The 1970s Global Cooling Scare (and how the warming scare could not have happened without it)

The 1970s Global Cooling Scare (and how the warming scare could not have happened without it)

This is the second post drawing on themes raised in Searching for the Catastrophe Signal.

Forty-five years ago today, two geologists penned a letter to the president of the United States warning that the rocky descent into the next ice age might have already begun.

Letter from Kukla and Matthews to the President of the United States, 3 December, 1972

A letter written by two Quaternary geologists George Kukla and Robert Matthews to Richard Nixon raised concerns that recent bad weather might indicated that the present interglacial was ending. This letter helped to set in train a series of events that raised the profile of climate anxieties in the USA and globally. Source: Reeves & Gemmill.

The year 1972 remains infamous in the annals of meteorology for extreme weather events all around the globe. Towards the end of that year, in a letter dated 3 December 1972, two geologists George Kukla and Robert Matthews warned President Nixon that… Continue reading


Why the IPCC never writes its own reports

(And why that matters)

Here begins a number of posts drawing on themes raised in Searching for the Catastrophe Signal.


The Working Group 1 First Assessment Report was written not by the IPCC delegates but by scientific experts. When first presented for approval to the Panel, it was already a commercially published volume. The Brazil-lead revolt at that meeting soon resulted in a new intergovernmental negotiating committee completely separate from the IPCC and its parent bodies, and this committee then proceeded to replace the IPCC with its own subsidiary advisory body. Other difficulties related to the Houghton transformed of the assessment process only become apparent during the IPCC’s second and later assessments.

Have you ever wondered:

  • Exactly who are the panelists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?
  • Is the IPCC the author of its own reports?
  • Is it made up of scientists?

The answers to the last two questions are: ‘No’ it does not write its own reports, and; ‘No’ there are not many scientists on the panel.

What we call the IPCC is a revolving panel of government delegates, a few of whom have been scientists, others were science administrators, others had some science training. In short, over its 30 year history, few of the Panelists had much experience in the climate sciences. Not that that matters so much, because they do not undertake the IPCC assessments nor do they write the reports. Elected experts do that for them. All they do is ‘accept’ the expert reports and approve a summary.

This is why when the Panel shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, it was so ridiculous that Michael Mann should claim to have shared the Nobel Prize with other scientists who undertook the assessment. Surely he knew that none of them were on the Panel! But his confusion also points to the peculiar design of the entire assessment process, which has contributed over the years to particular difficulties at both the political and scientific interfaces.

The transformation of the IPCC from its mandated design

In fact, the IPCC was originally supposed to write its own reports. Continue reading

Remembering Madrid ’95: A Meeting that Changed the World

Commemorating the WMO-UNEP Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group I (Science), Fifth Session, Madrid 27-29, November 1995

In Madrid in 1995, the IPCC scientific assessment process, based on the findings of the latest research, was sorely tested. Had the science not come through unscathed, the integrity of the panel would have been seriously questioned, and governments would have faltered on taking urgent action on climate change, such as the signing in 1997 of the Kyoto Protocol (John Houghton, 2008)

Twenty years ago this month in Madrid, the success of an initiative to make a late change to the report of the Scientific Working Group of the IPCC turned around the fortunes of this United Nations WMO-UNEP panel after it had been pushed out of the climate treaty process.

The late change gave the treaty process legitimation that it desperately required, namely, authoritative scientific validation of all the public speculation about a catastrophe in the distant future. The new claim was that the balance of evidence points towards a discernible human influence on global climate. In other words, this esteemed panel of the world’s top climate scientists had decided that the evidence is now suggesting that the catastrophic change predicted by the theoretical models has already begun.

Houghton's Account of IPCC Working Group 1 meeting in Madrid 1995 in Nature 9 Oct 2008

Sir John Houghton’s account of the IPCC Working Group I meeting in Madrid appeared in Nature, 9 Oct 2008

The immense importance of this success for both the fortunes of the treaty process and for the fortunes of the IPCC was not lost to the meeting chairman who steered through the late change. Sir John Houghton later claimed that, without it, agreement on the Kyoto protocol two years later would have ‘faltered’. He also claimed that, without it, the ‘integrity of the panel would have been seriously questioned’. And yet today it seems that others who should know better (eg the academic historian Oreskes) do not understand how important it was that it was only in 1995 that an official panel had finally come up with a (however so weak) detection claim.

There is currently an idea circulating that in the 1970s a large oil producing company knew that their product was endangering humanity, but yet they hid this knowledge. If this company’s scientists did come up with any science to support such a view, then it must have been extraordinary because it was way beyond anything circulating outside in the scientific community at large. Indeed, it was only in the late 1970s that a concerted effort was begun to investigate the empirical evidence behind what can only be described as hypothetical speculation. Under funding from the US Department of Energy (DoE), scientists developing a program to investigate the ‘CO2 question’ recognized that the evidence required to turn the speculation into science would be the ‘first detection’ of the human influence on global climate. In the early 1980s ‘first detection’ studies took off. Continue reading

Tom Wigley: The skepticism and loyalty of CRU’s second director

Following my GWPF report on Hubert Lamb, there was some criticism (in comments and by email) that I was too soft on Lamb’s successor at CRU, Tom Wigley. These critiques fit the common portrayal of Wigley as an eminence gris, a shadowy figure scheming in the background, putting forward the more reckless younger scientists, while carefully maintaining plausible deniability.

Perhaps. And I can certainly see how this view has developed during the second wave of scepticism that arose with the Hockey Stick Controversy. However, this view tends to distort, if not Wigley’s personal intent, then his rôle in the whole saga.

Wigley is surely one of the most important and curious characters in our whole story. Therefore we should be especially careful not to let accusations of malevolence distract from the problem of his enigmatic rôle.  Some may well wish to lay accusations as though of a crime, where intent is crucial to conviction and sentencing. However, this is not our problem. Our problem is the historical problem: the hows and whys of this monumental corruption of our scientific institutions. In this, Wigley’s rôle, rather than his intent, is of primary importance.

For a social phenomenon, a social explanation is the most satisfying. The transformation of the science is easily explained sociologically, where psychology need only come in with its gross emergent social expression—we may call this human nature. If Wigley did not exist, then social forces would have invented him, maybe not at CRU, but somewhere.

Wigley in the economics history of CRU

Tom Wigley

Tom Wigley (Source NCAR)

There are a set of social factors that go a long way towards explaining the successful transformation effected by Wigley at CRU. Indeed, these are of sufficient force that the attribution of a sinister motive or stratagem is hardly required. Consider firstly that many competent and distinguished scientists, however so much they strive, never achieve even one first-author publication in Nature. Such publications are benchmarks of scientific advancement. As far as we know, no historical climatology paper from CRU ever made the grade. Indeed, Astrid Ogilvie (an historical climatologist at CRU from the 1970s) explained by email that it was hard to get their research published in any peer review journals until the specialist journal Climatic Change arrived in 1977. Yet, in 1981, on the CO2 question, Wigley had his name up on top, in Nature, three times in just two months!
Continue reading

Lamb wrap-up: Richard Scorer

My report for the GWPF, Hubert Lamb and the transformation of climate science, has generated some public comment serving to enrich the historical discussion. See at Jo Nova, Bishop Hill, WattsUpWithThat, Breitbart and Quadrant. Others have corresponded privately by email. In the following few posts I pull out for comment a few topics that caught my eye. This one is thanks to David Unwin.

In my survey of early skeptics (GWPF report p33-5), rather than mention them all (there are just too many!), I restricted myself to a very special class. These are those like Lamb, who were leaders of key research groups in the field during the 1970s. This restriction meant that I left out of consideration many leading researchers. To give just two examples, there were Reginald Newell and Richard Lindzen, both at MIT in the 1980s when the scare hit, and both openly skeptical from the beginning. (For more about a few of the other leading skeptics, see in this book.) However, in the context of Lamb’s skepticism, there is one contemporary who might qualify, but, if not, then he is certainly worth remembering.

Richard Scorer portrait, Source: WeatherVolume 66, Issue 11, page 311, November 2011

Richard Scorer (Source)

Richard Scorer (1919-2011) led a small atmospheric research group in the Department of Mathematics at Imperial College during the 1970s. In 1986 he became president of the Royal Meteorological Society and was active in that rôle through to 1998. Scorer is a nice balance to Lamb. Lamb’s interest in historical evidence of past climates too easily associates him with the past—with the old descriptive way of climatology. Whereas Scorer was very much a part of the movement towards climatology as a physical science. Continue reading

The scientists and the apocalypse

The meeting of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Sundsvall, Sweden, August 1990, witnessed a Third World revolt that was premeditated and forewarned. It had already begun in the previous working group meetings set to develop international policy responses to the climate crisis. But only in Sundsvall, under the leadership of Brazil, did it succeed in smashing this carefully conceived science-to-policy process at its very nexus. Within months the revolution was complete.

