Monday, September 21, 2009

The cooling scare of the 1970s

One of the points that climate alarmists seek to "debunk" nowadays is the idea there was a global cooling scare in the 1970s. Here, for example, is Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs, writing of "the myth that climate scientists previously believed the Earth was entering an Ice Age" and linking to a YouTube playlist of global warming information videos that make this claim.

The problem with this is that there was a period of alarmism about a coming ice age, and it involved some of the players in the current warming scare. Alarmist-in-Chief James Hansen's computer models were at the heart of it, for example.

Stephen Schneider achieved some notoriety when, in 1989, he told Discover Magazine that it was important to:

... reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.
(emphasis added)
Schneider was also concerned about the risk of global cooling. He took part in a TV show on the subject in May 1978, and footage has now made its way onto YouTube. In this, he talks - very sensibly - about the problems of taking action to avert the anticipated cooling:
We can’t predict with any certainty what’s happening to our own climatic future. How can we come along and intervene then in that ignorance? You could melt the icecaps. What would that do to the coastal cities? The cure could be worse than the disease. Would that better or worse than the risk of an ice age?
It seems Schneider has since tried to deny that he placed any weight on the idea of global cooling. In 1990, he was caught out during a TV interview when confronted with parts of a book he had written in which he discussed this.

Of course, none of this means we are not facing a risk of man-made global warming. It does show that there's what I'll be polite and call a frankness gap. Having been wrong in the past does not prevent someone from being right in the present. But we do seem to be seeing the same people extrapolating, first from a cooling period to a coming ice age, then from a warming period to a future inferno. On the face of it, the human instinct to cry 'disaster' is reacting to any and all fluctuations in temperature.

UPDATE: John Holdren - President Obama's Science Czar - co-authored an essay with Paul Ehrlich in 1971 in which he managed to be alarmist about global cooling and warming at the same time, and also about the heat produced directly by humans, warning of possible 150 foot sea level rises. Full details are at Zomblog.


dearieme said...

The Global Warmmongers long since moved from being a bunch of incompetents to a bunch of crooks. This does not necessarily mean that the world won't get warmer over the next, say, 50 years, it just means that no-one really has any more idea of its likelihood than they would have had 20 years ago. And much the same is true about the likelihood of its cooling: the "science" being done seems hopelessly inadequate to the near-impossibly demanding task.

Anonymous said...

Look what I found at Wikipedia:

"Global cooling was a conjecture during the 1970s of imminent cooling of the Earth's surface and atmosphere along with a posited commencement of glaciation. This hypothesis never had significant scientific support, but gained temporary popular attention due to a combination of press reports that did not accurately reflect the scientific understanding of ice age cycles, and a slight downward trend of temperatures from the 1940s to the early 1970s. General scientific opinion is that the Earth has not durably cooled, but undergone global warming throughout the 20th century."

Now, of course, everyone will cite this as proof that global cooling was never a real concern.