Thursday, May 22, 2014

Peter Gwynne: My 1975 'Cooling World' Story Doesn't Make Today's Climate Scientists Wrong

It's time for deniers of human-caused global warming to stop using an old magazine story as ammunition against the consensus of today's climate scientists.


McCarty Glacier, Alaska. Left: July 30, 1909. Right: August 11, 2004.
1909 picture taken by Ulysses Sherman Grant. 2004 picture taken by Bruce F. Molnia.
Glacier Photograph Collection, National Snow and Ice Data Center/World Data Center for Glaciology.
By: Peter Gwynne, Inside Science News Service Guest Columnist

"The central fact is that, after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the Earth seems to be cooling down. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century." – Newsweek: April 28, 1975

That's an excerpt from a story I wrote about climate science that appeared almost 40 years ago. Titled "The Cooling World," it was remarkably popular; in fact it might be the only decades-old magazine story about science ever carried onto the set of a late-night TV talk show. Now, as the author of that story, after decades of scientific advances, let me say this: while the hypotheses described in that original story seemed right at the time, climate scientists now know that they were seriously incomplete. Our climate is warming -- not cooling, as the original story suggested.

Nevertheless, certain websites and individuals that dispute, disparage and deny the science that shows that humans are causing the Earth to warm continue to quote my article. Their message: how can we believe climatologists who tell us that the Earth's atmosphere is warming when their colleagues asserted that it's actually cooling?

Well, yes, we should trust them, despite the views of detractors such as comedian Dennis Miller, who brought my story to The Tonight Show in 2006. Several atmospheric scientists did indeed believe in global cooling, as I reported in the April 28, 1975 issue of Newsweek. But that was then.

 In the 39 years since, biotechnology has flowered from a promising academic topic to a major global industry, the first test-tube baby has been born and become a mother herself, cosmologists have learned that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate rather than slowing down, and particle physicists have detected the Higgs boson, an entity once regarded as only a theoretical concept. Seven presidents have served most of 11 terms. And Newsweek has become a shadow of its former self.

And on the climate front? The vast majority of climatologists now assure us that Earth's atmosphere is not cooling. Rather it's warming up. And the main responsibility for the phenomenon lies with human activity.

"There's no serious dispute any more about whether the globe is warming, whether humans are responsible, and whether we will see large and dangerous changes in the future – in the words of the National Academy of Sciences – which we didn't know in the 1970s," said Michael Mann, a climatologist at Pennsylvania State University in University Park. He added that nearly every U.S. scientific society has assessed the evidence and come to the same conclusion.

The recent National Climate Assessment takes an equally emphatic view.

"What is new over the last decade is that we know with increasing certainty that climate change is happening now," it states. "While scientists continue to refine projections of the future, observations unequivocally show that climate is changing and that the warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases."

I'm sure it's clear by now that I accept the views of the National Academy, National Climate Assessment, Mann, and the huge majority of his fellow climatologists. Nevertheless, websites devoted to denying the existence of human-caused climate change – or at least promoting the idea that nothing should be done about it – continue to use my article to validate their thinking. In fact the article has reportedly become the most-cited article in Newsweek's history.



Source: NASA

Those that reject climate science ignore the fact that, like other fields, climatology has evolved since 1975. The certainty that our atmosphere is indeed warming stems from a series of rigorous observations and theoretical concepts that fit into computer models and an overall framework outlining the nature of Earth's climate.

These capabilities were primitive or non-existent in 1975. In fact my report reflected a real strand of climatological thinking back then. I was far from the only science writer to cover the possibility of global cooling. Time, Science News, and the New York Times, among other media outlets, wrote about it, because some climate scientists had genuine reasons to believe that the global climate might be cooling and had published scholarly papers on the matter.

Speaking personally, though, I accept that I didn't tell the full story back then. Indeed, the issue raises questions about the relationship between science writers and scientists as well as the attitudes toward science of individuals with political agendas.

"Three independent strands of science at the time got conflated in the articles: analyses of direct temperature data that showed a decline in temperatures particularly over the Northern Hemisphere since the 1940s; a very high level of pollution by sulfate aerosols that cooled the planet; and evidence that the timing of ice ages was caused by wobbles in Earth's orbit," explained Gavin Schmidt, deputy chief of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in New York. Indeed, he added, "some parts of the article are OK even today."

