to do these reports, students who really care about the studied areas, and then the project was self-sustaining a little bit, with the agency responsible for cleaning up the site or the industry interested in it paying for a lot of the costs. So, it didn’t really cost much to get that effort going. And the result was that they could encourage industry to come in and try and rebuild on the site. So, the key was finding the right research project, one that was right for them, and then really involving them in creative ways. When that was done, the effort really worked well, and it wasn’t just because an agency gave funds to them for something that did not really need to get done. Instead, this was an approach that worked really well because they were the best ones to do the project and they could do it when the idea was right. So, it takes effort, but it is possible to find ways of doing effective outreach and involvement.
So, I had many good experiences with the Office of the Global Change Research Program. I should also say something about what has happened afterwards. So, I was with the Office for four years as its head, and then five years working with the U.S. national assessment. I stayed on the extra year into the Bush administration to get the official report of the impacts assessment into the State of the Climate Report that the U.S. is committed to submitting to the U.N. Conference of the Parties every four years. So, I stayed on after the end of the assessment and I did that. The report got held up in Bush’s Executive Office for five months in early 2002, and then finally came out. It was issued late one Wednesday night, as they had been doing with other reports that they didn’t want any attention paid to. They didn’t even have a press release for it. So, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) put out a press release. They found out the report had finally been issued because it was put up on the EPA website on behalf of the Department of State, and it was put up on the Conference of the Parties website, that is, on the Framework Convention website. We were also telling some of the environmental organization that it was coming out because they were particularly interested. And so the NWF put out a press release saying, in essence, “With this report, the president’s view on climate change has changed 180 degrees.” And it turned out the comment was based on the chapter I had been the responsible author for about impacts in the United States, it being important that the report accepted that there would be climate change and because it said there would be impacts.
Well at the time, the president didn’t really have a position on climate change impacts — and so changing 180 degrees was a bit strange. So NWF put this out and they sent it out to all of the science and environment reporters in the country, but the only one who bit was Andy Revkin of The New York Times. The only one (!!), because if it gets in the Times, it gets in virtually everywhere. So Andy called up the CEQ [Council on Environmental Quality, which is in the Executive Office of the President] and asked for a comment. The fellow who answered was Phil Cooney, the executive officer for the Council on Environmental Quality. Now he is a fellow whom I knew. He had reviewed this report before it went out. He’d been part of the process. But, he had come from the American Petroleum Institute, so he was the former vice president for environment for the American Petroleum Institute and was now essentially in administrative charge of the Council of Environmental Quality. [Laughs] That was the right qualification for the job for the Bush administration. Okay. I had actually had a good interaction with him. He had asked me a good set of questions about the chapter on impacts in the report. “How can you justify this or that?” We got along fine. He later was accused of editing reports and putting the lid on reports and had to be sort of forced out due to the embarrassment (this was the result of revelations and materials released by whistleblower Rick Piltz, whom I had hired into the Office of the USGCRP]. But I’d had reasonable interactions with Phil Cooney at that point in time. So, Phil replied to Andy’s query, essentially, “Well no, we don’t have a position.” So, the front page of The New York Times the following Monday came out and said Bush’s position had changed 180 degrees.
The first media voice to comment was John O’Reilly. I don’t know if you know him. He’s a commentator, generally a conservative commentator. But he happens to understand that the climate change issue is real, and he said, in essence, “This report makes the president an honest man.” So, my son sends this note over to me quoting O’Reilly and said, “Dad, you stayed on an extra year. You made the president an honest man. You can retire.” [Laughter]
The second one to comment was Rush Limbaugh, who is a very well-known conservative commentator, and he said, in essence, “With this report, the president’s name should be changed to George W. ‘Al’ Gore.” At that point I knew I would have to leave the USGCRP Office, or at least wouldn’t be wanted. Later in the day, Bush commented and he said, in essence, “Oh, this was just a report from the bureaucracy.” Now he said it in a very dismissive way, but it was actually true. Every agency had had to approve every single word in the report. There had thus been quite a bit of negotiation to get the report done, and the impacts chapter only had the findings that were really clear, the very likely findings. It didn’t have any of the “possible” stuff — none of that was in there. So, it only had the very likely findings — and it was even careful on them. For example, one of the comments I had gotten back was, in essence, “You say that rising sea level will inundate coastal wetlands,” and they said, “That’s not right. There could be new wetlands.” Well, the phrase I had included was a phrase I had taken from the National Assessment. But the statement in this report was modified, it says, essentially, “Rising sea level will inundate existing coastal wetlands.” Okay, this didn’t say anything about new ones. So, the changes were really subtle and we really worked through all of the comments [the call with Phil Cooney mentioned above was to work through the very last of them].
