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Tag: Global Change

The Goody Report and taking Global Habitability to Unispace82

Satellites provided a unique perspective on our changing planet. They enabled scientists to have an improved understanding of the Earth as a whole, integrated system.

The scientific community had also begun to recognise that Earth may have entered a new human-dominated geological epoch – now we call this epoch, Anthropocene, – that could affect global habitability. If humans were to live successfully with global change it was essential to have understanding of the overall Earth system, and identify these changes and their potential future effects on the planet and humans.

To discuss these issues NASA invited fifty scientists from a wide range of scientific disciplines such as chemistry, biology, physics and space science to participate in a workshop, on July 7, 1982, at Woods Hole, Massachusetts.  They formed an ad hoc committee headed by Richard Goody, a professor of planetary physics at Harvard University. Among the scientists in the committee were the: Wallace Broecker, Paul Crutzen, James Hansen, Lynn Margulis,  V. Ramanathan and others.

NASA’s associate administrator Hans Mark had already discussed with Richard Goody, the agency’s idea about an ambitious global climate programme, a large space mission to observe the earth system, and to explore the interactions between the major system components of the earth, how they have evolved, function, and how they may be expected to evolve on all time scale. Richard Goody was intrigued and he agreed to participate.

The outcome of the workshop at Woods Hole was a report titled Global Change: Impacts on Habitability – A Scientific Basis for Assessment” or the “Goody report” for short. In the executive summary the committee indicated that “The earth is a planet characterized by change, and has entered a unique epoch when one species, the human race, has achieved the ability to alter its environment on a global scale and to do so within a lifetime of an individual species member”.

Global Change: Impacts on Habitability. A Scientific Basis for Assessment. A Report by the Executive Committee of a Workshop held at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, June 21-26, 1982. Source:

In the report, it was stressed that humans had become an important factor in the global cycles of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulphur, and could affect global and regional air quality and climate. Engineering and technology had made possible for humans to build massive structures and control the powerful hydrological cycle by altering the course of major rivers. Human’s actions had caused a major direct and indirect influence on the chemistry of the atmosphere, on the allocation of resources on land and oceans, and on global climate.

The scientists/members of the committee, were concerned that these global changes may affect the “ability of the planet to support communities of plants and animals, to produce adequate supplies of food, and to sustain and renew the quality of the air and water and the integrity of the chemical cycles essential for life”. They stressed that the problem is urgent in the sense that conditions are already been created and emphasised on the necessity of monitoring and assessing the increase of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, soil erosion, desertification, the diversion of freshwater resources and the rising levels of air pollutants. It was essential for the scientific community to understand the links and the interactions between earth’s three major components – ocean, atmosphere and biosphere – which on time scale of a decade function as an integrated system. Only then the scientists would be able to recommend responses and offer “a basis from which policy decisions could be made addressing the questions of change, either natural or of human origin, affecting the habitability of the earth and the integrity of the earth”.

The Committee proposed a ten-year international interdisciplinary research programme, relying heavily on space-based technology  on looking at the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere (ice and snow fields), land, sun, and the interactions between them. The committee emphasized on the programme’s rationality and feasibility and argued that NASA, because of the agency’s skills and capability on managing space technology and its experience in interdisciplinary project management, was the most appropriate agency to successfully carry out a complex programme. And Global Change was a complex program; it required an interdisciplinary science research team to provide a global perspective and a view from space, necessary for integration on a global scale.

NASA’s Earth Observing System Dynamics Explorer 2 (DE 2). Source: NASA

A few days after the Woods Hole workshop, Kenneth S. Pedersen, Director of the International Affairs in NASA, expressed an interest in presenting the Global Habitability initiative at the United Nations Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE), which was taken place in Vienna, in August 1982. The idea was that NASA could use Global Habitability to its advantage, demonstrating not only NASA’s interest in conducting global scale Earth studies but also its interest in international scientific collaboration.

