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Newly obtained Nixon-era document uncovers missed opportunity to monitor air pollution: 'Who knows what would have happened'

It was a research document far ahead of its time.

It was a research document far ahead of its time.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

A 1971 research proposal from the Nixon administration recently went public and revealed scientific evidence of climate change risks that were ignored. 

Former President Richard Nixon's advisors recommended a multimillion-dollar global carbon dioxide monitoring project that never came to fruition. It was one of many missed opportunities to curb the impact of rising temperatures before they reached today's concerning levels. 

What's happening?

If approved, the 1971 plan would have established 10 regional and six global monitoring stations to collect data about carbon dioxide, aerosols, and solar radiation's impact on the atmosphere. 

"Who knows what would have happened if we had some kind of concerted effort, just even on the monitoring side of things?" asked analyst Rachel Santarsiero, who directs the National Security Archive's Climate Change Transparency Project.

In the original 1971 proposal, the authors wrote, "The benefits are immense, but not quantifiable, since this element contributes to ensuring man's survival."

Why is the 1971 proposal important?

While some may discount a climate change action plan from so many decades ago as irrelevant, some innovative technologies in the proposal are just now being implemented for carbon monitoring in modern times. 

Clearly, it was a research document far ahead of its time and well before any scientific consensus about climate change was reached. 

As Marianne Lavelle, an Inside Climate News reporter, wrote, "Government policy has lagged far behind the warnings of scientists, as the latest document from the Nixon archives underscores."

What's being done about modern climate research?

Fortunately, many positive and solutions-oriented climate policy developments are underway today that are gaining traction at the local, state, national, and global levels. 

For example, the Inflation Reduction Act: Pro-Growth Climate Policy passed in 2022 was America's largest investment for reducing carbon pollution. Approval from the Biden administration ensured that hundreds of billions of dollars go towards electric vehicles, clean energy, environmental justice, and other climate protections. 

You can do your part as a concerned citizen by following climate news, staying informed about new proposal developments, and sharing what you've learned with people you care about.  

Yes, the news of the Nixon-era document and its ignored potential was somewhat discouraging. But it is also an excellent reminder about the urgency of our planet's climate issues and why now is the time to finally take immediate action.  

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