So, Dr. James (Jim) Mahoney was the person coming in for Bush Administration to head up the chair the Subcommittee on Global Change Research that oversaw the U.S. Global Change Research Program. I’d known Jim since the acid precipitation days almost 25 or 30 years earlier. He said, “I’d really like you to stay,” because he respected me as a scientist, and I said, in essence “You’d probably better check.” He inquire around and came back to me and said, in essence, “Well, yes, you can stay. You’ll have to stay in the back room and close the door.” [Laughter] I said, in essence, “No, that’s not my kind of thing. I’ll retire.” It turned out that, financially speaking, after 34-plus years of service with Livermore, I could retire, so I retired. I could have gone back to California but didn’t. So, I stayed here in the DC area as a scientist volunteering (mostly) on lots of different activities, including critiquing the Global Change Program and other things.
Well, I think we are about done.
Well, let me just say a little more about the Climate Institute, which is where we are. Basically, what I decided to do afterwards when I could have gotten a job was associate myself with the Climate Institute on a voluntary basis. They’re a group of people who are active in trying to positively address problems rather than push for legislation, which many groups in Washington advocate and work on. Not that we’re not for legislation, but we try and demonstrate what can be done. So, I’ve served in a range of activities. I have served as president of the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences. I’ve been invited by the environmental groups a number of times to write legal declarations, including the one that was quoted by the Supreme Court justice who wrote the majority opinion — Justice Stevens — in Massachusetts vs. EPA, which was decided in 2007. He actually said I was eerily… what was it? Eerily prescient, for saying in my declaration that a big hurricane was going to hit New Orleans, and saying this before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. So, every scientist would have said a big hurricane was going to hit New Orleans, but he thought the timing was very interesting. So, I’ve written a bunch of legal declarations.
I’m focused right now a lot on working on the important role of cutting emissions of short-lived species, greenhouse gases, and thinking about climate engineering. That short-lived species are important is actually an interesting story because it involves modelers versus others. In 2005, I think it was, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development was getting a little bit tired of the IPCC assessments, so after the Second or Third, I guess it was. No, Third, and said, in essence, “Why don’t you scientists tell us what we should do? You always say in the IPCC assessments, ‘If this, then that, and if this, then that.’” They asked Sigma Xi, which is a scientific honorary society, to form an international committee. It was a committee that was going to have subcommittees on climate change science, impacts and mitigation, just like IPCC. I was asked to chair the climate change subcommittee, and John Holdren, who is now science advisor in the U.S., was the chair of the mitigation subcommittee. So, John’s view, looking at IPCC’s estimates of changes in forcings, that is, looking at the forcings in 2000 and 2100 and looking at the change, was that most of the change is due to CO2, so this is a CO2 issue. That’s what we have to focus on.
It turns out that July 1, 2008 there was a briefing held for the senior staff of the two presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, and it turned out that Achim Steiner was there, who is head of the United Nations Environment Program. He talked about the importance of addressing climate change, and I talked some about the important need to control emissions of short-lived gases and aerosols and talked to him later about it. He was actually at the time supporting some research on soot. A few years later, the assessment (per title of the report: Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone: Summary for Decision Makers), but also on methane, showing that by actually cutting those emissions sharply, the warming between now and 2050 could be cut in half. It’s the only way to get an effect by then; that is, to go after short-lived species and warming aerosols. So that’s been an interesting area for me to pushing on.
Climate engineering, that’s another interesting area I am thinking about to limit climate change. My involvement with the area goes back partly to Teller’s question back in my graduate school days. It also goes back to Wally Broecker coming to Livermore and wanting to think about the potential for inserting sulfate and putting in a stratospheric layer, so over my career I have done a lot in studying human effects on the climate and natural effects on the climate. So, I’ve had a very interesting career.
I had one more thing that I wanted to raise. It’s on the importance of the various persons who were on the management level of the various funding agencies during the setup of the United States Global Change Research Program. Could you give your perspectives on the attempts to set up of a coordinating body for the U.S. research efforts in the area.
