The Discovery of Global Warming                                                       Spencer Weart
July 2007      [ HOME ]    Table of Contents     for printer

The Public and Climate Change (cont. since 1980)

(Continued from previous page) By the end of the 1970s, scientific opinion had settled on warming as most likely, probably becoming evident around the year 2000 — that is, in a remote and uncertain future. Some scientists nevertheless went directly to the public to demand action to avert the warming, and a few politicians took up the issue. During the hot summer of 1988, a few outspoken scientists, convinced by new evidence that rapid climate change might be imminent, made the public fully aware of the problem. Scientific discussions now became entangled with fierce political debates over scientific uncertainty and the costs of regulating greenhouse gases. It was not until around 2005 that American media reported clearly that scientists had resolved the controversy, while films and ominous weather events gave citizens a better idea of what global warming might mean. The majority of Americans (except on the political right) had moved gradually to a vague feeling that some kind of action should be taken. Stronger worries had grown among people in most other countries, and among many thoughtful policy-makers in the United States itself.

This essay deals mainly with the United States, but until the late 1990s opinions were generally similar in other industrialized nations. The response of American policy-makers is covered in an essay on Government: the View from Washington.


In previous page: Human and Planetary Forces (1800s-1930s), From Grandfathers' Tales to Nuclear Fears (1930s-1950s), Suspicions of a Human-Caused Greenhouse (1956-1969), Threats of Climate Disaster (Early 1970s) , Atmospheric Scientists and Industrial Policies (Latter 1970s). Subsections below: Breaking into Politics (1980-1988), The Summer of 1988, After 1988 ... and After Kyoto (1997-)

Breaking into Politics (1980-1988)        - LINKS -
As the 1980s began, the question of global warming had become prominent enough to be included for the first time in some public opinion polls. A 1981 survey found that more than a third of American adults claimed they had heard or read about the greenhouse effect. That meant the news had spread beyond the small minority who regularly followed scientific issues. When pollsters explicitly asked people what they thought of "increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leading to changes in weather patterns," nearly two-thirds replied that the problem was "somewhat serious" or "very serious."  
Most of these people, however, would never have brought up the subject by themselves. Only a small fraction of Americans understood that the risk of global warming was mainly due to carbon dioxide gas from fossil fuels. Meanwhile a survey of Canadians found that people divided about equally among those who thought climate change was due to some kind of industrial pollution, those who blamed nuclear tests, and those who pointed to space exploration. (The last was no anomaly, for a good many Americans surveyed in the 1990s still imagined that nuclear power and the space program contributed to global warming.) Most people suspected the issue was something they ought to be concerned about, but among the world's many problems it did not loom large. Even those who worried most about pollution were seldom concerned with global affairs, directing their dismay at the oil spill or chemical wastes that endangered a particular neighborhood.(75*)  

Among climate scientists, concern continued to rise in the early and mid 1980s. Computer models of the climate were rapidly improving and winning the trust of experts. The modelers now said they were quite confident that a global warming of several degrees would come within the 21st century. To an ordinary citizen, a change of a few degrees might sound trivial. But the scientists understood that it was serious, and science journalists passed along their predictions of sea-level rise and other problems. (Later research confirmed the predictions. For example, a 2004 study estimated that a rise of 3°C sustained over centuries would suffice to melt the Greenland ice cap and put the world’s coastal cities deep under water.) "Gloomsday Predictions Have No Fault" was how Science magazine summarized the report of one authoritative review panel. The report was noticed even by the New York Times, although only deep on an inside page.(76)

Studies of ancient ice, from deep holes drilled in Greenland and Antarctica, backed up the models. For they showed that over past glacial cycles, temperatures and the CO2 content of the atmosphere had gone up and down together in close synchrony. Meanwhile, British and American groups announced that the global warming trend, after pausing between 1940 and the mid-1970s, had resumed with a vengeance. On average the world was hotter in 1980, 1981, and 1983 than in any years as far back as good records went (to the mid-19th century).  Russian climate scientists in particular were convinced that global warming was already manifest and urged their foreign colleagues to acknowledge it.(77)

 Full discussion in
<=Models (GCMs)








<=CO2 greenhouse

<=Modern temp's

When their scientific findings met with public indifference, more and more climate scientists around the world concluded that they should work to influence government policy. Along with the traditional scientists' goal of extracting more funds for their own field of study, most weather experts had come to feel that knowledge of climate change would be vitally important for our civilization. Some went further than urging governments to support research. Convinced that the world faced severe global warming within their children's lifetime, they felt called upon to pressure the world's governments to take active steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


These concerns were reinforced and complicated by the ties that some scientists found with other environmentalist issues. An outstanding example was the distinguished biologist George Woodwell, who was a founder and board member of both the National Resources Defense Council and the World Wildlife Fund. Like many biologists and environmentalists, Woodwell decried the destruction of virgin tropical forests. He worried that changes in human use of land could be so socially disruptive "as to be equivalent to the drastic changes in the human condition that a warming of the climate might lead to."(78) The proliferating slash-and-burn peasants who cleared new fields were driving countless species toward extinction, arousing public sympathies for a battle to "save the rainforests." Activists who linked destruction of tropical species with greenhouse warming could make better headway on both issues. Magazine and television images of landscapes going up in smoke began to catch the public eye. Here at last was an immediate, visible connection of CO2 emission with ruined nature (even though the scientific connection to global warming was far from certain). Scientists associated with the Environmental Defense Fund, the World Resources Institute, and similar groups began to issue reports and lobby Congress about global warming.(79)




The great majority of scientists remained politically inactive. They felt they were doing their job by pursuing research, building up the solid evidence that would tell governments what to do. "I really don't have that much talent to try to influence politicians," one climate scientist explained. "It's much better using my talent, staying as anonymous as possible here, and try to publish a paper... Because once you start getting in the political arena,... you lose credibility."(80) These scientists might answer a phone call from a reporter but they did not offer the confident and snappy answers that journalists wanted. If pressed to offer policy guidance, they preferred to work in government-sponsored study panels and answer questions posed by administrators. Wouldn't official reports by government science agencies, national academies, and international conferences eventually convey information about what actions were appropriate?





A few scientists felt the world would take too little action on climate change, and too late, unless they personally took the initiative to stir up the public directly. These scientists had to learn some tricks. A Senator might brush off an academic who came to speak with him or his staff, but the Senator paid attention if he saw the scientist on television. Scientists were generally uncomfortable talking with the media. Experience showed how journalists might grab a simple phrase, ignoring the details and qualifications that were inseparable from an accurate scientific account. A few scientists struggled to get a hearing by deliberately wielding public relations techniques, such as crafting approximately accurate but juicy "one-liner" statements that journalists could pick up. Colleagues who had a rigid sense of scientific precision were disgusted. One respected scientist publicly accused his colleagues of publishing "fiction" instead of sound science, speculating that "some of us feel compelled to emphasize the worst case in order to get the attention of the decision makers who control the funding."(81)  
There was indeed an ethical dilemma here, as Stephen Schneider pointed out when other scientists criticized his approaches to the public. It was not easy "to find the balance between being effective and being honest," he admitted. "But promoting concern over the negative connotations of the greenhouse effect in this media age usually means offering few caveats and uncertainties — at least if you want media coverage. Twenty-second spots on national television programs... do not afford time for hedged statements; and if one is going to influence the public, one simply has to get into the media."(82)  
To get a reasonably accurate story to the public, the essential people were professional science writers. There were only a few hundred of them scattered about the world, spending most of their time writing up medical news and other topics remote from geophysics. But many of them were thoughtful people who took their responsibilities seriously. They worked to maintain a symbiotic relationship with leading scientists, each side seeking respect and understanding even as they openly used the other for their purposes.  
When it came to deciding what scientific developments were news, American journalists tended to take their cues from the New York Times. The editors of the Times followed the advice of their veteran science writer, Walter Sullivan. A lanky and amiable reporter, Sullivan had frequented meetings of geophysicists ever since the International Geophysical Year of 1957, cultivating a set of trusted advisers in many fields. On the subject of climate, he began listening to scientists like Schneider and, in particular, James Hansen, conveniently located at a NASA institute in New York City. Hansen was energized by his group's computer studies, which showed that warming was likely. In 1981, Sullivan persuaded his editors to feature a story about climate change, based on a scientific article that Hansen sent the reporter a few days ahead of its publication in Science magazine. For the first time the greenhouse effect made page one of the New York Times. Sullivan threatened the world with unprecedented warming and perhaps a disastrous rise of sea level. The newspaper followed up with an editorial, declaring that while the greenhouse effect was "still too uncertain to warrant total alteration of energy policy," it was "no longer unimaginable" that a radical policy change might become necessary.(83)






This was just one example of a process that brought the perils of climate change into newspapers, magazines, and even occasionally television in the early 1980s. The stories usually rested upon statements by leading scientists including Schneider, Broecker, Nobel Prize winner Melvin Calvin and others. Politicians, ever alert to shifts in what the public was worrying about, took notice.(84)



The fossil-fuel industries, and other business interests, saw that worries about greenhouse gases might lead to government regulations, following the example of restrictions on smog and spray-can chemicals. Concern also grew among political conservatives, who tended to lump together all claims about impending ecological dooms as left-wing propaganda. When environmentalist ideals had first stirred, around the time of Theodore Roosevelt, they had been scattered across the entire political spectrum. A traditional conservative, let us say a Republican bird-watcher, could be far more concerned about "conservation" than a Democratic steelworker (more recently, at the far end of the traditional Left, Communist nations were the planet's most egregious polluters). But during the 1960s, as the new Left rose to prominence, it became permanently associated with environmentalism. Perhaps that was inevitable. Many environmental problems, like smog, seemed impossible to solve without government intervention. Such interventions were anathema to the new Right that began to ascend in the 1970s.  
By the mid 1970s, conservative economic and ideological interests had joined forces to combat what they saw as mindless eco-radicalism. Establishing conservative think tanks and media outlets, they propagated sophisticated intellectual arguments and expert public-relations campaigns against government regulation for any purpose whatever. On global warming, it was naturally the fossil-fuel industries that took the lead. Backed up by some scientists, industry groups developed everything from elaborate studies to punchy advertisements, aiming to persuade the public that there was nothing to worry about.  
The message was easily accepted by many among the public, including some who felt deep sympathy for the natural world. Many still found it incredible that mere human industry could seriously interfere with the awesome planetary forces, seeing these as simply an "environment" that happened to contain and sustain living creatures. Others had finally abandoned that viewpoint, only to take up James Lovelock's radical "Gaia hypothesis." Named (in the spirit of the times) after the Greek Earth-goddess, this hypothesis held that the atmosphere was a "contrivance" maintained by the biosphere. There was real scientific content in the idea. But supporters, pushing ahead to assert that life on Earth necessarily and automatically maintains an atmosphere suitable for itself, gave a spuriously scientific gloss to the snug old confidence in the Balance of Nature. (However, some suspected that Gaia would defend "her" balance simply by eliminating humanity itself.)




The most comforting ideas came from a respected scientist, Sherwood Idso, who published arguments that greenhouse gas emissions would not warm the Earth or bring any other harm to climate. Better still, by fertilizing crops, the increase of CO2 would bring tremendous benefits. His book, Carbon Dioxide: Friend or Foe? came down entirely on the side of Friend. In his opinion, the increase of CO2 "is something to be encouraged and not suppressed."(85) Along the way Idso attacked the "scientific establishment" for rejecting his theories. His scientific and popular publications stirred vehement controversy.  
<=Radiation math
As environmental and industrial groups and their scientific fellow-travelers hurled uncompromising claims back and forth across a widening political gulf, most scientists found it hard to get a hearing for more ambiguous views. "Our instincts are to fight scientifically fair and to openly admit uncertainty, even when unscientific weapons are deployed," a climate scientist remarked. "This mismatch often leads to an amplified sense of 'scientific' controversy."(86) Journalists in search of a gripping story tended to present every scientific question as if it were a head-on battle between two equal and diametrically opposite sides. Yet most scientists saw themselves as just a bunch of people with various degrees of uncertainty, groping about in a fog.  
After Ronald Reagan became President in 1981, environmental issues of every kind became a useful tool for opponents of the Republican administration. Reagan and his supporters could be counted on to embarrass themselves with a see-no-evil approach to any industrial activity. The greenhouse effect question now became strongly polarized along political lines. You could usually guess whether someone thought global warming was likely to happen, if you knew what they thought about any sort of government environmental regulation.  
The fires of public interest were stoked by Congressional hearings (promoted especially by Albert Gore, who had taken an early interest in the topic). Also newsworthy was a 1983 controversy over an alarming report issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, set against a calming report from the National Academy of Sciences. It was largely thanks to this political skirmishing that popular magazines and newspapers reported on the greenhouse effect repeatedly during the early 1980s.



