Guest “historical climastrology” by David Middleton
Nothing funnier than smarmy academics…
For 110 years, climate change has been in the news. Are we finally ready to listen?
Published: August 15, 2022 2.47am EDT
On August 14 1912, a small New Zealand newspaper published a short article announcing global coal usage was affecting our planet’s temperature.
This piece from 110 years ago is now famous, shared across the internet this time every year as one of the first pieces of climate science in the media (even though it was actually a reprint of a piece published in a New South Wales mining journal a month earlier).
So how did it come about? And why has it taken so long for the warnings in the article to be heard – and acted on?
Linden AshcroftThe Conversation
Lecturer in climate science and science communication, The University of Melbourne
The article goes on to cite other historical apocalyptical warnings and predictions about greenhouse gas-induced warming.
The Callendar Effect
It wasn’t until the 1930s that human-induced climate change resurfaced. UK engineer Guy Callendar put together weather observations from around the world and found temperatures had already increased.
Not only was Callendar the first to clearly identify a warming trend and connect it to changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide, he also teased apart the importance of CO₂ compared to water vapour, another potent greenhouse gas.
Just like the 1912 article, Callendar also underestimated the rate of warming we would see in the 80 years after his first results. He predicted the world would be only 0.39℃ hotter by the year 2000, rather than the 1℃ we observed. However it did get the attention of researchers, sparking intense scientific debate.
Then it was all apparently scuttled by “the merchants of doubt”…
Fresh hope scuttled by merchants of doubt
In 1957, scientists began the International Geophysical Year – an intense investigation of the Earth and its poles and atmosphere. This saw the creation of the atmospheric monitoring stations tracking our steady increase in human-caused greenhouse gases. At the same time, oil companies were becoming aware of the impact their business was having on the Earth.
Momentum was growing.
Climate change became politicised, with conservative pro-business parties around the world adopting climate scepticism. Global media coverage often included a sceptic in the interests of “balance”. This, in turn, made many people believe the jury was still out – when the science was becoming ever more certain and alarming.
With this scepticism came delays. The 1992 Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing greenhouse gases took until 2005 to be ratified. Science — and scientists themselves — came under attack. Soon a vicious tussle was underway, with loud voices – often funded by fossil fuel interests – questioning overwhelming scientific evidence.
Let’s compare Callendar’s under-estimation with reality.
Just like the 1912 article, Callendar also underestimated the rate of warming we would see in the 80 years after his first results. He predicted the world would be only 0.39℃ hotter by the year 2000, rather than the 1℃ we observed. However it did get the attention of researchers, sparking intense scientific debate.The Conversation
In 1938, Callendar predicted 0.39 °C of greenhouse gas-induced warming by the year 2000. The climate lecturer says that we observed about 1 °C of warming over that time period. Reality indicates a tad bit more than 0.3 °C of warming from 1938 to 2000.
The only way I can get anything close to 1 °C of warming over that time period, would be to connect the coldest point with the warmest point… Pretty sure that’s not how it’s supposed to be done.
Oddly enough, Callendar thought the warming would be beneficial to humanity.
British amateur meteorologist G. S. Callendar made a bold claim five years later that many would recognize now. He argued that man was responsible for heating up the planet with carbon dioxide emissions – in 1938.
It wasn’t a common notion at the time, but he published an article in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society on the subject. “In the following paper I hope to show that such influence is not only possible, but is actually occurring at the present time,” Callendar wrote. He went on the lecture circuit describing carbon-dioxide-induced global warming.
But Callendar didn’t conclude his article with an apocalyptic forecast, as happens in today’s global warming stories. Instead he said the change “is likely to prove beneficial to mankind in several ways, besides the provision of heat and power.” Furthermore, it would allow for greater agriculture production and hold off the return of glaciers “indefinitely.”Fire and Ice
This bit is hilarious…
The best time to act was 1912. The next best time is now
After decades of setbacks, climate science and social movements are now louder than ever in calling for strong and meaningful action.
OK… I’m not sure how we should have acted in 1912. If the action was to stop burning coal and undiscover oil & gas, I don’t think humanity would have benefited.