James Beggs and Hans Mark agreed to take Global Habitability to Unispace Conference. In an attempt to gain governmental support, Beggs sent the Global Habitability programme proposal and the Unispace White Paper to George A. Keyworth II, Science Advisor to the President Reagan, who expressed his scepticism about the value of the proposed program. But Beggs, an experienced and accomplished political operator, argued that “Global Habitability” will bring “knowledge upon which future decisions can be made” and it will absolutely “remain entirely under U.S. management and control.”

Finally, recognising the political capital to be made out of presenting the program at the conference, particularly in view of the criticism which the United States expected from representatives of developing countries for its current military activities in space, the U.S. Department of State agreed to take “Global Habitability” to Unispace82.

Finally, recognising the political capital to be made out of presenting the program at the conference, particularly in view of the criticism which the United States expected from representatives of developing countries for its current military activities in space, the U.S. Department of State agreed to take “Global Habitability” to Unispace82.

Sources and further reading:

  1. Richard Goody, “Global Change: Impacts on Habitability, A scientific Basis for Assessment”, 7 July 1982. Document IV-2 inside the [J.M Logsdom “Exploring the Unknown: Selected documents in the History of the U.S. Civil Space Program” Volume VI: Space and Earth Science, NASA SP-2004-4407], 478
  2. Kenneth S. Pedersen, ‘Global Habitability as a U.S. Initiative at Unispace 82’ Memorandum, 1st July 1982, Document IV-1 inside the [J.M Logsdom “Exploring the Unknown: Selected documents in the History of the U.S. Civil Space Program” Volume VI: Space and Earth Science, NASA SP-2004-4407], 475
  3. James M.Beggs, ‘Memorandum and program description to George A. Keyworth II’, Document IV-3 inside the [J.M Logsdom “Exploring the Unknown: Selected documents in the History of the U.S. Civil Space Program” Volume VI: Space and Earth Science, NASA SP-2004-4407,1982], 497-498
  4. Hans Mark, “The Space Station”,  Duke University Press (December 1987),115).
  5. James M. Beggs , ‘James Begg’s reply to George A. Keyworth, Science Advisor to the President, July 1982”  Document IV-4 inside the [J.M Logsdom “Exploring the Unknown: Selected documents in the History of the U.S. Civil Space Program” Volume VI: Space and Earth Science, NASA SP-2004-4407, 1982], 502-503
  6. David. Dickson, “U.N. Space Conference Ends in Compromise”, Science, New Series, Vol. 217, No. 4563. (3 September, 1982). 915-916.
  7. Unispace’82, “A Context for International Cooperation and Competition – A Technical Memorandum” March 1983, Congress of the United States, Office of the Technology Assessment.
  8. James M. Beggs, “Unispace 82 held in Vienna: Ambassador Beggs’ Statement”, August 10, 1982, Department of State Bulletin, Vol.83, ISSN 0041-7610 (February 1983)

Climate Histories: Environmental Bilateral – An Agreement to Study Global Change Between U.S. and U.S.S.R.

In the mid-1970s, the evidence about the greenhouse effect and its effect to climate change was growing. Data showed that during the twentieth century, there has been a steady increase of CO2, at a rate of 25 times the historical average. Warming in the climate system was clear and since the 1950s many unprecedented changes had been observed throughout the climate system. The scientists were becoming more convinced that human influence had been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-century. They had also discovered that the biological productivity of the oceans was an important regulator of the way the CO2 built up in the atmosphere, and that the water vapour which had been found to be an important factor in the formation of clouds, could also play a role in the modulation of weather and climate.

Despite the progress, or maybe because of that, the questions about the causes of global warming multiplied, and with them, the concerns about global climate change.   The scientists were starting to realise that only an international interdisciplinary research programme could provide the answers to these questions.

