Money for Keeling: Monitoring CO2
Money for climate change research was never easy to find. This essay
focuses on a single example: support for monitoring the global level of
carbon dioxide gas. Funds initially came from universities that sponsored
research into unrelated agricultural, meteorological, and purely scientific
questions, and from corporations that developed instrumentation for industrial
processes, and from military services that needed geophysical information
and infrastructure for their Cold War operations. Only later did the U.S.
government provide funds from programs that were partially concerned with
global warming itself. These programs were disorganized, underfunded,
and politically fragile. The most crucial support for the monitoring work
was the energy of scientists. Without their tireless efforts to keep funds
coming, the work would have faltered, leaving us dangerously ignorant.
(For other case studies of funding see the essay on Roger Revelle's discovery and the experimental Greenland
Ice Drilling site.)
| An example of what climate scientists went through to push their
research forward, and how that changed over time, is the struggle
for money to monitor carbon dioxide gas ( CO2).
Measurements of the level of the gas in the atmosphere would turn
out to be of profound interest for the future of the world. But at
the outset, nobody thought the problem was particularly pressing.
Early studies of CO2 in the atmosphere were strictly
a matter of satisfying general scientific curiosity, and their funding
came from the usual sources for university research. An individual
would work on CO2 for a few months, supported
on his salary as a professor, with perhaps a little help from a government
grant awarded mainly for other matters. No wonder, then, that in the
1950s researchers lacked what they needed most, and what some were
beginning to call for reliable measurements of how much CO2
was in the atmosphere.(1)
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| The problem was highlighted at a conference in Stockholm in 1954.
The conference's goal was a practical one: to discuss how the atmosphere
carried around gases that crops needed to grow, such as nitrogen and
CO2. The participants agreed that there ought
to be a network of stations to provide regular data on such gases.
They thought priority should go to CO2, not least
because it might alter the climate.(2) Heeding the call, educational institutions
allocated some money and set up a network of 15 measuring stations
throughout Scandinavia. Their measurements of CO2
fluctuated widely from place to place, and even from day to day, as
different air masses passed through. That might be of interest to
meteorologists and agriculture scientists, but it was useless for
global warming studies. "It seems almost hopeless," one expert confessed,
"to arrive at reliable estimates of the atmospheric carbon-dioxide
reservoir and its secular changes by such measurements..."(3)
| Charles David (Dave) Keeling, a postdoctoral student at the California
Institute of Technology, thought he could do better. Underlying his
interest was a personal drive. Keeling was a dedicated outdoorsman,
spending all the time he could spare traveling woodland rivers and
glaciated mountains, and he chose research topics that would keep
him in direct contact with wild nature. Monitoring CO2
in the open air would do just that. Keeling's case was not an unusual
example of crucial "support" provided for geophysics from simple love
of the true world itself. On lonely tundra or the restless sea, when
scientists devoted their years to research topics that many of their
peers thought of minor import, part of the reason might be that these
particular scientists could not bear to spend all their lives indoors.
Yet their research sometimes turned out to be more significant than
even they had hoped.
| Keeling, like some of the Scandinavians, began studying CO2
in the atmosphere with a look at the gas's biological interactions,
vaguely invoking possible applications to agriculture. Appealing to
another problem of deep concern in California, he also drew support
from a grant from the Los Angeles Air Pollution Foundation. But Keeling's
true scientific interest was the pure study of geochemistry. As he
explained in early 1956 while seeking funds from the U.S. Weather
Bureau, he deeply desired to elucidate "the factors controlling the
composition of atmospheric CO2." That basic question
pushed him toward measurements at a level of accuracy that no instrument
then on the market could reach. He scoured the scientific literature
for better ideas. Eventually he found a 1916 paper about a device
which he could adapt for his purposes by putting in plenty of labor
and ingenuity. As Keeling measured carbon isotopes in the air at various
locations around California, laboriously refining his techniques,
he found that at the most pristine locations he was getting stable
numbers the true base level of atmospheric CO2.
