**This piece has been modified from the version previously published in the Levittown Leader.**
Does anyone remember the Global 2000 Report? Perhaps you know of it by a different name – the Doomsday Report. Living in Levittown in the late 70s I became aware of the issues that this report raised.
In the late 1970’s during the Carter administration, the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) undertook a challenging project – to assess the state of the planet and predict global conditions that would be expected to exist at the beginning of the new millennium in the year 2000. The result of that effort was the production of the Global 2000 Report to the President. It was published in 1980 at the end of the Carter administration and immediately became controversial.
The 70s was a busy period. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed in 1970 from the consolidation and reorganization of existing federal agencies and we experienced a rapid expansion of our knowledge related to the earth on which we live. In 1971, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) published a declassified version of the World Factbook which capsulized the geographic, population, and economic conditions of the majority of countries on earth. Manned space travel had literally given us a world view that was exemplified by the now famous “Blue Marble” photograph taken by the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972.
Computing capability accelerated for commercial, industrial, and government uses while personal computer development began to ramp up to what would become a transforming global resource. With these transformative conditions in place, which empowered a global perspective, the CEQ took on the task of assessing the world.
The Global 2000 report indicated that the rising population would continue to increase the stress on resource capacity, water would become more scarce, carbon dioxide levels would increase, and desertification (i.e. the creation or expansion of desert regions) would increase. These and other predictions painted a somewhat gloomy picture which led some to characterize it as the “Doomsday Report”. The new Reagan administration placed the report under review, from which it passed from the public eye. Although there were many precursor studies, this is the first report that I recall that enlisted the efforts of the scientific community on a global scale. It was exciting to see that level of cooperation and as a relatively new entrant to the environmental field, I felt now that issues had been identified, there would be a concerted effort to deal with them. I was wrong.
Several years ago I had lunch with a few people to commemorate the end of a project. The client, who was also the president of the company, brought up the issue of climate change and expressed an opinion that he didn’t believe it was real. Heads nodded around the table. I was aware of his background and was surprised that given his technical training, he would hold that view. So I asked him directly if he had read any of the reports or reviewed any of the data directly. He had not. It was at that point that I understood that we would lose the battle to prevent global warming. Because despite all of the evidence that had been amassed to that point and despite the technical background of that company president, it became clear to me that ideology had been chosen above science.
Today, the reality of climate change is no longer debated in the scientific community and given the reality of current conditions, it is understood that the window of opportunity for preventing it has already closed. Climate change has begun. Conversations are now focused on adaptation. The CIA now considers the effects of climate change and its potential to influence political stability, the Department of Defense is considering the impacts on military operations and facilities – particularly naval facilities, the Department of Agriculture is considering the impacts to US agriculture, professional organizations are gearing up to assess the vulnerability to infrastructure including water and wastewater systems, roads, bridges, railways, pipelines, etc. The professionals in all of these organizations and more are doing the jobs they were hired to do – to serve the American people. All of which is being done without collective political leadership.
As I inch closer to retirement age I can’t help but to think about the legacy of this era. The strident and un-civil discourse among us indicates that we are a long way from working toward a common goal. It’s a shame. The issues we will face will require that we all pull from the same side of the rope. I think back when Jimmy Carter had solar panels installed on the roof of the White House and when Ronald Reagan had them removed. I see that as a lost opportunity. But most of all, I think about that little Blue Marble in space. It seems a lot smaller now.
Kevin Deeny (a lifelong Levittown resident)
*Interested in learning more about the Global 2000 report? Visit the website of Dr. Gerald O. Barney, who was the Study Director.*