Saturday, May 26, 2012

The '70s Cooling Meme vs. Knowledge

I have never really understood deniers' fascination with "1970s global cooling," or that it would mean much of anything even if it were true.

This has come up again with the discovery of a (purported) CIA report on the subject. As William Connelley says, CIA reports aren't scientific research and do no represent an objective look at the status of science.

Nor would a consensus in the popular media of that time mean much either, though I think that notion was well refuted by the 2008 Peterson, Connelley and Fleck paper in BAMS.

Whenever I see someone advancing the idea of 1970's global cooling, it tells me they don't really understand how science works and what it means -- and so they are grasping at straws.

Were some people in the 1970s thinking about global cooling? Yes -- given the temperature data, anyone would have. But "thinking about" something and publishing claims that it's happening are two very different things, and people like Callendar, Plass, Gilbert, had already been thinking about an enhanced greenhouse effect for decades. [Warning note added: Tom Nelson purposely distorts what I'm saying here by quoting only part of what I wrote.] And there were reports on that as well.
  • The 1965 report to the Johnson Administration has a chapter on CO2’s potential to cause warming: “Restoring the Quality of Our Environment,” Report of the Environmental Pollution Panel, President’s Science Advisory Committee (1965), pp 111-133
  • A 1969 memo from President Nixon’s Democratic adviser, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, wrote about concerns over CO2’s impact.
  • In 1967 Syukuro Manabe and Richard Wetherald had a model that found a climate sensitivity of 2.3 C. 
  • Wallace Broecker's 1975 article in Science was directly worried about CO2: "Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?", Wallace S. Broecker, Science Vol. 189 no. 4201 pp. 460-463, August 8, 1975 
So Connelley is right -- the CIA hardly had a handle on all of the work going on.

Besides, science advances. New discoveries are made and new ideas come into prominence(*). Here is a partial list of fundamental properties about the universe that weren't known in 1970:

And this is just physics. Biology and genetics have changed even more, as has medicine. Computers (or models) aren't in the same universe....

The state of scientific knowledge in 2012 is far better than it was in the 1970s. What happened then is no more relevant than if someone said quantum chromodynamics (the theory of the strong force) is in doubt today because in the 1970s science wasn't sure how many quarks there were.

(*) Note that these discoveries are extensions of existing knowledge, not replacements for them. (Yes, they replaced ideas -- but those ideas weren't knowledge, but hypotheses.) At this point, the scientific idea of an enhanced greenhouse effect from fossil fuel emissions will not be overthrown, ever. It is established fact, with long line of theoretical and experimental evidence that goes back to Fourier. It's here to stay, and its baseline sensitivity of ~1.2°C for a CO2e-doubling will not change much. (The magnitude of eedbacks, though, are a different matter -- it's a difficult calculation.)

There may be discoveries about properties of clouds in a warming world, or perhaps a closing of the open (viz. unproven) steps in the Svensmark Hypothesis, or some other complicating factors discovered. Better models may find a slightly lower climate sensitivity (a la Schmitter et al last year). But the enhanced greenhouse effect is here to stay -- that's never going away as a proven idea or as an observation, and all the CIA reports ever written won't change that.

(And if the enhanced GHE ever did cease to exist, I would, literally, turn off all my electronics, lock my doors, and probably sit quaking in a dark corner of the room, because it means some fundamental alteration of natural laws has taken place, or been caused to take place, that is so far outside our ken that our very existence is in immediate danger.)


Stu said...

I think a key point is that you look at what the actual "global cooling" ideas were in the 70's it's worth noting that they don't contradict what we know today in any major way. There was the realisation that aerosols were causing cooling in the post-war period, and uncertainty as to how strong this effect would be compared to the greenhouse effect. Secondly there was growing evidence for Milankovitch cycles and the potential for an ice age in the distance future.

These ideas haven't been rejected now as pushers of the global cooling meme would have us believe, they are incorporated in the science that tells us that global warming is a problem (i.e. we now know that the greenhouse effect is now stronger than aerosol cooling, and that orbital factors aren't having a major effect now or for a long time).

Mike Mangan said...

The 70's cooling meme was due entirely to the way the media was spinning the story, just as any belief that exists for warming now is by their hand. It's obvious now that we didn't have enough understanding to make justify a cooling scare but by that same reasoning we're much more likely to doubt today's scare. Do you know how many differing scientific viewpoints I have read on butter and coffee in my lifetime? You can't blame people for being cycnical especially when your case is so weak as far as details are concerned, as far as the atrocious credibility of the scientists involved, and as far as the universal unlikeability of the CAGW proponents.
Your cause is lost. The only chance you have is to show steady warming now, like .3° rise in temps EACH YEAR for the next few years if you want to see people take notice.

David Appell said...