(The Scandinavians who were monitoring the gas never hoped to see
any such thing, and failed to hunt out all the errors in their techniques,
as Keeling managed to do.)(4)
|Keeling recognized the
significance of the base level, for he was interested in the greenhouse
theory of climate change. His mentor at CalTech, the geochemist Harrison
Brown, was one of the few people who appreciated how the explosive
exponential growth of population and industry over the coming century
would exploit resources on a geophysical scale.(5) Keeling also read the theoretical studies that Gilbert Plass
published in 1956 which made the CO2 greenhouse
effect sound plausible. Plass was working nearby in the Los Angeles
area and came up to CalTech to discuss the topic. Yet it seemed to
be a matter of no practical significance, and not likely to yield
new information without great effort. This was not research any agency
was likely to support.
More discussion in
| Just at this time, however, planning was
underway for an International Geophysical Year. Scientists and governments
organized the IGY in response to a combination of altruistic and Cold
War motives, ranging from a hope to promote international cooperation
to a quest for geophysical data of military value. The project would
extract a large if temporary lump of new money from the world's governments.
Greenhouse gases like CO2 were too low on the
list of IGY concerns to be allocated much support, but with so much
money now available, a little might be spared.
| A modest
plan crystallized in meetings of experts arranged by the U.S. National Committee for the IGY in early 1956. Here two senior scientists, Roger Revelle and Hans Suess, argued the value of measuring CO2 in the ocean and air simultaneously at various points around the globe. The ultimate goal was "a clearer understanding of the probable climatic effects of the predicted great industrial production of carbon-dioxide over the next 50 years." But the immediate aim was to observe how sea water took up the gas, as just one of the many puzzles of geochemistry. Revelle had become interested in the question through his own research, which had been amply supported by the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research and other federal agencies, whose interest in the oceans was whetted by the competition with the Soviet Union.
|The committee granted Revelle some small funds for measuring CO2. The key actor in this, and much else in getting greenhouse gas studies underway, was Harry Wexler, a meteorologist turned administrator who served as Chief of the Scientific Services division of the U.S. Weather Bureau. Wexler was an outstanding example of the thoughtful officials who worked behind the scenes to identify and promote promising research, while the scientists they supported got all the credit.(6)
| Wexler and Revelle already had Keeling in mind for this work, and he now hired
the young geochemist to come to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography
and conduct the world survey. One of their aims, as Keeling recalled
it, would be to "establish a reliable 'baseline' CO2
level which could be checked 10 or 20 years later." To actually detect
a rise of the CO2 level during the 18-month term
of the IGY scarcely seemed possible.(7)
Obedient to his sources of funding, Keeling scrupulously measured
CO2 variations in the sea and air at various
locations. But his heart went into something more fundamental, the
atmospheric "baseline" value.
| Keeling wanted to buy
a new type of gas detector (namely, infrared spectrophotometers) that
penned a precise and continuous record on a strip chart. Development
of these instruments had begun in academia, and in the late 1930s
little entrepreneurial firms took up the technology. The firms received
a big boost from government orders during the Second World War, but
afterward they also developed instruments for monitoring civilian
industrial processes. It was wholly fortuitous that they could accurately
monitor CO2 not just in a factory but in the
atmosphere at large. Most of Keeling's seniors thought that such instruments
were more costly than anyone needed to measure something that fluctuated
so widely as atmospheric CO2 levels. Yet the IGY money pot was big enough, and Keeling persuasive enough, to get Wexler to dig up funds to buy the spectrophotometers.(8)
| The survey's logistics, like its instruments, depended on things
that happened to be available for unrelated purposes. One lynchpin
would be a weather observatory built in 1956 atop the volcanic peak
Mauna Loa in Hawaii. Rising above the lower atmosphere and surrounded
by thousands of miles of clean ocean, it was one of the best sites
on Earth to measure undisturbed air. Funding for the Mauna Loa Observatory
was split between the U.S. Weather Bureau and the National Bureau
of Standards. It was also reported that "The Armed Forces are keenly
interested in some of the projects at Mauna Loa" thanks to concerns
with high-altitude equipment and monitoring satellites.(9) The military accordingly provided help
for road-building and the like.
| Another key station would be in the pristine
Antarctic, where scientific work depended wholly on military assistance.
It was almost a parable, the coldest of Cold War science. The U.S.
