Twenty years before the US Chamber of Commerce called for climate science to be tried, an official from the powerful pro-business lobby group crafted what would turn out to be a premonitory message about global warming.
Harvey Alter, who headed the House’s resource policy department at the time, said in 1989 that there was a “broad consensus” that man-made climate change was likely to have a disastrous impact. on coastal communities and farmers. Alter warned of rising sea levels and the litany of changes that would accompany a warmer planet.
“Wetlands will be inundated, salt water will infuse freshwater supplies and there will be changes in the distribution of tree and crop species and in agricultural productivity,” Alter said.
The presentation – found in the archives of the Hagley Museum and Library in Delaware – also featured dire climate forecasts for New Orleans and other cities, states and countries. It was included in an article on the history of the House’s climate obstruction in the 1990s and 2000s, which was published yesterday by the Climate and Development Lab, a think tank hosted by Brown University.
The paper and article shed new light on how the powerful trade association has radically changed climate policy over the years – from acknowledging the problem to climate denial to now rhetorically supporting climate action. And they raise new questions about the sustainability of the latest House overthrow, according to Cole Triedman, senior author of the report and Brown University undergrad who discovered the revealing presentation.
“Over the course of these two decades that I have investigated, the House turned out to have a set of messages that seemed to adapt to each situation in a way that was ultimately effective” in blocking climate action, Triedman said in an interview. The century-old lobbying juggernaut complaints represent “businesses of all sizes in all sectors” of the US economy in the corridors of power, but his Board of directors has long been stacked with executives of fossil fuel companies who have the most to lose from potential climate action.
Alter’s presentation was intended for a “Symposium on Industrial Development and Climate Change”, organized by the International Bureau of the Environment, a forerunner organization of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which was at the time a division of the International Chamber of Commerce.
The event was due to take place in Washington, less than a year after former NASA scientist James Hansen warned lawmakers that “the greenhouse effect is here.”
Alter noted that while there are still uncertainties about climate science, “the controversy is how much change can be expected, when it will occur and where its effects will be most evident,” document shows. He had a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Cincinnati and died last year at the age of 87, according to a online obituary.
Alter went on to predict that rising oceans “would inundate land now habitable in some countries, such as Bangladesh,” and force richer countries to build dykes and dykes “at considerable cost to avoid major displacement. people and their economic bases ”.
“These same actions will affect wetlands and it may not be possible [to] protect both coastal areas and wetlands, ”he said. Alter specifically warned of the risks to Miami and New Orleans’ freshwater supplies as well as the Netherlands.
“Global warming will affect snowfall, hence melting, and will affect water supply,” he added, stressing the danger that such changes could represent for California. The state’s water supplies come from snowmelt, and if the snow is reduced to rain or quickly melts in winter, summer water supplies will be less than today.
Alter was less certain of the impact of climate change on farmers, but the trends he rightly identified were concerning.
“Cereal production will shift north and productivity may drop due to the different types of soils,” he said. “Global warming could widen the range of diseases and pests in livestock.”
Alter’s message seems to have had little impact in the House, at least initially. By 1991, as George HW Bush debated proposals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the White House and Congress, the House had begun to cast doubt on climate science.
“Although a possible global warming is a source of concern, genuine scientific disputes remain over the existence, causes and potential consequences of global climate change,” the association said in a statement. legislative briefing book for frames, which Triedman also found in the Hagley Archives. The House said it opposed the imposition of an “energy-based policy solely on the theory of global warming, especially when environmental and economic impacts are unknown.”
Since then, the House’s stance on climate change has yoyoed, seemingly in response to Washington’s political landscape.
In September 2008, a House program unveiled a energy plan that said, “We need to address the impact of our growing energy consumption on the environment and the climate. It included calls for the creation of a “federal multi-agency climate change adaptation program” as well as national and international clean energy lending agencies.
The House Energy Plan was released as former Arizona Senator John McCain campaigned for the presidency on a Republican platform that included the implementation of a cap and trade system to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
But the following year, as President Obama’s EPA prepared to regulate carbon dioxide as an air pollutant, a senior House official called for climate science to be tested. Public reaction to the demand led tech giant Apple Inc. and electric utility companies Exelon Corp., Pacific Gas and Electric Co., and PNM Resources Inc. to all publicly renounce their involvement in it. association (PM E&E News, October 5, 2009).
J. Timmons Roberts, an environmental studies professor at Brown who assisted Triedman with his report, said the 32-year-old Alter presentation put the House’s subsequent actions in a troubling new light. Rachel Wetts, professor of sociology at the university, also contributed to the article.
“Considering how much the House has leaned towards climate denial and the ongoing efforts to undermine any significant climate policy in the United States, the 1989 presentation to the International House is very revealing,” Roberts said in an e -mail. “They knew the seriousness of the problem and chose to mobilize the American business community against the measures we needed to take.”
The House began its final turn to climate action in 2019, when Democrats seeking the party’s presidential nomination clashed for the boldest climate policies. Since that change, however, the association has continued to quietly support regulations and lawsuits that would make it harder to resolve the issue (Climate wire, April 21th).
The House did not comment directly on the report, but praised its recent climate efforts.
“We are proud of the work we are doing with all members of the Chamber to provide meaningful and achievable solutions to the global climate challenge,” said Matt Letourneau, spokesperson for the association, in a statement. “The business community is at the forefront of innovation and investment in the technology needed to reduce emissions, and will be an important voice in international and national policy dialogue.
Triedman and his Brown advisers remain skeptical.
While the House’s new message “is encouraging for climate action advocates, the results of this analysis suggest caution and an increased level of scrutiny,” their paper concluded. “The House’s challenge to climate action in 2021 has once again changed shape, rather than disappear.”