50 Years Ago, Scientists Predicted Global Cooling and a New Ice Age. Today, They Warn of Global Warming. What Changed?

Joel Eisenberg

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Climate ChangeNASA.gov, Public Domain

Author’s Note

It is important to note from the outset that this article is free of opinion and bias, and is based solely on divergent science and media reports from the 1970s to the present day. Information and excerpts for this article are fully-attributed to several media outlets, scientists, and scientific organizations, including NASA, Wikipedia, American Meteorological Society, The Brookings Institution, AlGore.com, BoxOfficeMojo.com, PopularTechnology.net, and WhiteHouse.gov.

Direct links to all listed and attributed sources are included below.

Introduction

In the 1970s, a small group of scientists created what in short order became a media-driven outcry that the world was on the verge of a new global freeze. See Wikipedia entry here for substantially-attributed information on the topic.

From the Wikipedia entry, in a section attributed to an educational paper written by Thomas Peterson, William Connolley, and John Fleck as published by The American Meteorological Society, entitled “The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus,” the following elaborates on the issue: Global cooling was a conjecture, especially during the 1970s, of imminent cooling of the earth culminating in a period of extensive glaciation due to the cooling effects of aerosols and orbital forcing. Some press reports in the 1970s speculated about continued cooling; these did not accurately reflect the scientific literature of the time, which was generally more concerned with warming from an enhanced greenhouse effect.

The Wikipedia entry goes on to state that though 10% of scientists touted the theory of global cooling, 90% did not and, in fact, warned of the opposite. According to the entry, both entities agreed with the concept of climate change, though 90% feared the earth was warming.

We will explore these concepts further, below.

On the Difference Between Weather and Climate

On their website, NASA distinguishes between terms “climate change” and “global warming,” as well as “weather” and “climate.” See link here for “Overview: Weather, Global Warming and Climate Change.”

From the article: “Climate change” and “global warming” are often used interchangeably but have distinct meanings. Similarly, the terms "weather" and "climate" are sometimes confused, though they refer to events with broadly different spatial- and timescales. Weather refers to atmospheric conditions that occur locally over short periods of time—from minutes to hours or days. Familiar examples include rain, snow, clouds, winds, floods or thunderstorms. Climate, on the other hand, refers to the long-term regional or even global average of temperature, humidity and rainfall patterns over seasons, years or decades.

NASA also states, in another website entry, that the modern day scientific consensus is the earth is indeed warming. See here for explanation which, despite a plethora today of highly-attributed media reports warning of an imminent threat, has become a bone of contention among political parties.

In 2019, The Brookings Institute published a comprehensive study on the matter, “The Challenging Politics of Climate Change,” which you can read here and claims such divides were first noted in the 1990s.

In terms of mainstream attention on the matter, the 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” directed by Davis Guggenheim and written by former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore, states the following in its promotional materials: Director Davis Guggenheim eloquently weaves the science of global warming with former Vice President Al Gore’s personal history and lifelong commitment to reversing the effects of global climate change in the most talked-about documentary of the year.

The film was a substantial box office hit and for a time the highest-grossing American made theatrical documentary ever released, grossing $49,782,012 at the worldwide box office, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. Gore’s website has further information on the film, and it’s 2017 less-financially successful followup, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” that grossed $5,433,926 also according to BoxOfficeMojo.

The prevalent scientific opinion remains today, according to “Scientific Consensus: Earth’s Climate is Warming” from the NASA website, and the linked articles above as well as the films, that man himself is in large part responsible for global warming, due to pollution, car exhausts, fumes and more. The turn to electric vehicles and other entities from which we can lower our carbon footprint remains a major federal priority.

Climate Change Fact vs. Theory

The website PopularTechnology.net serves in part as a reference curator. In its piece entitled “Global Cooling Alarmism,” links to several 1970’s mainstream periodicals covering the topic are included, as well as a promotional piece for the decade’s “In Search Of” television show starring the late Leonard Nimoy. An article in the January 5, 1978 edition of the New York Times was particularly ominous: “International Team of Specialists Finds No End in Sight to 30‐Year Cooling Trend in Northern Hemisphere.” See here for that New York Times piece.

(Note: Several of the linked articles on the Popular Technology website are microfiche images, and some links are no longer functional. For a similar listing of media sources that covered the global cooling 1970s controversy, the Wikipedia entry towards the top of this article lists and attributes many of the same outlets.)

To reiterate the argument of fact vs theory, according to today’s prominent science resources such as NASA, climate change is an authentic issue, and global warming among our greatest long-term threats.

Doubts are reported as remaining due to political partisanship, which has forced the hand of many in the scientific community and the federal government to take more public stances on the matter, including the current President of the United States. See here for the Biden administration’s comments as shared on WhiteHouse.gov, which includes a pledge to achieve a 65% emissions reduction from federal operations by 2030, and attainment of net-zero emissions by 2050.

Conclusion

In the 1970s, a small group of scientists warned of a coming ice age in an argument largely covered by the mainstream media, many of which reported the theory as fact. Today, as back then, however, the vast majority of scientists polled believe climate change is indeed real, yet global warming is the great scourge which at that time went underreported in comparison.

By the mid-80s, most media reports of a new ice age disappeared.

Studies have continued to prove to many in the scientific community that global warming is real and man-made due to pollution and related factors, and not theory. Partisan politics are largely blamed by several of those same scientific organizations and media outlets, including those linked above, for what they stress is indeed an ongoing threat.

The California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, meanwhile, notes an increasing number of skeptics have, of late, revised their opinions due to the vast amounts of data on global warming, but the distinction is they simply do not believe it poses much of a threat. See here for that perspective.

Time will tell on all counts.

I hope this article has provided some information that is helpful.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA
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