Navy and other services, intent on developing expertise that would
prepare them for warfare under any circumstances, would gladly pick
up some credit along the way by giving scientists heroic logistical
support. This was only one of many ways that the Navy and other armed
services, by funding work connected with their military missions,
provided essential support for research that would turn out to tell
something about climate change.
| When Keeling set up his recording spectrophotometers
at these stations, they proved to be worth their cost. Spikes in the
record on the strip charts pointed to CO2 contamination
blowing past from volcanic vents on Mauna Loa, and from machinery
in Antarctica. Stalking such problems with a meticulous attention
to detail that verged on the obsessive, Keeling managed to extract
a remarkably accurate and consistent baseline number for the level
of CO2 in the atmosphere. In late 1958, his first
full year of Antarctic data hinted that a rise had actually been detected.
| But the IGY was now winding down, and by November 1958 the remaining
funds had fallen so low that CO2 monitoring would
have to stop. Suess came to the rescue. "I am sure that this [monitoring]
program should be continued under all circumstances," he wrote to
Revelle. He asked Revelle to transfer some ten thousand dollars of
IGY money, earmarked for Suess's studies of carbon-14, to support
Keeling's program. (In those years, more than now, agencies trusted
scientists to spend funds as they chose.) To fund his own laboratory,
Suess would turn to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, always willing
to support work with radioactive isotopes.(10)
The incident shows that it is sometimes beside the point to identify
the exact source of funds for a given year of work. What mattered
was the generally flexible and resource-rich environment for geophysics,
an environment that could sustain a relatively small and marginal
project like Keeling's if senior scientists thought it worthwhile.
| Meanwhile Keeling applied to the U.S. National
Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF's budget was on the rise, not least
because Americans were concerned about the launching of the Sputnik
satellite and other signs of Soviet scientific prowess. Keeling eventually
got funds to carry on longer.(11)
In 1960, with two full years of Antarctic data in hand, he published
an epochal finding. The baseline CO2 level in
the atmosphere had detectably risen, and at approximately the rate
Revelle calculated for oceans that were not swallowing up all of human
industry’s emissions.(12) As the Mauna Loa data accumulated,
the record grew increasingly impressive. The CO2
levels climbed noticeably higher, year after year.
|But just when the data were beginning to look
solid, the U.S. Congress pruned back the federal budget, science agencies
included. The Weather Bureau had to stop funding research not directly
related to forecasting. Keeling had to abandon the expensive and time-consuming
Antarctic monitoring. The Mauna Loa Observatory meanwhile suffered
deep funding cuts at one point the staff were told the station
would probably be closed altogether. That would mean terminating the
CO2 monitoring program, which needed roughly
$100,000 a year to function. It was only by strenuous efforts that
Keeling and his allies managed to scrape up enough money from the
NSF to continue gathering the indispensable data. Meanwhile in Spring
1964 the delicate instrument broke down despite long hours of work
by staff on the mountain, a misfortune that Keeling used in arguing
for more money so he could hire a full-time technician. The hiatus
is visible for all time to come in Keeling's graph of the history
of the Earth's CO2.(13)
| Keeling afterwards reflected on what might
have happened if his funding had been cut off before he nailed down
his results. The Scandinavian scientists did eventually work out the
flaws in their techniques, but they were inevitably plagued by random
variations at their sites, swept by winds from farmland and ocean.
Keeling rightly pointed out, "Many years might have passed before
data of the quality of the Mauna Loa record would have been forthcoming."(14)
| What had begun as a temporary job for Keeling was turning into
a lifetime career the first of many careers that scientists
would eventually dedicate to climate change. The 1963 funding hiatus
was not the last of his problems. To sustain the Mauna Loa observations
over the next two decades, he and his supporters had to keep up what
one administrator called "a nontrivial fight."(15)
Atmospheric studies were divided among many Federal agencies, which
made for bureaucratic problems as officials argued over which of them,
if any, should take charge of which aspects of CO2
research. Scientists mostly had to seek support from either the NSF
or the Weather Bureau (which was later incorporated into a National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA).
