Posted on | February 24, 2008 | 8 Comments
Let us assume, for purpose of argument, that you are deeply concerned about the potential for humans’ impact on climate, but that you have some uncertainties about the reliability of the science that lies at the foundation of that concern.
Today, you note, scientists tell us the planet is warming. But did they not argue back in the 1970s that we were at risk of new ice age?
It would seem that if you took this argument seriously, you might go back to the literature of the 1970s, both the peer reviewed science and the media coverage, and try to understand what people were saying then, and how they could have been so wrong. It an important question, and a serious issue if we are to understand how climate science works, and whether we can trust the enterprise to help guide our decisions today.
On the other hand, if you merely wanted a bit of rhetoric, a debating point, you might stop before ever reaching that point. You might say something like “[B]efore we take global warming as a scientific truth, we should note that the opposite theory was once scientific verity.”1
This distinction can be made because a serious review of the literature shows that there was no such “scientific verity”. There are anecdotes that can be plucked from the record, primarily from the popular media. But a rigorous review by Tom Peterson and William Connolley (with some minor help from myself) shows that, even as the planet was in a short term cooling trend in the 1970s, concerns about greenhouse warming dominated the scientific literature. The paper documenting our results has been accepted for publication in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, and Doyle Rice did a nice job summarizing the paper last week in USA Today.2
It’s an easy test. Any time you hear someone claim there was a “‘consensus’ panic over ‘global cooling’”3, you know the author has reached for the easy rhetorical point rather than seriously reviewing the problem.
I think the paper is of value because it does a credible and defensible job of summarizing the literature of the day. But the central premise is not new. William has been making and defending this argument for ages.4 People who claim to take the intersection of climate science and politics/policy seriously should know better.
- Bray, A.J., 1991: The Ice Age cometh. Policy Review, No. 58 [↩]
- Study debunks ‘global cooling’ concern of ’70s, USA Today, 2/20/2008 [↩]
- Horner, C.C., 2007: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism [↩]
- Was an imminent ice age predicted in the 1970s? No. [↩]