George C. Marshall Institute - History

History

The George C. Marshall Institute was founded in 1984 by Frederick Seitz (former President of the United States National Academy of Sciences), Robert Jastrow (founder of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies), and William Nierenberg (former director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography). The Institute's primary aim, initially, was to play a role in defense policy debates, defending Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or "Star Wars"). In particular, it sought to defend SDI "from attack by the Union of Concerned Scientists, and in particular by the equally prominent physicists Hans Bethe, Richard Garwin, and astronomer Carl Sagan." The Institute argued that the Soviet Union was a military threat. A 1987 article by Jastrow argued that in five years the Soviet Union would be so powerful that it would be able to achieve world domination without firing a shot. With the end of the Cold War in 1991, the Institute shifted from an emphasis on defense to a focus on environmental skepticism, including skepticism on issues of global warming.

The Institute's shift to environmental skepticism began with the publication of a report on global warming by William Nierenberg. During the United States presidential election, 1988, George H. W. Bush had pledged to meet the "greenhouse effect with the White House effect." Nierenberg's report, which blamed global warming on solar activity, had a large impact on the incoming Bush presidency, strengthening those in it opposed to environmental regulation. In 1990 the Institute's founders (Jastrow, Nierenberg and Seitz) published a book on climate change. The appointment of David Allan Bromley as presidential science advisor, however, saw Bush sign the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, despite some opposition from within his administration.

In 1994, the Institute published a paper by its then chairman, Fredrick Seitz, titled Global warming and ozone hole controversies: A challenge to scientific judgment. Seitz questioned the view that CFCs "are the greatest threat to the ozone layer". In the same paper, commenting on the dangers of secondary inhalation of tobacco smoke, he concluded "there is no good scientific evidence that passive inhalation is truly dangerous under normal circumstances."

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