| In 1965 a panel appointed by the President's Science Advisory Committee
gave high-level endorsement for monitoring CO2
levels "for at least the next several decades." The endorsement only
ensured a bare minimum of funds for the next few years, however.(16) By 1970, severe cuts again threatened
| This weak position was further weakened, as so often in human affairs,
by personality issues. Some officials would have preferred to pursue
CO2 monitoring without Keeling himself. "Keeling's
a peculiar guy," Revelle later remarked. "He wants to measure CO2
in his belly... And he wants to measure it with the greatest precision
and the greatest accuracy he possibly can." As he stubbornly sought
more money to improve his results and complained angrily about shortfalls,
Keeling struck some people as a demanding "know-it-all." But when
it came to monitoring CO2, Keeling really did
know it all better than anyone else. There was nobody so reliably
skilled nor so dedicated. Although a few other scientists in the United
States and around the world also undertook studies of CO2
levels, in the end Keeling and his staff at Scripps kept control of
the core of the monitoring work.(17)
| Besides putting up with Keeling's exacting
requirements, agencies had to deal with a kind of science they found
unattractive. "Monitoring" a gas in the atmosphere seemed just dull
plodding around a beaten track, calling to mind the discredited statistical
climatology of an earlier generation. The NSF was supposed to fund
pathbreaking science, and officials looked for striking new results,
new ideas that could be published in leading scientific journals
not just that steady, relentless upward march of data points, year
after year after year. A reviewer who grudgingly supported one of
Keeling's proposals remarked in 1979, " CO2 monitoring
is like motherhood.... It does appear, however, that the former is
even more expensive." Keeling did produce some interesting findings
by studying variations in the rate of rise of the gas, from its seasonal
cycle to decade-scale accelerations and slowdowns. But renewing his
support was always a struggle. Officials at NSF told him bluntly that
they would not support "routine monitoring" indefinitely. At one point
he was asked to draw a line separating the "basic research"
component of his work from the "routine monitoring" part,
so that the latter could be foisted off on some other agency. Keeling
did not reply to the request.(18)
|The straightforward solution would have been
to fund CO2 monitoring as just one piece of a
grand program to monitor all aspects of the global environment. Here
the story of support for greenhouse effect studies becomes part of
the general tale of government funding for environmental matters.
The grassroots environmental movement that came to maturity around
1970 made concern for the environment a major government responsibility,
watched closely by the public. Influential reports by panels of scientists
demanded more research and, in particular, more monitoring of how
human actions affected the environment. Bureaucrats put carbon dioxide
into a new category, "Global Monitoring of Climatic Change." Under
this title the funding, stagnant for many years, doubled and doubled
again between 1971 and 1975.(19)
| The Mauna Loa Observatory, again threatened
by funding cuts, was rescued when a unit of NOAA took over its operation
and maintenance in 1973. This unit was the Air Resources Laboratories
within NOAA's Environmental Research Laboratories— names that
reflected the new national concern about the environment. Formally,
the money came out of a budget for "inadvertent climate modification,"
and fell within the agency's general responsibility for monitoring
"air quality." The administrative structure for the monitoring was
directly descended from an organization that the Weather Bureau had
created in 1948 to help the Atomic Energy Commission track the dispersion
of radioactive fallout from atomic bomb tests. This responsibility
was later expanded to include tracking of urban smog and other materials
artificially added to the atmosphere. CO2
was stuck into this budget for lack of any better place to put it.(20) Meanwhile, NSF continued to periodically
award Keeling grants for specific research projects at Scripps.
| Further support came
from officials and scientists who began to call for international
funding and organization of environmental monitoring. In his battle
for U.S. government funds, Keeling rounded up verbal endorsement from
the World Meteorological Organization (a prestigious intergovernmental
body that monitored global weather),, and he got some money directly
from the new United Nations Environmental Programme.(21) But hopes that other nations would join the effort with
their own monitoring efforts were disappointed, and NOAA's program
was the only truly global one. Unfailingly meticulous, Keeling was
trusted to set standards for the tricky measurements of air samples,
brought to him in glass flasks from spots around the world. These
measurements confirmed the Mauna Loa results for the inexorable annual
rise of CO2, and added important information
about the seasonal carbon cycle.
| In a 1976 summary publication that unequivocally demonstrated the
long-term rise of atmospheric CO2, Keeling's
group ended, as was customary in scientific papers, with an acknowledgment
of support. They cited a series of six NSF grants, and added that
NOAA and its predecessors had provided "station facilities, field
transport, and staff assistance." The scientists might also have noted,
had they not taken it for granted, that their institutional homes
provided an essential long-term foundation of salaries and facilities.
