Fire, of Ice?

The New York Times’s headline read, “America in Longest Warm Spell Since 1776; Temperature Line Records a 25-Year Rise.” Well, what’s so new about that? The Times has been having an historic fit about global warming for years, hasn’t it?

Yes, but that particular headline ran in the good gray Times on March 27, 1933 — 73 years ago. What’s more, the Times changed its mind dramatically on the subject 42 years later, in 1975, when it startled its readers on May 21 with “Scientists Ponder Why World’s Climate is Changing; A Major Cooling Widely Considered to Be Inevitable.”

Nor has the Times been the only major periodical to blow hot and cold (if you will forgive me) on the subject of the global climate. On Jan. 2, 1939 Time magazine announced that “Gaffers who claim that winters were harder when they were boys are quite right … weather men have no doubt that the world at least for the time being is growing warmer.” Yet Time scooped The New York Times by nearly a year when, reversing itself, it warned readers on June 24, 1974 that, “Climatological Cassandras are becoming increasingly apprehensive, for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age.” Today, of course, Time has changed its mind again and joined the global-warming hysteria. On April 3 this year, it announced that “By Any Measure, Earth is At … The Tipping Point. The climate is crashing, and global warming is to blame.”

The last major attack of hysteria, in the mid-1970s, focused on the peril of global cooling, and was especially severe. Fortune magazine declared in February 1974 that “As for the present cooling trend a number of leading climatologists have concluded that it is very bad news indeed. It is the root cause of a lot of that unpleasant weather around the world and they warn that it carries the potential for human disasters of unprecedented magnitude.” Fortune’s analysis was so impressive that it actually won a “Science Writing Award” from the American Institute of Physics.

But the prize for sheer terrorizing surely belonged to Lowell Ponte, whose 1976 book “The Cooling” (a predecessor of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” though from the opposite point of view) asserted that “The cooling has already killed hundreds of thousands of people in poor nations.” If countermeasures weren’t taken, he warned, it would lead to “world famine, world chaos, and probably world war, and this could all come by the year 2000.”

All of the above quotations, and many more, can be found in a wonderful new booklet by R. Warren Anderson and Dan Gainor of the Business & Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center in Alexandria, Va. (Full disclosure: I am the avuncular and largely indolent board chairman of the latter.) Entitled “Fire and Ice,” it quotes alarmist predictions of both global warming and a new ice age dating back to 1895. The authors identify no less than four swings of scientific opinion, with considerable overlapping, from global cooling (1895-1932) to global warming (1929-1969) to global cooling (1954-1976) and now back to global warming (1981 to the present). The booklet can also be read for its sheer entertainment value. (I particularly liked the anecdote about the penguin found in France in 1922, which was widely viewed as an “ice-age harbinger,” though wiser heads concluded it had probably escaped from the ship of Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.)

The booklet notes sensibly that “Most scientists do agree that the earth has warmed a little more than a degree in the last 100 years. That doesn’t mean scientists concur that mankind is to blame. Even if that were the case, the impact of warming is unclear.” And in its wisest paragraph it concludes, “This isn’t a question of science. It’s a question of whether Americans can trust what the media tell them about science.”

But if you’re looking for a new career, here’s a hint: “Global warming is a good business to be in for government funding. More than 99.5% of American climate change funding comes from the government, which spends $4 billion per year on climate change research.”