Commentary: Chilling out on climate change
A key argument climate skeptics always rely on is the now debunked prediction of a ‘new ice age.’ But the story of that 1970s debate is compelling as current evidence of global warming.
In any debate about climate change — and more importantly, its potential impact on agriculture — there are always skeptics who try to deflect the debate by noting that “In the 1970s, these scientists were predicting global cooling.”
The implication being, they didn’t’ know what they were talking about then, and they don’t have any credibility now.
It’s true that a number of scientific studies in the 1970s discussed the threat of an ice age that might occur in the future, including an influential 1971 paper by Stephen Schneider, then a climate researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Schneider suggested that the cooling effect of “dirty air,” due to ongoing particulate pollution (the major provisions of the Clean Air Act of 1963 had only begun to be implemented at that time) could outweigh the potential warming effect of CO2.
The other contributing factor at the time, for those who remember their eco-history, was a growing fear that the ozone-destroying propellants in aerosol products would aggravate global warming.
In essence, it was an intellectual battle over warming versus cooling.
According to a comprehensive review in the New Scientist magazine published a few years ago, “There was a chill across the world [back then], and it wasn’t just the cold war. From the 1940s to the mid-1970s, the planet seemed to be in the grip of a global cooling. For a while, almost every outbreak of extreme weather was blamed on it [by] members of the new scientific discipline, climatology.”
However, here’s a bit of history everyone does remember.
Seventy-five years ago, global cooling was real, not some theoretical phenomenon. In the summer of 1941, Hitler’s blitzkrieg had swept across most of Western Europe and the Nazis were pounding the Russian army as it pushed toward Moscow.
As a BBC history of the campaign on the Eastern Front noted, “One week into the German invasion, 150,000 Soviet soldiers were either dead or wounded. As the German armies swept further into the Russian heartland, [the city of] Kiev fell to the Nazis wehrmacht and 600,000 Soviet soldiers had been captured. By October 1941, three million Soviet soldiers were prisoners of war.”
But as historians have noted, the winter of 1941-42 was one of the most severe in decades, and the heavy snow and bitter cold accomplished what Stalin’s Red Army could not: inflicting a crippling defeat on Hitler and changing the course of World War II.
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