Far greater attention went to other atmospheric changes. Air pollution remained a problem in many cities, joined now by dire warnings about "acid rain." During the 1970s, scientists had begun to report that rain carrying sulfates emitted by power plants and other industries was devastating fish and forests, and even the paint on houses, in certain vulnerable regions. Coal-burning industries quieted local protests by building their smokestacks hundreds of feet high, but that only spread the damage more widely. In the 1980s, the problem stirred extensive political controversy and even international recriminations. Images of moribund stands of trees and decaying statues, attacked by sulfuric acid derived from smokestacks thousands of miles upwind, argued that industrial emissions could be a problem for everyone, everywhere. The excellent environmentalist slogan, "Think globally, act locally," was no use when power plants half a continent away sickened your neighborhood lake.(87) Some environmentalists proclaimed that acid rain would eventually damage the entire planet. And this was not the worst global threat.





=>Other gases

In 1980, scientists announced a new theory for what had killed off the dinosaurs tens of millions of years ago: an asteroid had struck the Earth and clouded the atmosphere for years, freezing plants and animals. The theory fascinated the public, perhaps less because it addressed dinosaurs than because it addressed extinction. That struck a resonance with deep-set fears of nuclear war, which had revived around the time Reagan took office. As one scientist remarked, the asteroid theory "commanded belief because it fit with what we are prepared to believe... Like everyone else... I carry within my consciousness the images of mushroom clouds." The idea of global extinction caused by a blast coming from the sky, he said, "feels right because it fits so neatly into the nightmares that project our own demise."(88) <=World winter
On Hallowe'en 1983, a group of respected atmospheric scientists held a press conference to make a carefully orchestrated announcement about a different climate catastrophe. They had come to fear that soot from cities torched in a nuclear war might blacken the atmosphere as much as an asteroid strike. Years of cold and dark might jeopardize the survival of all humankind. Didn't that prove that launching a nuclear attack, even if the other side never fired back, would be literally suicidal? So maintained a group of well-known experts, including West Europeans and Russians as well as Americans, and most prominently Carl Sagan — a chief spokesperson for the group because his fame, much more as an astronomy popularizer than as an atmospheric scientist, could attract television cameras. The scientists' aim was frankly political. They meant to reinforce a public movement that was just then calling on the United States to reduce its inventory of bombs. Meanwhile the announcement added another layer to public imagination of calamitous global climate change. <=World winter
Scientific discussions of climate catastrophe from an asteroid strike or nuclear war are described more fully in a supplementary essay on Wintry Doom  
Other scientists questioned the scientific reasoning, and the Reagan administration heaped scorn on its critics. Even before the scientific study was published, government scientists among the authors felt pressure to keep a low profile. The pressure backfired. Forbidden to include the words "nuclear war" in the title of their paper, one of them came up with an evocative phrase — "nuclear winter." Sagan and others answered their critics in sharp partisan debate. From the outset, a person's views on the climate scientists' predictions could usually be guessed from the person's views about nuclear disarmament. Newspapers, magazines, and even television gave the battle close attention. From this point on, computer calculations of the effects of dust and the fragility of the atmosphere were inescapably entangled in high national politics.(89)






While these issues were being thrashed out to exhaustion, public interest in global warming flagged. Around 1984 the coverage of the issue, as measured by numbers of books and magazine and newspaper articles, dropped back.(90*) The spell of unusually bad weather in the early 1970s was fading from memory, and exclamations about an imminent catastrophe waned. Besides, the Clean Air Act plus the ban on ozone-destroying chemicals suggested to the public (as politicians intended) that the most urgent dangers were well in hand. Anyway the news media rarely sustain a high level of anxiety about any topic for more than a few years. Editors dislike publishing article after article on the same subject in the absence of striking new events, for repetition quickly bores the public.  
The attention of the minority who continued to worry about planetary doom likewise turned to other problems. Such movements, including fears of nuclear war, tended to rise and fall in decade-long cycles. Back in the mid 1960s, when Cold War tensions had dwindled, many committed activists had turned from their grueling campaign against nuclear weapons to spend their energies on environmentalist causes. Now, with the Reagan administration trumpeting its anti-Soviet belligerence, many activists turned their attention from the environment back to the Cold War. The "nuclear winter" controversy was a milestone in the transition to agitation for a "nuclear freeze," a halt in production of nuclear weapons.(91)





Fears of climate change could not hold a candle to fears of nuclear war, nor even to the mounting public concern about peaceful nuclear reactors with their risks of explosions and radioactive wastes. Climate change did include some of the factors that are effective in rousing public anxiety. People are not particularly afraid of risks that seem familiar and within their personal control, feeling only too little anxiety as they smoke or race a red light. Climate change offered less comfortable risks. Dread of the unknown was fostered by a feeling that great forces were at work, operating in a hidden fashion, mysterious even to scientists. Worse, the threat was something new, and growing, and far beyond anyone's personal control. However, nuclear energy had similar factors in at least equal strength, plus many more hooks digging into people's minds. Uncanny rays and poisons, menacing authority figures (mad scientist, belligerent general, cold-blooded corporate executive), images of Hiroshima, above all the actual existence of nuclear missiles that might at any moment descend on your home — when such things came back to mind, they easily displaced abstract worries about a few degrees of warming in the next century.(92)  
Although climate arguments faded from the news, they had left a residue in the public mind. The idea that nuclear war might bring global environmental disaster had been familiar for decades as a science-fiction scenario. From the start it had brought to mind far older tales — the Ice-Winter at the world's end in Nordic myth, intertwined with the Bible's apocalyptic rain of fire. Scientific calculations of "nuclear winter" and other devastation now made it hard to dismiss such visions as fantasy. We cannot observe the deep levels beyond logic where ideas connect in the minds that make up the public, but we can guess at what was happening there. Probably for many people the dread connected with nuclear war, a complex of images and attitudes covering the entire range from politics to paranoia, became loosely associated with feelings about climate change. The idea that humankind itself might trigger global atmospheric change — as if in punishment for our transgressions against the natural order — was looking more than ever like a sober possibility.  
This attitude was nailed down in 1985 when a British group announced their discovery of a "hole" in the ozone layer over Antarctica. The discovery could have been made years earlier if scientists had been more on the lookout for ways that a small human production of chemicals could ravage the atmosphere. The apparent culprit was again CFCs, banned from American spray cans but still widely produced around the world for a variety of functions. Inevitably a new controversy began, for again industrial interest groups automatically denied that any of their products could be hazardous. Reagan administration officials reflexively backed the industries against hostile environmentalists.  
This time the denials were short-lived. Within two years experts were convinced. For the public, television showed colorful maps displaying the lack of ozone. A few scientists warned that the same chemicals that destroyed ozone could add to global warming, but that was mostly overlooked. The immediate threat was the ozone destruction, which would increase skin cancers and bring many other biological harms. But many members of the public got ozone depletion confused with global warming, as if the two problems were one. Ignorant of the science, the majority only sensed obscurely that atmospheric changes were looking more dangerous.



<=>Other gases

The public took a strong interest in the "ozone hole," forcing a political response. The outcome was an international agreement, forged in Montreal in 1987, to gradually halt production of ozone-destroying substances. If the agreement was enforced, and if it was extended as industry produced new chemicals, that would settle the ozone problem. It would only slightly retard global warming, but the agreement proved that the world could take effective action against an atmospheric threat — if the threat was sufficiently convincing, immediate, and well publicized.  
The Summer of 1988 TOP OF PAGE  
While the public was assimilating the lesson of the ozone hole — the fact that human activity could change elements of the atmosphere both seriously and quickly — scientists were assimilating the latest research. A new breed of interdisciplinary studies was showing that even a few degrees of warming might have harsh consequences, both for fragile natural ecosystems and for certain agricultural systems and other human endeavors. Gradually experts were discovering that even a degree or two of warming might devastate many of the world's coral reefs, that tropical diseases would invade new territory, and so forth. Still more troubling, it seemed that the entire climate system could change more rapidly than most experts had suspected. A mere couple of decades might bring a shocking surprise. In particular, the circulation of water in the North Atlantic might shift abruptly, which would bring not warmth but severe cooling to the region.


<=Simple models


<=Rapid change

These research findings began to show up sporadically in articles addressed to the science-attentive public. Broecker in particular issued warnings, as when he wrote in Natural History magazine that we had been treating the greenhouse effect as a "cocktail hour curiosity," but now "we must view it as a threat to human beings and wildlife." The magazine's editors went even beyond that, putting a banner on the cover that read, "Europe beware: the big chill may be coming." Might global warming bring a change in ocean currents that would, paradoxically, make London as cold as Labrador? (Broecker was annoyed, for in fact he had given little sustained thought at that time to whether human activities might cause damaging changes in ocean currents.)(93) The notion that a climate catastrophe might descend swiftly was now on the world's public agenda.



<=The oceans

The idea was not widely heeded, even by the small minority of people who read about such matters. The risk that global warming would bring, for instance, an oceanic change that could freeze Europe, was just one small item among many futuristic concerns. Far more was written about the potential threat of radioactive wastes from nuclear power plants, the perils of genetically modified plants, the remote but exciting possibility of bombardment by a giant asteroid, and so forth.  
The most visibly outspoken climate expert was James Hansen. In 1986 and 1987, he created a minor stir among those alert to the issue when he testified before a Congressional committee. He insisted that global warming was no vague and distant possibility, but something that would become apparent within a decade or so. His group of climate modelers claimed that they could "confidently state that major greenhouse climate changes are a certainty." In particular, "the global warming predicted in the next 20 years will make the Earth warmer than it has been in the past 100,000 years."(94*)
News reporters gave only a little attention to Hansen's November 1987 Congressional testimony, and they did not quote Broecker’s January 1987 statement at all, as newspapers filled their columns with stories of a severe winter storm. A report a few months later that the 1980s were proving to be the hottest years ever recorded did make it into the New York Times (March 29) but only on an inside page. As the summer of 1988 began, global warming remained below the threshold of public attention. Roughly half the American public were not even aware of the problem. Those who had heard about warming mostly saw it as something that the next generation might need to worry about, or might not.


<=Modern temp's

A shift of views had been prepared, however, by the ozone hole, acid rain, and other atmospheric pollution stories, and by a decade of agitation on these and many other environmental issues, and by the slow turning of scientific opinion toward stronger concern about global warming. Only a match was needed to ignite the worries. This is often the case for matters of intellectual concern. No matter how much pressure builds up among concerned experts, some trigger is needed to produce an explosion of public concern.  
The trigger came in the summer of 1988. Already by June, heat waves and drought had become a severe problem, drawing public attention to the climate. Many newspaper, magazine, and television stories showed threatened crops and speculated about possible causes. Hansen raised the stakes with deliberate intent. "I weighed the costs of being wrong versus the costs of not talking," he later recalled, and decided that he had to speak out. By arrangement with Senator Timothy Wirth, Hansen testified to a Congressional hearing on June 23. He had pointed out to Wirth's staff that the previous year's November hearings might have been more effective in hot weather. Wirth and his staff decided to hold their next session in the summer, although that was hardly a normal time for politicians who sought attention.(95)


Their luck was good. Outside the room, the temperature that day reached a record high. Inside, Hansen said he could state "with 99% confidence" that a long-term warming trend was underway, and he strongly suspected that the greenhouse effect was to blame. Relying not only on his computer model work but also on elementary physical arguments, he warned that global warming was liable to bring more frequent storms and floods as well as life-threatening heat waves.(96*)  
<=>Simple models
<=Models (GCMs)
Talking with reporters afterward, Hansen said it was time to "stop waffling, and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here." Some news reports confused Hansen's assertions, reporting that he was virtually certain that the greenhouse effect was the cause of the current droughts.(97) The story was no longer a scientific abstraction about an atmospheric phenomenon: it was about a present danger to everyone from farmers to the owners of beach houses.