The Bits in the Middle
Back in 2006, Dan Gainor and Warren Anderson wrote an excellent article (quoted earlier) on the historical warming-cooling media seesaw…
Fire and Ice
It was five years before the turn of the century and major media were warning of disastrous climate change. Page six of The New York Times was headlined with the serious concerns of “geologists.” Only the president at the time wasn’t Bill Clinton; it was Grover Cleveland. And the Times wasn’t warning about global warming – it was telling readers the looming dangers of a new ice age.
The year was 1895, and it was just one of four different time periods in the last 100 years when major print media predicted an impending climate crisis. Each prediction carried its own elements of doom, saying Canada could be “wiped out” or lower crop yields would mean “billions will die.”
Just as the weather has changed over time, so has the reporting – blowing hot or cold with short-term changes in temperature.
Following the ice age threats from the late 1800s, fears of an imminent and icy catastrophe were compounded in the 1920s by Arctic explorer Donald MacMillan and an obsession with the news of his polar expedition. As the Times put it on Feb. 24, 1895, “Geologists Think the World May Be Frozen Up Again.”
Those concerns lasted well into the late 1920s. But when the earth’s surface warmed less than half a degree, newspapers and magazines responded with stories about the new threat. Once again the Times was out in front, cautioning “the earth is steadily growing warmer.”
After a while, that second phase of climate cautions began to fade. By 1954, Fortune magazine was warming to another cooling trend and ran an article titled “Climate – the Heat May Be Off.” As the United States and the old Soviet Union faced off, the media joined them with reports of a more dangerous Cold War of Man vs. Nature.
The New York Times ran warming stories into the late 1950s, but it too came around to the new fears. Just three decades ago, in 1975, the paper reported: “A Major Cooling Widely Considered to Be Inevitable.”
[…]Fire and Ice
The media reports generally match up with how the average surface temperature of the Earth was changing over that time period.
I’m not familiar with the late 19th century ice age or the early 20th century inferno… But I am familiar with That 70’s Climate Crisis Show.
Global Cooling: 1954-1976
The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming inFire and Ice
Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin
A nuclear era, but I have no fear
’Cause London is drowning, and I live by the river
— The Clash “London Calling,” released in 1979
I have been a professional geologist/geophysicist in the oil & gas industry since May 1981. From September 1976 through May 1980, I was a college student at Southern Connecticut State University (“That fine oil school”) in New Haven, Connecticut. Winters were fracking cold back then. The Northeastern United States blizzard of 1978 (AKA “Storm Larry”) shut the State of Connecticut down for almost a full week. If the science had been settled since 1912, I think it might have been mentioned in at least one of my textbooks. Fortunately, I still have most of them.
Suggestion that changing carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere could be a major factor in climate change dates from 1861, when it was proposed by British physicist John Tyndall.
Unfortunately we cannot estimate accurately changes of past CO2 content of either atmosphere or oceans, nor is there any firm quantitative basis for estimating the the magnitude of drop in carbon dioxide content necessary to trigger glaciation. Moreover the entire concept of an atmospheric greenhouse effect is controversial, for the rate of ocean-atmosphere equalization is uncertain.Dott, Robert H. & Roger L. Batten. Evolution of the Earth. McGraw-Hill, Inc. Second Edition 1976. p. 441.
FORECASTING THE FUTURE. We can now try to decide if we are now in an interglacial stage, with other glacials to follow, or if the world has finally emerged from the Cenozoic Ice Age. According to the Milankovitch theory, fluctuations of radiation of the type shown in Fig. 16-18 must continue and therefore future glacial stages will continue. According to the theory just described, as long as the North and South Poles retain their present thermally isolated locations, the polar latitudes will be frigid; and as the Arctic Ocean keeps oscillating between ice-free and ice-covered states, glacial-interglacial climates will continue.
Finally, regardless of which theory one subscribes to, as long as we see no fundamental change in the late Cenozoic climate trend, and the presence of ice on Greenland and Antarctica indicates that no change has occurred, we can expect that the fluctuations of the past million years will continue.Donn, William L. Meteorology. 4th Edition. McGraw-Hill 1975. pp 463-464
The atmosphere’s blanketing effect over the earth’s surface has been compared to the functioning of a greenhouse. Short-wave sunlight passes as easily through the glass of the greenhouse as through the atmosphere. Because glass is opaque to the long-wave radiation from the warm interior of the greenhouse, it hinders the escape of energy.