Nearly all senior scientists get their pay, their office, and (sometimes
hardest to secure) their parking space, in their capacity as a university
professor, or sometimes as a staff member of a public or private research
institute. Keeling's group, in the Scripps Institution of Oceanography
at the University of California, got its basic money not only from
Federal government grants but also from the State of California and
through private institutional fund-raising and endowments.(22)
| The NOAA monitoring program's budget leveled off after 1975, as
part of a general saturation of environmental concern. But now a new
actor came on stage. In the mid 1970s David Slade, a vigorous and
strong-minded manager in the Energy Research and Development Administration
(ERDA), took an interest in climate change. More than almost any other
manager, he saw the greenhouse effect as a matter of serious concern
to the energy industries. It was part of the new agency's mandate
to take a hard look at energy and the environment in general. Meanwhile
some scientists were warning officials that climate change was emerging
as a serious issue. The geochemist Wallace Broecker, for one, wrote
to ERDA's chief in 1976 to insist that the agency "make every possible
attempt to explore the effects of CO2."(23)
| With such backing, Slade sought the authority and budget to support
a variety of research programs, including better CO2
monitoring. His first move was the creation in 1977 of a prestigious
Study Group on the Global Effects of Carbon Dioxide, chaired by the
veteran nuclear energy administrator Alvin Weinberg. As an advocate
of nuclear power the leading alternative to energy production
from fossil fuels Weinberg became a strong supporter of greenhouse
effect studies. Next, Slade set up an Office of Carbon Dioxide Research,
a vessel into which he hoped to pour important sums of money.(24) He mobilized scientists around the country to help draft an
elaborate research program. The plans called for increasing the annual
budget for greenhouse effect research more than tenfold, to $20 or
$30 million, including a global CO2 monitoring
network costing around $200,000 per year.(25)
| As these discussions proceeded, ERDA was integrated into the newly
created Department of Energy (DOE). That only increased the uncertainty
among government officials about who should pay for Keeling's and
other CO2 monitoring. Work was being funded by
DOE, NSF, NOAA, and even the U.S. Geological Survey. Of them all,
only Slade at DOE seemed interested in taking responsibility as the
"lead" Federal agency for CO2 monitoring with
an aggressive program. From 1977 to 1980 his small budget doubled,
redoubled, and redoubled again, driving an expansion of many kinds
of research related to CO2 and global warming.
However, not all of this represented a net increase of total Federal
funding for climate research. Much of the money was only shifted about
in administrative rearrangements. Keeling's work continued to be funded
precariously by grudging contributions from several agencies.
| Slade's operation was the closest the nation
had ever come to a centrally organized program to study climate change,
but DOE was a poor place for such work. Those who dealt with any branch
of the new department (including me, the author of these essays) were
often frustrated by its bureaucratic quagmire of paperwork and regulations.
Pushing a research program like Slade's meant an interminable succession
of meetings with scientists, other Federal science agencies, the Office
of Management and Budget, a variety of advisory and oversight committees,
and foreign groups. Along with this came endless writing, revising,
and re-writing of plans and reports. As one of Slade's staff members
complained, "Nobody gets to do any work except bureaucrats and secretaries."
Sometimes it seemed that more time was spent on convening workshops
to discuss research than on the research itself. "If anything has
been meetinged to death it's CO2," the staffer
remarked. "If conferences could solve problems, it should be solved
by now."(26) Scientists began
to worry. Particularly outspoken was Broecker, who wrote to a Senator
that "the time for one complete loop (scientists to agency to scientists)
is much too long... This system has functioned but it has led to delays
and I'm sure has left huge gaps in the research program."(27)
|Reinforcing this criticism of the DOE bureaucracy
was the fact that the new department had no track record of work specifically
on climate change, nor any special expertise in the field. And Slade's
aggressive bureaucratic maneuvers made him unpopular with some administrators
in other agencies. His ambitious plans ran into a wall. Congress was
again fighting particularly hard to balance the Federal budget, and
Slade's program had gotten big enough to attract the attention of
frugal administrators. In 1980, the increases in his CO2
funding came to a halt. Meanwhile the Congressional National Climate
Act of 1978 had established a National Climate Program Office —
with the responsibility assigned not to DOE but to NOAA.. The agency
immediately expanded its program of collecting air in flasks by adding
ten stations scattered around the world. Its global CO2
monitoring program has continued to this day.(28)
| The assignment of responsibility to NOAA was a problem for Keeling.