= Milestone

The timing was right, and the media leaped on the story. Hansen's statements, especially that severe warming was likely within the next 50 years, got on the front pages of newspapers and were featured in television news and radio talk shows.(98*) Some respected scientists publicly rebuked Hansen, saying he had gone far beyond what scientific evidence justified.(99) The problem, however, lay not so much with his explicit statements as with his tone and the way the media reacted to it.  
The story grew as the summer of 1988 wore on. Thanks to the heat and drought, reporters descended unexpectedly upon an international conference of scientists held in Toronto at the end of June. Their stories prominently reported how the world's leading climate scientists declared that atmospheric changes were already causing harm, and might cause much more, demanding vigorous government action to restrict greenhouse gases. Meanwhile the heat waves and droughts continued, the worst since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, devastating many regions of the United States. Old people died in cities, shops ran out of air conditioners, many communities imposed water rationing, there were fears of a new Dust Bowl, and the level of the Mississippi River fell so low that barge traffic was paralyzed. On top of that came "super hurricane" Gilbert and the worst forest fires of the century. Cover articles in news magazines, lead stories on television news programs, and countless newspaper columns offered dramatic images of sweltering cities, sun-blasted crops, and Yellowstone National Park aflame.




global warming cover
July '88 cover story

Reporters asked, were all these caused by the greenhouse effect? Simply from endless repetition of the question, many people became half convinced that human pollution was indeed to blame for it all. The images triggered the anxieties that had been gradually building up about our interference with weather. As one scholar who studied these events put it, "Whether regarded as a warning signal or a metaphor of a possible future, the weather unleashed a surge of fear that brought concentrated attention to the greenhouse effect."(100)  
News reports often failed to explain that scientists never claimed that a given spell of weather was an infallible reflection of global warming. Schneider, who also testified in Congressional hearings and was often quoted, suggested that "the association of local extreme heat and drought with global warming took on a growing credibility simply from its repeated assertion." He worried that the media exaggerations would bring the public to dismiss climate science as unreliable when the next cold, wet season arrived.(101) But Schneider, Hansen, and their fellows could only be pleased that the issue had at last gotten into the spotlight. "I've never seen an environmental issue mature so quickly," an environmental advocate remarked, "shifting from science to the policy realm almost overnight."(102)  
The number of articles on climate listed in the Readers' Guide, which had held steady since the mid 1970s, took a quantum leap upward. Between spring and fall of 1988 the number of articles listed abruptly tripled, and over following years remained at the new level. The number of American newspaper articles on global warming jumped tenfold in 1988 over what was published in 1987 (which was already well above the negligible number published a decade earlier) and continued to rise in following years.(103*) For the first time, global warming showed up repeatedly in the most widely read of all American media, the comic strips. In the second half of 1988 the problem got a mention in such highly popular, and normally scarcely topical, strips as "Kathy," "Calvin and Hobbes," "Little Orphan Annie" and even "Dick Tracy." Their creators could take it for granted that readers understood their clever remarks about warming.

calvin & Hobbes global warming

A killing heat wave in China, a ghastly flood in Bangladesh, and spectacular episodes of ocean pollution in Europe gave climate worries a global reach. The Toronto meeting, and many other avenues of communication among environmentalists and scientists, helped spread concern internationally. In Germany, to take one case, a subgroup of the German Physical Society had already prepared attitudes with a 1986 report carrying the dramatic title, "Warning of the Impending Climate Catastrophe." Although most scientists quickly backed away from the apocalyptic tone, from then on the phrase "Klimacatastrophe" permeated Germany's media and public consciousness. Attention mounted steadily through 1988 and into the early 1990s.(104)



In September 1988 a poll found that 58% of Americans recalled having heard or read about the greenhouse effect. It was a big jump from the 38% that had heard about it in 1981, and an extraordinarily high level of public awareness for any scientific phenomenon. Most of these citizens recognized that "greenhouse effect" meant the threat of global warming, and most thought they would live to experience climate changes.(105) In other polls, a majority of Americans said that they thought the greenhouse effect was "very serious" or "extremely serious," and that they personally worried "a fair amount" or even "a great deal" about global warming. Fewer than one-fifth said they worried "not at all" or had no opinion.(106*)  
Politicians could not overlook such strong public concern — nor could they overlook the heat in the capital city itself, where the summer of 1988 was the hottest on record.(107) Congress saw a flurry of activity as some 32 bills dealing with climate were introduced.(108) Whether or not attention could be sustained at such a high level, global warming had finally won a prominent and enduring place on the public agenda.



Now that nuclear war concerns were fading as the Soviet Union decayed, people striving to reform the world could redirect their energies toward environmental issues. The environmental movement, which had found only occasional interest in global warming, now took it up as a main cause. Groups that had other reasons for preserving tropical forests, promoting energy conservation, slowing population growth, or reducing air pollution could make common cause as they offered their various ways to reduce emissions of CO2. Greenpeace, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, and many other organizations made reduction one of their top priorities.(109) Adding their voices to the chorus were people who looked for arguments to weaken the prestige of large corporations, and people who wanted to scold the public for its wastefulness. For better or worse, global warming became identified more than ever as a "green" issue. In principle it could have been viewed instead as a technical problem of global engineering (how should we manage the planet's climate?). But pollution and weather disasters brought in high economic stakes and potent imagery. Global warming was no longer just a research question, but a subject of hostile political maneuvering.  
In the long perspective, it was an extraordinary novelty that such a thing became a political question at all. Global warming was invisible, no more than a possibility, and not even a current possibility but something predicted to emerge only after decades or more. The prediction was based on complex reasoning and data that only a scientist could understand. It was a remarkable advance for humanity that such a thing could be a subject of widespread and intense debate.  
Discourse hads grown more sophisticated in many way. That may have been partly because of the steady accumulation of knowledge, and also because the public in wealthy countries had become better educated (a larger fraction of young people was now going to college than had gone to high school at the start of the century). Furthermore, stable times encouraged people to plan farther into the future than in earlier eras. So too, perhaps, did the unexpected addition of decades to the average lifespan.  
The debate was also made possible by the new relationship that had grown between people and the atmosphere, indeed with all nature. Global warming, along with the ozone hole and acid rain and smog, had obscurely entangled the atmosphere in politics. The winds and clouds had taken on (as one observer later mused) "a vaguely sinister cast... It was perfect weather for postmodernists: inescapably self-referential."(110) In an influential New Yorker magazine article and book, nature writer Bill McKibben announced "The End of Nature." In 1900, nature had surrounded our towns and fields. People saw it partly as a nurturing setting for humanity, and partly as a savage "outside" to be tamed and civilized. By the 1970s, more and more people had come to see nature the other way around, as a preserve surrounded by civilization. Now the preserve itself had been overrun.  
It was not just that our pollution invisibly invaded the atmosphere. The feeling of contamination by radioactive fallout and acid rain was bad enough, yet those seemed like reversible additions, superimposed upon the old natural system. The greenhouse effect was different, McKibben declared, for "the meaning of the wind, the sun, the rain — of nature — has already changed." Now every cloud, every breeze, bore the imprint of human hands. The taint was not only around us but within us. People bowed to sadness and guilt as we realized that we had "taken a hammer to the most perfectly proportioned of sculptures."(111)  
After 1988 TOP OF PAGE =>after88
After the flood of global warming stories in the summer of 1988, media attention inevitably declined as more normal weather set in. It is typical of topics in the news that unless they regularly produce something new and exciting, they will not linger for long near the top of the list of concerns. Even for a potential danger, readers will become discouraged or simply bored when nothing immediate is done, and editors will look for something novel to cover. It was still less likely that interest in climate change would remain high when weather is notoriously fickle — the winter of 1989 was a particularly cold one. The climate change story also lacked an interesting enemy, a devil (other than ourselves) to blame for the world's woes.(112) But even if an issue is no longer in the forefront of everyone's mind, it can remain present. Although press coverage of global warming sank after its peak in the summer of 1988, it now fluctuated around a much higher average level than in the early 1980s.(113)  
The issue had entirely caught the attention of one vital section of the public — the scientific community. It is impossible to judge how far scientists altered their research plans because of aroused public interest. Scientists were far more aware than the general public of how the scientific findings of the past decade, the supercomputer calculations and ice core measurements and data on rising global temperatures, had raised the plausibility of greenhouse warming models. At a minimum, the big step up in public interest suggested that anyone studying the topic would get a better hearing when requesting funds, recruiting students, and publishing.  
For whatever reason, climate research topics now became far more prominent in the scientific community itself. Prestigious general-science journals like Nature and Science, and popularizing magazines like the New Scientist, had published perhaps one or two significant climate articles per year in the early and mid 1980s. Now they began to publish one almost every week. The higher level was sustained over the following years. This was probably a main reason why the general press, whose science reporters took their cue from scientists and their journals, continued to carry numerous articles on climate change.  
In the specialized scientific journals themselves, citations to topics like "greenhouse gases" and "climate modeling" had held fairly steady at a low level through the mid 1980s, but after 1988 they rose spectacularly. References to the subject continued to rise ever higher through the 1990s. Citations to climate change in social-science journals began to soar at the same time.(114) Meanwhile scientific conferences proliferated, ranging from small workshops to highly publicized international events, so numerous that nobody could attend more than a fraction.




Environmentalist organizations continued to make global warming a main focus, carrying on with sporadic lobbying and advertising efforts to argue for restrictions on emissions. The environmentalists were opposed, and greatly outspent, by industries that produced or relied on fossil fuels. Industry groups not only mounted a sustained and professional public relations effort, but also channeled considerable sums of money to individual scientists and small conservative organizations and publications that denied any need to act against global warming.(115) This effort followed the pattern of scientific criticism and advertising that industrial groups had used to attack warnings against ozone depletion and acid rain (not to mention automobile smog, tobacco smoke, etc.). Although those campaigns had been discredited after a decade or two, fair-minded people were ready to listen to the global warming skeptics.  
It was reasonable to argue that intrusive government regulation to reduce CO2 emissions would be premature, given the scientific uncertainties. Conservatives pointed out that if something did have to be done, the longer we waited, the better we might know how to do it. They also argued that a strong economy (which they presumed meant one with the least possible government regulation of industry) would offer the best insurance against future shocks. Activists replied that action to retard the damage should begin as soon as possible, if only to gain experience in how to restrict gases without harming the economy. They argued hardest for policy changes that they had long desired for other reasons, such as protecting tropical forests and removing government subsidies that promoted fossil fuel use.  
The topic had become still more politicized. A study of American media found that in 1987 most items that mentioned the greenhouse effect had been feature stories about the science, whereas in 1988 the majority of the stories addressed the politics of the controversy. It was not that the number of science stories declined, but rather that as media coverage doubled and redoubled, the additional stories moved into social and political areas.(116) Another study similarly found that before 1988, some three-quarters of the articles on climate change in leading American newspapers described the problem and its causes, whereas by the early 1990s, more than half of the far more numerous articles focused on claims about proposed remedies or on moral judgments. Before 1988, the journalists had drawn chiefly on scientists for their information, but afterward they relied chiefly on sources who were identified with political positions or special interest groups.(117) Meanwhile the interest groups themselves, from environmentalists to automobile manufacturers, increasingly advertised their views on global warming.  
Both scientific and political arguments were thoroughly entangled with broader attitudes. Public support for environmental concerns in general seems to have waned after 1988. Along with the natural exhaustion of all movements once they have achieved some of their goals, the ignominious collapse of Soviet Communism greatly increased the confidence of those who opposed government intervention in economic affairs. Actually it was in the Soviet Union, more than anywhere, that unrestricted pollution had shown that the horrifying predictions of environmentalists could come true. People who sought to restrict greenhouse gasesm, however, could not shake loose from the association of restrictions with over-centralized command of the economy.  
Many believed that only good could come of whatever the triumphant free-market economy produced, including greenhouse gases. A few scientists sustained the old argument that the "enrichment" of the atmosphere by CO2 would be a positively good thing for agriculture and for civilization in general. Some thought global warming itself would be all for the better. Russians in particular, in their bleak winters, looked forward to an improved climate. At the end of 1988, the senior Russian climatologist Mikhail Budyko told an international conference of scientists that global warming would make tundra regions fertile — an argument received, an American scientist recalled, like "swearing in the church." (Budyko did agree however that whatever the effects of global warming in the 21st century, over the longer term it could well be dangerous.)(118*)  

