Skip to main content
Environmental Impact Statements and Climate Change
Environment (1989)
  • David A. Wirth, Boston College Law School
  • Glenn T Prickett
Recent demands by atmospheric scientists and policy makers for immediate, comprehensive, and effective responses to the threat of global climate change have focused political attention on policies and laws that affect the quality of the environment. In January, the Reagan White House blocked the issuance of policy guidance that would have directed federal agencies to consider global climate change in the preparation of environmental impact statements (EIS). The Bush administration now has an early opportunity to reverse this decision. Using detailed computer models of the Earth's climate, atmospheric scientists have produced startling scenarios of the future climate conditions that will results from increased atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases. These projection a predict higher average temperatures, changes in patterns of precipitation, greater seasonal and annual variability in weather, and an increased frequency of such extreme events as droughts and floods. Planning for adaptation to a changing climate will be far more difficult than acting now to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. While current models depict global changes reasonably well, they cannot accurately predict local and regional changes in the temperature and precipitation patterns. Unresolved questions about future impacts only underscore the need to act now to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The sooner action is taken, the more effective it will be. If policy responses are delayed, the eventual magnitude of climate change will be greater, and more radical measures will be required. In 1969, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) mandated that every arm of the federal government integrate environmental values into all aspects of work, At the heart of NEPA lies a strict requirement that the preparation of a detailed EIS precede all major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.
Publication Date
March, 1989
Citation Information
David A. Wirth and Glenn T Prickett. "Environmental Impact Statements and Climate Change" Environment Vol. 31 (1989)
Available at: