Jimmy Carter gets advice about global warming

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.”

10 thoughts on “Jimmy Carter gets advice about global warming

  1. I think John’s being a bit over-generous here, especially with people like Shapiro. They’re not suffering from false memories; they’re either deliberately lying, or mindlessly repeating what they’ve read in denialist propaganda.

  2. As Douglas Adams observed in Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy: “Reality is frequently inaccurate”.

  3. Sadly, the US lacks a contemporary equivalent of the wonderful Sam Clemens (Mark Twain). So much chatter, so little wisdom.

  4. From Wikipedia
    ‘Frank Press is an American geophysicist. He was an advisor to four U.S. presidents, and later served two consecutive terms as president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He is the author of 160 scientific papers and co-author of the textbooks Earth and Understanding Earth.’
    This supports the argument that Global Warming induced by increasing atmospheric CO2 was a serious scientific concern in the 70s.

  5. In the link that Joe provided Re: The Discovery of Global Warming the chapter dealing with the research of the 1950s that led to the realization that the ocean can not save us from our behavior reads like a Hitchcock thriller. It sizzels.

  6. Thank you Global Cooling Alarmists – it is highly likely that gratuitous media popularising of climate change fears in the early 1970’s (playing on existing “nuclear winter” fears I think) raised the profile and funding for climate research enough that we could confirm that we have a huge climate problem much earlier than we otherwise might have; confirming exactly why we need not fear imminent global cooling was, unfortunately, not nearly so reassuring as people had hoped.

    But missing something as big as global warming would have made the problems we face much worse – and greatly reduced our ability, no matter that we have squandered much of our window of opportunity, to respond.

    A much more reliable guide to where mainstream science of the 1970’s stood on climate change than blogs or archived Newsweek articles can be found in the 1975 US National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council Report “Understanding Climatic Change: A Program for Action” ( https://archive.org/stream/understandingcli00unit/understandingcli00unit_djvu.txt ) – from the Preface –

    “Unfortunately, we do not have a good quantitative understanding of our climate machine and what determines its course. Without this fundamental understanding, it does not seem possible to predict climate, neither in its short-term variations nor in its larger long-term changes.”

    That was what the leading US science agency was saying in the 1970’s – unequivocally NOT supporting global cooling alarmist fears. The “program for change” part refers to proposing science programs for achieving that “good quantitative understanding” that would make determining the course of our “climate machine” possible – and by the mid 1980’s they were bearing fruit.

  7. Well I was there and read Time and Newsweek every week at the school library. There was a lot of global environmental angst but not about warming. That was at least another decade away.

  8. I was there too reading Time, US News and World Report, and Readers Digest, and Foriegn Policy back in the 1970s. Based upon reading those sources there was at least a 5 year period in which global cooling was the fear before global warming. But I can understand that not many people, if anyone other than me can remember that because I never saw anyone else actually reading those magazines though they were available everywhere.
    Then when the reports about global warming did come out the people where I lived mostly thought, thank God, it is about time for some global warming. In fact there was this one book, I forget the name, something along the lines of, The Good News, as it was a book about how the return of Jesus was only decades away at most, and one of the bits of good news that it wrote about was how Jesus would restore the climate of the planet to what it had been in the Day of Adam and Eve and eveyone would be able to grow Pomogranates in their back yard rather than just apples.
    Try as you might to get me to name the author of that book and I will not be able to remember, even under torture as I was only 13 or 14 when I read the book. Hypnosis though might be worth a try.

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