The main argument offered against regulating greenhouse gases was simply to deny that warming was likely to come at all. A few scientists insisted that the statistics of record-breaking heat since the 1970s were illusory. The most prominent of these skeptics was S. Fred Singer, who retired in 1989 from a distinguished career managing government programs in weather satellites and other technical enterprises, then founded an environmental policy group. He got financial support from conservative foundations and fossil fuel corporations. Among other objections, Singer argued that all the expert groups had somehow failed to properly account for the well-known effects of urbanization when they compiled global temperature statistics. (119) Other skeptics pointed to analysis of satellite data that failed to show warming (debate continued all through the 1990s before studies demonstrated that the satellite instruments gave a poor measure of surface warming). Some conceded that global temperatures had risen modestly, but held that the rise was just a chance fluctuation. After all, for centuries there had been gradual drops and rises of average temperature around the North Atlantic, in particular. Why couldn't the next decades experience a cooling? They entirely disbelieved the computer models that predicted warming from the greenhouse effect. All of these arguments had at least some validity, and the citizen with a taste for science could pick up the ideas from occasional semi-popular articles.  
<=Modern temp's
Especially well founded were the doubts about computer model predictions. Different models gave different predictions for just how a given locality would be affected by global warming (or at any rate by "global climate change," the more general phrase that cautious writers were adopting). Still, all the models agreed pretty well on the projected average warming.. The main trend turned out to faithfully confirm the predictions of old and simple hand-waving arguments. Yet when critics (like the respected meteorologist Richard Lindzen) set a strict scientific standard, demanding solid proof that no crucial effect had been left out, the modelers had to admit that many uncertainties remained and they had much work to do.

<=Models (GCMs)

<=Simple models

The science remained ambiguous enough to leave scientists, like everyone else, susceptible to influence from their deepest beliefs. The wish to personally preserve and improve the world, often a strong motivation for those who chose scientific careers, was not restricted to supporters of environmental regulations. Journalists remarked that the scientific critics of global warming were mostly strong political conservatives, deeply opposed in principle to extensions of government power. Their intense skepticism about global warming could seem, as one journalist noticed, to grow less from research than from a "distaste for any centralized government action" and an almost "religious" faith that humanity would not be laid low.(120) Conservatives in return advised that the most strident official and scientific warnings about global warming seemed designed to promote government action, not only on behalf of the environment but on behalf of empowering bureaucracies and climate researchers themselves. Yet no scientists claimed that their chief concern was political. What would ultimately matter was whether global warming was truly a menace.  
The technical criticism most widely noted in the press came in several brief "reports" — not scientific papers in the usual sense — published between 1989 and 1992 by the conservative George C. Marshall Institute. The anonymously authored pamphlets came with the endorsement of Frederick Seitz, former head of the National Academy of Sciences, an ageing but still highly admired scientist whose expertise had been in solid-state physics. The reports assembled a well-argued array of skeptical scientific thinking, backed up by vocal support from a few reputable meteorologists. Concerned that proposed government regulation would be "extraordinarily costly to the U.S. economy," they insisted it would be unwise to act on the basis of the feeble global warming theories and data.(121*)



<=Solar variation

Opponents of regulation made sure that the technical uncertainties described in the Marshall Institute reports and elsewhere became widely known. In 1989 some of the biggest corporations in the petroleum, automotive, and other industries created a Global Climate Coalition, whose mission was to disparage every call for action against global warming. Operating out of the offices of the National Association of Manufacturers, over the following decade the organization would spend tens of millions of dollars. It supported lectures and publications by a few skeptical scientists, produced slick publications and videos and sent them wholesale to journalists, and advertised directly to the public every doubt about the reality of global warming.(122) The criticism fitted well with the visceral distrust of environmentalism that right-wing political commentators were spreading. The scientific criticism particularly influenced President George H.W. Bush’s administration. Enough of the public was likewise sufficiently impressed by the skeptical advertising and news reports, or at least sufficiently confused by them, so that the administration felt free to avoid taking serious steps against global warming.



= Milestone




Scientists noticed something that the public largely overlooked: the most outspoken scientific critiques of global warming predictions did not appear in the standard scientific publications, the "peer-reviewed" journals where independent scientists reviewed every statement before publication. The critiques tended to appear in venues funded by industrial groups, or in conservative media like the Wall Street Journal. Most climate experts, while agreeing that future warming was not a proven fact, found the critics' counter-arguments dubious, and some publicly decried their reports as misleading "junk science."(123) Other experts, Hansen for one, exclaimed that "wait and see" was no way to deal with the "climate time-bomb." Going beyond calls to limit greenhouse gas emissions, he concluded that "governments must foster conditions leading to population stabilization."(124) On several points open conflict broke out between some scientists, with acrimonious and personalized exchanges.(125)  
To science journalists and their editors, the controversy was confusing, but excellent story material. The American media in the late 1980s gave climate change substantial coverage, especially the New York Times, which still largely set the agenda for other American media. News magazines published many stories, although television gave only light coverage. Many reporters took a skeptical view of the administration's position. Outside a few deeply conservative media like the Wall Street Journal and right-wing talk radio programs, journalists tended to accept that greenhouse warming was underway. Following the usual tendency of the media to grab attention with dire predictions, a majority of the reports suggested that the consequences of global warming could be cataclysmic, with devastating droughts, ferocious storms, waves attacking drowned coastlines, the spread of deadly tropical diseases. The worst consequences were expected for certain vulnerable developing nations, but as usual the America media gave little attention to the rest of the world. Many stories optimistically suggested that technological progress would solve the problem. Journalists did not often emphasize that citizens might have to make hard choices between conflicting values.






Seeking the excitement of conflict, as was their wont in covering almost any subject, some reporters wrote their stories as if the issue were a simple fight between climate scientists and the Republican administration. Many other reports presented the issue as if it were a quarrel between two diametrically opposed groups of scientists. Journalists often sought an artificial balance by matching "pro" with "anti" scientists, one against one.(126)  
When scratch surveys sought the real opinions of climate scientists, most of them revealed mixed feelings. A modest majority believed that global warming was very probably underway. It was only a small minority who insisted there was no problem, while at least as many insisted that the threat was acute. Amid the publicized controversy, it was hard to recognize that there was in fact a consensus, shared by most experts — global warming was quite probable although not certain. Scientists agreed above all that it was impossible to be entirely sure. The media got that much right, for most reports in the early 1990s emphasized the lack of certainty.




Recognizing the need for a better representation of what scientists did and did not understand, climate scientists and government bureaucrats formed an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC’s committees managed to forge consensus views that almost every expert and official could accept, and published them as definitive reports. The first IPCC report, released in 1990, rehearsed the usual ambiguous warnings about the possibilities of global warming. This was nothing exciting or surprising, and the report got hardly any newspaper coverage.(127) Yet scientific opinion was shifting, although so gradually that it would take a special event to make that appear as "news."  
An opportunity came with the second IPCC report, issued late in 1995. The somnolent public debate revived on the news that the panel had agreed that the world really was getting warmer, and that the warming was probably caused at least in part by humanity. Although many scientists had been saying that for years, this was the first formal declaration by the assembled experts of the world. It was page-one news in many countries, immediately recognized as a landmark in the debate. (Other warnings from the panel, such as the possibility of climate "surprises," were less noted.)(128*) Better still for reporters, the report stirred up a nasty controversy, for a few critics cast doubt upon the personal integrity of some IPCC scientists. The principle target, a main author of the report, remarked that he had to spend the better part of the following summer dealing with journalists and e-mails.(129) <=International

Even more newsworthy was the international Kyoto Climate Conference, scheduled for December 1997. Here was where governments would make real economic and political decisions on the use of fossil fuels. The administration of President Bill Clinton made a bid for public support for a treaty, holding a well-publicized conference of experts on climate change in October. Editors saw a story line of conflict developing as they anticipated the Conference. News reports were further stimulated by advertising campaigns and other intense public relations efforts, funded by environmental organizations on the one hand, by the Global Climate Coalition of industrial corporations on the other. Television stories dealing with global warming jumped from a mere dozen in July-September to well over 200 in October-December. Surveys conducted around the time of the meeting found about ten percent of the American public saying they followed the global warming news "very closely," a substantial fraction for such an issue (for more exciting stories, the fraction could be several times higher). Most of the news items asserted that global warming was underway, with barely a tenth including any expression of doubt. Yet after the Conference, the wave of attention faded away as quickly as it had come, leaving almost no change in public opinion overall.

However, a detailed survey found movement beneath the surface. Asked whether global warming was happening, the gap between strong Democrats (who mostly agreed with President Clinton that it was a problem) and strong Republicans (mostly skeptical) had widened. The main result of all the effort was only to further politicize the issue.(130)


...and After Kyoto (1997- ) TOP OF PAGE

Many climate scientists were taking a more unequivocal or even activist stance. A much smaller number of skeptics opposed them. Some of these skeptics argued publicly that the 20th century's global warming (if it existed at all) had come only because the Sun had temporarily turned more active. During the 1990s they produced some fairly plausible data and theories on why global warming either was not happening, or was not caused by humans. Most other experts found these arguments weak. A historian of science who reviewed nearly 1000 abstracts of technical articles, published in peer-reviewed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, found that "none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position." (The media would cite this study repeatedly over the next decade, and the author was even invited to testify to a Congressional committee, a rare use indeed of historical expertise.) In the minds of nearly all scientists, or at least those not connected financially to the energy industries, the case for human-caused ("anthropogenic") global warming was as well proven as anything in geophysics.(131)

The editors of Nature magazine remarked in 2000 that "The focus of the climate change debate is shifting from the question of 'will there be climate changes?' to 'what are the potential consequences of climate change?'" Even some of the few remaining skeptical scientists would admit, if pressed, that the greenhouse effect would make itself felt eventually. Some went on to claim that this would bring net benefits. Others retreated to the position that in any case it made no sense to regulate emissions, for the only reasonable policy, as one prominent critic insisted, was "to adapt to climate change."(132)


<=Solar variation

As the international consensus of scientists became clear, some business leaders began to think that it was only prudent to plan for the contingency that restrictions would some day be imposed on greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, public opinion might turn against their business if it took the wrong stand on global warming. Executives in the insurance industry began to worry that climate change itself might hurt their profits, for in fact their payouts for storms, droughts and floods were increasing at a surprising rate. Pressed by environmentalist groups as well as by general public opinion, prominent corporations pulled out of the Global Climate Coalition. By 2000, many publicists were abandoning the claim that there was no global warming problem, and shifting to claims about the most business-friendly way to address it. More efficient use of fossil fuels, alternative energy sources (not forgetting nuclear), and changes in forestry and agriculture all held promise for improving profits while reducing emissions. Other corporations persisted in denial. The largest of these, ExxonMobil, until 2007 continued to spend millions of dollars on false-front organizations that amplified any claim contrary to the scientific consensus.(132a*)





= Milestone



In between episodes of debate, the issue occupied little of the public's attention. Television weather news, the only place where much of the public might get climate information on a regular basis, preferred to avoid the issue altogether. It was too complex, too highly politicized, and perhaps too depressing for what were basically entertainment programs. As one reporter put it, global warming was "not the kind of bad news people want to hear in a weather forecast."(133) Most politicians likewise saw little to gain by stirring up the issue. In the absence of manifest public concern, why devote time to such an issue (especially if it went against short-term business interests)? Even Gore mentioned global warming only briefly during his run for the presidency in 2000.