Yes, well going back a bit further than the formation of the Office of the USGCRP, there was an interagency Office of Meteorology. What was it? Well, it was sponsored under NOAA, and under that Office for many years before, there had been committees for atmospheric research, and so the agencies had been getting together for many years. But it took until the late 1980s and the 1985 Villach conference and some of the discussions that followed from that meeting — for instance, Bretherton and others in the NASA effort were saying, in essence, “We’ve got to have a coordinated program in order to get started with this U.S. Global Change Research Program.” So, they had had a meeting with high-level representatives from the agencies — and it was being driven in part by the science advisor to the first President Bush, Dr. Allan Bromley, who wanted to get at the issue of climate change and was a very good scientist and really wanted to see things happen. So, they got together, and it turned out that the chair of the interagency group became Dr. Robert (Bob) Corell, associate director for geosciences at the National Science Foundation. NSF on one hand often takes and becomes chair of cooperative scientific activities reaching across agencies because it’s typically viewed as more neutral than the other mission agencies. Bob was also the only Senate-confirmed member of the group at that level. At the time, NSF people at that level were Senate-confirmed, so he was one of the last. But he was at that level. He’s also a driving, interesting personality. So, the Subcommittee on Global Change Research (SGCR) was formed under the Federal Coordinating Committee for Science, Engineering, and Technology, called FCCSET, that already existed, and was the follow-on to the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) that had earlier reported on the climate change issue (Nixon had gotten rid of PSAC because he didn't like its findings, and then later it was reestablished).
So, under FCCSET, Corell was chair of the SGCR, and the requirement was that agencies have members who were at the level that controlled funding. So, the members included Shelby Tilford from NASA. Primarily, it was J. Michael (Mike) Hall from NOAA who led their global change research activities. It was Ari Patrinos at DOE, who was head of the Biology and Environmental Research Program — so not just the environment program, but biology and environment. So, he was pretty high up there. And there were similar level people across the other agencies. The group had people driving their efforts like Francis Bretherton and others pushing for a coordinated effort. What emerged was the Global Change Research Program — and it got codified in legislation. The words “global change” arose as an issue during the assessment process. Should we call it a global change assessment or call it a climate change assessment? We didn’t think people would understand “global change,” so we called it a climate change assessment, but we tried to think more broadly — and encourage broader thinking. So, yes, it was a pretty dynamic committee.
They tried to figure out what their priorities were, and they went through and identified in each sector what they were. So, the various areas included climate and hydrology and Earth history and let’s see. They had the other ones. They had some ecology priorities. I think they had a social sciences area as well. The set of areas ended up being called the “seven tombstones” because of how they happened to prepare the diagram of research areas and topics. But they were very sector-oriented, or really were discipline-oriented. Then, an SGCR member from one of the participating agencies was made responsible for each of the areas.
At the same time, the international community was dealing with the Montreal Protocol on ozone, and so the way the agencies had agreed to coordinate their research on this topic was to have one person in charge — and that was Dr. Robert (Bob) Watson at NASA and he was sort of Dr. Ozone essentially. He was at a high level at NASA and was sort of responsible for coordinating that area, and he knew what was going on in every single agency, and the ozone depletion issue was really driving that process. Mike Hall, who was in NOAA, was doing the same thing for El Niño research and associated field programs, and so he knew what was going on everywhere [i.e., in all agencies and in other nations]. So, in my view, it really would have been better in organizing the SGCR to start this way, but the leadership sort of evolved over time to these leaders taking on a scientific problem as opposed to the original approach of saying, for example, “You’re in charge of coordinating the modeling.” Mike Hall became the modeling leader because of NOAA’s GFDL and I originally came back to DC to work under Mike on coordinating the modeling efforts. So, that was sort of how it started.
The SGCR members put together a program of how they were going to carry out the needed research, and their cooperation worked and was effective because OMB had imposed a requirement that they wouldn’t grant any agency an increase in budget unless all agencies agreed, and that was a really important forcing mechanism for cooperation, especially when the budgets were increasing. Unfortunately, when the USGCRP budgets were kept level, that sort of encouragement to cooperate was weakened, and then it was their friendships and collegiality that really helped carry on their cooperative efforts. So, the early SGCR was quite an effective group.
In coming in to work with the SGCR, I’m a scientist. Scientists write things down. We write reports; we write articles. In Washington, people don’t write things down; they talk on the phone. So, leaders in Washington may have 200 telephone calls a day. It’s not something I would do. So, I came in to help on modeling initially, but then Bob Corell recruited me to be executive director for the whole Office, and so I did lots of writing things down in support of the effort and Bob Corell did all this phoning around. Luckily, we just meshed wonderfully and could keep the interagency efforts going. Also, the major leaders of the program met. The big four [i.e., the SGCR members for NSF, NOAA, NASA, and DOE] met every week or every two weeks for breakfast. A lot of other SGCR members wanted in on the meeting, but they really shouldn’t have wanted in because what the big four normally decided was who was going to pay for what to keep the interagency effort going. As I noted earlier, the U.S. government doesn’t let agencies to combine money into a single account even though there is an interagency program, so the program couldn't have one bank account. So, what they decided was, “Well, the bills will all come into one place, and then we’ll figure out who’s going to pay the bill?” So, it was sort of an “Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe. It’s your agency’s turn this time.” When I was at these meetings, I would sometimes take them problems if there was an expense that came in and say, “Hey, somebody’s got to pay for this. Who’s going to do this? One agency has got to fund this, or each of you has to contribute some funds to UCAR to help cover the whole cost.” They would look at me. “I don’t want to do this,” they’d say. But the expense would have to get paid. Sometimes it was special workshops; sometimes it was Academy things.
