The Global Cooling Myth

Global Cooling - Media Matters

This info graphic is from Media Matters, The Junk Science of Fox News’ Favorite “Global Cooling” Myth. It is a very useful push back against global warming deniers who say that we can’t believe the scientific consensus about global warming today just as we couldn’t believe the consensus about global cooling then. As you can see, there was no consensus about global cooling. In fact, then as now, there was a consensus on global warming.

The mechanism for global cooling was not wrong, however. Part of the pollution humans create is particulate—primarily SO2. By putting this in the air, we block out solar insolation. And the surface of the earth cools. There are two reasons why this isn’t a big deal. First, we pollute less—especially here in the United States, which is the biggest problem. Second, the effect is dwarfed by the heating effects of greenhouse gases.

What’s more, particulate-based solar forcing is included in the climate models. So the work on global cooling is included in today’s work on global warming. So the idea that scientists are just running around yelling about this or that issue is just untrue. The work is all part of the same process. The cooling and warming people are all one now: the warming people. That’s how science works.

If broadly applied, the argument we get from Fox News and other climate change deniers would stop us from ever accepting science. After all, how can we know that the earth orbits the sun? Only 500 years ago, scientists all said the sun went around the earth. That may seem fanciful, but I really don’t see any difference. The nature of science is that it is self-correcting, not that it is always right. And that self-correcting aspect of science has led us to today where we know that the earth is warming because of human activities. The climate change deniers are not involved in science, they simply want to believe that nothing is wrong, and nothing will convince them otherwise.

What is especially annoying about the global cooling claim is that it was always a short term phenomenon. Particulate matter doesn’t stay in the atmosphere very long. So if humans had wanted to, they could have reversed global cooling within months if not weeks. Global warming, on the other hand, cannot be reversed for decades at least.

I get asked a fair amount why I don’t write more about global warming, given my background. I suppose there are two reasons. First, it isn’t that interesting. The science is clear, and it is basically the same as the simple radiative-convective models predicted decades ago. Second, it’s frustrating. We aren’t having a debate. The deniers are just people who refuse to accept the science. It’s like so much else in the modern world where we know what to do to relieve suffering, but we do nothing because some small group has a vested interest in not doing it.

At one time, many conservatives accepted global warming and at least talked about doing something. But the oil companies started pushing their interests over those of the entire world. And the conservatives jumped on board their bandwagon, and now we can’t do anything. And I fear it will continue on like this until it gets very bad. At that point, the oil companies will have diversified. And all the deniers will say, “Oops.” There will be widespread suffering. But those who profited from the delay will not suffer the least consequences.

So what is the global cooling meme all about? It’s just one of many tactics that the denial community uses to avoid talking about the science—to avoid doing anything. There will be hell to pay. But not by those who are most responsible.

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