History, History Column

History July 2015

If Ferdinand Magellan’s 1519 voyage marks the advent of globalization, then former President Jimmy Carter—the alleged father of alternative fuels— appreciates not only his pluck but also the environmental benefit of the windblown sail.  Carter was the first U.S. President to openly criticize America’s dependence on foreign oil.  True to his cause, in April 2014 he urged President Barack Obama to reject TransCanada Corporation’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

James Earl Carter, age 90, is a 1947 Naval Academy graduate who speaks with a southern twang; a Baptist and former Georgia Governor.   He narrowly defeated incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford in the 1976 presidential race.   The Watergate scandal still loomed and Carter argued the moral imperative.

“One distinguishing characteristic of really civilized men is foresight; we have to, as a nation, exercise foresight for this nation in the future; and if we do not exercise that foresight, dark will be the future!” President Theodore Roosevelt said in 1908.

On January 26, 1977 President Carter requested Congress to pass emergency energy legislation. “Nothing more clearly illustrates the serious consequences of our long delay in creating a comprehensive national energy policy than does this legislation,” Carter explained.

“Our [energy] program will emphasize conservation,” Carter said on February 2, 1977.  “The amount of energy being wasted which could be saved is greater than the total energy that we are importing from foreign countries.”

“We must face the fact that the energy shortage is permanent,” Carter concluded, “and emphasize research on solar energy and other renewable energy sources; as well as maintain strict safeguards on necessary atomic energy production.”  In 1971 the U.S. had 22 commercial nuclear power plants in full operation.

 “Our decision about energy will test the character of the American people,” Carter continued on April 18, 1977.  “This difficult effort will be the “moral equivalent of war”—except that we will…build not destroy. The 1973 gasoline lines are gone…but our energy problem is worse…It is worse because more waste has occurred, and more time has passed without planning for the future.  And it will get worse every day until we act…We must look back at history to understand our energy problem, the transition from wood to coal to oil and natural gas.”  Unpopular when he left the President’s office in 1981, Carter now “feels vindicated.”

“For many sportsmen, the impacts of climate change are already becoming evident,” The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership reported.  “From changes in seasonal distribution of waterfowl, to diminished stream habitat for cold water fish such as trout and salmon.”

The National Climatic Data Center recently announced that 2012 was the contiguous United States’ warmest year on record.  The average 2012 temperature was 55.3 degrees, 3.2 degrees above the 20th century average.  In March 2013 Oregon State University earth scientist Shaun Marcott announced “global temperatures are warmer than at any time in at least 4000 years.”  The cause: greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide (84%), methane (10%), nitrous oxide (4%) and fluorinated gases (2%).

Temperature change is, as former Vice President Al Gore claims An Inconvenient Truth.  Volcanic eruptions and solar variations naturally contribute to change.  However most U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are human roused the result of burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) for heat, electricity and transportation.

 “Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, concentrations of greenhouse gases from human activities have risen substantially,” the National Academy of Sciences’ Koshland Science Museum reported. “Carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas produced in the largest quantities, accounting for more than half the current impact on Earth’s climate.”  The Koshland Science Museum is located in northwest Washington, D.C.

“Historically over half of all global carbon dioxide emissions have been generated by just ten countries,” Koshland continued.  “In 1971 the United States was number one in carbon dioxide emissions, followed by Russia and Germany.  In 2007, China was number one followed by the United States, Russia, India, Japan and Germany.”  On November 11, 2014 the United States and China “jointly announced targets to reduce carbon emissions in the post-2020 period.”

In addition to discussions of rising sea levels, floods and droughts the United Nations Environmental Program 2012 report concluded that 20% of vertebrate species are under threat of extinction, coral reefs have declined by 38% since 1980, greenhouse gas emissions could double over the next 50 years, and 90% of water and fish samples are contaminated by pesticides.   Marcott predicts that “over the coming decades temperatures are likely to surpass levels not seen on the planet since before the last ice age.”

Before thermo metrical measures scientists used proxy data collected from corals, tree rings and ice cores.  The earth is getting hot, the politics even hotter.  Do Americans adapt or do local, state and federal governments mitigate?  Carbon dioxide molecules, once emitted, remain in the atmosphere for maybe a century. Just ask residents of Alexandria’s U.S. Route 1 residential corridor.

In June 2012 the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Court ruled to uphold the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2009 auto-related Endangerment Finding and Tailpipe Rule.  The EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act was correct and the Agency can regulate the harmful effects of greenhouse gases.

“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity,” President Barack Obama said in his Second Inaugural Address.  “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”  The President released an Executive Order—Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change—on November 1, 2013.

“Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, crippling drought, and more powerful storms,” Obama continued.  “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But Americans cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.”  Carter’s 1976 Democratic primary opponent, California Governor Jerry Brown recently announced that his drought stricken state will stick with mandatory water restrictions.

Is the future dark, especially given the more than 540 Political Action Committees now invested in U.S. election politics?  Pennsylvania State University Professor Michael E. Mann contends “it’s the unprecedented speed with which we are changing the climate that is worrisome.”

George Washington instinctively planted living fences—willows, honey locusts, and cedars—to contain his methane-producing cows.

 “Just as a synthetic rubber corporation helped us win World War II, so will we mobilize American determination and ability to win the energy war,” President Carter said in his July 15, 1979 Crisis of Confidence speech.  “Every act of energy conservation is more than just common sense—I tell you it is an act of patriotism. We often think of conservation in terms of sacrifice.   In fact…every gallon of oil each one of us saves is a new form of production.”  Reactor meltdowns, including Three Mile Run (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima (2011) have dimmed the nuclear energy debate.

In May 2015 Virginia Representative Don Beyer introduced H.R. 1162, the Science Prize Competition Act in an effort to spur American research and innovation.  Governor Terry McAuliffe earlier established the Virginia Environmental Literacy Challenge.  The new White House climate strategy was announced on June 22nd.

Email: abitofhistory53@gmail.com

Written by: Sarah Becker, © 2015

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