As a planet, the earth is not warming or cooling appreciably on the average, because it loses as much radiant energy as it gains.Kolenkow, Robert J., Reid A. Bryson, Douglas B. Carter, R. Keith Julian, Robert A. Muller, Theodore M. Oberlander, Robert P. Sharp & M. Gordon Wolman. Physical geography today : a portrait of a planet. Del Mar, Calif. : CRM Books, . p. 64.
Yes… That Reid Bryson.
For 110 years, climate change has been in the news. Are we finally ready to listen?Climate Lecturer
- “As a planet, the earth is not warming or cooling appreciably on the average, because it loses as much radiant energy as it gains.” 1974
- “Finally, regardless of which theory one subscribes to, as long as we see no fundamental change in the late Cenozoic climate trend, and the presence of ice on Greenland and Antarctica indicates that no change has occurred, we can expect that the fluctuations of the past million years will continue.” 1975
- “Moreover the entire concept of an atmospheric greenhouse effect is controversial, for the rate of ocean-atmosphere equalization is uncertain.” 1976
There was also this classic from Newsweek…
The Cooling World
Newsweek, April 28, 1975
There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production – with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now. The regions destined to feel its impact are the great wheat-producing lands of Canada and the U.S.S.R. in the North, along with a number of marginally self-sufficient tropical areas – parts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indochina and Indonesia – where the growing season is dependent upon the rains brought by the monsoon.
The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it.
To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world’s weather. The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth’s climate seems to be cooling down.
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.Newsweek, April 28, 1975 Full text.
—PETER GWYNNE with bureau reports
The unsettled-ness of the science back in the 1970’s was quite unsettling…
Scientists Ask Why World Climate Is Changing
By WALTER SULLIVAN MAY 21, 1975
The world’s climate is changing. Of that scientists are firmly convinced. But in what direction and why are subjects of deepening debate.
There are specialists who say that a new ice age is on the way—the inevitable consequence of a natural cyclic process, or as a result of man‐made pollution of the atmosphere. And there are those who say that such pollution may actually head off an ice age.
Sooner or later a major cooling of the climate is widely considered inevitable. Hints that it may already have begun are evident. The drop in mean temperatures since 1950 in the Northern Hemisphere has been sufficient, for example, to shorten Britain’s growing season for crops by two weeks.
As noted in a recent report of the National Academy of Sciences, “The global patterns of food production and population that have evolved are implicitly dependent on the climate of the present century.”
Vulnerability to climate change, it says, is “all the more serious when we recognize that our present climate is in fact highly abnormal, and that we may already be. producing climatic changes, as a result of our own activities.”
The first half of this century has apparently been the warmest period since the “hot spell” between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago immediately following the last ice age. That the climate, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, has been getting cooler since about 1950, is well established—if one ignores the last two winters.
There is general agreement that introducing large amounts of smoke particles or carbon dioxide into the atmosphere can alter climate. The same would be true of generating industrial heat comparable to a substantial fraction of solar energy falling on the earth. The debate centers on the precise roles of these effects and the levels of pollution that would cause serious changes.
Carbon dioxide in the air acts like glass in a greenhouse. It permits solar energy to reach the earth as visible light, but it impedes the escape of that energy into space in the form of heat radiation (at infrared wave lengths).
Dr. Mitchell has pointed out that a variety of factors determine the role of carbon dioxide on earth. For example, the extent to which that gas, introduced into the atmosphere by smokestacks and exhaust pipes, is absorbed by the oceans depends on the temperature of surface waters.
This, in turn, is affected by climate, leading to so called feedback effects. Plants consume carbon dioxide at rates that depend on temperature and the abundance of that gas in the air, complicating predictions of their role.
The observatory atop Mauna Loa, the great Hawaiian volcano, has recorded a steady rise in the annual mean level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, amounting to 4 per cent between 1958 and 1972. That, however, was a period of global cooling—not the reverse, as one would expect from a greenhouse effect.
