1965 President’s Science Advisory Committee Report on Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

“Restoring the Quality of Our Environment” is a comprehensive report by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee which warns of the impacts of pollution and humanity’s role in addressing the future. The panel suggests “economic incentives to discourage pollution” in which “special taxes would be levied against polluters.” The Committee reports on a wide range of pollution issues such as soil contamination, sewage, agricultural waste, and solid waste. President Johnson found the report to be pertinent enough to not only be distributed to government agencies and officials, but also, due to its “general interest,” the public. The selected excerpt below focuses on the hazardous increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide due to humanity’s production and combustion of fossil fuels.

The Committee begins the section by quickly acknowledging the “measurable” effect that fossil fuel combustion has on the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Linking that increase directly to humanity’s behavior, the Committee reports “[c]arbon dioxide is being added to the earth’s atmosphere by the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas at the rate of 6 billion tons a year.” They report that fossil fuel combustion is the only major new producer of carbon dioxide, increasing the quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere and ocean from roughly 1860 to 1960 by 7%. Focusing on a smaller interval of time, the Committee found a 1.36% increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide from 1958 to 1963. Throughout the selected section, the Committee makes forward-looking predictions, warning of melting ice caps, rising sea levels, acidification of water sources, and more. They conclude with a prediction and a warning of what could come:

“By the year 2000 the increase in atmospheric CO2 will be close to 25%. This may be sufficient to produce measurable and perhaps marked changes in climate, and will almost certainly cause significant changes in the temperature and other properties of the stratosphere.”

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