At the same time, however, evidence had emerged of increases in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, a gas known to warm the atmosphere.

"The science was sort of speculative [in 1975]," Mann recalled. "A National Academy of Sciences report concluded there wasn't enough information at that particular time because we had two competing forces – aerosols and greenhouse gases. It wasn't entirely clear which would win out."

Ironically, efforts to clean up the atmosphere made it possible to resolve the scientific mystery and convince climatologists that human activity is warming the planet. Policy actions such as the Clean Air Act of 1970 in the United States and similar initiatives in other countries aimed to reduce the amount of sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere. Since those compounds primarily reflect heat, their reduction effectively gave carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases more control over the Earth's temperature.

NASA scientist James Hansen was the first to sound the alarm. In 1988, he pointed out that a sort of Faustian bargain had cleaned up the atmosphere but at the cost of worsening the greenhouse problem.

Those that reject climate science ignore the fact that, like other fields, climatology has evolved since 1975. The certainty that our atmosphere is indeed warming stems from a series of rigorous observations and theoretical concepts that fit into computer models and an overall framework outlining the nature of Earth's climate.

These capabilities were primitive or non-existent in 1975. In fact my report reflected a real strand of climatological thinking back then. I was far from the only science writer to cover the possibility of global cooling. Time, Science News, and the New York Times, among other media outlets, wrote about it, because some climate scientists had genuine reasons to believe that the global climate might be cooling and had published scholarly papers on the matter.

Speaking personally, though, I accept that I didn't tell the full story back then. Indeed, the issue raises questions about the relationship between science writers and scientists as well as the attitudes toward science of individuals with political agendas.

"Three independent strands of science at the time got conflated in the articles: analyses of direct temperature data that showed a decline in temperatures particularly over the Northern Hemisphere since the 1940s; a very high level of pollution by sulfate aerosols that cooled the planet; and evidence that the timing of ice ages was caused by wobbles in Earth's orbit," explained Gavin Schmidt, deputy chief of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in New York. Indeed, he added, "some parts of the article are OK even today."

At the same time, however, evidence had emerged of increases in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, a gas known to warm the atmosphere.

"The science was sort of speculative [in 1975]," Mann recalled. "A National Academy of Sciences report concluded there wasn't enough information at that particular time because we had two competing forces – aerosols and greenhouse gases. It wasn't entirely clear which would win out."

Ironically, efforts to clean up the atmosphere made it possible to resolve the scientific mystery and convince climatologists that human activity is warming the planet. Policy actions such as the Clean Air Act of 1970 in the United States and similar initiatives in other countries aimed to reduce the amount of sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere. Since those compounds primarily reflect heat, their reduction effectively gave carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases more control over the Earth's temperature.

NASA scientist James Hansen was the first to sound the alarm. In 1988, he pointed out that a sort of Faustian bargain had cleaned up the atmosphere but at the cost of worsening the greenhouse problem.

Muir Glacier, Alaska. Left: August 13, 1941. Right: August 31, 2004.
Credit: 1941 photo taken by Ulysses William O. Field; 2004 photo taken by Bruce F. Molnia. Courtesy of the Glacier Photograph Collection, National Snow and Ice Data Center/World Data Center for Glaciology.

 

 Take, for example, research on the relationship between climate change and extreme weather.

"It is a very nuanced subject, and a legitimate controversy," Mann said in an interview. "There really are different schools of thought, each of which are credible and making arguments in good faith. Jennifer Francis at Rutgers argues that there is a connection with loss of sea ice, and others are skeptical."

Schmidt agrees.

"It is a genuine debate," he said. "Scientists don't just sit around congratulating ourselves on what we've done. We look for things at the cutting edge between known and unknown. It's a complex terrain and that's what makes it interesting."

Certainly, the disputes have become more nuanced. But their existence provides opponents of scientific findings that they find unpopular with opportunities to muddle the facts.

"The American political system has always had a rather odd connection to the role of expertise," Schmidt added. "There's a clear strand in American discourse that is anti-intellectual and anti-expertise."

