Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Global warming denial: Global cooling scare 30 years ago?

You may have heard global-warming denial conservatives ridiculing the notion of global warming by saying that in the 1970s, there was a big scare about a new ice age instead. It's one of the stories that's "out there", as those who pass for our high-end journalists say when they want an excuse to spread false claims.

The first time I heard this, I recalled that in the early 1970s, when scientists were first beginning to analyze the long-term effects of air pollution, that while most of them seemed to think that a global "greenhouse effect" of global warming was the likely result, a minority believed that pollutants in the air might wind up reflecting sunlight aware from the earth and possibly have the opposite effect of global cooling.

The I heard "libertarian" Justin Raimondo on Antiwar Radio at the Antiwar.com site using the same ridicule, claiming there were all sorts of books and articles about the coming new ice age. This didn't jive with what I thought I knew about that time. I had thought that the "global cooling" hypothesis was only a majority view back then. And, of course, in any case it's long since been overtaken by the reality of global warming and decades of atmospheric and climate studies.

But hearing Raimondo repeat it made me think it might have become a popular item among global warming deniers.

It turns out that some actual experts took it upon themselves to do a survey of the scientific literature on the subject from the 1970s to see how much accuracy the claim might have. (Scientists have this annoying habit of actually going to try and validate claims that people make.) Their results were reporting in "The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus" by Thomas Peterson, William Connolley, and John Fleck Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society Sept 2008.

The Abstract of the article states, "Climate science as we know it today did not exist in the 1960s and 1970s." And goes on to say that the main value of the article is that it "describes how scientists of the time built the foundation on which the cohesive enterprise of modern climate science now rests."

On the global warming deniers' claim, the Abstract says:

An enduring popular myth suggests that in the 1970s the climate science community was predicting "global cooling" and an "imminent" ice age, an observation frequently used by those who would undermine what climate scientists say today about the prospect of global warming. A review of the literature suggests that, on the contrary, greenhouse warming even then dominated scientists' thinking as being one of the most important forces shaping Earth's climate on human time scales. [my emphasis]
And summarizing the development of present-day climate science, the Abstract reports:

The integrated enterprise embodied in the Nobel Prizewinning work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change existed then [the 1970s] as separate threads of research pursued by isolated groups of scientists. Atmospheric chemists and modelers grappled with the measurement of changes in carbon dioxide and atmospheric gases, and the changes in climate that might result. Meanwhile, geologists and paleoclimate researchers tried to understand when Earth slipped into and out of ice ages, and why.
Justin Raimondo's embrace of a such an ill-founded claim doesn't say a lot about his ability to stick to the facts when ideology conflicts with them.

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