In the late spring of 1988, Senator Tim Wirth from Colorado (guess his party) called the Weather Bureau and asked what historically was the hottest day of the year in Washington, DC.
He needed heat for the theater he was cooking up.
He got it. That June, he recalled, was “stiflingly hot.” To give nature a boost, on the night of 22 June, he snuck into the Senate hearing room and opened all the windows. The air conditioning was either switched off or chose that moment to break.
Wirth later boasted to PBS that
when the hearing occurred there was not only bliss, which is television cameras in double figures, but it was really hot…
So [NASA’s James] Hansen’s giving this testimony, you’ve got these television cameras back there heating up the room, and the air conditioning in the room didn’t appear to work. So it was sort of a perfect collection of events that happened that day, with the wonderful Jim Hansen, who was wiping his brow at the witness table and giving this remarkable testimony.
In that manufactured swelter on 23 June 1988, Global Warming was born. Happy Anniversary.
Today, thirty years later, Global Warming is dead. Make that undead. Its corpse still walks among us, awaiting its final stake through its heart.
Winter is Coming
Politicians like Wirth, and the scientists in their employ, had a streak of good luck. Hansen said it would get hotter, and then it did. People doing things like breathing and driving cars were adding “greenhouse gases” to the atmosphere at rates faster than ever before. The correlation between increasing heat and gas was obvious, and it quickly became a cause. Both in the physical and social sense.
There was some reason to believe Hansen was right in those early days. It is a trivial truth that man influences the climate. And scientists had already accepted the idea that man could significantly affect it. A decade before Hansen’s performance, the consensus was that man was driving temperatures dangerously down. Pollution from cars and the like was knocking back the sun’s rays, which was going to cause global cooling.
Global cooling was no small thing. In April 1975 Newsweek spoke fear in “Our Cooling World“. Global cooling was going to cause “serious political implications for just about every nation on earth,” “The drop in food production could begin quite soon,” “devastating outbreak of tornadoes”, “national boundaries make it impossible for starving peoples to migrate from their devastated fields,” and so forth.
When All Agreed
The global cooling consensus of the 1970s was small, but not insignificant because climatology was only then developing into a separate field from meteorology and other atmospheric sciences, and all these sciences were small.
That man was having a devastating, irreversible-without-government-action cooling effect on the earth’s climate would later become something of an embarrassment to climatologists. Which is why they did their best push global cooling into the memory hole. But there was so much material, it overflowed. Even Spock warned of the coming snow (don’t miss the earnest interview with Stephen Schneider, who would go on to give many earnest interviews about global warming).
But by the time Wirth staged his event, 1978 was ancient history. We knew lots more about the atmosphere in 1988 and had exponentially better computers. Besides, just look at those thermometers inching up! And did you see that scary hockey stick? We must Save The Planet!
Celebrities Are Our Leaders
It wasn’t long before a politician made an Oscar-winning documentary film about global warming. That the film was saturated with errors and made laughable predictions did not matter. Global warming had to be as frightening as the film portrayed, otherwise the politician-turned-actor hosting it would not have looked so serious.
It wasn’t just politicians. Important people the world over were warming to the coming heat. Actors, musicians, pastors, people famous for being famous, chefs, novelists, school teachers, bureaucrats, activists, academics in such widely varying fields as sociology to psychology, and of course lawyers and news readers. Oh, plus a handful of physical scientists (most kept their heads down).
When celebrities speak, we listen. Even if they’re wrong in the details, that so many elites knew global warming was on its way was sufficient and convincing evidence something had to be done.
Nine Most Terrifying Words
That something was government. More and larger government. The government took up this challenge and did what it did best: it spent money. Lots of it. Soon, every major grant-reliant scientific association, no matter how tenuous its connection to atmospheric physics, issued official statements on how horrible global warming was going to be—once it got here.