The world’s major powers came within several signatures of endorsing a binding, global framework to reduce carbon emissions — far closer than we’ve come since. During those years, the conditions for success could not have been more favorable. The obstacles we blame for our current inaction had yet to emerge. Almost nothing stood in our way — nothing except ourselves.I don't think the overall sentiments are true. The last part - nothing except ourselves - is sort-of but not really true as well. And the idea that something like GW could be solved by a couple of signatures is magical thinking; or, put another way, confuses law with legislation.
One can argue a lot about exactly when "we knew enough", and what "enough" means, or even what "we" or "knew" means (who exactly is "we"? Scientists? The political elite? The public?) and I've tried to do that before, but I find it hard to believe that even the first IPCC report would be considered sufficient evidence. So any time before 1990 is definitely unreasonable.
Before then - in the 1980's - there was little public awareness of the issue, and no political support for anything GW related that would cause the electorate any kind of pain (so if there was "nothing but ourselves" in the way, that wouldn't help, because we were in the way). The scientific support for anyone who would want to suggest such a thing was lacking. And the technological support for solutions was also lacking (so it wasn't true that only ourselves were in the way; we lacked any kind of fix).
The NYT tells us:
A broad international consensus had settled on a solution: a global treaty to curb carbon emissions. The idea began to coalesce as early as February 1979, at the first World Climate Conference in Geneva, when scientists from 50 nations agreed unanimously that it was “urgently necessary” to act.But my notes from the same say:
of possible warming from CO2 rises they say: "...increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by about 15% during the last century and it is at present increasing by about 0.4% per year. It is likely that an increase will continue in the future... it appears plausible that an increased amount of CO2 in the atmosphere can contribute to a gradual warming of the lower atmosphere, especially at high latitudes". This isn't a prediction of warming such as you would find in the 2001 IPCC TAR, its a much weaker statement of plausib[i]lity appropriate to the level of knowledge of those times.And I wrote that more than a decade ago. The NYT's description of the 1974 CIA report on climate change also somewhat differs from mine. Most importantly, the NYT has failed to realise that the author of the CIA report was clueless about climate (though doubtless an excellent spy).
After that there are an awful lot of words, many of them doing that tedious journalistic thing, the "personal story" (Jim cut down on his work hours, leaving the Goddard Institute at 5 o’clock each day, which allowed him to coach his children’s basketball and baseball teams), rather than recounting facts. And as to the things that are facts, I'm not at all convinced it is a reliable history of what happened; you're much better off with Spencer Weart's version. There are so many documents out there from those times that you can, by selective quotation, get almost anything you want.
* The world is losing the war against climate change - the Economist (via RS)
* Joe Romm doesn't like the NYT piece either (h/t DB) but IMO for the wrong (i.e., not the same as my) reasons. Instead, he is as usual keen to make sure all the world's ills are blamed on Evil Industry and the Evil GOP. After all, it is hardly possible that anyone else could be "to blame", is it?