(Environmentalists: Kindly start by reading the end notes to see my background and why I am writing this)
On April 28, 1975, Newsweek wrote an article stating:
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.
Why were scientists considering melting the arctic ice cap?
Because they were worried about a new ice age.
Newsweek discussed the 1975 article in 2006:
In April, 1975 … NEWSWEEK published a small back-page article about a very different kind of disaster. Citing “ominous signs that the earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically,” the magazine warned of an impending “drastic decline in food production.” Political disruptions stemming from food shortages could affect “just about every nation on earth.” Scientists urged governments to consider emergency action to head off the terrible threat of . . . well, if you had been following the climate-change debates at the time, you’d have known that the threat was: global cooling…
Citizens can judge for themselves what constitutes a prudent response-which, indeed, is what occurred 30 years ago. All in all, it’s probably just as well that society elected not to follow one of the possible solutions mentioned in the NEWSWEEK article: to pour soot over the Arctic ice cap, to help it melt.
Newsweek was not alone. Some scientists and the press have been warning about an ice age off and on for over 100 years.
For example, on February 24, 1895, the New York Times published an article entitled “PROSPECTS OF ANOTHER GLACIAL PERIOD; Geologists Think the World May Be Frozen Up Again”, which starts with the following paragraph:
The question is again being discussed whether recent and long-continued observations do not point to the advent of a second glacial period, when the countries now basking in the fostering warmth of a tropical sun will ultimately give way to the perennial frost and snow of the polar regions.
In September 1958, Harper’s wrote an article called “The Coming Ice Age”.
On January 11, 1970, the Washington Post wrote an article entitled “Colder Winters Held Dawn of New Ice Age – Scientists See Ice Age In the Future” which stated:
Get a good grip on your long johns, cold weather haters–the worst may be yet to come. That’s the long-long-range weather forecast being given out by “climatologists.” the people who study very long-term world weather trends.
In 1972, two scientists – George J. Kukla (of the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory) and R. K. Matthews (Chairman, Dept of Geological Sciences, Brown University) – wrote the following letter to President Nixon warning of the possibility of a new ice age:
Dear Mr. President:
Aware of your deep concern with the future of the world, we feel obliged to inform you on the results of the scientific conference held here recently. The conference dealt with the past and future changes of climate and was attended by 42 top American and European investigators. We enclose the summary report published in Science and further publications are forthcoming in Quaternary Research.
The main conclusion of the meeting was that a global deterioration of climate, by order of magnitude larger than any hitherto experience 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.
Existing data still do not allow forecast of the precise timing of the predicted development, nor the assessment of the man’s interference with the natural trends. It could not be excluded however that the cooling now under way in the Northern Hemisphere is the start of the expected shift. The present rate of the cooling seems fast enough to bring glacial temperatures in about a century, if continuing at the present pace.
The practical consequences which might be brought by such developments to existing social institution are among others:
(1) Substantially lowered food production due to the shorter growing seasons and changed rain distribution in the main grain producing belts of the world, with Eastern Europe and Central Asia to be first affected.
(2) Increased frequency and amplitude of extreme weather anomalies such as those bringing floods, snowstorms, killing frosts, etc.
With the efficient help of the world leaders, the research …
With best regards,
George J. Kukla (Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory)
R. K. Matthews (Chairman, Dept of Geological Sciences, Brown U)
The White House assigned the task of looking at the claims contained in the letter to its science agencies, especially the National Science Foundation and NOAA, who engaged in a flurry of activity looking into the threat of an ice age.
On August 1, 1974 the White House wrote a letter to Secretary of Commerce Frederick Dent stating:
Changes in climate in recent years have resulted in unanticipated impacts on key national programs and policies. Concern has been expressed that recent changes may presage others. In order to assess the problem and to determine what concerted action ought to be undertaken, I have decided to establish a subcommittee on Climate Change.
Out of this concern, the U.S. government started monitoring climate.
As NOAA scientists Robert W. Reeves, Daphne Gemmill, Robert E. Livezey, and James Laver point out:
There were also a number of short-term climate events of national and international consequence in the early 1970s that commanded a certain level of attention in Washington. Many of them were linked to the El Niño of 1972-1973.A killing winter freeze followed by a severe summer heat wave and drought produced a 12 percent shortfall in Russian grain production in 1972. The Soviet decision to offset the losses by purchase abroad reduced world grain reserves and helped drive up food prices.
Collapse of the Peruvian anchovy harvest in late 1972 and early 1973, related to fluctuations in the Pacific ocean currents and atmospheric circulation, impacted world supplies of fertilizer, the soybean market, and prices of all other protein feedstocks.
