Friday, 15 February 2019

The 1970s climate dog that did not bark

Environmental issues in our society only became a mainstream concern in the early 1970s. In the decades after the war the main objective of Western governments was to deliver economic growth and expand world trade with relatively little regard to the environmental consequences. However, many people came to realise that this outlook was having a seriously detrimental impact on our planet, which if not addressed might well lead to irreversible damage. As a result a global environmental movement arose which resulted in the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held at Stockholm in June 1972, attended by delegates from virtually every country in the world, apart from the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries.

The Stockholm Conference produced an action plan with over 100 recommendations aimed at addressing the main environmental issues that were identified at that time. The main concerns were pollution of the land, sea and air, the impact of human development on wildlife, biodiversity and ecosystems, the need to conserve finite natural resources and the population explosion. With the exception of the last of these, governments, at least in the West, have introduced a series of measures to address these problems, although many consider more still needs to be done. On the question of overpopulation, this was a matter of much concern at the time. However, even among environmental activists, relatively little interest in this issue now appears to be shown, probably due to the then predictions of mass starvation having failed to materialise. However, they were right about the numbers.

One subject which received scant attention at the Stockholm conference was the impact of human activity on the climate and weather. The only recommendation that had any relevance to this subject came under the heading ‘the environmental effects of energy use and production’, which required the monitoring of emissions, including carbon dioxide. However, the main concern appears to have been to assess the effect of genuinely polluting gases such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide on air quality, with the possible impact of emissions on weather and climate a much lower priority.

As a result of the burgeoning environmental movement, the monthly magazine The Ecologist commenced publication at the beginning of the 1970s. It makes interesting reading today since, during its first decade, very little mention was made about the possible impact of burning fossil fuels on the global climate. However, in the very first issue from February 1970 there was an acknowledgment that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had increased noticeably during the 20th century. It had been known since the end of the 19th century that carbon dioxide possessed greenhouse gas properties. So there was some puzzlement as to why global temperatures had been on a cooling trend since the early 1940s. The article acknowledged that there were a number of factors which could lead to changes in global temperature, of which an increase in carbon dioxide was one. It recommended that more research should be carried out but, in a note of realism absent today, concluded that little could be done to counter the increase in carbon dioxide emissions, because of the huge dependency of the world economy on fossil fuels, and the lack of any viable alternatives.

The next reference to climate came in an article from the January 1974 issue. It noted that between the years 1920 to 1940 there had been an increase in global temperature. This resulted in a 10% decrease in Arctic ice, receding glaciers, new land opening up for cultivation, an increase by two to three weeks of the growing season, and in these ‘increasingly genial conditions’, the spread of wild flora, birds and fish to new regions. The article then went on to observe that since 1940 a distinct cooling trend had emerged and that from 1960 ‘the cooling was particularly sharp’. This had the effect of reversing the earlier changes with glaciers now expanding, together with a retreat of wild life and the area of cultivation. This cooling trend was attributed to ‘the many new types of pollution put into the atmosphere by industrial processes, bomb tests, high flying aircraft, rockets and so on’. The article also introduced another factor that may have had an impact namely ‘a general decline in strength of the solar beam since 1945’. The article concluded that ‘there is probably no need for undue alarm about this because similar changes appear to have occurred many times before’ and that ‘what we are witnessing may be a recurring fluctuation of the solar output’. The alarm feared in this case was about the continuing impact of the cooling trend, as this would have meant that the ‘genial conditions’ resulting from a warming trend, might not occur again soon.

The final article on climate came in the July 1976 issue, which again was concerned about global cooling. It warned that ‘there is now a growing consensus amongst climatologists that the world pattern of climate has been changing’. Particular concern was voiced about the recent cooling trend since ‘when the high latitudes cool, the monsoons tend to fail’. This was considered to be especially important because ‘the high latitudes have been cooling in the last three decades, and the hungry half of the world is concentrated in the monsoon lands’. Moreover ‘cool periods of earth history are periods of greater than normal climatic instability’. The article backed up these claims by citing the adverse impact of earlier periods since 1900 BC when the climate had cooled. In contrast, during the warming trend of the early part of the 20th century when ‘the average temperature in the higher altitudes started to rise, the Indian monsoons became more reliable’.

The article continued ‘the amelioration of the climate ended in about 1945’ with the result that ‘the growing season in England has diminished by two weeks’ and ‘the frequency of droughts in northwest India has started to increase, the monsoon has gradually retreated towards the equator, culminating in seven years of famine’. There was also an adverse impact on other areas such as in ‘the Canadian Arctic which has had severe ice conditions compared with the past few decades’ adding that ‘the snow and ice cover of the Northern hemisphere increased by 13% and has remained at this increased level’. As a consequence of this cooling ‘we know that the world food grain reserves will prove inadequate if more years like the last few recur soon’. The article concluded that ‘this climatic change poses a threat to the people of the world that indicates major crop failures’.

It can be safely concluded that the issue of global warming leading to climate change was not an issued that much troubled the environmental movement in the 1970s. The 1979 manifesto of the Green Party (then called the Ecology Party) made no mention of the subject, nor did the manifestos of the major political parties where the main environmental concerns were pollution control, the need for greater recycling, the conservation of natural habitats and the need to conserve finite energy stocks. With regard to the climate the main concern, as the above articles show, was the adverse impact that might result from a cooling climate, and further evidence of this is given in this earlier post on fears about a possible new ice age.

It can be seen that 1970s environmental concerns targeted specific, real and identifiable problems such as pollution, the need to conserve natural resources and the protection of wild life, all matters where it is possible to measure the results of remedial action, and monitor whether progress is being made. As recorded above, climatologists from that time were also aware that a global cooling trend could have adverse consequences. But the consensus was that although there may be slight fluctuations in global temperature, sometimes lasting several decades, there was no need to fear any major change in the global climate. There was also an acknowledgement that as there were so many climate variables, there would be little point in making long term predictions about the climate of the future.

As we all now know, since the late 1980s, this pragmatic approach has been abandoned. The scientific world has become dogmatically obsessed with the belief that an increase in carbon dioxide from the use of fossil fuels will lead to catastrophic climate change. This is all based on alarmist projections and exaggerated claims about the impact of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In practice during the past thirty years there have been only slight fluctuations in global temperature as was outlined in the 1974 Ecologist article. So attributing events, such as droughts, floods, heat-waves, polar vortexes, coral bleaching, the acidification of the oceans, etc, as all being due to climate change, is duplicitous nonsense since there has been no material change to the global climate to give rise to any of them. Instead, what there has been is a political hijacking of this issue by leftist agitators that has now become a religion substitute for the credulous which, alas, includes politicians of all parties, and Britain’s state broadcaster the BBC. When the true nature of the deception eventually becomes apparent they will all start to look increasingly ridiculous, and the credibility and reputation of scientific objectivity will take a long time to recover.

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