1988 Climate Institute North American Conference on Preparing for Climate Change

December 6-8, 1988 an international group of dignitaries, politicians, scientists, economists, and industry representatives attended the Climate Institute’s second North American conference on “Preparing for Climate Change.” The following 731 page document contains the conference’s agenda, transcriptions of the various panelists’ remarks, and peer-reviewed articles related to climate change. In its totality, the book thoroughly details the multitude of systems and processes that contribute to climate change and the aspects of life that are due to be affected by it. Further, it shows the wide array of support the initiative garnered, with government agencies, nonprofits, and major industry players all co-sponsoring the event. Highlighted in this post are the opening remarks, statements by President-elect George H. W. Bush’s transition team, and a panel on corporations’ plans in relation to climate change.

I. The conference was introduced by Sir Crispin Tickell (U.K. Ambassador to the U.S.), Stephen Lewis (Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations), Al Gore (U.S. Senator and defeated presidential hopeful), and Joseph Cannon (President of Geneva Steel). Each speaker emphasized fostering a collaborative and proactive response to climate-related issues. Where Lewis proposed disarmament to produce funds to address global warming, Gore spelled out the certainty of the greenhouse effect and the urgency to change “patterns” that cause it, while Cannon stressed “Third World” vulnerability and highlighted the “critical” need of the private sector to “mobilize.” Throughout the introductory remarks, an overarching theme was clear: all aspects of human society must accept the data and science supporting these trends and organize to actively address them.

II. Beyond the opening panelists, admissions regarding global warming by Robert Grady, a member of then President-elect George H. W. Bush’s transition team, are of note. Robert Grady was Bush Senior’s Chief Speechwriter, Senior Advisor, and the newly named Associate Director for the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s Natural Resources, Energy and Science office. His comments demonstrate a willingness to confront global climate change that are at odds with the administration’s actions (especially in the last two years of its tenure). Throughout the statement, Grady demonstrated a clear understanding of climate change, its relationship with human activity, and the new administration’s plans to mitigate those factors.

For instance, Grady noted the need for “politicos [to] forge an alliance” with “scientific experts” and to address increased greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. Lamenting that the Department of Energy focused on “scientific uncertainty … as an excuse to avoid action” Grady stated that the soon to be president was aware of “these problems” and planned a corresponding agenda to combat them. Grady cited the accelerated “natural rate of change,” the likelihood of a 2 to 10 degree Fahrenheit increase, and its relationship with fossil fuel consumption and deforestation. Grady went on to warn of “changes in ocean temperature” and “growing season[s],” increased forest fires, and expanded “tropical diseases” as a result of global temperature increase. He continued that “private investment” alone was insufficient and that government needed to fill that void. Criticizing the notion that the federal government may lower gas mileage standards as “exactly the wrong way to go” he affirmed that “a stable climate” is more valuable than “short-term considerations [like] next year’s profit and loss.” He urged against inaction and made explicit that “[p]rotecting the planet should … be a strategic goal.”

III. Also worth emphasizing is the conference’s panel on “Factoring Climate Change into Corporate Planning.” The panel was composed of representatives from General Electric, Travelers Insurance Company, Moody’s Investor Services, and others. Their discussion demonstrates the degree to which the private sector was willing to accept and plan for the impacts of climate change as early as 1988. From statistics estimating climate change-related damages for insurers to projections on fluctuating demands in electricity for utilities, this sampling of private sector individuals reveals that not only were some companies accepting the reality of climate change, but preparing for it as well. The last panelist, Joseph Silvey, an environmental engineer with EBASCO Services, was the most direct in attributing the responsibility of addressing climate change to industry. After singling out the private sector, he criticized environmental studies conducted just to satisfy bureaucratic requirements rather than making “anything better or prevent[ing] anything from getting worse.” Silvey concluded that industry needed to “take a more progressive view of the climate change issue” in order to avoid “irreversible” consequences.

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