The weather bureaucrats had grown weary of his demands and were getting
ready to push him aside so they could monitor CO2
as they saw fit. Meanwhile NSF officials had decided to terminate
their support of Keeling's "routine" measurements. At the start of
1981 it seemed that he had run out of sponsors. But Scripps's director
made a personal appeal to Slade's boss, DOE Director of Energy Research
Edward Frieman, who agreed to pick up the ball. Slade and his colleagues
in DOE undertook some horse-trading with NOAA, and the Mauna Loa monitoring,
including exacting standard-setting, continued under Keeling's control.(29)
| The reprieve was short-lived. In 1981, Ronald Reagan became President,
eager to suppress "alarmist" environmentalism. Reagan's Secretary
of Energy (a former governor of South Carolina, trained as a dentist)
told people that there was no real global warming problem at all.
The DOE's recent attempt to take over and expand greenhouse effect
studies, smacking of bureaucratic empire-building, made a juicy target
for cuts. To the dismay of the Department's own mid-level scientist-administrators,
its new leadership announced plans to sharply reduce funding for climate
research. In particular, they would entirely terminate DOE's funding
of CO2 monitoring. Slade, undercut by criticism
of his administrative methods, was peremptorily removed from his post
(Frieman too was forced out).
| Supporters of climate research rallied, finding
a leader in Representative Albert Gore, Jr. Supported by a few other
representatives, Gore held a Congressional hearing in March 1981 that
featured testimony by persuasive scientists like Revelle and Stephen
Schneider. The hearings threw a public spotlight on the threat to
the CO2 program. Painfully embarrassed by media
attention to greenhouse warming, which continued sporadically through
the year, the Reagan administration backed off and the DOE's program
| The CO2 budget was
so small, and now so little appreciated, that DOE managers tried
to persuade NOAA to take over Keeling's work. But under Reagan,
environmental research was being starved at NOAA too, as at every
Federal agency. The result of months of negotiation was a compromise,
in which NOAA took on administration of some activities while DOE
continued to provide money. Backed up by DOE (as well as by the
World Meteorological Organization), Keeling was also able to return
to NSF for funds from time to time. And he found other occasional
but important sources. For example, in 1982 his research team got
an unexpected grant from the Electrical Power Research Institute,
a private group underwritten by the electrical power industry, whose
leaders recognized that they needed a better understanding of the
greenhouse effect.(31) For Scripps's day-in, day-out global CO2
monitoring, however, DOE remained the chief support.
|Concern about global warming was spreading, and finally in 1989
the World Meterological Organization established an international
Global Atmosphere Watch that supplemented the NOAA network’s
monitoring of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
Yet scientists continue to notice that, as one of them put it in general
terms, "Monitoring does not win glittering prizes. Publication
is difficult, infrequent and unread." Even as funding poured
into ambitious new projects, some important series of routine measurements
were interrupted when funding from one source or another halted.
The CO2 curve is one series that survives,
mounting a step higher year by year. As Keeling's son (an important
scientist in his own right) put it, "The Scripps program continues
to be funded — if precariously — one grant at a time....
a hiatus may be only one political wind shift or economic downturn
|All the bureaucratic effort, which drained countless hours and
emotional energy from administrators, politicians, and most of all
from Keeling and other scientists, was over an annual sum of barely
$200,000, an insignificant fraction of DOE's multi-billion-dollar
Lesson on General Trends in Science Funding in
the United States in the second half of the twentieth century can
be found in this story. The chief theme that historians have noticed
in general, and which also appears in this story, is the impact
of the Cold War. The fact that something like half of the research
on anything in this period depended on military or national prestige
concerns is so familiar by now to science historians, that one needs
to note that roughly half of the support did not come from
such sources. Other practical matters such as agriculture and air
pollution, as well as pure academic curiosity, also figure in Keeling’s
story and many others.
|The trend most obvious and familiar to scientists who lived through
the period was a shift from personal to bureaucratic funding mechanisms.