Science reporters would occasionally find a news hook for a story. The press took mild notice when experts announced that 1995 was the warmest year on record for the planet as a whole, and when 1997 broke that record, and when 1998 broke the record yet again. The impact was muted, however, since these figures were averages, and the warming happened to be most pronounced in remote ocean and arctic regions. Some smaller but important places — in particular the U.S. East Coast, with its key political and media centers — were not experiencing the warming that was becoming evident in many other regions..  
<=Modern temp's

Reports of official studies by government or international panels each had their day in the limelight, but rarely more than a day. Stories made more of an impression if they dealt with something visible, as when ice floes the size of a small nation split off from the Antarctic ice shelves.(134) Other chances to mention global climate change came in stories about heat waves, floods, and coastal storms, especially when the events were more damaging than anything in recent memory. Citizens who attended more closely would see stories about shifts in the range of species, from birds and butterflies to insects pests and diseases. The concerns were largely parochial. Media in the United States would scarcely notice a record-breaking heat wave or flood that stirred up fears of global warming in Germany, and vice versa.(135)

In fact, weather is so variable that any one of the widely reported incidents might have had nothing to do with global warming. Yet for symbolically conveying what scientists knew, the incidents could be truer than any dry array of data. For example, when tourists who visited the North Pole in August 2000 told reporters that they had found open water instead of ice, news stories claimed that this was the first time the Pole had been ice-free in millions of years. That was dead wrong — yet by many measures the Arctic Ocean icepack was in fact thinning rapidly. Similarly, a few years later, the announcement that the fabled snows of Kilimanjaro were vanishing turned the mountain into a renowned icon of global warming. Some argued that the main cause was a drought that brought less snow — but the lesson remained accurate, for there was no dispute that nearly all of the world’s mountain glaciers and icecaps were shrinking, and the only plausible explanation was global warming.(136*)

    Ice shelf collapse
<=Sea rise & ice


Most journalists continued to pursue their ideal of "unbiased" coverage by writing "balanced" stories that presented both sides of an issue. That put them in the odd situation of including, in a story that might describe years of research by teams with dozens of experts, a contrary response by one of the few scientists who scoffed at the idea that human activity was bringing global warming. An analysis of articles published between 1988 and 2004 in four influential American newspapers found that more than half of the articles gave roughly as much attention to these contrarians as they did to the view accepted by the IPCC and all the other rigorous scientific panels. The contrarians often had ties to energy-industry lobbying groups, but the articles often failed to note that. The veteran American environmental journalist Ross Gelbspan bitterly accused his colleagues of being duped, bought out, or intimidated by fossil-fuel interests. If so, it was largely an American phenomenon. Oil companies and their allies had less policy influence in most other industrialized nations, and only in the United States worked hard to push their view upon the media. European journalists rarely quoted contrarians. Climate change never became a strong partisan political issue outside the United States, whereas after the Kyoto meeting the American media spent more time reporting the political controversy than the growing scientific evidence.

Three-quarters of the articles in the four leading U.S. newspapers "balanced" scientists' calls for strong action against the energy-industry view that only voluntary action, if any, was needed. Gelbspan called this "stage-two" denial of the climate threat — people admitting that there might be a problem but ignoring or rejecting effective solutions.(137) Public understanding nevertheless kept up with the main points of the evolving scientific consensus. Polls in the 1990s found that roughly half of Americans thought global warming was already here and many of the rest thought it was coming. Fewer than one in eight asserted that it would never happen. Many citizens now believed that the scientists who publicly cast doubt on global warming were unreliable, and had a vague idea of what the greenhouse effect meant. But most did not consider themselves well informed — quite rightly (for example, many well-educated adults still confused the ozone hole with global warming). An increasing number of people suspected that they were personally seeing global warming in their daily lives, in the latest record-breaking drought or strangely balmy winter. Even Alaskans, quick to scoff at environmentalist positions, began to worry as the permafrost supporting their roads softened and dog-sled racers complained that it was getting too warm for their huskies.(138)









<=>Modern temp's

When the IPCC issued its third report in 2001, concluding that it was "likely" that greenhouse gases were bringing a sustained warming, it scarcely seemed like news. Brief stories in the chief media focused, needless to say, on the report's worst-case scenario — the threat that future temperature rise might be more dire than previous IPCC reports had suggested. Even that drew only modest attention.(139*) Also widely overlooked were warnings, buried in the report, of a small but disturbing risk that climate might change abruptly.


If the computer predictions were wrong, it might be that they were not too radical but too conservative, neglecting the risk that a severe temperature shift might take only a few years. New evidence of past climate shifts was persuading many experts that large changes could strike in the span of a decade or less. One plausible mechanism was a reorganization of the global system of ocean circulation. Journalists and a few scientists suggested that global warming could bring the Gulf Stream to a halt, paradoxically freezing Europe even as other places grew too hot. A close look at this specific scenario eventually showed it would violate elementary principles of oceanography. But the experts who studied the system of ocean currents and winds knew their understanding was incomplete, and they worried about possible instabilities. "The climate system is an angry beast," Broecker said whenever he got a public platform, "and we are poking at it with sticks."(140)


<=Chaos theory


<=The oceans

A National Academy of Sciences panel reported in 2001 that "The new paradigm of an abruptly changing climatic system has been well established by research over the last decade." They added that "this new thinking is little known and scarcely appreciated in the wider community of natural and social scientists and policy-makers."(141) Stories about the risk of sudden climate shifts did show up occasionally in newspapers and magazines, sometimes exaggerated into claims about a threatened collapse of civilization. People scarcely noticed, for the stories lay amid the usual journalistic noise — warnings of future disasters from falling asteroids, runaway genetic manipulation, and a hundred other conceivable threats. To most people, climate change still meant an evolution over slow decades if not centuries. Perhaps the scientists had gone a step beyond what ordinary people were prepared to believe. As a geologist remarked (on why people failed to prepare for great earthquakes), "To imagine that turmoil is in the past and somehow we are now in a more stable time seems to be a psychological need."(142)  
<=>Rapid change
Political controversy raised a flurry of media attention in 2001-2002 after the new president, George W. Bush, made it clear that he would never impose the limits on CO2 that the previous administration and the rest of the world had agreed upon at the Kyoto meeting. Europeans loudly expressed dismay, and many American publications joined in the criticism. Editorials scolded the policy as a surrender to business interests. So it was, and yet Bush's approach was not far from what a majority of the American public and Congress wanted. To be sure, most people thought something should be done about global warming — but not if that would mean spending money or changing anything much.(143)  

The conservationist writer Bill McKibben lamented that global warming "hasn't registered in our gut." It wasn't just that the issue was a scientific one, although for many people that was enough to repel thought. Andy Revkin, a New York Times science reporter who led the pack in announcing global warming news, explained that "It's a century-scale story, and newspapers are dealing with a day or an hour kind of scale... to get them to think about something important that may happen three generations from now, in terms of its full flowering, is almost impossible." People whose interest normally focused on a local crime or scandal could scarcely grasp a phenomenon that operated on a planetary scale. If you did accept climate change as something that could affect your own community in your own lifetime, you might feel obliged to change your pattern of consumption, and perhaps some political opinions. For many people, this was enough to raise mental barriers to further consideration. One way to resolve the dissonance between personal predilections and scientific statements was to deny that we needed to do anything about climate change.(143a)

Global warming was beginning to resemble nuclear war, which many people had met with simple denial. This potent psychological mechanism was well illustrated by a child who demanded that her father turn off a television documentary about climate change because it scared her. In any case most people, scarcely understanding the causes of climate change, could not name specific practical steps to forestall it. Citizens were more likely to scrupulously eschew spray cans, which in fact no longer used CFCs, than to improve the insulation of their homes, even though the lower fuel expense would repay their investment within a few years.(143b)  
A 1998 study using focus groups dug deeper, catching what had probably been the general feeling of Americans since 1988, and perhaps long before. Most felt confused, believing the scientific community had not reached a consensus. While the great majority of citizens said they thought global warming was underway, few felt really sure of that. Some people hoped that new technologies would somehow fix any problems. Others despaired of all technology, and vaguely foresaw a general apocalyptic environmental collapse. Few thought their own personal efforts could make any difference.  

Many people in these focus groups were convinced that not only climate changes but all environmental harms were the fault of social decline — a rising tide of selfishness, gluttony and corruption. (In one week of unusual warmth during November 1989, I heard two people separately say that the Earth was paying us back for the harm we humans were doing to it.) People saw a generalized "pollution," the material and moral evils intertwined. Some, including prominent scientists, wondered if we had invited divine retribution. Most Americans believed they were personally powerless to halt the moral deterioration, and therefore saw the problem of global warming as insoluble. Anxious and baffled, "people literally don't like to think or talk about the subject," the authors of the study concluded. "Their concern translates into frustration rather than support for action."(143c)

The world's image makers had failed to come up with vivid pictures of what climate change might truly mean. Nothing happened like the response to the risks of nuclear war and nuclear reactors in earlier decades, when hundreds of novels and movie and television productions, some by top-ranking authors or directors, had commanded the world's attention. Global warming did show up in several substantial science-fiction novels and the 2001 Stanley Kubrick/Steven Spielberg movie "AI," which set its final scenes in a future drowned city. In most of these works, however, global warming was merely incidental background, only one of many evil consequences of a civilization fallen into decay.(144*)  
After 2002, some more-substantial works began to appear. Non-fiction reports by journalists drew increasing attention. Oryx and Crake (2003), by the leading novelist Margaret Atwood, portrayed a future world where global warming was one of several technological causes of ruin. In one scene the protagonist looked out over the wrecks of buildings half submerged in the ocean. Also widely noted was a huge and unsettling mural by the painter Alexis Rockman, "Manifest Destiny" (2004). It showed a scene much like Atwood’s, a future Brooklyn half submerged, given over to tropical wildlife and jungle. However, Atwood's novel featured global warming as only one of many harms of technology, less central than artificial manipulation of organisms (an issue that had long preoccupied Rockman too). Her story resembled hundreds of earlier tales of a Last Man in despair after the collapse of civilization, for example wandering amid the wreckage of a city after a nuclear war. Rockman acknowledged links to illustrations of bombed cities and to still earlier 19th-century paintings of elegiac vine-covered ruins. In such productions, global warming was only an example and manifestation of inexorable social evolution, another civilization laid low by its own pride and greed.(145*)


Alexis Rockman Manifest Destiny
After global warming?