As early as October, 1970, at a conference on “Technological Changes and the Human Environment” at the California Institute of Technology, Thomas Malone, founding Secretary General of International Council of Scientific Unions’s (ICSU) Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment, asked, in his keynote address, for an “intensive study” of the “greenhouse effect” which is generated by the combustion of fossil fuels. In 1977, Roger Revelle highlighted the same issue in the Geophysics Study Committee  report. More specifically, in his report, Revelle indicated that the industrial civilisation,

“may face a major decision over the next few decades – whether to continue reliance on fossil fuels as principal sources of energy or to invest the research and engineering effort, and the capital, that will make it possible to substitute other energy sources for fossil fuels within the next 50 years”.

In the meantime, other environmental issues, like deforestation and desertification, the degradation of environmental quality accompanied by an increase in the overall volume of pollution, and a rapid population growth, grabbed the attention of the scientists and alarmed citizens, environmental groups, legislators, and diplomats alike.  A series of natural disasters across the world, such as droughts and famine in Africa, the collapse of the Soviet grain harvest, and extreme winter and summer weather in the U.S., made headiness all over the world and draw the attention of environmental groups. Both in the West and the East the public opposed the degradation of the environment and the introduction of serious pollutants into lakes and rivers.



Connecting and understanding the various ways that human actions can contribute to global environmental changes was vital. So, by 1970, both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. enacted sweeping new statutes to try to deal with the situation, and in 1972, during a global “Conference on the Human Environment” convened by the United Nations at Stockholm, recognising the significance of climate change to earth’s viability,  both the U.S. President Richard M. Nixon and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R., Leonid I. Brezhnev,  agreed to inaugurate a bilateral programme to address, what scientists come to call “Global Change”. On 23 May, 1972, at a Summit Meeting in Moscow, the Soviet and American heads of state signed the Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Environmental Protection, generally known as the “Environmental Bilateral”. Furthermore, a Working Group was formed (Working Group VIII) to deal with the human influence on climate. Its activities included the study and the monitoring of the changing levels of atmospheric constituents that might modify climate, the study of the effects of contamination of the upper atmosphere on climate and the development of climate modelling. One of the Group’s scientific priorities was the study on the climate of the late Pleistocene and Holocene eras, as a way to understand natural climate variability.

The “Environmental Bilateral”, is considered to be the most successful of the several cooperation agreements between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. In a report which was published both in English and Russian, after a workshop which was held in Leningrad (now Petersburg), between 13 and 21 June 1981, the Working Group VIII, concluded that the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is gradually increasing as more and more fossil fuels are burned. By studying climate models, the Group showed that that as carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, global temperatures will rise too, and they warned that such warming could have important consequences on the biosphere, agricultural and other economic activities. They added that in order “to anticipate these consequences in useful detail” it was necessary to understand climate and that required “the full effort of the international scientific community”.

As weather satellites and highly sophisticated space and data management technologies were the most technologically advanced tools to use, the Group proposed the development of a ring of five geosynchronous satellites that would be monitored through international cooperation. It was an ambitious proposal, but the technology was already there and the increased computer power had made possible to process the data from space-based observations. For the first time, the scientists would be able to simultaneously  observe and study all the parts that affected the earth system and their interactions, the atmosphere, the oceans and the solid earth, the plants and the animals,  and the impact of human activities to climate.

Sources and further reading:

D. Kennedy, “The U.S. Government and Global Environmental Change Research: Ideas and Agendas”, Case C16-92-1121.0, (John F. Kennedy School of Government. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1992):2

Thomas. F. Malone, “Reflections on the Human Prospect”, Annual Review of Energy and the Environment 20, (November 1995), 16

National Research Council (NRC), ‘Energy and Climate’ Geophysics Study Committee, (Washington, DC: National Academy Sciences,1977),5

W. Henry. Lambright and Rosemary. O’Leary, “Governing Global Climate Change. Can We learn From the Past in Designing the Future?’, Policy Studies Journal 19:2, (1991): 54-55

Eugene W. Bierly & John A. Mirabito, “The US-USSR Agreement on Protection of the Environment and its relationship to the US National Climate Program” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 65(1) (January 1984): 17



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