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New article in Historical Studies of the Natural Sciences

Gabriel Henderson publishes "Governing the Hazards of Climate: The Development of the National Climate Program Act, 1977–1981"


During the late 1970s, some members of the United States Congress introduced seminal legislation to ameliorate what they believed to be the economic costs of climatic change. Concerned that American society had become too sensitive to the stresses of even minor climatic fluctuations as manifest in recent weather-related crises, many felt that congressional legislation was necessary to foster greater cooperation between various groups—state climatologists; agricultural researchers; local, state, and federal policy makers; private and public industries. The hope was that greater coordination of the nation’s economic and scientific resources would stimulate a more flexible and resilient society, while allowing the implementation of a more service-driven approach to climate governance. Despite congressional urgency, however, the Carter Administration—specifically the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy—challenged congressional efforts on the grounds that accommodating user needs was both scientifically unjustified and politically irresponsible. Relying heavily on what officials perceived to be the collective judgment of federal science administrators and agency heads, the Administration favored instead a more research-oriented climate program committed to improving the reliability of climate prediction and more effectively coordinating a national response. Even after President Carter reluctantly signed the National Climate Program Act in September 1978, the Administration nonetheless persisted in its effort to stifle the implementation of a service-oriented program.

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