The alleged villain was global cooling, coming faster than anyone had predicted. It wouldn’t be all that long before polar bears would be rummaging through the aisles of Macy’s in Manhattan.
That was the dire warning by Newsweek’s science editor, Peter Gwynne, in the magazine’s April 28, 1975 issue.
“There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production — with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth,” explained Gwynne. “The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now,” i.e., 1985.
In fact, the opposite occurred. World food output and per capita world food production both increased steadily in the decades before and after Gwynne’s prophecy of drastic food scarcities.
Gwynne cited top climate experts to support his premise of global cooling: “A survey completed last year by Dr. Murray Mitchell of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, reveals a drop of half a degree in average ground temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere between 1945 and 1968. According to George Kukla of Columbia University, satellite photos indicated a sudden, large increase in Northern Hemisphere snow cover in the winter of 1971-72. And a study released last month by two NOAA scientists notes that the amount of sunshine reaching the ground in the continental U.S. diminished by 1.3% between 1964 and 1972.”
Interestingly, the aforementioned era of alleged global cooling in the Northern Hemisphere, 1945 to 1968, is the exact period that saw unprecedented increases in overall manufacturing in the Northern Hemisphere and, in particular, huge increases in the number of motor vehicles on the roads, as well as huge increases in the size of the fins on an ever-growing number of ever-lengthening Coupe de Villes.
It’s odd that no one at Harvard got a federal grant to study the obvious correlation between the sales of Cadillacs and the well-being of polar bears, the clear link between bigger fins, falling temperatures and more ice between 1945 and 1968.
In any case, Newsweek’s Gwynne saw an avalanche of evidence for global cooling and a quickly growing scientific consensus: “The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it.”
On top of citing a report from the National Academy of Sciences about how temperature changes would “force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale,” Gwynne highlighted a professor who had figured out that we were already a sixth of the way to all becoming ice sculptures: “Reid Bryson of the University of Wisconsin points out that the Earth’s average temperature during the great Ice Ages was only about seven degrees lower than during its warmest eras — and that the present decline has taken the planet about a sixth of the way toward the Ice Age average.”
Gwynne additionally pointed to the increasingly frigid winters between 1600 and 1900 — “years when the Thames used to freeze so solidly that Londoners roasted oxen on the ice and when iceboats sailed the Hudson River almost as far south as New York City.” And, funny, even with no Hummers at the malls to warm things up a bit, the ice on the Thames somehow just melted away.
Nearly a year before Newsweek’s ominous warning about global cooling, Time magazine was beating the same drum, running “Another Ice Age?” in its June 24, 1974 issue.
“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,” reported Time. “The trend shows no indication of reversing. Climatological Cassabdras are becoming increasingly apprehensive, for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age.”
The evidence, said Time, was everywhere, “from the unexpected persistence and thickness of pack ice in the waters around Iceland to the southward migration of a warmth-loving armadillo from the Midwest.”
In addition to the traveling armadillos, reported Time, satellite weather data for the Northern Hemisphere showed that “the area of the ice and snow cover had suddenly increased by 12 percent in 1971 and the increase has persisted ever since. Areas of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, for example, were once totally free of any snow in summer; now they are covered year round.”
Time also saw evidence of planetary cooling in “the Midwest’s recent rash of disastrous tornadoes” and the expansion of “polar winds” and the subsequent “cap of cold air that is the immediate cause of Africa’s drought.”
The effect of all this could be “extremely serious, if not catastrophic,” Time warned. With global food outputs “sharply reduced” by way of droughts, we could well be headed for the non-sustainability of our species if things stayed on the same chilling track. Time quotes University of Toronto climatologist Kenneth Hare, a former president of the Royal Meteorological Society: “I don’t believe that the world’s present population is sustainable if there are more than three years like 1972 in a row.”
So what’ll we do? Kill the cows and stop eating burgers because it’s getting too hot, or buy bigger Buicks because it’s getting too cold?
Obama’s answer on the campaign trail was that we should buy the warming premise, buckle to foreign opinion, trade in our comfortable cars for nerdmobiles, keep our homes more hot in the summer and more cold in the winter, cut out ice cream and start replacing strip steaks with tofu.
“We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times,” he stated, “and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK.” I’d say the first step is to get the data right and forget about what the French or Chinese think about what we’re driving or eating.
Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.