Cover of the foreign edition of Climate change: the factsAt the United Nations General Assembly that December, the climate treaty process was taken from the IPCC and its UN parent bodies—the Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). Instead, a new negotiating committee would report directly to the General Assembly, where the poor countries commanded an overwhelming majority. The IPCC, dominated by scientists from rich countries, was directed to serve this new committee in the interim, until a subsidiary body for technical advice could be established. As for the two peak science-policy organisations who first conceived the IPCC, by winter 1991 they were out in the cold.

This banishment from the treaty process was particularly shocking for UNEP. In the afterglow of its success with the ozone treaty, it was coming up to the 20th anniversary of its inception at the 1972 UN Stockholm conference where global environmentalism was born. Riding a new wave of environmental consciousness, another grand conference was in the planning to mark the anniversary. The Rio ‘Earth Summit’ of 1992 would be the biggest UN talkfest to date, with its policy centre-piece The Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC). But few would ever guess just how much this Convention was a political triumph not for UNEP but for the conference hosts, Brazil. Its success would set in train the role of the poor countries in the climate treaty negotiations where the talks would stall and stall again with their repeated attempts to use the pretext of warming mitigation to increase the flow of aid.

In The Age of Global Warming Robert Darwall details how global environmentalism concentrated itself onto the global warming scare. Here we take up with a group of activist climate scientists, tracing how they enter this political game, how the greater politics of the UN quickly overwhelmed and corrupted their science, and, finally, how the academies of science were soon dragged down with them….

This is the opening of my essay in the new book Climate Change: the facts, available in ebook from Amazon, or in print from the IPA.

The Scepticism of Hubert Horace Lamb Part II


Lamb’s Skepticism: Cleansing the MemoryBefore the Warming Boom

SourceBookDiscussion on Bishop Hill


Doing Climatology before the Warming Boom

Hubert Lamb was never formally trained as a meteorologist. Nor did he train as a climatologist. His entry into that field was something of a trick of fate.

Joining the Meteorological Office as a cadet weather forecaster, Lamb’s formal training was forever postponed. Instead, Lamb learned on the job while taking up posts in Scotland, Ireland, on a whaling ship in the south ocean, in Malta and in Germany. In 1954 he found himself back in the England, a permanent employee without a position. At the age of 40, with nowhere else to go, he was placed temporarily in the climatology department. The limited tenure with climatology was soon forgotten and he remained there until 1971, during which time the bulk of his research was completed.

'Why Britian's weather seems to be getting worse' by H H Lamb, The London Times, 30Aug66

Lamb on climatic change in The London Times, 30Aug66

The timing of Lamb’s entry into climatology was fortuitous. Expensive new primary research (geological, oceanographic and cryogenic) initiated in the International Geophysical Year (1957-8) was pointing toward climatic variability during very recent geological time. These findings, linked with all sorts of speculation about extreme weather events during the 1960s, provoked interest in climatic change. Upon this interest rode Lamb’s notoriety. He found himself increasingly in demand, and soon the volume of inquiries by post and telephone, and the requests for lectures and articles, began to restrict the time available to progress his research. Nonetheless, under the directorship of Graham Sutton, Lamb’s attempts to reconstruct past climates were valued, supported and encouraged. When Lamb finally published the first hefty volume of his magnum opus, Sutton would write a glowing forward.

…climatology is more than a branch of physics and it is in the wider aspects of its study that the unique nature of this book lies…This is the book that I always hoped Mr Lamb would write….I know of no other work in this field that approaches it in scope and reliability. I have no doubt that what I have been reading are the proofsheets of a classic of meteorology, and that here, if anywhere, climatology really enters into its own.
[1972, Foreword]

Such sentiments were not shared by many of Lamb’s colleagues and certainly not by the new director of the Met Office, B J Mason, appointed after Sutton retired in 1965. The new director was a vocal skeptic of cyclic natural climatic change across historical time, the nature of which Lamb was intent on establishing. Mason preferred to explain recent changes as evidence of only random fluctuations on different time scales [1, 2]. He made it clear that he did not value Lamb’s work and expressed concerns about Mr Lamb’s lack of qualifications as a climatologist. But there was more behind Mason’s dim view of Lambs efforts to glean climate data from historical archives.

Continue reading