Global-warming skeptics: Is it only the news media who need to chill?
Some who discount humans' role in altering Earth's climate point to the 'global-cooling' scare of the 1970s.
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"For some, the original speculation was that dust and aerosols would increase at a rate far beyond CO2 and lead to global cooling," says Schneider, now a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Center for Environment Science and Policy of the Institute for International Studies there. "We didn't know yet that such effects were so regionally located. By the mid-1970s, it was realized that greenhouse gases were perhaps more likely to be shifting climate on a global scale."Skip to next paragraph
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Adds climate-modeler Connolley: "Climate science was far less advanced [in the 1970s], only beginning in a way, and ideas were explored in a tentative way that have later been abandoned."
Theory never embraced by scientists
Today some global-warming skeptics portray the news media of the 1970s as "hysterical" over the prospect of global cooling, publishing stories warning of growing glaciers and widespread famine.
The article perhaps most often cited by skeptics was in an April 28, 1975, issue of Newsweek magazine. The author wrote that a dramatic climatic shift to cooler temperatures would bring about massive crop failures and famine – "perhaps only 10 years from now."
Although the Newsweek article exhibited some journalistic caution – "meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend..." – it ultimately sounds a grave warning. "[Meteorologists] are almost unanimous that the trend will reduce the agricultural productivity for the rest of the century," the 1975 story says. "If the climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic."
The Newsweek article hardly made a splash (it appeared on page 64), however, and while a few other mainstream publications also ran global-cooling articles, the subject never became a major topic in the popular media. Nor did it ever achieve the kind of scientific consensus that now surrounds global warming, as noted in the IPCC report.
Connolley and Schneider say that if the public had looked directly at the peer-reviewed scientific papers, and not at the popular media coverage, they would not have found any basis for a global-cooling scare.
Even Richard Lindzen, professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a prominent global-warming skeptic, wrote in a paper published by the conservative Cato Institute that "the scientific community never took the issue [of global cooling] to heart, governments ignored it, and with rising global temperatures in the late 1970s the issue more or less died."
By contrast, an abundance of scientific articles today point to evidence of human-induced global warming. Unlike the 1970s, Schneider says, a true scientific consensus now exists on global warming. "Global warming was a good theory [even in the 1970s], and now it's good fact backed by empirical evidence," he concludes.
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