Stu: Good points -- thanks for making them.

Les Johnson said...

I think the "fascination" with cooling in 70's is on several points.

One is the consensus. Despite Peterson et al, there appears to have been a consensus.

This summary from NOAA shows that very well.

This is my summary of the Reeves paper.

1972 - Kukla-Mathews publishes in Science, an article about the end of the current inter glacial. Also writes a letter to Nixon in 1972, specifically warning about global cooling.
1973 - First Climate office started in Feb 1973 (ad hoc Panel on the Present Inter Glacial). This was after a meeting of 42 of the most prominent climatologists, and apparently there was consensus about cooling. Especially as the NOAA, NWS and ICAS were involved.
1974 - Office of Climate Dynamics opened.
1978 -Carter signs Climate Program Act, partly due to the SEVERE WINTER experienced the preceding winter.

This earlier meeting of UNESCO also shows consensus.

Note that Peterson et al had only one reference to Kukla, and zero to Lamb. That should be a tip off right there. Lamb started the CRU to study the end of the inter-glacial. Kukla was, and is, warning of cooling.

So, we have two consensus, and one has to be wrong. Personally, I hope the end of the inter-glacial meme was wrong. Cooling is much more dangerous than warming.

Another thing about the 70's cooling meme was the actors involved. Schneider, Ehrlich, Suzuki and Holdren all were involved. At the first Earth Day, Kenneth Watt warned that we would see temperatures 11 deg cooler by 2000.

Related to this, is that the same warnings were being given in the 70s about floods, storms, famines, species extinctions, etc, as are now in circulation about warming.

So, to sum it up. We have two different outcomes (warming vs cooling), but with many of the same participants and even the same warnings.

Anonymous said...

"This was after a meeting of 42 of the most prominent climatologists, and apparently there was consensus about cooling."

No there wasn't. Most of the speakers at the 1972 conference weren't talking about the present or future cooling at all. And at least one of them was predicting warming:

Les Johnson said...

The climate offices were opened on fear of the end of the inter-glacial. Hence the name ad hoc Panel on the Present Inter Glacial.

Carter signs a climate program, partly due to the severe winter.

1 out of 42 is a 2.3% dissent rate. Or 97.7% consensus.

hmmm. that sounds familiar.

Les Johnson said...

Do you have a reference about that meeting of the 42 climatolgists?

I have been trying to get some more info on that, and on the Wisconsin meeting.

Frontiers of Faith and Science said...

I was there, reading that stuff. You can try to rewrite the history any way you want, but you are just wrong, like you were regarding the denialist death threats in Australia.
Frankly, if I were you I would try and work out why I was so vulnerable to an obvious example of journalist deception in Australia before I start repeating the rationalizations by hypesters today regarding the ice age scare of the 1970's.

Frontiers of Faith and Science said...

You can attempt to rewrite the history of the 1970's all you want but you are just entertaining yourself and your fans. The scare was real, it was serious and it was promoted by academics and opinion leaders of the day, just like AGW is today.
Frankly, if I were you I would figure out why I was so vulnerable to the fabricated hype regarding Australian death threats before I started repeating yet another bit of AGW bs regarding the 1970s.

Frontiers of Faith and Science said...

sorry about the duplicate comments. I thought the first had been lost.

Anonymous said...

"The climate offices were opened on fear of the end of the inter-glacial. Hence the name ad hoc Panel on the Present Inter Glacial."

Were opened to address concerns of Kukla and Matthews. That's only two scientists, and guess what? The Panel concluded:

"No methods exist at present for making specific predictions of this kind [i. e. "the time and manner of the termination of the present interglacia"]. The risk of an early onset of so drastic a change of climate as the arrival of a new ice age, as estimated in a variety of ways from past data, appears to be remote."

"Deliberate interference with natural climatic processes is predicated on a thorough understanding of those processes, and would be potentially dangerous or counterproductive without such understanding. Current research is aimed at understanding, but it not yet close to its goal. In the meantime, there is some basis for supposing that inadvertent human interference in climate processes will prolong the present interglacial rather than bring on its prematere end."


"It is the contention of this Panel that, through a resulting loss of perspective in this matter, a scientifically valid "caution sign" regarding a possible instability of present-day climatic conditions has been allowed to degenerate in the eyes of the laymen to a prophesy of imminent climatic doom. The Panel feels, therefore, than in this section of its report it should address itself to two objestives: (1) to restore some of the lost perspective that has encouraged the emergence of the "ice-age-is-coming" syndrome, and (2) to assess our overall scientific capability of making definitive statements, of any kind, about trends of global climate in decades and centuries just ahead."

"1 out of 42 is a 2.3% dissent rate. Or 97.7% consensus."

The "consensus" you're talking about consisted of Kukla and Matthews alone, and it was pretty much debunked by the ad hoc Panel on the Present Interglacial.

