ƒaciPresident Jimmy Carter

A global I-told-you-so

Forty years ago, Jimmy Carter's Global 2000 report sounded dire warnings about our environment.

In 1977, the new president, Jimmy Carter, thought it might be nice to look ahead at what the global environment might look like at the dawn of the coming millennium.


The result was a report that was both exhaustive and alarming. Global 2000 was released to the public on July 24, 1980.

Twenty years into the 21st Century, the dire assessments of Global 2000 look startlingly accurate, and our failures at acting on them look every bit as startlingly bad. The report nailed it on predicting increases in air and water pollution in developing nations.

By 2000, India and China were already smoky poster children for the world. Both are still shamefully coal-reliant today. Greatly increased standards of living have drifted in with the smoke. Higher consumption levels came along as a result. The establishment of a middle class, particularly in China, has enabled hundreds of millions to pursue status symbols, like patent medicines made from endangered rhinos and tigers; and the inexplicably bland shark fin soup.

Fisheries in general are as bad or worse than laid out in the three-volume 1980 report. So are forests. Arable lands will soon be hard-pressed to feed booming populations.

Global 2000 understandably whiffed by a few crises that few saw coming: acidifying, plastic-choked oceans most prominent among them. If the report were written today, nuclear power would not receive as much attention as it did in 1980.

Perhaps that shouldn't be a surprise, since it came out a mere 16 months after the near-calamity at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania.

"The projected production of increasing amounts of nuclear power" was thwarted by a quadruple threat—massive public protests, cold feet on Wall Street, two true calamities at Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011), and the availability of cheaper electricity largely from natural gas.

Fossil fuels in general are presumed to have a permanent birthright, with hints at the coming birth of clean energy. There are no hints that clean energy has a 40 year gestation period.

Climate lite 

One area where Global 2000 treads lightly is in climate change. Bear in mind that the report preceded the first major focus on climate by eight years—NASA scientist James Hansen's riveting 1988 testimony before Congress. Nevertheless, our Carter-era climate science foresaw the possibility of melting polar ice caps "forcing the (eventual) abandonment of coastal cities."

Of course, once Miami Beach bids farewell to the existential threat of coronavirus, it can resume worrying about South Beach turning into the world's trendiest tidal flat.

The one that didn't get away

Global 2000 was an early alarm bell for the ozone layer, citing the ozone-depleting qualities of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in destroying the Earth's stratospheric ozone layer. Within a decade of the report, a global pact called the Montreal Protocol led to the outlawing of CFCs. The ozone "holes" they helped produce over the polar regions are believed to be lessening in size—a rare international victory-in-progress.

That victory may not have happened without the backing of two conservative, anti-regulatory giants, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S President Ronald Reagan.

The closing line of the report's executive summary may sound distressingly familiar. "The time to prevent this (disastrous) outcome is running out. … Unless nations take bold and imaginative steps … (we) must accept a troubled entry into the Twenty-first Century."

And one-fifth of the way through that century, here we are.

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist.

His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate or publisher, Environmental Health Sciences.

Contact him at pdykstra@ehn.org or on Twitter at @Pdykstra.

Banner photo: President Jimmy Carter at his desk in the Oval Office in 1977. (Credit: Jimmy Carter Library)

Jordan Peterson, Joe Rogan wax idiotic on climate change and race

We regret to inform you that the controversial podcast host and quack philosopher have some thoughts on racial identity.

Sunrise in the woods

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

pramila jayapal climate politics
Photo by Srikanta H. U on Unsplash

Pramila Jayapal urges executive action to get build back better over the line

Pramila Jayapal has said some goals of the Build Back Better bill, such as drug pricing and climate change, could be achieved through executive action.

Temperature rising: Winter Olympians feel threat from climate change

Climate change is affecting sports around the world, including many of the favorite events at the 2022 Winter Olympics. Team USA athletes Brock Crouch, Jessie Diggins and David Wise are making a stand for sustainability.

marshall fire pollution climate impacts
Photo by Mike Newbry on Unsplash

VOC levels in Marshall Fire area similar to ordinary urban air pollution, NOAA finds

NOAA used a mobile van to sample outdoor air in Louisville, Superior, and affected areas of unincorporated Boulder County 11 to 14 days after the Marshall Fire.

Can investors use European carbon allowances to force companies to curb pollution?

The worlds of high finance and climate change might appear to have nothing in common, but if they had a social media status, then it would probably be “it’s complicated”.

WSU study finds air pollution, brought on by heat and wildfires, is increasing in the West

The presence of harmful particles called particulate matter, or PM 2.5, and ozone can make air unhealthy to breathe, and a WSU researcher discovered that the frequency, intensity and unhealthy level of pollution from both particles has increased dramatically, especially in the past decade.

It's as bad as ever: Climate change denial still rages on social media

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok have all made pledges to crack down on the spread of misinformation, but it’s still being promoted on all their platforms.

From our Newsroom
Africa cooking pollution

What do new cookstoves in Ghana and air conditioners in NYC have in common? Energy justice.

Combating energy poverty and energy insecurity are critical elements to achieving environmental health equity for billions worldwide.

dr. fauci

Peter Dykstra: Life imitates climate politics—again.

Personal, misinformed attacks on Dr. Fauci are reminiscent of climate spats over the decades.

Don't look up climate change

Hollywood’s third strike on climate change?

"Don't Look Up" is ambitious—but trips over its subject matter.

environmental news

5 popular reads from our newsroom in 2021

Check out what sparked readers' interest over the past year.

journalism

Our top 5 long reads of 2021

Check out must-read, in-depth reporting from the past year.

butterfly

Our top 5 good news stories of 2021

It's not all doom and gloom.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.