When I first ventured into the ‘climate change’ domain a few years ago, I was criticised roundly for pointing out that in the 1970s we had a scare about a coming ice age. ‘Rubbish!’ said the critics. One Newsweek article (the source of my remark) did not make a scare. I backed off, not having done the work, which would be considerable, to ascertain what had been the case in the scientific community.
Well, somebody (actually, another website — Popular Technology) has done the work, and you can read it on Watts Up With That, which is apparently the most visited science and technology blog in the world. I know that the orthodox hate it, but it does find and publish all sorts of interesting stuff. This is an example.
In all there were 69 newspaper and magazine entries about cooling and the coming ice age, ranging from 1970 to 1979. But if you analyse them, about half of them are simply repeats of the same story in another newspaper. So what? you say. How reliable is a newspaper story, anyway? Well, newspapers make stories out of what is happening, or what is said to be going to happen. The reporter goes and asks relevant people, and in the case of climate, he/she asks scientists in universities, weathermen, climatologists, and the like.
I tried to do a count of the numbers of scientists involved and the nature of the stories, but the dreaded paywall made this a little difficult. But it is possible to make some general statements about the decade of the 1970s when the worry was about cooling, not warming.
First, relative to its recent past, it was a cool period, with snow, ice, blizzards and the like regularly reported. There were enough unpleasant climate events for people to wonder about what was happening. I read statements like this one: ‘In the last decade, the Arctic ice and snow cap has expanded 12 per cent, and for the first time in this century, ships making for Iceland ports have been impeded by drifting ice.’
Second, it was the case that scientists and officials did comment when asked, and sometimes offered their own views at conferences, which were then reported. NASA and NOAA were quoted as warning about the possible dangers. A conference hosted by the National Science Foundation heard speaker after speaker warn of the cooling and its likely consequences.
Third, the general villain was ‘pollution’, more accurately, the growing amount of soot and other precipitates in the atmosphere, which was already reflecting sunlight away from earth, and (thus) responsible for lowering temperatures.
Fourth, the common view was that cooling would continue. Hubert Lamb, regarded as the father of climate science, and the founder of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, said in 1972 that temperature was on a ‘definite downhill course for the next two centuries’, and that ‘the last 20 years of this century will be progressively colder’. These statements were widely reported around the world.
Fifth, evidence for the likely cooling was to be seen in marine sediments, which showed what had happened in the last Ice Age.
Sixth, there did not seem to be any contrary views, at least in these stories. No one spoke up for warming, or for the possibility that the cooling would stop. And of course it did. It started warming right after the Christian Science Monitor told its readers in 1979 about ‘The New Ice Age Almost Upon Us’.
Seventh, a spate of books appeared, with titles like The Cooling, The Blizzard, The Weather Conspiracy, and The New Ice Age. Isaac Asimov wrote one which allowed readers to pick the Catastrophe they feared most: he thought the likely one was a new Ice Age.
Finally, the urge to regulate others was just as prevalent: you’ll have to do this, and you won’t be able to do that, and governments will have to impose strict laws.
Reading all this stuff was a bizarre experience, because it is so like the present — just in reverse, or upside down. The warnings, the fear, the striking images, and the stern injunction for us to repent — they are all there. This is how Newsweek finished its 1975 article (‘The Big Freeze’).
‘Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change, or even to allay its effects. They concede that some of the more spectacular solutions proposed, such as melting the Arctic ice cap by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers, might create problems far greater than those they solve. But the scientists see few signs that government leaders anywhere are even prepared to take the simple measures of stockpiling food or of introducing the variables of climatic uncertainty into economic projections of future food supplies. The longer the planners delay, the more difficult will they find it to cope with climatic change once the results become grim reality.’
You can read the same sort of stuff today from the Climate Commission and the other alarmists. If they know about their predecessors and what they said about cooling, they will no doubt tell us that the ancients were all wrong.
What makes today’s alarmists so sure that they are right? They promise us the hottest century ever — an article in The Conversation that I will have a go at dissecting tomorrow. My feeling is that we are just at the beginning of trying to understand how climate works, and some modesty on the part of today’s soothsayers is in order, to say no more than that.