Editor’s Note-Ahead of His Time

Editor’s Note-Ahead of His Time

Political Leaders were warning of global climate change two decades ago.

Quickly now, guess who wrote this:

“In my view, the threat of global climate change is the greatest environmental challenge facing the world today. There is already a slow but perceptible rise in the world’s temperature that could, if unabated, spell chaos and massive structural changes in the way that all of us work and live.”

Not sure? Here’s a stronger hint, a few more sentences from the same statement:

“Two years ago, the Senate agreed to ratify the Montreal Protocol, which calls for a 50 percent reduction in CFC production. Because I thought that the rate of reduction . . . wasn’t fast enough, last year I introduced a Global Warming Bill that called upon the Bush Administration to take measures to speed up the process.”

Give up? I am quoting from “Global Warming: A Challenge to Our Planet” by Senator Rudy Boschwitz—a 12-page position paper issued by the senator in October 1990, during Boschwitz’s ill-fated re-election campaign against Paul Wellstone. I served as the campaign’s press secretary, a role in which I helped prepare all of his position papers.

You don’t remember reading about Boschwitz’s warning of climate change? It is doubtful that you ever heard of it. Then, as now, the quality of political reporting in the Twin Cities was inferior to the quality of business reporting. Throughout that 1990 campaign, issues of public policy received much less attention in the local media than campaign budgets, the charming dilapidation of the Wellstone campaign bus, and the relative entertainment value of various campaign advertisements did. To more than one daily newspaper reporter, entertainment value was clearly an acceptable substitute for veracity.

The subject of global warning did come up at least once, during a Boschwitz-Wellstone radio debate. Wellstone accused Boschwitz of using global warming to divert attention from the “real issues” regarding the environment, air and water pollution. “You’ve been in Washington for too long,” I remember him saying. “You’ve forgotten that we Minnesotans love our lakes and rivers and streams.”

Boschwitz had not forgotten. He wrote in his paper of the devastating effects that even a small rise in temperatures would have on agriculture in Minnesota and of the damage to waterfowl done by drying wetlands. He touted solar power, reforestation, and measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses. (No one reading the paper would doubt that its author would be enthusiastic about the development of numerous wind farms in the state, described in a feature in this issue.)

Boschwitz’s colleagues in the Senate would not have considered his positions on global warming old news. In 1989, Boschwitz and Tennessee Senator Al Gore had co-authored a World Environmental Policy Act. It would have required U.S. automakers to achieve 45-mile-per-gallon efficiency by the year 2000 and would have eliminated the U.S. production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a major contributor to global warming. That same year, Boschwitz and Gore introduced a second bill, the Global Warming Response Act, which would have required the State Department, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other agencies to pursue more aggressive policies to alleviate the effects of global warning.

Boschwitz was optimistic in 1990 about the prospects of progress in efforts to address climate change:

“We are making progress. We recently passed a law requiring new household appliances to meet increasing standards of efficiency. New buildings use far less energy than those built 20 years ago, and we have been successful in raising the average fuel efficiency of automobiles from 12 miles per gallon in 1974 to 26.5 miles per gallon—and that is only the beginning.”

If he had remained in the Senate after the 1990 election, there might have been fewer reasons for concern about climate change today.

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