Last Friday, President Trump said that he “doesn’t believe” the report of the catastrophic impact of climate change on the U.S. economy that was released by his own administration, according to ABC News. Some observers were initially perplexed that the president would deny a report that was created by his own administration, but the fact is that President Trump didn’t have a choice in the matter. That’s because nearly thirty years ago, President George H.W. Bush established the environmental impact program first envisioned during the Reagan administration that was signed into law by Congress in 1990, as reported by Forbes.
President Bush, who made a fortune in the oil industry before following in his father’s footsteps as a U.S. Congressman in the 1960s, and would later bear the burden of the nation’s secrets as the Director of the CIA, was in line with President Reagan’s concerns about climate change. Recently released memos from the Bush administration detail a growing concern with the global phenomenon.
According to the Hill, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Richard J. Smith sent a memo to Secretary of State James Baker in 1989 that read, “Global climate change is the most far reaching environmental issue of our time. If the climate change within the range of current predictions actually occurs, the consequences for every nation and every aspect of human activity will be profound. As you yourself stated we cannot wait until all the uncertainties have been resolved before we act to limit greenhouse gas emissions and to prepare for whatever climate change we are already committed to.”
Republicans from Ulysses S. Grant to George H.W. Bush have passed some of our most powerful environmental laws. What has happened? https://t.co/4ipWJvlbhh
— Outside Magazine (@outsidemagazine) October 10, 2018
According to The National Security Archive at George Washington University, both the Reagan and Bush administrations believed in the importance of climate change action.
In connection with the Montreal Protocol (negotiated in 1987 and put into effect in 1989), both Reagan and Bush 41 showed a clear desire to tackle environmental concerns and to lead the global community in that effort, according to the documents. Protests by the Domestic Policy Council, led by Attorney General Edwin Meese, and other agency heads led Reagan to step in to ensure adoption of the final set of U.S. objectives for the treaty. Bush basically shared his predecessor’s views on entering office in January 1989.
Both presidents’ secretaries of state, George P. Shultz and James A. Baker III, played key roles in blocking efforts by other Cabinet secretaries to frustrate implementation of more environmentally friendly policies. For example, memos for senior State Department officials in today’s posting note that “Global climate change is the most far reaching environmental issue of our time” and that notwithstanding the need for continued research, “We simply cannot wait – the costs of inaction will be too high.”
President Bush established the U.S. Global Change Research Program in 1989 via a Presidential Initiative, and Congress enacted the Global Change Research Act in 1990. The key aspects of the law…
[… direct] the President to establish an interagency United States Global Change Research Program to improve understanding of global change. Requires the Chairman of the Council, through the Committee, to develop a National Global Change Research Plan for implementation of the Program. Sets forth required Plan contents and research elements, including that the Plan provide recommendations for collaboration within the Federal Government and among nations.
The directive that established the climate report that President Trump currently opposes is found in another section of the law which…
[… requires] the Council, at least every four years, through the Committee, to submit to the President and the Congress an assessment regarding the findings of the Program and associated uncertainties, the effects of global change, and current and major long-term trends in global change.
In a bipartisan show of solidarity largely unseen in today’s political climate, the Global Change Research Act was passed unanimously in the Senate. Senator Ernest “Fritz” Hollings (D-South Carolina), upon the passage of the Act, said “The problem we face is potentially enormous. Global warming could radically change world climate and world agriculture … We need a determined and coordinated research effort, both here in the United States and with other nations, to get the facts about the exact causes and consequences of global change. For our children and grandchildren, now is the time to start that effort.”
In a 1988 campaign speech from Boston Harbor, Bush declared “Those who think we are powerless to do anything about the greenhouse effect are forgetting about the White House effect. As president, I intend to do something about it.” Unlike other more famous campaign promises Bush made that year, this was one that President Bush kept, and is a positive reflection on his complicated legacy.