The report begins darkly, “There are ominous signs that the earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes portend a drastic decline in food production with serious political implications for just about every nation on earth.”
It includes troubling predictions for the great wheat producing regions of the northern Great Plains and Canada. The report states that farmers in England have begun to see about a two week change in their growing seasons. This change has already resulted in “the loss in over-all grain production of up to 100,000 tons annually.” The facts, both terrifying and unassailable.
Then of course, the obligatory examples of violent weather changes. “Last April, in the most devastating outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded, 148 twisters killed more than 300 people…” The evidence is there for all but the willfully blind, to plainly see.
So began the Newsweek article, written in April of 1975 that became the centerpiece for the public debate about the coming Ice Age. Global cooling had begun. The report was complete with charts and graphs assembled by the top climatologists to prove the hypothesis. With one or two protracted dips, the earth had been gradually warming since the end of the last Ice Age. We were overdue for a cooling period. So the consensus among the experts that we were well into the cooling trend made perfect sense. And if it continued, as they predicted it would, humanity was headed for a rendezvous with catastrophe. The future, filled with famines and bone chilling cold, looked grim.
The Newsweek report was generously sprinkled with quotes from experts and luminaries in the science community. A report from the National Academy of Science warned that a major climatic change would force social and economic adjustments on a worldwide scale. The piece also cited research done by Dr. Murray Mitchell of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It concluded that recorded ground temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere had declined by half a degree Fahrenheit between the years 1945 and 1968. Certainly not statistically insignificant.
NOAA scientists also released a report that concluded that the amount of sunshine reaching the earth had declined by 1.3% between the years 1964 and 1972. University of Wisconsin researcher Reid Bryson volunteered that average temperatures during the last Ice Age were only about 7 degrees colder than those during the earth’s warmest period. By his estimates, we were already one sixth of the way down the path to the next Ice Age.
While there was a consensus among the experts about the cooling trend, some believed that we were on the way to an all out Ice Age. While others thought it would to be similar to the Little Ice Age that lasted for several centuries. The one that enveloped Europe and much of North America, reaching its low point in about 1600.
Baby boomers may remember a film that was shown in many Science classes on the subject. It featured a snowbank only a few hundred kilometers north of Montreal that didn’t completely melt one summer. We were witnesses to history. We were told that this is how a glacier is born.
Of course, the experts and climatologists needed more taxpayer money to study the phenomenon, including its causes and possible solutions. Given the gravity of the situation, Congress eagerly complied.
One of the solutions considered was to dramatically reduce the size of the polar ice caps. Covering large sections with black ashes would cause critical sections to melt faster. Apparently there was little concern about what that might do to sea levels in coastal communities. If much of Florida was submerged, well that was a price they were willing to pay. Surprisingly, there was little discussion about simply building larger SUV’s and burning more fossil fuel.
Perhaps the most chilling statement was the first sentence of the last paragraph in the Newsweek piece. “Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive actions to compensate for the climactic changes or even to allay the effects.” In other words, if our fate was left to the political classes, we were doomed.
A few years later, some of those same scientists discovered flaws in their data. Global temperatures had stabilized. Worse, they may now be turning upward. The planet may actually be warming! Political figures from around the world began to unite behind the banner of Global Warming. We had to save the planet! It was all so wonderful. Humanity was coming together to force Americans to lower our standard of living.
Then the data started to show a pause in the so called warming. Scientists, fearing losses of both credibility and grant money, adjusted their data accordingly. Then they jettisoned the term Global Warming, substituting the amorphous Climate Change. That covered almost anything. But significant chunks of the American body politic had grown suspicious. Thankfully, a profligate Congress kept the funding spigots wide open.
So, here we are today. The planet is clearly either warming or cooling. Government grants flow freely to reinforce the undeniable fact that the climate is changing…or pausing. Climatologists understand that you get more attention and taxpayer money if you loudly predict disaster. It’s also helpful to stick with the pack. And be sure to shout down and shame anyone who challenges your theories or data.
It is said that history does not repeat itself. But, it certainly does rhyme.
Gil Gutknecht served six terms each in the Minnesota and the U.S. House of Representatives. He writes about healthcare and political issues of the day. The above quotations are taken from the April 28,1975 article in Newsweek.