While the affair reveals much about the relationship between politics and science, it also casts a shadow on science writing.

"There's too much handwaving in science journalism," Schmidt noted. "Scientists don't spend a lot of time when talking to journalists about what their research doesn't mean. One of the fault lines between science and journalism is how you pull together the bigger picture. So a reticence on the part of scientists to fill in the big picture, and over-enthusiasm on the part of journalists to say what does it all mean, means that the journalists don't get it quite right."

Here I must admit mea culpa. In retrospect, I was over-enthusiastic in parts of my Newsweek article. Thus, I suggested a connection between the purported global cooling and increases in tornado activity that was unjustified by climate science. I also predicted a forthcoming impact of global cooling on the world's food production that had scant research to back it.

The messages for science writers are to ask questions beyond the obvious and to seek out what the science doesn't imply as well as what it does. If I had applied those lessons back in 1975, I might not now be in the embarrassing position of being a cat's paw for denial of climate change.

Over my career I've covered subjects as diverse as cell biology, the world of physics a century after Einstein's birth, space commerce, and World Cup soccer. I've won prizes for my writing, including a lifetime award from the American Chemical Society. But I fear that my obituary will be dominated by that single article in Newsweek.

- Peter Gwynne for Inside Science News Service
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Peter Gwynne is a freelance science writer based in Sandwich, Massachusetts, and a frequent contributor to Inside Science. He is the author of "The Cooling World," which appeared in Newsweek in April, 1975.


6 comments:

  1. "It's time for deniers of human-caused global warming to stop using an old magazine story as ammunition against the consensus of today's climate scientists."


    0.343% or 41 out of 11,944 papers - not much of a consensus!



    A 15 May 2013 paper by Cook, and his pals, (http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/2/024024/article) claimed a 97.1% scientific consensus that mankind had caused at least half the 0.7 Cº global warming since 1950. Cook and his volunteers read abstracts of papers relating to global warming, and graded them into seven endorsement levels. Note that they didn’t read the actual papers, just the abstracts. 0.343% or 41 out of the 11,944 papers explicitly endorsed the “Global Warming” viewpoint.


    According to a paper by the climatologist, Dr David Legates, and his colleagues, published in Science and Education, only 41 out of the 11,944 published climate papers that Cook examined, explicitly stated that mankind caused most of the warming since 1950. Cook himself had flagged just 64 papers, as explicitly supporting that consensus, but 23 of the 64 had not, in fact, supported it.


    Dr William Briggs: “[Cook] arbitrarily excluded about 8,000 of the 12,000 papers in his sample on the unacceptable ground that they had expressed no opinion on the climate consensus. These artifices let him reach the unjustifiable conclusion that there was a 97.1% consensus when there was not. In fact, Cook’s paper provides the clearest available statistical evidence that there is scarcely any explicit support among scientists for the consensus that the IPCC, politicians, bureaucrats, academics and the media have so long and so falsely proclaimed. That was not the outcome Cook had hoped for, and it was not the outcome he had stated in his paper, but it was the outcome he had really found.”

    Dr Legates: “It is still more astonishing that the IPCC should claim 95% certainty about the climate consensus when so small a fraction of published papers explicitly endorse the consensus as the IPCC defines it.”

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  2. Peter writes, "Over my career, I've covered subjects as diverse as... prizes... awards... but I fear my obituary will be dominated by that single article in Newsweek"

    Peter is a fine writer. It is his poor judgement that has led him to depend upon sources that lack integrity. Citing Schmidt, as Peter did, "There is a clear strand in American discourse that is anti-intellectual and anti-expertise." - how true. Why is it that Peter chose to ignore expertise, and follow politically motivated activists, who have a non-science agenda, as opposed to actual scientists, who believe the data is the truth, and discourse, even argument, is the path to the truth. Science, real science, is about someone putting up a theory, and others trying to show it as false. That means sharing all your data and methods so others can find where you went wrong (if you did). The folks that Peter followed, hide their data, refuse FOIA and other requests for data, file lawsuits against others to prevent them from using their data, and even destroy (or "loose") their data, to prevent it from falling into the hands of "skeptics". Science, real science, is found by feeding the skeptics the data, not withholding it from them. Mann has filed suit. That university in Austrailia has filed suit, East Anglia has had their emails published, revealing their schemes to avoid FOIA, destroy data, etc. Peter quoted Schmidt, not realizing that Schmidt's words damn the people that Peter trusted.
    Peter, you've been mislead.

