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Global cooling and saving our ozone layer were 2 of the major environmental issues I was taught during my school lessons when I was a kid.
Within a few years, governments had pretty much banned the use of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in aerosol cans, industrial applications, and other arenas where CFCs were common.
While the ozone layer and notorious ozone hole appear to be on a long but steady road to recovery in the future, the talk of global cooling has thawed into a prolonged discussion about global warming.
So, what changed between, say, 1980 and 1990?
Why did some scientists as recently as the late 1970s and early 1980s think we were headed for another ice age, yet now believe we’re destined for nothing other than a hotter future?
Why We Worried About Global Cooling
So why all this talk about global cooling?
Concerns about a coming ice age were reported in far fewer research studies of the 1960s and 1970s than theories about global warming, but the media grabbed onto the stories about global cooling. So did the public.
What happened though? Why did the science community seem to go from worrying about global cooling to global warming?
During the mid-20th century — generally between the early 1940s and mid 1970s — the planet was actually experiencing a cycle of slightly cooler temperatures.
Some scientists who saw the data coming in took the results as a reflection of a long-term trend to come in the 21st century and believed that the planet was heading toward a colder future.
The key phrase above to remember is “some scientists.”
Here’s something to worth noting about the global cooling predictions:
Of 51 peer-reviewed papers written by top scientists between 1965 and 1979, 7 discussed global cooling, but 44 predicted global warming.
In fact, even Newsweek once ran a well-publicized article in 1975 with dire predictions about the coming Ice Age.
Today, many people still cite the Newsweek article, even though a clear majority of scientists point to data that Earth is indeed getting generally warmer.
When Did Global Warming First Become A Topic Of Discussion?
Would you believe that some climate scientists in the 19th century (you read that correctly, by the way) were already associating increasing carbon dioxide levels with warming temperatures?
Svante Arrhenius was a Swedish scientist who in 1895 wrote a paper entitled “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground.”
At the time, he said if CO2 levels increased by 2.5 or 3 times then-present levels, the Arctic regions could warm by 8 or 9 degrees Celsius.
Arrhenius didn’t necessarily discuss future global warming beyond a passing theoretical concept in some of his future works. But he was one of the first scientists to popularize the theory that rising CO2 levels could have an influence on temperatures.
In the coming years, other scientists discussed the links between CO2 and global temperatures and, as I mentioned earlier, more than 40 peer-reviewed papers written during the 1960s and 1970s predicted warmer global temperatures for the 21st century.
But the watershed moment in the global warming debate didn’t come until 1988.
Climate Change: Global Warming Is Front & Center Again
James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City from 1981 through 2013, delivered testimony to Congress in 1988 that changed the perception of what lay ahead for Earth’s climate.
Here’s one snippet of what Hansen said about global warming in 1988:
Global warming has reached a level such that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and observed warming. It is already happening now.
Today, most scientists continue talking about climate change not in terms of cooling — but rather warming.
It seems many people like to point out that if scientists were wrong about global cooling, perhaps they’re also wrong about global warming.
Some even suggest global warming is a hoax.
Most climate scientists point to many events of record breaking heat, receding glaciers, the melting Arctic ice cap, and extreme weather as symptoms linked to global warming.
Meanwhile, there are many people and some scientists who say increasing Antarctic ice, the advance of Alaska’s Hubbard Glacier, and record cold weather in some parts of the world are reasons to suggest global warming isn’t happening.
While politicians and many in the public debate what’s going on, most scientists (NASA claims 97%) agree that climate change — mostly in the form of global warming — is happening.
More About Global Cooling & Climate Change
- As Scientists Worry About A Warming World, The U.S. Public Doesn’t
- 1970s Global Cooling – What The Scientists Said
- The Modern Temperature Trend
- Study Shows Volcanoes May Cause Global Cooling
- Global Warming: 25 Things You Can Do To Help Right Now
- Comedian George Carlin On Climate Change: The Planet Is Fine, The People Are Not!
I'm a weather geek from Florida who's been studying meteorology and watching weather patterns for years! I enjoy sharing little-known facts and fun stuff about the weather. I especially like sharing interesting details about weather events and conditions that can affect you… and how to prepare for Mother Nature's ever-changing weather patterns.