The global cooling myth

Future climate. Having presented evidence that major changes in past climate were associated with variations in the geometry of the earth’s orbit, we should be able to predict the trend of future climate. Such forecasts must be qualified in two ways. First, they apply only to the natural component of future climatic trends – and not to anthropogenic effects such as those due to the burning of fossil fuels. Second, they describe only the long-term trends, because they are linked to orbital variations with periods of 20,000 years and longer. Climatic oscillations at higher frequencies are not predicted.

One approach to forecasting the natural long-term climate trend is to estimate the time constants of response necessary to explain the observed phase relationships between orbital variation and climatic change, and then to use those time constants in the exponential-response model. When such a model is applied to Vernekar’s (39) astronomical projections, the results indicate that the long-term trend over the next 20,000 years is towards extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation and cooler climate (80).

The point about timescales is worth noticing: predicting an ice age (even in the absence of human forcing) is almost impossible within a timescale that you could call “imminent” (perhaps a century: comparable to the scales typically used in global warming projections) because ice ages are slow, when caused by orbital forcing type mechanisms.

Will also quotes “a full-blown 10,000-year ice age” (Science, March 1, 1975). The quote is accurate, but the source isn’t. The piece isn’t from “Science”; it’s from “Science News”. There is a major difference: Science is (jointly with Nature) the most prestigous journal for natural science; Science News is not a peer-reviewed journal at all, though it is still respectable. In this case, its process went a bit wrong: the desire for a good story overwhelmed its reading of the NAS report which was presumably too boring to present directly.

The Hays paper above is the most notable example of the “ice age” strand. Indeed, its a very important paper in the history of climate, linking observed cycles in ocean sediment cores to orbital forcing periodicities. Of the other strand, aerosol cooling, Rasool and Schneider, Science, July 1971, p 138, “Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Aerosols: Effects of Large Increases on Global Climate” is the best exemplar. This contains the quote that quadrupling aerosols could decrease the mean surface temperature (of Earth) by as much as 3.5 degrees K. If sustained over a period of several years, such a temperature decrease could be sufficient to trigger an ice age!. But even this paper qualifies its predictions (whether or not aerosols would so increase was unknown) and speculates that nuclear power may have largely replaced fossil fuels as a means of energy production (thereby, presumably, removing the aerosol problem). There are, incidentally, other scientific problems with the paper: notably that the model used was only suitable for small perturbations but the results are for rather large perturbations; and that the estimate of CO2 sensitivity was too low by a factor of about 3.

Probably the best summary of the time was the 1975 NAS/NRC report. This is a serious sober assessment of what was known at the time, and their conclusion was that they didn’t know enough to make predictions. From the “Summary of principal conclusions and recommendations”, we find that they said we should:

  1. Establish National climatic research program
  2. Establish Climatic data analysis program, and new facilities, and studies of impact of climate on man
  3. Develope Climatic index monitoring program
  4. Establish Climatic modelling and applications program, and exploration of possible future climates using coupled GCMs
  5. Adoption and development of International climatic research program
  6. Development of International Palaeoclimatic data network

Which is to say, they recommended more research, not action. Which was entirely appropriate to the state of the science at the time. In the last 30 years, of course, enormous progress has been made in the field of climate science.

Most of this post has been about the science of 30 years ago. From the point of view of todays science, and with extra data available:

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