No panel of climate scientists ever suggested that global warming could destroy our entire civilization, but the idea was spreading in public consciousness, especially among groups already inclined to worry about environmental harms. Through the 1990s, as researchers dug up (sometimes literally) ever more data on past climates, archeologists came to suspect that certain ancient civilizations had collapsed during prolonged periods of drought — actually laid low by a climate change. Widely read articles and books prophesied that the same Biblical fate would befall us unless we awoke and changed our ways.(145a)



<=Rapid change

Abstract forebodings of doom became vivid scenes of cataclysm in "The Day After Tomorrow," a special-effects spectacular from a popular movie director. Along with a novel by a leading science fiction author that also appeared in the spring of 2004, it was the first fictional work centered on global warming to reach a wide public. Both included authorities denying any possibility of danger, a familiar plot element in science-fiction disaster fables. The new works continued in that mode, beginning with real scientific concerns about changes in ocean circulation and stretching to cataclysms beyond anything that scientists thought was possible, notably an instant ice age. While critics worried that such horrific phantasms would only push audiences toward despair and denial, studies in the United States and Germany found that people who saw "The Day After Tomorrow" became a bit more aware of the risk of abrupt climate change and a bit more receptive to political action to forestall it. The movie, a great commercial success worldwide, was seen by roughly a tenth of all American adults and generated ten times as much media coverage as the IPCC’s 2001 report. Even that was not enough to measurably shift American public opinion as a whole.(145b*)




<=The oceans
<=Rapid change

Political cartoonists managed to come up with a few realistic and effective images in direct reference to immediate political choices. They might comment on a bill before Congress, for example, with a sketch of a withered desert landscape under a scorching sun. Television similarly showed parched crops or smog-shrouded cities. Calls for action against the threats of rising sea level and worsening storms got a visible face in television clips of advancing waves and hurricanes, and in political cartoons that showed buildings half underwater, whirling tornadoes, or both together. These were strong images, but limited by their familiarity. After all, drought, flood and storm images had long been associated with ordinary weather problems. A pair of communications experts explained, "in the absence of a symbol for the greenhouse effect, the media ... is limited in its interest and its impact."  
More-specific images appeared as actual climate changes began to show up. People who paid attention to the topic would see then-and-now photographs of receding mountain glaciers or images of northern houses sinking into the melting permafrost. On television and in magazines, picturesque Alaskan natives and Pacific islanders described their fears about changes they saw in the ocean. Starting around 2005 the most popular icon of all emerged, turning up frequently even in cartoons — the polar bear, said to be threatened with extinction. It is doubtful whether any of these images meant much to people who were not already concerned about global warming. As one critic complained when reviewing a show of artistic paintings on climate change, “a far more compelling case” was made by the plain graph of the rise of global temperature. Graphs, however, impressed only the more data-minded type of person. Nobody had produced a significant novel or movie that humanized the travails that climate change might realistically bring upon us — the squalid ruin of the world's mountain meadows and coral reefs, the impoverishment caused by crop failures, the invasions of tropical diseases, the press of millions of refugees from inundated coastal regions.(146)


Polar bear T-shirt

In the early years of the new century, polls in the United States showed an outright decline in concern for global warming. Since the late 1980s, a large majority of Americans had told poll-takers that they personally worried about global warming, but the fraction who claimed they worried about it "a great deal" — roughly a third — declined in the early 2000s, and by 2004 a bare majority in the United State expressed any worry at all about global warming. This was in parallel with a dwindling concern about all environmental issues. West Europeans meanwhile grew more concerned, especially when a terrible heat wave assailed the continent in the summer of 2003, bringing huge crop losses, forest fires, and tens of thousands of excess deaths. Comparable calamities might have happened in earlier times, perhaps during the so-called "Medieval Warm Period," but the 2003 heat wave surpassed anything in the historical record and was quite likely made worse by greenhouse warming. That made a gripping story, although it still lacked the concentrated symbolic heft of a Hiroshima or Chernobyl. The divergence of West European from American opinion created diplomatic friction as President Bush rejected any steps to control emissions, or even negotiations about it.





= Milestone

Solar variation

Despite the efforts of the contrarians, science reporters and their editors slowly came to realize that the scientific debate over climate change was essentially over. They began to feel they should explain the situation straightforwardly, even at risk of angering part of their audience. Coverage of climate change in major U.S. newspapers, after declining in the mid 1990s, began to climb back. In 2004 the American public could read extensive cover-story articles in respected journals like Business Week and National Geographic, stoutly declaring that global climate change was truly a serious and immediate problem. Meanwhile several books and dozens of well-maintained Websites attempted to explain the situation. Far more widely noticed, however, was a best-selling thriller, State of Fear. The author, Michael Crichton, built his plot on the fantasy that fear of global warming was a deception propagated by evil conspirators and their dupes. As in his earlier novels, Crichton played upon a theme beloved of right-wing populists — the scientific establishment was arrogant, wrong-headed and untrustworthy, if not actively corrupt.(147*)  
This was in line with a proliferation of Websites and blogs that confidently denounced the scientific consensus on global warming. Some were posted not by paid lobbyists but by independent contrarians, passing around plausible-sounding arguments that picked out recent bits of anomalous data. There are always anomalies at the research front, but when scientists resolved a problem, typically within a few years, the contrarians fastened on a newer one. Some of the statements on the Web, radio talk shows, and in other media began to resemble the typical American diatribe against wicked elites. Such arguments also appeared in West Europe, Japan, and especially Russia, but Americans were the most prone to openly distrust scientists. Populist American politicians were often more scornful of intellectuals than were policy-makers in other advanced nations, and more responsive to pressure from oil and related corporations. Remarkably, the science-fiction novelist Crichton got an appreciative hearing as a "climate expert" on visits to Congress and the White House. Such antics widened the divide between the United States and most other nations, and helped maintain polarization over the issue at home.







But outside Washington, important groups were shifting their stance. One turning point was a 2002 meeting in Oxford, England, where leaders of evangelical church organizations convened with scientists who shared their religious beliefs. Devout Christian scientists such as John Houghton, a lay preacher and co-chair of the IPCC's 2001 report, convinced some church leaders that they were called upon to protect God’s creation from greenhouse warming. In February 2006, a group of important American evangelical leaders issued a statement calling for government controls on emissions, backed up by television and radio advertisements.(148)




Business leaders also began to speak out forcefully. Some European firms, notably oil giant BP under the farsighted John Browne, had already decided (as he put it in 1997), that "it falls to us to take precautionary action now." Starting around 2005, a growing number of leading American corporations like General Electric and Wal-Mart also pledged to limit their emissions. Business Week called 2006 "the year global warming went from controversial to conventional for much of the corporate world." Some executives "spoke of a personal awakening," the magazine reported. An environmental consultant agreed that "Suddenly CEOs were expressing genuine concern about the issue." He repeatedly heard variations on the story of a CEO’s daughter who came home from college and said, "Dad, we can’t be that stupid." For example, the conservative owner of the Fox News media empire, Robert Murdoch, announced in 2007 that his corporations would feature the battle against climate change in all their shows, and would strive to reduce their own emissions. An appalling drought in his native Australia was one influence, but still more was "my son James, who... converted me." (Polls did not find young people much more concerned about global warming than their elders, so these are probably cases where family dynamics brought views that were now mainstream to a resistant minority.)  
Executives who remained skeptical felt pressure from many directions. Promising to fight climate change would improve their corporate image, and it would also be (as Murdoch put it) "a huge morale builder" among their own staff. More directly, some major corporations were hit with lawsuits for the damage their emissions were causing, and more of the same might be feared. Meanwhile powerful investors, from state pension funds to Wall Street giants like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase, began to weigh global warming risks before investing in a company. After all, business magazines like Fortune were warning of imminent "droughts and floods not seen since ancient times." Most important, legal restrictions on emissions seemed inevitable. As the Wall Street Journal reported, "The global-warming debate is shifting from science to economics... The biggest question going forward no longer is whether fossil-fuel emissions should be curbed. It is who will foot the bill for the cleanup." A wise corporation would take the lead in discussing just which business operations should be taxed or regulated. If you’re not at the table, the Journal remarked, you’re on the menu.(149)  
Political leaders sensed how the wind was blowing. Not only were corporations pressing them for decisions so they could make business plans, but calls for action on climate lifted public approval ratings. And it was getting harder to argue that action was unwise. The IPCC’s fourth assessment, issued in early 2007 and widely reported in the media, announced what most people already knew from the media or their own experience — stresses from global warming were now apparent around the world. The scientists were confident that worse was all but certain to come. Meanwhile a team of British economists calculated that these impacts might be as harmful as a great depression or world war, but they could be staved off at modest cost. Even some staunch Republican leaders, like California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, pushed their states or cities to curb their greenhouse gas emissions. A surprising number of political units pledged they would meet the Kyoto goals.







One important reason for the change was the disastrous summer of 2005, the worst Atlantic hurricane season on record, capped by Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans. Attention to climate change in the American press climbed to the highest level ever. "Are We Making Hurricanes Worse?" asked the cover of Time magazine. Probably so, the editors concluded. Scientists were in fact divided on that, and vigorously debated whether global warming had raised the risk to New Orleans at all. This was another case where an event that was not really a clear sign of global warming nevertheless taught an accurate lesson, for it was certain that rising sea levels would eventually lift storm surges over the existing levees. But what really mattered was the imagery. The half-submerged buildings of science fiction, the "environmental refugees" that experts had been foreboding for decades, now filled Americans’ television screens in real time.





<=Sea rise & ice

Meanwhile scientific reports on surprising changes in ocean currents and ice sheets spurred fears that that the world might soon pass what many had begun to call a "tipping point" — a point where calamitous climate change would become unavoidable.(150*) "Suddenly and unexpectedly, the crisis is upon us," declared a reporter in 2006. Another mused that "global warming has the feel of breaking news these days." Reporters admitted that they had leaned over backward too far in granting "equal time" to the dwindling remnant of contrarians. As one of them put it, "journalists increasingly have assessed the weight of the evidence and explained who was behind the opposing views." In November 2005 alone, PBS public television stations, the Turner Broadcasting System, and even the right-wing Fox News Channel all ran specials stating plainly that global temperatures would rise, and a much larger audience saw movie idol Leonardo DiCaprio explain the problem on the Oprah Winfrey Show. The Weather Channel added reports on climate change as a "niche" market. In the spring of 2006, people could see a thorough analysis of the danger in two widely read books by top science journalists, a week-long series of reports on ABC television and radio, and a special issue of Time magazine ("Be worried," the cover advised. "Be very worried.")(151*)


<=Rapid change

The greatest media attention of all went to a shoestring-budget documentary film. Since 1990, Al Gore had occasionally told the global warming story in a convincing illustrated lecture, and in the gloomy days after his defeat in the 2000 election, his wife persuaded him to take it up again. Honed before many hundreds of audiences, Gore’s presentation was converted into a film titled "An Inconvenient Truth." In the year following its May 2006 opening, it garnered the third highest box-office receipts of any documentary in history. Meanwhile an associated book reached the top of the best-seller list. Critics pointed out a few points where Gore had been misleading (he showed a sea level rise without explaining it would take centuries, and used images of hurricanes without noting that their relationship to global warming was conjectural). But scientists generally gave the film high marks for explaining a complex subject with accuracy and grace. The film by itself could not do much to shift American public opinion as a whole. But it did strongly impress the sort of people who saw documentaries, including key policy-makers.(152*)


Poll-takers found that people around the world were rapidly becoming more aware of global warming and more concerned about it. In the United States, concern about global warming climbed back up to the level where it had stood in 1989. This was not simply a response to Hurricane Katrina and other matters in the media, but part of a general revival of concern about all environmental issues. In fact, when asked to name problems facing the nation, Americans would think of pollution of drinking water, the ozone hole, or the destruction of tropical forests ahead of global warming. This contrasted with Europe, where climate change generally ranked top among environmental worries.


International polling found that almost everywhere in the world, a majority of the population had heard of global warming. Of these people, in most nations a quarter to half felt “a great deal” of concern about it, substantially higher than just a few years earlier. There were two major exceptions. Concern was low in China and a few other, smaller developing nations. And the United States still lagged behind with fewer than a fifth of its citizens expressing strong concern. Americans were becoming only a little more worried about global warming. (After all, as a comparison of newspapers in the United States and the United Kingdom showed, the rise in stories in the American media, although steep, did not match the explosive growth of attention across the Atlantic.) Around the world polls found resentment against the United States, which had put much more CO2 into the atmosphere than any other nation, yet refused to take responsibility for it.(153)


In all countries, even though majorities claimed to worry about global warming, most people still saw the problem as distant and abstract. Climate change felt remote not only in years but in geographical and emotional distance. To people in the developed world, global warming was not so much a problem for folks like themselves as for Pacific island natives and polar bears. One study concluded that most Americans still "lacked vivid, concrete, and personally-relevant affective images of climate change, which helped explain why climate change remains a relatively low priority...issue." Smaller groups (each perhaps 5-10% of the public) took stronger views. On one side stood people alarmed by what they saw as an imminent, even disastrous, threat to their own way of life and perhaps all creatures on the planet. On the other side stood people who dismissed it all as a myth if not a deliberate hoax, concocted by self-serving intellectuals and journalists.