Paying the travel costs for scientists to participate in the IPCC assessments was one big interagency expense. Their original way of doing it was, essentially, “Oh, all you scientists, just take it out of your research grant and we’ll make it up to you later.” The scientists thought that was just loony and they weren’t going to participate if that was how it was going to work. So, the agencies had to set up a special travel fund and I had to get each agency to agree to a particular share to put into that fund to make it happen, and they didn't really like doing that. I mean the research managers in the agencies don't like taking funds away from research. They get kudos for funding good research. They don’t usually get kudos for doing cooperative things, so it takes the high-level agency leaders saying, in effect, “I’m going to take 1% off the overall budget, and we’re going to contribute to doing some cooperative things. I’m going to do cooperative things that help us, so I may fund some of these activities. This agency will fund the Academy and this one will fund IPCC and this one will fund a program office in that area or something. But we’re going to do that.” So, I had to encourage and facilitate that process. They were pretty good at it.
The weekly or biweekly meetings of the key SGCR leaders (along with monthly meetings of the whole SGCR) worked pretty well through a good part of the 1990s, at least until the smaller agencies said, in effect, “We really want to be part of these decisions!” and the big agencies said, in effect, “You don’t have any money. Why should you be part of these decisions? We’re not going to go to discussion meetings where you all have influence but aren’t contributing funding.” So, the overall process kind of broke down after that and hasn’t worked as well since. But it worked for a while, and the agencies could figure out how to do things together, all doing TOGA or doing something else.” It was all very effective for a while.
What happened toward the end of my time as Office executive director was they decided to employ more and more people as Office staff. As I think I mentioned earlier, the way we had staffed the office was each SGCR member was responsible for contributing a person at least half time to staff the office. So, nobody was hired just to work in the Office. I mean, Bob Corell as SGCR chair had to cover the costs for me, so that was the time when I was coordinating the program. And if he stopped paying for my services, I was gone back to Livermore. There was nobody in a permanent position… this was not a career position. This was a place where you went to learn about what was going on in other agencies. But I was able to make the staffing arrangement work pretty well. We had some really good people. When the SGCR later started getting away from that model and trying to put money at UCAR and hiring people as Office staff, including for the scientific staff, and that disconnected them from the people with the power. That’s been a real problem in the Office organization ever since. I mean, when we started, each of the SGCR members served essentially as the godfather for their area of responsibility. So, if there was a problem in that area, we could go to that SGCR member and he or she would work it out across the agencies to do this. So, they really took charge and were in charge, not just when they were in the monthly meeting, but all the time. So, as I say, Bob Watson, when he was doing it, he was recognized as Mr. Ozone or Dr. Ozone, and Mike Hall was the same for El Niños and variability.
When the assessment got going, Ari Patrinos was doing a lot of it and Bob Corell some — and they really helped make the assessment work. But going back to the early SGCR efforts, every one of the SGCR members had responsibilities, and they worked to make their activity shine. It might be education, and that turned out to be a guy, Gary Evans, who was in the Department of Agriculture, because he really was interested in that area. So, each of them had to find a person to pursue the task and work cooperatively in the USGCRP Office.
Later, when many of the employees became UCAR employees, the approach was different. People work best when they’re doing what they’re really interested in, and so I didn’t want to pass out assignment without taking this into account. I had to figure out, “Okay, we’ve got this many parts of the program. What are you really interested in? You take charge and do that.” That’s how we were later organized and that also worked for a while. Right now, it’s more based on individual being hired for a specific responsibility. The people don’t seem quite as dedicated to ensuring the success of the whole program. They’re sort of more closely watched over with respect to their efforts and communicating. In my view, Internet has sort of made everybody end up being watched over too closely, and so they’re a lot less adventurous, I think. In President Clinton’s administration, he coordinated what the White House did. For the rest of government, he sort of assigned responsibilities to departments and people, giving them responsibilities, and he expected them to deliver. If you created a problem, they’d maybe have to step in, but you were given free reign to go out and take actions and make decisions. “You’re responsible for making the assessment happen. Go do it, and don’t come back to me asking about every little decision.” Nowadays, everybody’s worried about each syllable in each letter they send out on something and it’s just, I think, really sad that it’s gotten so controlled, but it seems to be this way because when you say something even slightly wrong, the blogosphere goes wild.
