The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in / Engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin /A nuclear error, but I have no fear /’Cause London is drowning, and I live by the river (chorus from London’s Calling, by Strummer/Jones, 1979).
These lines rather sum up the confused media response in the 1970′s (the sun zooming in would *not* be causing an ice age; sea level rise would be associated with warming); engines stop running mixes up the oil crisis. At that time (and particularly the early to mid 70′s) climate science was ambiguous about predicting the future, although the 1975 NAS report summarised the state of the science pretty well: that we didn’t know enough to make useful predictions and needed to study more. And since that time we *have* studied more, with the result that we have some firm conclusions pointing to warming.
But, we’ve done this all before. So whats new?
Not much, but Senator Inhofe has been speaking about climate change again, and predictably enough dredged up the 1975 Newsweek article headed “A cooling world”. Which appears to have prompted Newsweek to re-examine their old article. They concede that the article was so spectacularly wrong about the near-term future but defend themselves with In fact, the story wasn’t “wrong” in the journalistic sense of “inaccurate”, which seems rather self-serving. Whilst the article does manage to reference the NAS report, it does so in a minor paragraph – the headline and most text implies cooling and severe problems with the food supply. Inhofe raises other various stories from way back (see here for more) but fails to point out that a few stories culled from over a century doesn’t compare at all with the media attention nowadays paid to global warming.
The lesson to take from this is the obvious one: not to take your science stories from the mass media if you can possibly find better sources. Which nowadays are readily available: the IPCC report for a solid review of the state of the science; and RealClimate for more topical stuff.