If you guessed that a member of the first group leaned politically to the left, and a member of the second group to the right, you would usually be correct — at least in the United States, for the issue remained more politically polarized there than elsewhere. A 2007 Gallup poll found that the average level of worry about the impacts of global warming among Republicans was 34%, compared with 59% among independents and 75% among Democrats. This political divide, of course, lay along a line that more generally separated people according to their feelings about authority, individual responsibility, risk-taking and other personal issues. Each side found confident endorsement of its views in its favorite media, where exaggerated pronouncements served to attract an audience and to keep it by conforming to that audience’s prejudices. (154)  
Some observers worried that the major media had swung too far, promoting a language of crisis and looming catastrophe that fitted poorly with the gradual nature of the actual problem. But only a small minority of citizens seemed paralyzed by what they saw as a catastrophe beyond human control. Indeed, only a minority saw global warming as a serious and immediate challenge at all. Many who expressed concern were satisfied with small symbolic steps, if any. To launch actions on a scale large enough to arrest the tremendous and increasing flux of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, bold leadership was necessary. Some farsighted individuals in business, government and other influential fields did recognize that they had a responsibility to offer such leadership, and an opportunity. "A tipping point appears to have been reached...," concluded the head of an international polling group in 2006. "The reality and impact of climate change has been internalized by most citizens, suggesting that well-designed political and corporate initiatives to reduce the problem will likely receive substantial support."(155)


What can people do about global warming, and what should we do? See my Personal Note and Links.  


Government: The View from Washington, DC
The Modern Temperature Trend
Rapid Climate Change
Wintry Doom
Ice Sheets & Rising Seas
Reflections on the Scientific Process

 NOTES (cont.)

75. 38% had heard, half ignorant: Opinion Research Corporation poll, May 1981, USORC.81MAY.R22. 5% Not at all serious, 16% Not too serious, 28% Somewhat serious, 37% Very serious, 24% Don't know: Opinion Research Corporation poll, April 1980, USORC.80APR1.R3M. Data furnished by Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, Storrs, CT. Canadian survey (10% nuclear, 12% people/pollution/urbanization, 14% space exploration): Harrison (1982), p. 731. For 1990s surveys and a valuable general discussion see Thompson and Rayner (1998), pp. 270-73. BACK

76. Wade (1979); New York Times, Nov. 5, 1979, p. IV:16. These refer to National Academy of Sciences (1979); the conclusion was reinforced by National Research Council (1982). Greenland: Gregory et al. (2004). BACK

77. Russians: see Weiner (1990), p. 101. BACK

78. Woodwell (1978), p. 34, see p. 43. BACK

79. Ingram and Mintzer (1990). BACK

80. Manabe, interview by Weart, Dec. 1989. BACK

81. Rasool et al. (1983); the stimulus was Hansen et al. (1981). BACK

82. Schneider (1988), p. 114; see also Schneider (1989), ch. 7; Nelkin (1987). BACK

83. Sullivan, "Study finds warming trend that could raise sea levels," Aug. 22, 1981, p. 1, and editorial, Aug. 29, 1981, p. 22. The Washington Post also carried an editorial. Hansen, interview by Weart, Nov. 2000, AIP. BACK

84. Among other sources for this section, I draw on a talk given by J. Jensen in April 1991. BACK

85. Idso (1982); popularized as unproven but possible by a science journalist, Gribbin (1982), ch. 9; "encouraged" Idso (1984), p. 22; see also Idso (1989). BACK

86. Mahlman (1998), p. 97. BACK

87. McKibben (1989), p. 37. BACK

88. Levenson (1989), p. 32. BACK

89. Badash (2001) (Turco's term "nuclear winter" on p. 87); also Poundstone (1999), pp. 292-319; Schneider (1988). BACK

90. Magazines and newspaper article counts: Ingram et al. (1990). Books: my counts from the Library of Congress catalog, under "climate" call number QC981, which includes both popular and technical works.1975-77: 73 books. 1979-81: 97. 1983-1985: 71. BACK

91. Weart (1988), pp. 262-69, 299-302, 323-327, 375-87. BACK

92. Ungar (1995), includes discussion and references on dread factors and waves of public concern; Weart (1988), passim. BACK

93. Another example: James Gleick, "Instability of climate defies computer analysis," New York Times, March 20, 1988. Broecker (1987), quote p. 82; on annoyance Broecker (1991), p. 88. BACK

94. The 1986 hearings, held by Republican Senator John Chafee, "transformed the priority of the greenhouse issue, making it more important in policy decisions" according to Pomerance (1989), pp. 262-63; quotes: Hansen et al. (1987), prepared for testimony to the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, 9 Nov. 1987. BACK

95. Pool (1990), quote p. 672. Also Hansen, interview by Weart, Nov. 2000. BACK

96. Hansen (1988); Hansen et al. (1988) gives the scientific basis, predicting global temperatures in the 1990s would be indisputably above 1950s levels. In 2000 Pat Michaels claimed that time had shown Hansen"s 1988 prediction of temperature increase was exaggerated by 450%, a claim later picked up by novelist Michael Crichton and others. In fact Hansen had presented three scenarios, including a worst-case one (no volcanic eruptions to hold down temperature, accelerated emissions, etc.) and two more likely ones. Michaels et al. spoke only of the worst-case scenario and did not mention Hansen’s predictions of what was likely, which have turned out to be correct. BACK

97. Philip Shabecoff, "Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate," New York Times, June 24, 1988, p. 1. See Hansen, interview by Weart, Nov. 2000, AIP, and Stevens (1999), pp. 131-33; Weiner (1990), pp. 87-97. BACK

98. E.g., Howard Koppel's "Nightline" ABC-TV. The following day (24 June) I heard worries voiced by a number of callers to a radio talk show (Jim Althoff, WKING). Hansen was mentioned or quoted more than twice as often as anyone else on the issue during 1985-1991 according to Lichter (1992). BACK

99. Criticism by scientists: Kerr (1989); Kerr (1989). BACK

100. Ungar (1992), p. 491 and passim. BACK

101. Schneider (1988), p. 113. BACK

102. Michael Oppenheimer quoted in New York Times 8/23/88 as quoted in Stevens (1999), p. 133. BACK

Calvin & Hobbes strip. Calvin continues: "They say the pollutants we dump in the air are trapping in the sun's heat and it's going to melt the polar ice caps! Sure, you'll be gone when it happens, but I won't! Nice planet you're leaving me!" Mom: "This from the kid who wants to be chauffeured any place more than a block away." Calvin: "Hey, nobody told me about the ice caps, all right?" From Bill Waterson, Yukon Ho! (1989), copyright © 1988 Bill Waterson. BACK

103. My counts of Readers' Guide. Annual number of articles about global climate change printed in major U.S. newspapers (Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal) was zero in 1979-1980, rising to roughly two per newspaper per year through 1987, then from 1987 to 1988 jumped to some twenty per newspaper. Ingram and Mintzer (1990), p. 4; see also Trumbo (1996), p. 276; Wilkins (1993), pp. 75-76 (newspaper stories rose from 73 in 1987 to 574 in 1990); between 1986 and 1990 there was a fivefold jump in climate change articles in three German news publications, O'Riordan and Jäger (1996), p. 27; see Beuermann and Jäger (1996), p. 192; Ungar (1995), pp. 446-47. BACK

104. Weingart et al. (2000). BACK

105. 1988: Kane, Parson poll for Parents Magazine, USKANE.88PM7.RO98 and R11, data furnished by Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, Storrs, CT. By 1989, another poll found that 79% of the public had heard of the greenhouse effect: survey of public by Research Strategy/Management Inc., 'Global Warming and Energy Priorities,' Union of Concerned Scientists, 11/89, as reported in W. Kempton, "Global Environmental Change," 6/91. BACK

106. Sept. 1988 poll of voters by Market Opinion Research found 53% considered the greenhouse effect "Extremely serious" or "Very serious" and another 25% "Somewhat serious." USMOR.ATS9.R11. May 1989 Gallup poll, worries on various issues: 35% Great deal about global warming, 28% Fair amount, 18% Only a little, 12% Not at all, 7% No opinion. USGALLUP.051589.R3J. Data furnished by Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, Storrs, CT. BACK

107. The seven days of temperatures 100°F or higher exceeded anything seen before or in the following decade. Doe (1999). BACK

108. Ingram and Mintzer (1990), p. 4. N.b. The lower Congressional activity count cited in my "government" essay is based on Balco's simple computer word search. BACK

109. Sarewitz and Pielke (2000), pp. 57-58. BACK

110. Burdick (2001). BACK

111. McKibben (1989), quotes p. 48, 86. BACK

112. Ungar (1992), pp. 493-94. BACK

113. Trumbo (1996). BACK

114. Chambers and Brain (2002). The authors point out that this may partly reflect a greater likelihood of putting terms like "climate change" in the titles of papers that dealt with narrow problems. BACK

115. Gelbspan (1997), esp. ch. 2. BACK

116. Wilkins and Patterson (1991), pp. 169-70. BACK

117. Trumbo (1996), pp. 278-29; see also Wilkins (1993), p. 78. BACK

118. McGourty (1988). Budyko spoke even more strongly about the benefits in my 1990 interview with him, AIP, and I have heard other informed Russians say global warming would be a good thing for their country. BACK

119. On Singer see, e.g., Lancaster (1994); Stevens (1999), ch. 14; Singer (1998). See his Science and Environmental Policy Project site. BACK

120. "distaste": Royte (2001). BACK

121. The conservative political connections of the Marshall group (Seitz, William Nierenberg and Robert Jastrow) had been shown earlier when they lent their names to support of President Reagan's anti-missile program ("Star Wars") even as many other respected physicists attacked the scheme as technologically infeasible. The first and most important Marshall report emphasized the argument that recent warming was due to solar activity, which was expected to diminish and cool the Earth in later decades, see this site's solar essay. Seitz et al. (1989); Seitz (1990); Seitz (1992), p. 28; on this and similar criticism see Stevens (1999), ch. 14, and Hertsgaard (2006). BACK

122. Union of Concerned Scientists (2007). See also information on the Coalition compiled by the Center for Media & Democracy, Madison, WI, in particular here. BACK

123. "junk": Roberts (1989). BACK

124. Hansen and Lacis (1990). BACK

125. See, e.g., Lancaster (1994) and references therein. BACK

126. Lichter (1992); Wilkins (1993); also Anderson (1992). Here and below I also use my own observations of popular media and scientific publications and meetings. BACK

127. The New York Times put the news on p. 6 (May 26, a Saturday). BACK

128. "Unlikely to be entirely due to natural causes" was the phrase quoted from a preliminary draft, by William K. Stevens in the New York Times, Sept. 10, 1995, p. 1, see also Nov. 18, p. 1. The less dramatic final negotiated statement ("the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human impact") was more widely noted than the scientific report, which said, "the observed warming trend is unlikely to be completely natural in origin," IPCC (1996), p. 5. BACK

129. B. Santer, in an attack that began with an op-ed by F. Seitz in the Wall Street Journal (June 12, 1996). See Edwards and Schneider (2001); Masood (1996); Stevens (1999), ch. 13. BACK

130. 9% closely followed the warming policy debate in November and 11% the Kyoto conference in December, according to Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, "Public Attentiveness to News Stories: 1986–2006" (accessed 5/07); Krosnick et al. (2000), TV counts p. 241, doubts in 15 percent of newspaper stories and 8 percent of television, p. 242, politicization p. 253; Mahlman (1998), pp. 101-103. BACK

131. Study of papers: Oreskes (2004). U.S.Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Dec. 6, 2006. BACK

132. Admission: e.g.,Singer (1998), p. 71. The admission that warming will come is implicit in the book, but he said it explicitly in a throwaway remark in a physics dept. colloquium I attended at the University of Maryland, College Park, 24 Nov. 2000. Prominent critic: Michaels and Balling (2000). Nature (2000). BACK

132a. Union of Concerned Scientists (2007), p. 2. Greenpeace International posted documentation at Shortly after publication of the UCS study, Exxon, now under a new CEO, announced it had cut its ties with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a linchpin of the publicity and lobbying. The retired CEO, Lee Raymond, later endorsed a call for companies to mind their greenhouse emissions (New York Times, July 19, 2007). BACK