The anomalously low precipitation in the U.S. Pacific north-west during the winter of 1972-73 depleted reservoir storage by an amount equivalent to more than 7 percent of the electric energy requirements for the region.
On June 24, 1974, Time Magazine wrote an article entitled “Another Ice Age?” which stated:
As they review the bizarre and unpredictable weather pattern of the past several years, a growing number of scientists are beginning to suspect that many seemingly contradictory meteorological fluctuations are actually part of a global climatic upheaval. However widely the weather varies from place to place and time to time, when meteorologists take an average of temperatures around the globe they find that the atmosphere has been growing gradually cooler for the past three decades. The trend shows no indication of reversing. Climatological Cassandras are becoming increasingly apprehensive, for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age.
Telltale signs are everywhere …
Whatever the cause of the cooling trend, its effects could be extremely serious, if not catastrophic. Scientists figure that only a 1% decrease in the amount of sunlight hitting the earth’s surface could tip the climatic balance, and cool the planet enough to send it sliding down the road to another ice age within only a few hundred years.
(here’s the printer-friendly version).
Science News wrote an article in 1975 called “Chilling Possibilities” warning of a new ice age.
A January 1975 article from the New York Times warned:
The most drastic potential change considered in the new report (by the National Academy of Sciences) is an abrupt end to the present interglacial period of relative warmth that has governed the planet’s climate for the past 10,000 years.
A May 21, 1975 article in the New York Times again stated:
Sooner or later a major cooling of the climate is widely considered inevitable.
A 1994 Time article entitled “The Ice Age Cometh?” stated:
What ever happened to global warming? Scientists have issued apocalyptic warnings for years, claiming that gases from cars, power plants and factories are creating a greenhouse effect that will boost the temperature dangerously over the next 75 years or so. But if last week is any indication of winters to come, it might be more to the point to start worrying about the next Ice Age instead. After all, human-induced warming is still largely theoretical, while ice ages are an established part of the planet’s history. The last one ended about 10,000 years ago; the next one — for there will be a next one — could start tens of thousands of years from now. Or tens of years. Or it may have already started.
Note 1: I have an extensive background working to preserve natural areas and reduce urban pollution. I studied global warming at a top university in the early 1980’s. I was taught – as Al Gore was taught in college – that temperatures are directly correlated with CO2 levels.
Note 2: I not only do not receive a penny from oil or any other energy, industry or political person or organization of any nature whatsoever (I make a few peanuts from ads on this site, which I do not choose, but are selected without my input by my ad service), I am also wholly and completely against big oil, big coal and big nuclear. As I have repeatedly argued, power should be taken away from the oil giants and decentralized. I have repeatedly argued for microgeneration and for alternative energy. These things are beneficial for a number of reasons – including better health, less corruption of our political systems through decentralization of power, and a boost to our economy – in addition to whatever climate benefits they may have.
Note 3: One of the main reasons for writing this essay is to point out that we must make sure that our “solutions” are not more dangerous than the problems themselves. For example, the Washington Post noted that the government forced a switch from one type of chemical to another because it was believed the first was enlarging the ozone hole. However, according to the Post, the chemical which the government demanded be used instead is 4,470 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Currently, “government scientists are studying the feasibility of sending nearly microscopic particles of specially made glass into the Earth’s upper atmosphere to try to dampen the effects of ‘global warming.’ ” Others are currently suggesting cutting down trees and burying them. Other ways to geoengineer the planet are being proposed.
And Noam Chomsky has said that he would submit to fascism if it would help combat global warming:
Suppose it was discovered tomorrow that the greenhouse effects has been way understimated, and that the catastrophic effects are actually going to set in 10 years from now, and not 100 years from now or something.
Well, given the state of the popular movements we have today, we’d probably have a fascist takeover-with everybody agreeing to it, because that would be the only method for survival that anyone could think of. I’d even agree to it, because there’s just no other alternatives right now.” (page 388).
Are those ideas any better than pouring soot on the North Pole?
Our primary responsibility must be to ensure that we are not doing more harm than good.
Note 4: Given that scientists considered pouring soot on the North Pole to melt the ice in the 1970’s, it should come as no surprise that soot may be having a dramatic effect on the ice sheets and glaciers now.
Note 5: Some global warming advocates warn that a warming-induced shut down of the huge ocean current known as the thermohaline circulation could cause a new ice age in certain limited parts of the world that are warmed by the by the North Atlantic current, such as Iceland, Ireland, the Nordic countries, and Britain. But scientists in the 1970s were talking about something different: the start of a worldwide ice age due, for example, to a 100,000 year cycle in solar radiation hitting the Earth.
Note 6: For further information on the swing between warnings of ice ages and runaway global warming, see this and this. I have verified all of the facts made in the main post above, but I have not yet verified all of the claims made in the last two aforementioned web pages.