"Do you have a reference about that meeting of the 42 climatolgists?"

Les Johnson said...

Anon: Nope. You gave a link to Quaternary Research (Nov). Kukla's results of the meeting on the end of the Inter Glacial was published in Science (Oct 13).

This is conclusion:

"“ . . . a global deterioration of climate, by order of magnitude larger than any hitherto
experienced by civilized mankind, is a very real possibility and indeed may be due very
soon. The cooling has natural cause and falls within the rank of processes which
produced the last ice age. This is a surprising result based largely on recent studies of
deep sea sediments.”

So, you don't know what you are talking about; you did not read the link to Reeves; and you gave false information and false sources.

Anything else you want to 'fess up to?

David Appell said...

FFS: I am not trying to "rewrite history," just trying to portray it accurately. And nothing I've read on this subject -- from you or anyone else -- is a detailed and comprehensive as Peterson et al BAMS Sept 2008 pp 1325-1337:

"Despite active efforts to answer these questions, the following pervasive myth arose: there was a
consensus among climate scientists of the 1970s that either global cooling or a full-fledged ice age was imminent (see the “Perpetuating the myth” sidebar). A review of the climate science literature from 1965 to 1979 shows this myth to be false. The myth’s basis lies in a selective misreading of the texts both by some members of the media at the time and by some observers today. In fact, emphasis on greenhouse warming dominated the scientific literature even
then. The research enterprise that grew in response to the questions articulated by Bryson and others,
while considering the forces responsible for cooling, quickly converged on the view that greenhouse warming was likely to dominate on time scales that
would be significant to human societies."

See especially their Figure 1.

Anonymous said...

"Nope. You gave a link to Quaternary Research (Nov)."

Oh, so I gave you a link to the proceedings from the conference. You know, the stuff people were actually talking about.

"Kukla's results of the meeting on the end of the Inter Glacial was published in Science (Oct 13)."

That's correct: Kukla's results, his opinion, and his "fear of the end of the inter-glacial."

Not the "consensus," not even opinion of "42 of the most prominent climatologists."

"So, you don't know what you are talking about; you did not read the link to Reeves; and you gave false information and false sources."

So the papers from the 1972 conference, and the direct quotes from the ICAS report are the "false information and false sources?"

Are you trying to be funny or what?

Les Johnson said...


Oh, so I gave you a link to the proceedings from the conference. You know, the stuff people were actually talking about.

No, you gave a link to a different magazine, with multiple topics. Wrong magazine, apparently. It had an editorial with a similar title, but that is about it.


So the papers from the 1972 conference, and the direct quotes from the ICAS report are the "false information and false sources?"

Looks like it. I will give you the bednfit the doubt, though. Give a direct link to the ICAS report. Give me a direct link to the report of the panel.

Les Johnson said...

This is from the Science article by Kukla: (spelling and formating as from the OCR)

Note the "majority agree with".

At the end of the working conference, the majority of the participants agreed to the following points:

The global environments of the last several millennia is in sharp contrast with climates that existed during most of the
past million years. Warm intervals like the present one have been short-lived and the natural end of our warm epoch is undoubtedly near when considered on a geological time scale. Global cooling and related rapid changes of nvironment, substantially exceeding the fluctuations
experienced by man in historical times, must be expected within the next few millennia or even centuries. In man's quest to utilize global resources, and to
produce an adequate supply of food,
global climatic change constitutes a first order environmental hazard which must be thoroughly understood well in advance of the first global indications of deteriorating climate. Interdisciplinary attacks on
these problems must be internationally organized and encouraged to develop at a rate substantially exceeding the present

Les Johnson said...

I also need to aplogize for my rudeness. Looking at the authors in the Quaternary Review, I see they are the same as in the Science article. I would assume that as either a huge coincidence, or that the QR edition was a summary of the meeting.

Where is the ICAS report at?

Lynne said...

I read the NOAA and UNESCO .pdfs that Les Johnson linked to (well, most of them; I struggle with the French papers in the UNESCO one). I don't know what he's on about; it's obvious that they are concerned with climatic fluctuation, and just as obvious that very few are concerned about an imminent ice age. Kukla and Mitchell seem to be the only scientists taking that tack.

Anonymous said...

The scientists then were not concerned with an ice age per se. They were concerned with the possibility of cooler weather reducing crop yields. Even Kukla said the start of any ice age was several centuries away at least.

This was very clear in both the UNESCO and the NOAA papers.

As for just Kukla and Mathews? Hardly. Lamb founded the Hadley CRU to study climate, and what he feared was a cooling. Read his papers in the 60s and early 70s. His main concern was reduced crop yields.

Read the UNESCO paper again. Lamb is prominent in that.