Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The "Global Cooling in the 70s: canard: Doubt is their product, facts be damned!

For the eleventy-seventh time in the last few years someone’s flung the “They Said There’d Be Global Cooling in the 1970s” argument against global warming climate science in my direction.
The Global Cooling argument goes: “How can we trust scientists who tell us the planet is warming, when only a few decades ago they said we were headed for an ice age?"

The problem is, it’s big fat hairy lie, built from a microscopic kernel of truth.

As  Wikipedia observes, “Global cooling was a conjecture during the 1970s of imminent cooling of the Earth's surface and atmosphere culminating in a period of extensive glaciation. This hypothesis had little support in the scientific community, but gained temporary popular attention due to a combination of a slight downward trend of temperatures from the 1940s to the early 1970s and press reports that did not accurately reflect the full scope of the scientific climate literature, i.e., a larger and faster-growing body of literature projecting future warming due to greenhouse gas emissions.” (italics mine)

But even high school freshmen know Wikipedia is not a reliable source, so we must look for more reliable information. 

Kernel of truth
To begin, there is a kernel of truth here. There were scientists who predicted a cooling planet and indeed the planet did cool between the 1940s and 1970s. Popular Time and Newseek magazine articles fueled the speculation. My friend remembers environmental activists or solar salespeople scaring his elementary school class with talk of an impending ice age. I too, remember the predictions from that era. 

My buddy seems to think my job entails scaling buildings to hang Greenpeace banners, chaining myself to bulldozers and scaring gradeschool kids with horrendous lies to keep grant money flowing. He’s not alone, environmentalist is a dirty word to many people, polls show. And many people don’t support natural resource protections because they don’t want to be affiliated with enviros. Or with Al Gore.  

Which is called shooting the messenger. And doesn’t alter the facts or science involved one iota.

 My friend also may have absorbed this caricature of environmentalists from news outlets and other venues that blur the lines between news and ideological warfare. He tells me he believes Fox News, for example, is truly fair and balanced. But, he may be jerking my chain. Hoping that it’s the latter, let’s get started:

116 years ago….
Global warming theory has deep roots. In 1898, Swedish scientist Avante August Arrhenuis predicted man-caused warming in scientific papers and discussions, but they were not taken seriously.
By the mid-1950s scientists were beginning to link increased human emissions of heat-trapping gases (primarily carbon dioxide) to a warming planet. 

 A 1953 story in Popular Mechanics reported on Johns Hopkins researchers’ work under the headline “Growing Blanket of CO2 Raises Earth’s Temperature.”

In 1958, the popular Bell Telephone Science Hour on television expounded on the warming planet as Dr. Frank Baxter told viewers “We are changing the world’s climate through the waste products of civilization.”

By 1965, President Lyndon Johnson was briefed on climate change by his scientific advisory committee, which issued a report warning that we are “unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical experiment.”

President Johnson told Congress in a special message in February of 1965 that, “this generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through...a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”

Documents released only three years ago by the Richard Nixon Presidential Library also show that he was briefed on the issue in the late 1960s and global warming’s threat was discussed within his inner circle. His environmental aides urged him to pursue a global system of carbon dioxide measuring stations – decades before the public was aware of global warming science.

Global warming was even a character in the 1973 cult classic Soylent Green. Charlton Heston was not amused.

So by the 1970s, global warming theory was already well known in the scientific community and among some policy makers. The problem was, global temperatures had been flat or dropping since the 1940s.

Cooling explained
Scientists theorized, correctly, that smog and other pollutants from the unchecked smokestack pollution was essentially blocking sunlight and cooling the earth. With the advent of modern pollution controls – adopted not because of cooling but because of horrifying diseases in our communities and the fouling of our natural landscapes --  the cooling reversed in the 1970s, and began a steady rise that has continued since.

But in the 1970s data had led some scientists to predict a continuation of a cooling planet, and the media ran with it. A widely quoted 1971 paper from Dr. Steven Schneider predicted cooling and raised the specter of an Ice Age.  Schnider, before the 1970s were out, would admit that his calculations were wrong. 

The paper, and other calculations of the rate of cooling spawned a flurry of media articles in the 1970s. Those articles are dutifully catalogued here,  by helpful climate change skeptics.
My friend has read some of these stories, and apparently has a vivid recollection of the hippies telling his grade school classroom that we were headed for an ice age. He believes the propagandists who assert that  there was a worldwide consensus on global cooling among scientists of that era – mirroring the consensus  of today for global warming.

And that, with any honest assessment, is utter and unadulterated bullshit.

Utter bullshit
 Even the professional skeptics have dropped this line of argument, leaving it for lazy editorial writers, ideologues without ethics, and talk show hosts and their unfortunate lemmings who are content to parrot what they hear without critical inquiry.

The truth is that the overwhelming majority of climate scientists of the 1970s era believed the climate was warming, not cooling, and the data proves it.

The American Meteorlogical Society conducted exhaustive research of the scientific literature between 1965 and 1979. It found 71 studies on climate during that era. Seven supported global cooling theory, 20 were neutral, 44 supported global warming theory. So, even in the midst of the media furor over cooling theory, scientists by a more than 6-to-1 margin believed warming was likely.

That scientific view was also reflected in the Oval Office. The National Academy of Sciences reported to President Jimmy Carter in 1977 that rising CO2 levels are of concern; and again in 1979 the Society  warned that “If carbon dioxide levels continue to increase, the study group finds no reason to doubt that climate changes will result and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible.”

The “Global Cooling” era was short. Less than a decade. It was supported by a small faction of scientists, while the majority of their peers were already concluding that our planet was in for significant warming. 

By comparison, every major scientific organization in our nation has for some time supported the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s conclusions that the planet is warming dramatically due to manmade emissions.

 Here’s a list of more than 200 international science groups who ascribe to that theory. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree with it. The U.S. Military is planning for it, agricultural groups have already shifted their growing zone maps to reflect the changing climate, and insurance companies are incorporating climate predictions into their rates and modeling.
Global warming theory has roots more than a century old and was being talked about in the Oval Office since (almost) before I was born. Its predictions – a warming planet – have generally panned out. We’ve gone 345 months – 29 years – with monthly global temps above average

The “Global Cooling” era of the 1970s was marked by a flurry of sensational and often inaccurate media accounts, prompted by a handful of studies and a small number of scientists’  assertions.  Even so, climate studies predicting warming outnumbered those supporting cooling by a 6 to 1 margin. Within a decade, it became clear that the cooling theory was wrong.

Global warming theory, by comparison, is more than 100 years old. It’s been discussed at the highest levels since at least the Lyndon Johnson administration. It is supported by almost all climate scientists, and every single one of the US’s 18 national science organizations. It’s supported by modern data showing 29 consecutive years of above average global temperatures.

But the public continues to be confused by slogans like “They were wrong about Global Cooling” in large part because of efforts to mislead by those with vested interests in the status quo.

It’s a repeat of the 60s, when public acceptance of the tobacco/cancer link lagged years behind the consensus in the scientific and medical communities. “Doubt is our product” bragged a tobacco PR flack at the time. The words of that exec could easily be applied to today’s climate debate:

 "Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' [linking smoking with disease] that exists in the mind of the general public. “

History, it seems, repeats itself.


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  2. Sounds like revisionist history to me. I remember very well during my grade school days being bombarded with the doomsday predictions of an imminent ice age. And now, your research said it never happened? I must have been dreaming, then.