133. Seabrook (2000), p. 53. According to one weather report producer, angry responses from viewers who doubted the risk from global warming made him "hesitant to do more on the air. We hate to run things that turn off viewers." Linda Baker, "Just Say It's Sunny," (viewed April 4, 2004; no longer online). BACK

134. E.g., New York Times, March 2, 1995, p. 16. BACK

135. Ungar (1995), p. 453 BACK

136. John Noble Wilford, "Ages-old icecap at North Pole is now liquid, scientists find," New York Times, Aug 19, 2000, p. 1. Lonnie Thompson's report from Kilimanjaro made the front page of the New York Times: Andrew Revkin, "Glacier Loss Seen as Clear Sign of Human Role in Global Warming," Feb. 19, 2005. Some argued that the East African drought reflected a human influence, and in any case Kilimanjaro's icecap was melting in an unprecedented way. Glacier National Park, rapidly losing its characteristic feature, served as another, indisputably accurate icon. In a world survey, "For the period from 1900 to 1980, 142 of the 144 glaciers retreated:" Oerlemans (2005). BACK

137. Newspapers covered: New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Boykoff and Boykoff (2004), p. 134. See also Mooney (2005), pp. 252-253. Gelbspan (2004), p. 83, see chap. 4. Paul D. Thacker, "Climate skeptics in Europe? Mostly missing in action," SEJournal Summer 2006, online as Society of Environmental Journalists: SEJournal excerpts (accessed 7/18/06). BACK

138. E.g., Bostrom et al. (1994); Read et al. (1994); Kempton (1991), and see Gallup and other references cited below. I heard some of these stories on visits to Alaska. "Greenhouse-effect skeptics become believers," Juneau Empire Online, March 18, 2001. Also, e.g., See also, e.g.,
Charles Wohlforth's blog entry here. BACK

139. One news magazine gave a cover story, Shute (2001), but others (like the New York Times) put it in back pages. The impact was blunted partly because some conclusions had been leaked piecemeal in advance. BACK

140. This particular version (one of many) of the quote is from the Desert Research Institute Newsletter, Spring 1999. The earliest I've noticed was, "far from being self-stabilizing, the Earth's climate system is an ornery beast which overreacts even to small nudges," Broecker (1995). BACK

141. National Academy of Sciences (2002), p. 1 (draft published in 2001). BACK

142. Eldridge Moores in McPhee (1998), p. 605. For the media in this period see Boykoff and Boykoff (2007). BACK

143. Scolded: e.g., Time (2001), including polls. BACK

143a. Bill McKibben, “Imagine That,”, April 21, 2005 (accessed June 7, 2005). Much work on “cognitive dissonance” theory provides evidence for this mental mechanism. "Century-scale," Andrew Revkin on "Living on Earth," National Public Radio, Sept. 10, 2004. BACK

143b. Poll of voters by Mellman Group for World Wildlife Fund, 9/97, see (N.b. by the time you see this, these sites may be offline and you may need to contact the organization or an internet archive to get the text.) Gallup polls of general public 11/97, 4/99, 4/01, 3/02, etc. (I saw these on Gallup’s Website but they are now available only for a price. You can get some recent information by using a search engine to locate news reports.) For analysis, see Kempton (1991); Bostrom et al. (1994) (spray cans); Read et al. (1994); non-U.S. polls: O'Riordan and Jäger (1996), using a 1995 report by W. Rudig; also Bord et al. (1998); see also Stamm et al. (2000) and other articles in the same issue. There are many other polls from this period, see and, e.g., Child’s denial: White (2005); on nuclear denial cf. Weart (1988), esp. pp. 149-51. BACK

143c. Immerwahr (1999); summary in Showstock (1999); here I also draw upon Thompson and Rayner (1998), pp. 270-73; on pollution, see Weart (1988), pp. 188-190; an early and widely read statement of global warming concern connected with a call for "a simpler life" was McKibben (1989). BACK

144. For nuclear productions see Weart (1988). Examples of science fiction based on devastating climate change are Ready (1998), well-meaning but scarcely noticed; Turner (1989), a story of civilization collapsing under the pressures of war and economic forces as well as global warming (noted fairly widely for its literary quality); and, by two of the field's major authors, Silverberg (1994) (little noted), emphasizing the greed, stupidity and ambitions that were bringing vast destruction through ozone as well as global warming, and Sterling (1995), where colossal storms mingle with stormy political conspiracy. The polar ice caps melted to set the scene for a highly touted and financially disappointing action movie, "Waterworld" (1995) directed by Kevin Reynolds, starring Kevin Kastner and Dennis Hopper. The Hugo-award-winning Robinson (1994) may be the most outstanding science-fiction work of the '90s that included disastrous global warming (in the form of sea-level rise speeded up by methane eruptions, which I discuss here), but only in the background. Bill McKibben, "Imagine That,", April 21, 2005, (accessed June 7, 2005) .BACK

145. Atwood (2003), start of ch. 5. For Rockman see, e.g., Stevens (2004), Weart (2005). [Disclosure: by an odd coincidence, my daughter Kimi was one of Rockman's assistants while this painting was made.] Rockman has since done several other paintings in this genre. Yannick Monget painted Paris and other cities ruined by climate change, see Grousson (2006) and Monget's Website . I review the "last man" and "ruined cities" themes in Weart (1988), pp. 19-20, 220-221. The masterpiece of the genre is Max Ernst's superb "Europa nach dem Regen" ("Europe after the Rains," 1942), which uses the titular climate change as a metaphor for the destructive forces of war and politics. BACK

145a. E.g., Diamond (2004) (paperback reprint Penguin, 2005); Kolbert (2005) BACK

145b. Robinson (2004) is the first volume of a planned trilogy; the second volume, Robinson (2005), featured a sudden freeze in Washington, DC. "The Day After Tomorrow" (2004) was directed by Roland Emmerich, his third summer "blockbuster" movie in which New York City is wrecked (respectively by aliens and Godzilla). Its receipts put it among the top 100 all-time U.S.movies. Anthony Lane, the New Yorker movie critic, wrote (June 7, 2004, p. 103), "The very silliness of 'The Day After Tomorrow' means that global warming will become, in the minds of moviegoers, little more than another nonspecific fear about which they must uncomprehendingly fret." U.S.response: Leiserowitz (2004). Germans, unlike Americans, grew more skeptical about climate change after seeing the movie, perhaps because it violated what they already understood fairly well, but they became more aware of the risk of abrupt climate change and more inclined toward political action. Reusswig et al. (2004) BACK

146. "In the absence," Wilkins and Patterson (1991), p. 176. Viewers of Gore’s "Inconvenient Truth" movie were especially impressed by an animation of an exhausted polar bear who could not find an ice floe to rest on. It was reported that bears were in fact drowning, Simonite (2005). "More compelling," referring to "the Hadley Centre’s horrifying J-curve," Richard Hamblyn, "Message in the Wilderness," Times Literary Supplement no. 5389, July 14, 2006, p. 18. BACK

147. Newspaper coverage: Boykoff and Boykoff (2004), figs. 2, 4, see also Boykoff and Boykoff (2007). Carey (2004); Appenzeller (2004) (a giant 74 pages). Nat’l Geographic editor Bill Allen wrote in his editorial that "some readers will even terminate their memberships," but he couldn’t look himself in the mirror if he didn’t print the article. He later told a reporter that some readers did indeed cancel. An especially well-received book was Speth (2004). For other books and Websites see my links page. At year-end Crichton (2004) was no. 3 on the New York Times Book Review best-seller list and no. 2 worldwide in sales on For an analysis of Crichton’s errors see Earlier Crichton books criticizing scientists included The Andromeda Strain (1969) and Jurassic Park (1991). BACK

148. Evangelical appeal:; Kintisch (2006); Haag (2006). BACK

149. "It falls to us...," Browne, speech at Stanford University, May 19, 1997, at and other Websites. Jim Carlot, "J.P. Morgan Adopts ‘Green’ Lending Policies," Wall Street Journal, April 25, 2005, p. B1; Aston and Helm (2005); Michael Barbaro and Felicity Barringer, "Wal-Mart to Seek Savings in Energy," New York Times, Oct. 25, 2005, p. C1; Linden (2006), p. 136; "the year global warming," Business Week (2006); and other articles in these and other business media. "Dad," Adler (2007), p. 48; Murdoch: Amanda Griscom Little, "The Greening of Fox,", May 17, 2007. Jeffrey Ball, "New Consensus: In Climate Controversy, Industry Cedes Ground," Wall Street Journal, Jan. 23, 2007 (p. 1). BACK

150. The term "tipping point," popularized in 2000 in a book of that title by Malcolm Gladwell, was popularized for climate by, i.a., Lindsay and Zhang (2005) and Kluger (2006), see also Kluger (2005); New York Times, Sept. 28, 2005; Juliet Eilperin, "Debate on Climate Shifts to Issue of Irreparable Change," Washington Post (page one lead), Jan. 29, 2006 — the same day the New York Times led with a story of administration attempts to silence James Hansen's warnings (see essay on "Government"). Gabrielle Walker reported in 2006 that "In 2004, 45 newspaper articles mentioned a 'tipping point' in connection with climate change; in the first five months of this year, 234 such articles were published." (Nature 441, p. 802). BACK

151. "Unexpectedly:" Kluger (2006), p. 35, part of special report, pp. 34-42; "Breaking news," Andrew Revkin "Meltdown," New York Times (Week in Review) April 23, 2006; "journalists... assessed," Carey (2007), p. 92. "Global Warming: The Signs and the Science," PBS (South Carolina ETV and Stonehaven Productions), Nov. 2, 2005; "Earth to America!" starring many well-known figures, Turner Broadcasting Sytem (TBS), Nov. 20, 2005; "The Heat Is On," Fox News Channel, Nov. 13, 2005 (see following note); "Global Warming 101" with Leonardo DiCaprio, Oprah Winfrey Show, Oct. 28, 2005. Books: Among's 200 top-selling books in March 2006 were Flannery (2006) and Kolbert (2006), the latter previously published in the New Yorker [Kolbert (2005)]; some commentators hoped one or the other would serve like Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962), which spurred action against pesticides and environmental pollution in general. Also, for example, Vanity Fair "Green Issue," no. 549 (May 2006); ABC reports on "Good Morning America," "Nightline," "World News Tonight," ABC news radio, etc., week of March 16, 2006. BACK

152. "An Inconvenient Truth," dir. Davis Guggenheim, Participant Productions, 2006, and illustrated book, Gore (2006). Origins: Pooley (2007), p. 37. Publicity included many radio and television interviews and magazine cover stories. I saw the talk in the early 1990s, where Sen. Gore illustrated the soaring of CO2 in the atmosphere by standing on a chair. The book spent four weeks at the top of the New York Times Book Review bestseller list and was on the list for 38 weeks. After the film was widely seen, U.S.public opinion turned modestly in Gore’s direction, but perhaps only as part of a general shift toward environmentalism: Saad (2007). There is anecdotal evidence from several sources on the influence of Gore’s presentation on elites. For example, the first Fox News documentary (see preceding note) "was approved after environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. reportedly ‘dragged’ Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes to a lecture by former Vice President Al Gore, ‘kicking and screaming’." Randy Hall and Marc Morano, CNS News, Nov. 9, 2005, . Florida Governor Charlie Crist, pushing emissions reduction in 2007, "said the movie influenced his views deeply," Joe Follick, Gainesville Sun, July 4, 2007. BACK

153. U.S.polls at, details available only for a fee, but summaries of these and similar results from many other polls are easily found on the internet, see Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, global attitudes survey, spring 2006. Results are often inconsistent among polls; it is important to make comparisons only within polls asking exactly comparable sequences of questions. US/UK newspapers study by Maxwell T. Boykoff, online here. BACK

154. Leiserowitz (2005), and especially Leiserowitz (2006), "lacked vivid" p. 55. Also Ereaut and Segnit (2006); Saad (2007). Gallup: see preceding note. See also Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, Jan. 2007 poll. BACK

155. "Tipping point," Doug Miller, Globescan, Inc. press release, April 24, 2006. BACK

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