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Real Fiscal Responsibility 5; Carter: Environmental Degradation

Love Canal Emergency Declaration Area Plaque at site of 93rd Street School, the school had been knowingly built on top of Hooker’s toxic landfill.

This, the fifth post in a series evaluating the fiscal responsibility/irresponsibility of the Governments of the United States (mostly the Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Federal Reserve) by Administration periods, beginning in 1977 to 1981 with the Jimmy Carter period, will cover the performance of the Government on the environment and climate change aspect of “public purpose.” Posts One, Two, Three, and Four discussed some basic definitions and assumptions of the series and evaluated Government performance relating to economic stagnation, living wage full employment, price stability/inflation, implementing universal health care, and educational reform.

I’ve explained why fiscal responsibility is closely connected to the idea of public purpose, in this post prior to beginning the series. You’ll want to read it, if you want to know what I mean by “public purpose,” and see what else that pregnant term includes, apart from enhancing the environment.

I’ve explained why fiscal responsibility is closely connected to the idea of public purpose, in this post prior to beginning the series. You’ll want to read it, if you want to know what I mean by “public purpose,” and see what else that pregnant term includes, apart from enhancing the environment.

In the first post, I also claimed that the Government of the United States has been fiscally irresponsible in every Administration period since 1977, because its fiscal policies have largely worked against key aspects of public purpose. The first 4 posts supported that claim across 5 aspects of public purpose, as will this one. Future posts in this series will attempt to document it across additional aspects of public purpose.

Preventing further environmental degradation and ending climate change-inducing impacts of human activity before reaching the climate tipping point

By 1977, the view that the earth faces an environmental crisis was already widespread, and among climate scientists, even then, the idea of climate warming on human time scales caused by greenhouse gases was prevalent. The Club of Rome – commisioned, Volkswagen — sponsored, Limits to Growth study, a system dynamics simulation, spawned a popular book selling in excess of 5 million copies. The book had the effect of focusing environmental concerns even more than already had been the case. And so, the environment became a front and center issue for the Carter Administration, the Congress, and other nations, as well.

Carter’s motivation to be a good, even foundational environmental president seemed very high. In 1977 he constituted a high-level commission to study international aspects of the problem. In 1980 the Commission filed the Global 2000 Report, which among other things addressed the possibility of climate change due to CO2 emissions.

Its conclusions were pessimistic, and reactions to its projections were often negative. By the time the report was issued, people were tired of pessimism and there was a reaction, which didn’t help the President in his quest for re-election. But before that report was issued, during his four years as President, Carter, in collaboration with Congress, was able to pass a significant amount of legislation addressing aspects of the environmental problem.

In 1977, Congress, with the support of the President passed the Surface Mining Control, and Reclamation Act (SMCRA); as well as key Amendments strengthening Clean Air Act (CAA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA). (p. 11) In 1978, the White House convened a major Conference on Balanced Growth attended by 500 delegates.

The conference reflected tensions between growth, energy needs, inflation, employment, current views on the failure of Keynesianism to provide a solution to oil price-driven inflation, economic fairness, and environmental quality. The Conference also dealt in significant detail with the issue of limits to growth.

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