On November 5th, 1965, the "Restoring The Quality of Our Environment" report was issued to President Lyndon B. Johnson by his science advisory committee. It was the first official government warning that the burning of fossil fuels might be warming the planet.
As the Associated Press reports, the science advisory committee told Johnson that "Man is unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical experiment," and that by the year 2000, carbon dioxide levels would increase enough to "almost certainly cause significant changes in the temperature and other properties of the stratosphere."
The language of the report is clear and concise, and it really makes one wonder how it turned out that Americans are still debating the reality of human-caused climate change to this day, a half century later.
On the eve of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, where world leaders hope to come away with a much-needed promising and meaningful agreement, it's a valuable reminder that these are not new problems. While the solutions in the form of renewable energy and other sustainable technologies and behaviors may have taken decades to mature, dramatic manipulation of the natural world for our personal benefit is something humankind mastered long ago.
Johnson's statement in response to the report, which covered a number of environmental problems apart from climate change, gets at the heart of the matter:
Ours is a nation of affluence. But the technology that has permitted our affluence spews out vast quantities of wastes and spent products that pollute our air, poison our waters, and even impair our ability to feed ourselves…
Pollution now is one of the most pervasive problems of our society. With our numbers increasing, and with our increasing urbanization and industrialization, the flow of pollutants to our air, soil, and waters is increasing. This increase is so rapid that our present efforts in managing pollution are barely enough to stay even, surely not enough to make the improvements that are needed.
Fifty years later, we are still locked in the cycle of burning fossil fuels to create the energy needed for economic growth and prosperity. While in the United States environmental regulations and oversight have helped reduce air pollution, preserve clean water and protect natural resources, globally the challenges continue to mount as developing countries deal with extreme poverty and rapid population growth.
In 1965 the global population was around 3.3 billion. In 2015, it has more than doubled to 7.3 billion. By 2065 it is predicted to be over 10 billion. Hundreds of millions of people in Africa, Asia and Latin America still don't have access to regular electricity.
Meanwhile back on American soil the political scene is such that Republicans are basing their environmental platform on denying climate change, suing the EPA for trying to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and accusing the government of using the Clean Water Act to expand "federal bureaucracy as widely and intrusively as possible."
What the government is undeniably doing is continuing to provide reports warning that the path Americans and the rest of humanity are pursuing when it comes to climate change is one of ever-increasing risk. The difference now, 50 years since the first official warning, is that the science is more compelling and complete, the solutions are far more attainable, and the time to act to avoid catastrophic impacts is quickly diminishing.