In the 1950s, the geophysics community was small enough so that
everyone knew each others’ qualifications, and leaders could
make decisions on a personal basis (physicists, astronomers and
most other scientists worked similarly). Officers of agencies like
the U.S. Committee of the IGY or the Office of Naval Research could
bestow funds like Renaissance Princes upon those they trusted.
It was such patronage mechanisms that Revelle and Seuss used to
deliver IGY money to Keeling, that Keeling himself drew upon to
extract additional funds to buy his spectrometer, and that left
Seuss and Revelle with no qualms about diverting money from a grant
intended for a different purpose.
|This personal model became less prevalent through the 1960s, and
by the 1980s it was all but extinct outside a few sheltered places
like the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The shift of government research support to the NSF and other large
new agencies made for more rigorous supervision, whether through
formal peer review and committee mechanisms or, as in the DOE, by
rule-bound bureaucrats. But the underlying reason for the shift
was probably the sheer growth of research communities. Ever larger
populations meant that a few leaders like Revelle could no longer
know and judge everyone. Moreover, the funding required for a research
program increased even faster than the number of researchers, since
each step forward in knowledge meant that the next step would require
more elaborate instrumentation and collaboration. Keeling's advanced
spectrometer, and the coordination required to gather CO2
flasks around the world, were more costly than their predecessors,
yet they were tiny next to the grand programs projected in other
areas of meteorology and oceanography, to say nothing of space astronomy
or high-energy physics. The large sums called up increased Congressional
insistence on tight oversight and controls.
|The United States was not alone in these trends, but the trends
were more pronounced there. In most other countries the central
government bureaucracy, as the employer of the majority of academics,
had already before 1940 played a main role in supporting research.
And in the postwar era, the funding of research nowhere grew to
such gargantuan bulk as in America.
|The spread of formal oversight structures was a problem for Keeling
because his work did not fit easily into any of the slots. This
feature was probably most common in the scientific fields (increasingly
prevalent) that involved interdisciplinary work. Geophysics, inherently
interdisciplinary, was liable to include research programs that
fell between two chairs, subject to agency infighting over who would
be privileged, or obliged, to pay for a given program.
|Mingled with this infighting came another trend: the politicization
of some scientific decisions. Through the 1960s, science advice
flowed upward from the research community to politicians and the
White House (some would say "downward"). The direction
began to reverse when President Richard Nixon grew disgusted with
physicists' opposition to ballistic missile defense and other Cold
War initiatives. Under the early Reagan administration, top officials
not only rejected unwelcome advice, but actively sought to suppress
research that might lead to further unwelcome advice. The tendency
was at first most obvious in environmental areas like global warming
and pollution control, but in time it spread into sexual education
and other areas of public health, and onward to basic research involving
embryos. Such strong politicization did not appear in other advanced
democracies. It appears to correlate with the unequalled rise to
power in America of right-wing anti-intellectual, anti-elite attitudes.
While increased bureaucratization of research support may be inevitable,
interference for political ends is an error that should and can
be opposed by all citizens.
Government: The View from Washington
The Carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Effect
Roger Revelle's Discovery
1. Much of the following is taken from Weart (1997), q.v. for some additional references. See also Sundquist and Keeling (2009). For a general discussion of the Keeling Curve and its political setting see Howe (2014).
2. Eriksson (1954).
3. Fonselius et al. (1955); Fonselius et al. (1956); a main problem was inadequate
instrumental technique, see From and Keeling (1986), p. 88;
"hopeless": Rossby (1959), p. 15, calling for more global
measurements "during a great number of years.".
4. "Factors" (underlined in the original): Keeling
to Harry Wexler, 16 Feb. 1956, office files of C.D. Keeling. I am grateful
to Keeling for access to these files, which have since been transferred to the SIO archives. Here and below see also Broecker
and Kunzig (2008), pp. 73-78; Weiner (1990), pp. 15-25; Christianson
(1999), pp. 152-54, and Keeling, interview by Weart, January 1995.
