Sunday, April 2, 2006

“There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically,” begins the April 28, 1975, Newsweek article reprinted today on the opposite page. But this wasn’t a prediction of global warming. A new Ice Age worried Newsweek and its reporter, Peter Gwynne.

Future scenarios of widespread devastation, famine and starvation loomed because the Earth was getting cooler. “[T]he present decline has taken the planet about a sixth of the way toward the Ice Age average,” Mr. Gwynne wrote. The scientific community was abuzz with fear. Melting the ice caps or diverting Arctic rivers to warm the globe were proposed.

It never amounted to anything. Temperatures began rising again in 1975, reversing the cooling trend that began in 1940. As for the food scarcity which was “destined” to impact “the great wheat-producing lands of Canada and the U.S.S.R. in the North,” plus the tropics, the opposite has happened. We’ve seen an explosion in agricultural productivity to sustain the world’s burgeoning population.

We reprint this false alarm not to suggest that the current arguments about global warming are wrong. We don’t know them to be right or wrong; there is too much scientific uncertainty clouding the issue. Rather, we simply wish to point out that scientists and the journalists and government agencies who cite them have been wrong on the subject of climate change before, quite recently in fact.

The judgment of the scientific community — much less the judgment of international political entities or scribblers who cite them as authorities — should not control this debate. “The science is settled,” say the proponents; the consensus exists. But too often the disclaimers and scientific qualifiers get edited out of those press releases. And science is not about consensus in any event. It is about testing hypotheses and building evidence through experimentation.

In 1975, Newsweek’s correspondent was convinced that politicians would fail to prevent the coming Ice Age. “The longer the planners delay, the more difficult will they find it to cope with climatic change once the results become grim reality,” Mr. Gwynne intoned darkly. Thankfully, they did not take the global-cooling bait.

The global-warming enthusiasts who now control this debate may or may not turn out to be this generation’s Peter Gwynnes. But clearly they have been far too quick in their rush to judgment. Time and scientific evidence will tell the true story behind climate change. The policy solutions, if any are needed, will follow.

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