Pop­ping Huck­abee’s idea that ‘we’d be Pop­si­cles’

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - GLENN KESSLER glenn.kessler@wash­post.com

“Whether it’s man­made or not, I know that when I was in col­lege I was be­ing taught that if we didn’t act very quickly, that we were go­ing to be en­ter­ing a global freez­ing. And, you know, go back and look at the cov­ers of Time and Newsweek from the early ’70s, and we were told that if we didn’t do some­thing by 1980, we’d be Pop­si­cles. Now we’re told that we’re all burn­ing up. Science is not as set­tled on that as it is on some things.”

— For­mer Arkansas gover­nor Mike Huck­abee (R), on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” June 21, 2015

A reader asked about these re­marks by the GOP pres­i­den­tial hope­ful, who grad­u­ated from Oua­chita Bap­tist Univer­sity in Arkansas in 1975, think­ing that Huck­abee had over­stated the ex­tent of the belief in “global freez­ing” at the time as well as the news re­port­ing on the is­sue.

So let’s take a trip back in time and ex­plore what was re­ported. Does this demon­strate that the science “is not as set­tled” on hu­man­ity’s im­pact on cli­mate change?

The Facts

First, let’s pro­vide con­text. In 1895, a Swedish sci­en­tist named Svante Ar­rhe­nius first pre­dicted in a sci­en­tific pa­per that changes in the lev­els of car­bon diox­ide in the at­mos­phere could al­ter sur­face tem­per­a­tures.

A few years later, Ar­rhe­nius ex­panded on his re­search with a non­tech­ni­cal book in which he de­scribed the “hot-house the­ory” of the at­mos­phere. Although he ob­served that the burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els might con­trib­ute to this ef­fect, he thought it might be ben­e­fi­cial be­cause it would stim­u­late plant growth and pro­vide more food.

In other words, for more than 100 years, sci­en­tists have found a link be­tween burn­ing fos­sil fu­els and ris­ing sur­face tem­per­a­tures.

Sep­a­rately, in the mid-1970s, sci­en­tists con­firmed a the­ory of­fered in the 1930s by Ser­bian sci­en­tist Mi­lutin Mi­lankovic that ice-age cy­cles were re­lated to changes in Earth’s ori­en­ta­tion rel­a­tive to the sun. (The cy­cles oc­curred at the in­ter­vals of 23,000, 42,000 and 100,000 years.) Other sci­en­tists us­ing deep-sea sed­i­ment cores con­firmed that the peak of the last “in­ter­glacial” pe­riod (the last time that the world was as it is now) was 120,000 years ago and the warmest part lasted about 10,000 years be­fore cool­ing.

As it had been 10,000 years since the last ice age ended, some sci­en­tists be­gan to spec­u­late that another ice age could be com­ing — some­time in the next thou­sand years. (Note that Huck­abee col­or­fully sug­gested that “if we didn’t do some­thing by 1980, we’d be Pop­si­cles.”)

Now the stage was set for spec­u­la­tive jour­nal­ism. There had been a pe­riod of cold win­ters in the early 1970s, so some re­porters put 2 and 2 to­gether — and came up with 5.

Time mag­a­zine in 1974 ti­tled an ar­ti­cle “Another Ice Age?” and said “cli­ma­to­log­i­cal Cas­san­dras are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ap­pre­hen­sive, for the weather aber­ra­tions they are study­ing may be the harbinger of another ice age.”

Newsweek, in 1975, ran an ar­ti­cle ti­tled “The Cool­ing World,” which said: “Me­te­o­rol­o­gists dis­agree about the cause and ex­tent of the cool­ing trend. . . . But they are al­most unan­i­mous in the view that the trend will re­duce agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity for the rest of the cen­tury.” Newsweek sug­gested that one so­lu­tion was “melt­ing the arc­tic ice cap by cov­er­ing it with black soot.”

(The Washington Post scooped them both with a 1970 ar­ti­cle ti­tled “Colder Win­ters Held Dawn of New Ice Age.”)

De­spite Huck­abee’s claim that these were “cover” sto­ries, nei­ther Time nor Newsweek put the “ice age” ar­ti­cle on the cover. The Newsweek ar­ti­cle, for in­stance, was tucked in the back, on Page 64.

