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Stopping the Coming Ice Age (Part 2)

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  • Description: 1988 Watch the full program:

    At a conference on climate change held in Boulder, Colorado in 1965, evidence supporting Milankovitch cycles triggered speculation on how the calculated small changes in sunlight might somehow trigger ice ages. In 1966 Cesare Emiliani predicted that "a new glaciation will begin within a few thousand years." In his 1968 book The Population Bomb, Paul R. Ehrlich wrote "The greenhouse effect is being enhanced now by the greatly increased level of carbon dioxide... [this] is being countered by low-level clouds generated by contrails, dust, and other contaminants... At the moment we cannot predict what the overall climatic results will be of our using the atmosphere as a garbage dump."

    Concern peaked in the early 1970s, partly because of the cooling trend then apparent (a cooling period began in 1945, and two decades of a cooling trend suggested a trough had been reached after several decades of warming), and partly because much less was then known about world climate and causes of ice ages. Although there was a cooling trend then, climate scientists were aware that predictions based on this trend were not possible - because the trend was poorly studied and not understood. However in the popular press the possibility of cooling was reported generally without the caveats present in the scientific reports.

    The term "global cooling" did not become attached to concerns about an impending glacial period until after the term "global warming" was popularized. In the 1970s the compilation of records to produce hemispheric, or global, temperature records had just begun.

    A history of the discovery of global warming states that: While neither scientists nor the public could be sure in the 1970s whether the world was warming or cooling, people were increasingly inclined to believe that global climate was on the move, and in no small way.

    In 1972 Emiliani warned "Man's activity may either, precipitate this new ice age or lead to substantial or even total melting of the ice caps." By 1972 a group of glacial-epoch experts at a conference agreed that "the natural end of our warm epoch is undoubtedly near"; but the volume of Quaternary Research reporting on the meeting said that "the basic conclusion to be drawn from the discussions in this section is that the knowledge necessary for understanding the mechanism of climate change is still lamentably inadequate". Unless there were impacts from future human activity, they thought that serious cooling "must be expected within the next few millennia or even centuries"; but many other scientists doubted these conclusions.

    The 1970 "Study of Critical Environmental Problems" reported the possibility of warming from increased carbon dioxide, but no concerns about cooling, setting a lower bound on the beginning of interest in "global cooling."

    There was a paper by S. Ichtiaque Rasool and Stephen H. Schneider, published in the journal Science in July 1971. Titled "Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Aerosols: Effects of Large Increases on Global Climate," the paper examined the possible future effects of two types of human environmental emissions:

    1. greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide;
    2. particulate pollution such as smog, some of which remains suspended in the atmosphere in aerosol form for years.

    Greenhouse gases were regarded as likely factors that could promote global warming, while particulate pollution blocks sunlight and contributes to cooling. In their paper, Rasool and Schneider theorized that aerosols were more likely to contribute to climate change in the foreseeable future than greenhouse gases, stating that quadrupling aerosols "could decrease the mean surface temperature (of Earth) by as much as 3.5 C. If sustained over a period of several years, such a temperature decrease could be sufficient to trigger an ice age!"
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