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  3. The Arctic seems to be warming up. Reports from fishermen, hunters, and explorers who sail the seas about Spitzbergen and the eastern Arctic, all point to a radical change in climatic conditions, and unprecedented high temperatures in that part of the earth’s surface.

    The oceanographic observations have been even more interesting. Ice extent is abysmal. In fact, so little ice has never before been noted. The expedition almost established a record, sailing as far north as 81 degrees 29 minutes in ice-free water.

    Dr Hoel reports that he measured a section of the Gulf Stream at 81 degrees north latitude. These show the Gulf Stream is very warm, and it could be traced as a surface current 'till beyond the 81st parallel. The warmth of the waters makes it probable that the abysmal ice conditions will continue for some time.

    In connection with Dr Hoel’s report, it is of interest to note the unusually warm summer in Arctic Norway and the observations of Capt. Martin Ingebrigtsen, who has sailed the eastern Arctic for the past 54 years. He says that he first noted warmer conditions four years prior; since that time it has steadily gotten warmer, and that today that region of the Arctic is not recognizable as the same Arctic region of fifty years ago.

    Before where larg masses of ice were found, there are now moraines. At many points where glaciers formerly extended far into the sea they have entirely disappeared.

    The change in the temperature, says Capt. Ingebrigtsen, has also brought about great change in the flora and fauna of the Arctic. This summer he surveyed for white fish around Spitsbergen. Formerly they were abundant there. This year he saw none, although he examined all the previous locations.

    There were abnormally low seal counts around Spitzbergen this year, far under the average. This, however, did not surprise the captain. He pointed out that normally the water temperature around Spitzbergen held an even summer 3°C; this year recorded temperatures were about 15°C, and last year the ocean did not freeze over even on the north coast of Spitzbergen.

    This year, surveys detected great numbers of herring along the west coast of Spitzbergen, from juvenile to the large adult herring. Large schools of smelt were also found.

    This warming, which was also experienced in Greenland, lasted from 1918 to 1939.

    The Washington Post 02Nov1922.

    Headline:
    Arctic Ocean Getting Warm; Seals Vanish and Icebergs Melt.

    (The newspaper article was located in the Library of Congress archives by James Lockwood.)

    I deleted and re-arranged, even updated some of the wording, because it read like an article from a hundred years ago, and I wanted to try to keep up the suspense.

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  4. It seems so believable, when a 'warmest' presents the talk about how carbon dioxide is heating the planet, and more carbon dioxide will heat the planet more. Individual pieces of that can be proven in the laboratory as absolutely factual. The items that are left out, however, make the whole thing fall apart, in the real world. As an example, take the gardener's greenhouse - a glass building set out in the sun, used to grow plants for food and profit, before the growing season starts in the outside world... A real greenhouse was thought to work because glass is clear, for light, but opaque, for infrared wavelengths. The short wavelengths of sunlight pass through glass, with no appreciable loss, but the longer wavelengths of radiated heat, from the earthy stuff inside the greenhouse, were too long to pass through glass, all of which is true. This was taught in middle school science class, as why a greenhouse works. This is an important thing to note - just because the science is correct, doesn’t mean that the science explains what is going on. It is easy to prove, in a laboratory, or in a field, that sunlight passes through glass, while infrared radiation does not. These are inarguable facts. Modern plastics have the odd characteristic of being clear for both light, and infrared radiation; also inarguable facts. The surprise is, when an actual greenhouse is made using that plastic, it still works. The shell of the greenhouse, whether glass or plastic, permits the sunshine to enter, and warm stuff up. The shell, whether glass or plastic, physically restricts the warm air from escaping. It stays warm, inside the greenhouse, because warm are is kept in, and cold air, kept out. Very little energy is lost by infrared radiation, from an actual greenhouse.