How much did you know about going from this coordinating group to making climate an agency issue to becoming a high priority in Congress and really getting the funding for it?
I know a little, but there were people who knew lots more. And there were problems. Certainly, the traditional atmospheric sciences community has felt it’s gotten left out as the U.S. Global Change Research Program became a priority. It was a few of the emerging SGCR leaders whom I think knew people in Congress and staff and wanted to really address the climate change issue. They developed a model act and it got pushed through the Congress, and suddenly there was this interagency coordinating effort. It didn’t, however, cover research areas like air pollution or water pollution or other things, weather forecasting and stuff. Some of those other groups indeed felt left out, and that was unfortunate.
So, the SGCR leaders came to be somewhat separated from others in their agency, sort of special people. The USGCRP also got considered at a higher level in the Executive Office. They did seem to have this direct access into the Budget Office. It turned out most of those involved were physical scientists, and that caused problems with the ecology and biology communities, not to mention social sciences, because the SGCR membership was limited to one person per agency. So, in NSF, the representative wasn’t from the behavioral sciences. Now Bob Corell did choose a person as his deputy who was a geographer who had been active in behavior and social sciences. But it wasn’t like those from the other area were right there always fighting for their fields all the time, so yes, it caused a little bit of a split in views and some resentment.
So, some agencies participated in the USGCRP. It turned out when the law called for compiling an integrated budget, the law didn’t specify which money they counted, so each agency got to make its own decision. So, DOE counted all of its research in the area because if there weren’t a problem, they wouldn’t be doing any research in this area. NASA counted all of its money for study of the Earth, even though it would have done some research on Earth observation in the absence of the USGCRP. NOAA only counted new and additional money for research in the area, and NSF did the same. So, NOAA did not count GFDL [the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, which had done the earliest modeling of climate change] in its budget. NOAA also did not count the Mauna Loa Observatory, which was measuring the CO2 concentration. They said they would be doing that anyway. They were not going to put that in the global change budget, and so the integrated budget was a very strange mix of things that the agencies put in. That was a little hard. That was why it was nice to hire a Congressional staffer [Rick Piltz] who knew how those in Congress read budget inputs and one of the first things he did was go in and add a section in our annual budget input that explained how all of these decisions related to what every entry was for each agency. But yes, creation of the USGCRP caused a little bit of a split with those not included. It’s been kind of unfortunate. The split also happened internationally to some extent in some countries regarding the separation of weather services and consideration of extreme weather from research on the climate. This was unfortunate because if climate models can’t simulate the climate — I mean, these models better be simulating the weather well because climate is the average of the weather, and the idea that you can get the climate simulation right without getting simulation of the weather right is kind of a weak hypothesis or foundation to build on, although that’s sort of been the way it is. So yes, splitting off the climate area did cause some problems. It’s important to come back together, and now there is this discussion of unified prediction or whatever the phrase they have for going through from now-casting all the way up climate simulation. It will be interesting. The U.S. has actually separated off weather forecasting into a different part of NOAA, even though there would be lots to gain by having the two efforts working together. The UK Meteorological Office, you know, kept both aspects together, using the same model, and they just ran the model out to different times. So different approaches in the two countries.
So yes, that was part of our problem. It did get a lot of attention, though. It’s interesting. I mean there aren’t too many interagency programs. There are a few in the U.S., but the USGCRP is one of the tougher ones in terms of including most agencies and so many disciplines. Part of the problem with cooperation also remains that the federal guidelines for its employees say you’re not supposed to share one agency’s initiatives and plans with any other federal agency. Well, how can you coordinate work together if your budget plans aren’t closely coordinated? The SCGR has promoted some reaching across this divide, but it is sometimes difficult to do at all the needed levels… When OMB did encourage it and there were some exchanges of information, but it had to be kept to the really well established, high-level people who could keep things quiet and just make decisions. So, in any case, the budget development process wasn’t an open discussion with the science community and that did lead to some confusion. The interagency process is just hard—and requires lots of effort, but it is essential.
I think that was it for me. Any last thoughts?
No. It’s been very interesting to go over this. I’ve sometimes thought, “Gee, I’ve got a whole bunch I ought to write up as a book,” and I’ve just never gotten to it. So being forced to go through it as an oral history interview is probably a very useful step. I’ll probably write some up too sometime, but we’ll see.
At that time named the Bay Area Air Pollution Control District, an entity comprised of representatives from the nine counties in the San Francisco Bay Area airshed.