One of the standard mantras of those pushing their superior knowledge of Earth’s future climate – including those who politicize science to sway the electorate – is the talking point that says climate scientists were not all that concerned about a coming ice age back in the 1960s and ’70s.
But it’s funny what you can run into when rummaging through old files.
I’ve done a lot of teaching since the mid-1980s and so have amassed a huge collection of class materials. Of course, at some point, those materials need to be sorted; consolidated; and, in many cases, discarded.
So, when reviewing documentation from the late ’80s, I happened upon a rejection letter dated 3 April 1989 from the then editor John Maddox of the prestigious journal Nature (still one of the leading science magazines in the world). I had sent Nature a letter regarding a 1977 paperback book titled Our Changing Weather: Forecast of Disaster? by Claude Rose. My letter noted the teaser on the back cover of the book that claimed: “Northern hemisphere temperatures have been falling steadily since the 1940s. Glaciers are advancing once again. Scientists no longer debate the coming of a new ice age: the question now is when?”
Editor John Maddox’s correspondence stated that the magazine could not publish my letter because “[t]he difficulty is that it is well-known in the scientific community that as recently as 15 years ago climatologists were more worried about the prospect of the ice age returning than by the greenhouse effect.” (Of course, the “greenhouse effect” was the popular designation at the time for what has since morphed into “global warming,” then “climate change.”) Maddox went on to point out how “Professor Hubert Lamb [a top climate scientist of the time], recently retired from the University of East Anglia [where Lamb founded the Climatic Research Unit], wrote a whole book on the subject.”
We also know that the popular press, such as Time, Newsweek, and National Geographic, during the period was picking up on the scientific sense that an ice age was looming.
With my own witness in meteorology classes at Penn State in the mid-’70s of assertions concerning the coming of the next ice age, not a sweltering globe, the claim that climate scientists were not all that concerned about a coming ice age back then should be debunked.
That claim should be a lesson to “settled science,” and the only settling that claim should do is at the bottom of a circular file.
Anthony J. Sadar is a certified consulting meteorologist and author of In Global Warming We Trust: Too Big to Fail (Stairway Press, 2016).