    So the science facts are provable. Everyone believed that is how a greenhouse worked, for decades, until the fifties or sixties, when plastics came along.

    Same thing with "greenhouse gases". CO2 probably does exert a warming effect in the real world atmosphere. From zero to 20 ppm, the effect is probably profound. But the effect follows a logarithmic, decreasing curve, so by the time you reach 200ppm, the effect is so weak, it gets lost in the noise.

    Besides, the earth is thermostatically regulated by non-linear, emergent weather events, like thunderstorms. Water vapor transports heat, not as infrared radiation that can be hindered by greenhouse gases, but as latent heat, carried away as water changes phases from liquid to vapor. This vapor is transported high above the bulk of the greenhouse gases, where it condenses and freezes, liberating the latent heat above the greenhouse, where it can radiate into the cold of space, much unhindered by the sparse, few molecules of gases above it. The GCMs, the models used by the IPCC, don't take this into account. Plus the GIGO effect, where fools input into the models that clouds force ably warm the earth, when clouds actually can reflect sunlight before it heats the earth, and should be considered to force the cooling, not heating...

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  5. James Hansen voluntarily left the scientific community, decades ago. He gave up any shred of respect, in favor of activism, in the company of liars, who support “the cause”. Hansen went along with the staging of his own testimony before the Congress of the USA. His handler, Timothy Wirth, arranged for Hansen’s testimony to be on the day that is typically the hottest day of the year. Hansen’s testimony was about the dangers of “Global Warming”, so Wirth shut off the air conditioning in the room, the night before, and opened the windows. That made it more dramatic, when members of Congress could feel hot, and Hansen’s face looked sweaty.

    James Hansen said “The West Side Highway will be under water” … in 20 or 30 years.
    http://www.salon.com/2001/10/23/weather/ Giving Hansen the outside of his predicted time frame, he’s got three our four years left. The sea level around New York would have to rise a foot or more per year to save his prediction. So much for credibility.

    Hansen said, back then, "Tim Wirth and Al Gore were great.” (as politicians who were also activists for Global Warming). Former US Congressman and long-standing president of the United Nations Foundation, Timothy Wirth, spelled out his strategy in 1998, when he said, "What we’ve got to do in energy conservation is try to ride the Global Warming issue. Even if the theory of Global Warming is wrong, to have approached global warming, as if it is real, means energy conservation, so we will be doing the right thing, anyway, in terms of economic policy and environmental policy.”

    “…even if the theory of Global Warming is wrong…"
    So, Wirth’s cause, “economic policy and environmental policy”, was worth lying for.


    AlGore, 09May2006: "I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are, and how hopeful it is that we are going to solve this crisis.”
    http://grist.org/article/roberts2/
    So, AlGore thinks the cause is worth lying for, though, as a veteran politician, he says it more smoothly.


    Rod Lamberts: Deputy Director, Australian National Centre for Public Awareness of Science at Australian National University: "What we need now, is to become comfortable with the idea that the ends will justify the means." https://theconversation.com/facts-wo...ics-will-24074
    That’s not science. Science does not justify lying. Science does not pick a conclusion, then search for things that support that conclusion. Hansen does not do science anymore.

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  6. "In the 39 years since, ... cosmologists have learned that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate rather than slowing down, ... And Newsweek has become a shadow of its former self.”

    Cosmologists did not “bet the farm” that the universe was slowing down. Cosmologists did not take to the headlines and scream, “we’re all going to be torn apart by gravitational forces! The expanding universe will rip the earth asunder! Hurry, send us more grant money, while we study this awful, terrible Universal Expansion” but these Global Warming activists have caused billions of dollars to be spent, governments to pass laws, and other effects. Cosmologists did not turn into activists. Note, however, that cosmologists reviewed the data, and ascertained that they were wrong. Global Warming activists (some, formerly scientists) refuse to review the data, refuse to discuss or argue, and simply raise the volume on their shrill claims, and shorten the time-span, regarding how many years or days we all have left before we go past “the tipping point”… Cosmologists did not inculcate our youth, regarding the terrible Universal Expansion. Cosmologists did not blame the consumption of energy for Universal Expansion… but they could have. It appears that the Cosmologists you cite are still scientists.

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