The Mauna Loa observatory has also recorded a steady rise in atmospheric turbidity —the extent to which particles overhead dim the brightness of the sun. The academy study finds that human activity over the last 120 years has contributed more to this atmospheric dust than have volcanic eruptions.
However, it says, the present atmospheric load of man‐made dust is perhaps only one fifth what was thrown into the stratosphere by the volcanic explosion of Krakatoa in 1883. The role of of atmospheric dust is complex, for it cuts off sunlight from the earth, but is itself heated by that light, warming levels of atmosphere in which it resides.
Until recently the idea that ice ages are initiated by intense volcanic activity was unpopular for lack of evidence for such activity. The hypothesis has gained more credence from the analysis of sediment cores extracted from the ocean floors by the drill ship Glomar Challenger.
According to University of Rhode Island scientists, ash was far more common in layers laid down in the last two million years than in the previous 18 million years.
If worldwide energy consumption continues to increase at its present rates, catastrophic climate changes have been projected by M. I. Budyko, a leading Soviet specialist. He says that the critical level will probably be reached within a century.
This, he has written, will lead to “a complete destruction of polar ice covers.” Not only would sea levels rise but, with the Arctic Ocean free of ice, the entire weather system of the Northern Hemisphere would be altered.
However, Dr. Mitchell has suggested, warming of the climate due to pollution might be enough to head off an ice age “quite inadvertently.”
CAN THE TRUTH BE LEARNED?
More precise knowledge of the past is certain to aid in choosing between various explanations for long‐term climate changes. The Greenland Ice Sheet Program, with American, Danish and Swiss participants, is drilling a series of holes into the crest of the Greenland ice in the hope, ultimately, of reconstructing a year‐by‐year re cord of climate for the last 100,000 years.
So far the ice has been penetrated 1,325 feet, extending the record back 1,420 years. The yearly layers can be counted, like tree rings, in terms of summer and winter variation in the relative abundance of two forms of oxygen (oxygen 16 and oxygen 18). Their ratio indicates temperature at the time when the snow fell to form that layer of the ice sheet.
[…]The New York Times May 21, 1975 Full text.
Here’s the pièce de résistance…
Closing the loop
OK. We’ve gone from cooling to warming to cooling hysteria. Now it’s time close the loop. According to the models, natural forcing mechanisms adequately explained all of the climate change from 1910 right up until “The Ice Age Cometh”…
The observed temperatures fell within the range of natural forcing mechanisms from 1880 to at least 1975, only clearly exceeding that range since the early 1980’s. Accepting arguendo that the forcing models are reasonable and that the temperature record hasn’t been improperly adjusted, “evidence” to support the settled science of 1912, didn’t exist before 1980. Furthermore, if the warming since 1980 can largely be chalked up to anthropogenic greenhouse emissions, it’s a good thing, as Callender posited in 1938.
Callendar, who died in 1964, aged 66, thought global warming was good because it would stop what he called “deadly glaciers” returning and could boost the growth of crops at high latitude.BBC
He got that right, for sure…
According to the sacred climate models, if not for The Climate Wrecking Industry, the planet would be just as cold now as when “The Ice Age Cometh”…
This proud member of the Climate Wrecking Industry says, “You’re welcome.”
What “That 70’s Climate Crisis Show” post would be complete without The Clash?
Donn, William L. Meteorology. 4th Edition. McGraw-Hill 1975. pp 463-464
Dott, Robert H. & Roger L. Batten. Evolution of the Earth. McGraw-Hill, Inc. Second Edition 1976. p. 441.
Kolenkow, Robert J., Reid A. Bryson, Douglas B. Carter, R. Keith Julian, Robert A. Muller, Theodore M. Oberlander, Robert P. Sharp & M. Gordon Wolman. Physical geography today : a portrait of a planet. Del Mar, Calif. : CRM Books, . p. 64.
Terando, A., Reidmiller, D., Hostetler, S.W., Littell, J.S., Beard, T.D., Jr., Weiskopf, S.R., Belnap, J., and Plumlee, G.S., 2020, Using information from global climate models to inform policymaking—The role of the U.S. Geological Survey: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2020–1058, 25 p.,