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They Knew: How the U.S. Government Helped Cause the Climate Crisis

Yale Environment 360 – “James Gustave Speth has been calling for action on climate since serving in the White House in the 1970s. In an e360 interview, he talks about his new book, which chronicles how successive U.S. administrations repeatedly failed to act in response to scientists’ increasingly dire warnings. Few people have followed the climate issue longer or more closely than James Gustave Speth. From his time in Jimmy Carter’s White House — where he issued reports on the imminent dangers of global warming — through his five-decade career as an environmental leader, Speth has consistently sounded the alarm and sought to spur action on climate change.  In a Yale Environment 360 interview with climate advocate Bill McKibben, Speth discusses his new book, They Knew: The US Federal Government’s Fifty-Year Role in Causing the Climate Crisis, which details how seven successive U.S. administrations failed to take effective action on halting greenhouse gas emissions and encouraged the extraction and use of fossil fuels. The book is based on a legal brief that Speth, a former dean of the Yale School of the Environment, wrote in support of Juliana v. United States, the climate lawsuit brought by 21 youth plaintiffs. In the interview, Speth talks about how the government knew about climate change and its impacts as early as the 1970s, when President Carter called for a transition to renewable energy. But the Reagan administration reversed course, keeping the United States on a fossil fuel-dependent path that continued even as the scientific community’s warnings became ever more urgent. The government’s repeated failures to act, Speth says, were “tragedies in the old Greek sense.”…

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