(There is a fake Time cover float­ing around the In­ter­net that pur­ports to be a 1977 cover dis­play­ing a lone pen­guin un­der­neath this head­line: “How to Sur­vive the Com­ing Ice Age: 51 things you can do to make a dif­fer­ence.” But this is a pho­to­shopped ver­sion of a Time cover from 2007 ti­tled “The Global Warm­ing Sur­vival Guide.” Nev­er­the­less, in 2013, the Daily Mail reprinted the fake cover as ev­i­dence of a “global green con.”)

In any case, the science was un­set­tled at the time, which al­lowed re­porters to choose which an­gle to em­pha­size. Wal­ter Sul­li­van, the leg­endary science re­porter at the New York Times, pub­lished two con­tra­dic­tory ar­ti­cles within a three-month pe­riod in 1975. First: “Sci­en­tists ask why world cli­mate is chang­ing; ma­jor cool­ing may be ahead.” Sec­ond: “Warm­ing trend seen in cli­mate; two ar­ti­cles counter view that cold pe­riod is due.”

In 2008, sev­eral sci­en­tists, led by Thomas C. Peter­son of the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Na­tional Cli­matic Data Cen­ter, re­viewed the peer-re­viewed literature at the time. De­spite the media cov­er­age high­lighted by Huck­abee, it turns out that peer­re­viewed ar­ti­cles on global cool­ing were in a dis­tinct mi­nor­ity, com­pared with those con­cerned with global warm­ing. “The sur­vey iden­ti­fied only seven ar­ti­cles in­di­cat­ing cool­ing com­pared to 42 in­di­cat­ing warm­ing. Those seven cool­ing ar­ti­cles gar­nered just 12% of the ci­ta­tions,” the re­searchers noted.

This ex­plains why the “new ice age” boom­let pe­tered out fairly quickly. “Science rep­re­sents an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of knowl­edge, so in­cor­rect hy­pothe­ses be­come ex­posed,” es­pe­cially over a 40year pe­riod, said Reed Scherer, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for the Study of the En­vi­ron­ment, Sus­tain­abil­ity and Energy at North­ern Illi­nois Univer­sity. “The cur­rent con­sen­sus re­gard­ing global warm­ing builds on all sci­en­tific stud­ies to date.”

In fact, the re­view of ac­tual sci­en­tific ar­ti­cles demon­strates that, as usual, many re­porters were late to the story. By 1975, there were five times more peer-re­viewed ar­ti­cles on global warm­ing than global cool­ing.

In fact, in 2006, Newsweek ad­mit­ted that it had been “spec­tac­u­larly wrong” in pub­lish­ing the ar­ti­cle. “Even by the time it ap­peared, a decades­long trend to­ward slightly cooler tem­per­a­tures in the North­ern hemi­sphere had al­ready be­gun to re­verse it­self — although that wouldn’t be ap­par­ent in the data for a few years yet — lead­ing to to­day’s wide­spread con­sen­sus among sci­en­tists that the real threat is ac­tu­ally hu­man-caused global warm­ing,” the mag­a­zine re­ported.

Huck­abee’s spokesman did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

The Pinocchio Test

Huck­abee is grasp­ing at in­cor­rect media re­port­ing to make a ridicu­lous point. The main sci­en­tific con­sen­sus at the time of the Time and Newsweek ar­ti­cles was that the world was en­ter­ing a pe­riod of global warm­ing, as a re­sult of hu­man ac­tion, that would over­come any pos­si­ble cycli­cal cool­ing. In­deed, the science of that is­sue is even more set­tled now, which is why Newsweek con­ceded 30 years later that it had been wrong.

Rather than cite dis­cred­ited media re­ports, Huck­abee had a re­spon­si­bil­ity to find out what ac­tual sci­en­tific pa­pers had de­ter­mined at the time. Huck­abee earns Four Pinoc­chios.

PHELAN M. EBENHACK/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

For­mer Arkansas gov­er­norMike Huck­abee, a GOP pres­i­den­tial hope­ful, used unsound re­port­ing to counter the main sci­en­tific con­sen­sus on global warm­ing.

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