5. Brown (1954). See also Putnam (1953), p. 170.
6. "Clearer understanding:" Minutes of IGY Working Group on
Oceanography, Regional Meeting, 2 March 1956, Washington, DC, copy in provisional box 96,
folder 243, "IGY-CSAGI Working Group on Oceanography," Maurice Ewing Collection, Center
for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Wexler: see Fleming (2016).
7. Keeling (1978), quote p. 40;
similarly, Keeling, interview by Weart. For all this, see also Keeling
8. Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "Proposal to the National
Science Foundation for A Study of the Abundance of
CO2...," prepared by Norris W. Rakestraw and Charles D. Keeling,
ca. June 1958. Folder "Government Correspondence - NSF - 1958-1969," Keeling office files,
SIO. See Keeling (1978), p. 38.
9. New York Times, June 24, 1956.
10. Funding crisis: Hans Suess to Roger Revelle, 14 November
1958, box 20, folder 24, Hans Suess Papers mss. 199, Mandeville Dept. of Special Collections,
Geisel Library, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA Suess Papers. See also Suess to
Harmon Craig, 11 November 1958, box 6, folder 13, Suess Papers.
11. Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Proposal LJ-723 to
National Science Foundation, 2 June 1958. Prepared by Norris W. Rakestraw and Charles D.
Keeling. Folder "Grant - NSF G6542 Proposal," Keeling office files, SIO. See also Keeling (1998).
12. Keeling (1960).
13. Keeling, interview by Weart, January 1995, Keeling (1978); Keeling
(1998), p. 46. For information on the breakdown of the infrared analyzer
I am grateful to a personal communication from Forrest M. Mims III.
14. Keeling (1978), p. 52.
15. Quote: Berrien Moore III, personal communication, Sept.
1989. Here and below also Keeling, interviews by Weart, confidential communications from
others, and papers in various files at NOAA Air Resources Laboratory, Silver Spring, MD.
16. President's Science Advisory
Committee (1965), p. 26. The panel recommended funding through "the U.S. Weather
Bureau and its collaborators," p. 127.
17. Roger Revelle, interview by Earl Droessler,
Feb. 1989, AIP. For the program and methods around this time see Keeling
18. Anonymous review, Oct. 1979, Folder "Grant -
NSF ATM79-25965 Proposal," Keeling office files; Keeling
(1998), pp. 51-52, 56-57. Asked to draw a line (sometime in the 1970s):
Ralph Keeling (2008), p. 1771.
19. Hart (1992), p. 32-33,
citing U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Appropriations, "Appropriations for State,
Justice, Commerce" for FY 1967-1975.
20. L. Machta, "A History of the Air Resources Laboratory,"
21. Keeling (1998), pp. 51-52.
22. Keeling et al. (1976), p.
551. In such papers institutions are acknowledged at the outset by listing authors' affiliations.
23. Broecker to Robert Seamans, 17 March 1976, copy in
Revelle Papers MC6 19:32, SIO.
24. D.H. Slade, "Plan for the DOE Carbon Dioxide Effects
Program," 14 Oct. 1977, Wm. Mitchell Papers, NOAA Air Resources Laboratory, Silver Springs,
MD. See Science News (1977).
25. Various plans in Revelle Papers MC6 12:15, SIO.
26. Elliott (1977-89), 13 Nov.
1978 and 21 Aug. 1980.
27. Broecker to Sen. Paul Tsongas, 7 April 1980, "CO2
history" file, office files of Wallace Broecker, LDEO. BACK
28. A list of stations with dates is at this NOAA site.
29. Keeling (1998), pp. 56-61;
Fleagle (1994), p. 126.
30. Main supporters were Reps. George Brown (CA), a
long-time friend of science, and James Scheuer (NY). Schneider
(1989), pp. 121-130; Jensen (1990).
31. Elliott (1977-89),
18 June 1982; Keeling (1998), pp.
60-61, 66; Keeling et al. (1989), pp. 231-32.
32. Nisbet (2007),
p. 790; Keeling (2008), p. 1772.
© 2003-2008 Spencer Weart & American Institute of Physics