A commenter at Crooked Timber just made the often-repeated claim ““Forty years ago (1970’s) global cooling was all the rage!””. As it happens, just before reading this comment, I received a link to some files from the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. It’s a daily log or similar, and starts with a response to someone named Frank Press who had written to Carter raising concerns about CO2 emissions and global warming. The advice given to Carter was as follows:
The issue raised by Press is not new. The experts all agree that more information is needed. The energy plan indicates that nearly $3 million was being requested for ERDA to study the long-term effects of co2. (James) Schlesinger feels that the policy implications of the issue are still too uncertain to warrant presidential involvement or policy initiatives. Schlesinger is examining the issue in the preparation of the FY 79 budget, and will, at that time, have the full report of the NAS study and further results from ERDA.
That accords with my memory, but not, apparently that of numerous others. Both warming and cooling were discussed in the 1970s, but there wasn’t clear evidence either way. By the 1980s, it became clear that the trend was towards warming, though it took another decade or so to produce broad scientific agreement that greenhouse gas emissions were the most likely cause and another decade for this agreement to reach near-certainty.
It’s interesting that this spurious history came up in response to my suggestion that over-60 voters, as a group, don’t display the wisdom and experience that’s used, with reference to the presumed lack of these qualities, to justify excluding children from voting. Anyone now over 60 was old enough to vote in the late 1970s when this discussion was taking place. It might be expected that, even if they weren’t following closely, they could recall the absence of any major scare over global cooling and debunk the claim that there was one.
Instead, over 60s seem to be the most prominent in pushing this theme. In part, they appear to have false memories (like visiting Disneyland and seeing Bugs Bunny) assisted by the circulation of a fake Time cover, notably by Ted Nugent (age 71).
The problem of convenient forgetfulness isn’t confined to the current 60+ cohort, or to events that happened decades ago. Ben Shapiro, who appears to be the nearest approach to an enfant terrible to be found on the political right, recently claimed that no prominent Republican had denied Obama’s legitimacy as president, apparently forgetting that the current president was a leading advocate of birtherism (Trump wasn’t alone in this).
But the prevalence of false political memory is a powerful counter to any claim that young people should be disqualified from voting because they are poorly informed. As Mark Twain didn’t say “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”