Debunking a Widespread Climate Lie

Tomorrow is Earth Day. The holiday was founded in 1970 and this year will mark the fortieth observance. So what was the original Earth Day all about? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains the catalyst this way:

On June 22, 1969, the Cuyahoga River on the southern shores of Lake Erie caught fire as oil, chemicals, and other materials, which had oozed into the lake, somehow ignited. The fire captured national attention and made the people of the United States aware of the many insults that had been heaped upon the environment of our nation and of our planet. It also helped lay the foundation of NOAA's major coastal resource management responsibilities and usher in the environmental protection or green side of NOAA.

As a result of the Cuyahoga River fire and other horrendous environmental insults -- the decline of the bald eagle from the pesticide DDT, whales hunted to near extinction, and the Santa Barbara oil spil -- Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005) began planning in September 1969 for an environmental teach-in known as Earth Day...

That's right. A river caught fire. A river. It was so polluted it was actually inflammable. I distinctly remember this event, along with political cartoons joking that Lake Erie was so polluted you could walk across it; a joke that was only barely untrue. I was just seven, but things like water being on fire tend to stick with you. It's the sort of weird, real-world contradiction that kids -- OK, maybe only kids like me -- find fascinating.

Apparently though, the NOAA and myself remember everything wrong. And even the late Gaylord Nelson himself -- Earth Day's founder -- remembered it incorrectly. Earth Day wasn't about what an environmental nightmare the United States had become by the late sixties and early seventies. It was all about some crazy idea every scientist on the planet had called "global cooling."

See, it comes up somewhere every Earth Day. Here's R. Warren Anderson -- billed as a "research analyst," whatever the hell that means -- and Dan Gainor, a T. Boone Pickens Free Market Fellow, in 2006. Not exactly fresh, I know, but the right brushes the dust off the same old line every year and I know I can't go a month without seeing it repeated on some rightwing blog or twitter.

The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970, amidst hysteria about the dangers of a new ice age. The media had been spreading warnings of a cooling period since the 1950s, but those alarms grew louder in the 1970s.

Three months before, on January 11, The Washington Post told readers to get a good grip on your long johns, cold weather haters -- the worst may be yet to come, in an article titled Colder Winters Held Dawn of New Ice Age. The article quoted climatologist Reid Bryson, who said there's no relief in sight about the cooling trend.

Now I remember the Cuyahoga fire, but I don't remember a lot of "hysteria about the dangers of a new ice age." Of course, as I said, I was only seven. Obviously there's a lot about that time that I either don't remember or didn't pay any attention to in the first place. But here's the weird thing; not only don't I remember it, but neither does anyone else I could find -- that is, other than rightwingers who use this to make fun of climate scientists. And we all know about the right's respect for history.

In fact, it takes a rightwing approach to history (i.e., revisionism) to buy this, because recorded history doesn't remember this widespread global cooling hysteria either. In 2008, the American Meteorological Society went back and checked to see how prevalent this global cooling thing was. Turns out, it wasn't very prevalent at all. In looking back at published papers of the time [original PDF here], the AMS found that global cooling was definitely a minority opinion. They looked at published papers between 1965 and 1979. What they found was climate science in its infancy -- and very little talk of global cooling.

"The survey identified only 7 articles indicating cooling compared to 44 indicating warming. Those seven cooling articles garnered just 12% of the citations..." the AMS reported. So, not only were published papers arguing the case for global cooling rare, but -- accounting for only 12% of the citations -- they weren't very influential.

Global cooling "was never more than a minor aspect of the scientific climate change literature of the era, let alone the scientific consensus," the study found. The report goes on to call the idea that people in the climate science community were fixated on global cooling a "myth."

Now maybe it's just me, but this idea that scientists can't make up their minds between global warming and global cooling is starting to look like a bunch of BS. And the idea that global cooling was the reason Earth Day was founded is definitely BS. Remember that tomorrow, because you might hear it and the person you hear it from will either be a liar or a chump.

Feel free to inform them of that fact.


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