It is an interesting exercise to read press reports of the Consensus. The Consensus as was, not as is. The Consensus as of 1975, when the sky was literally going to fall, frozen into a giant blue cube and killing, oh, just about everything.
Reader Jim Fedako sent in the 28 April 1975 Newsweek article “Our Cooling World” by Peter Gwynne. The hyperbole then is the same as now: “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.
Nothing but dead, dying, and soon-to-be suffering everywhere, with subtle lamentations for the (as-yet?) non-existent one-world government (“national boundaries…”). Given the similarity with news reports of today, it suggests activists have a limited palate of horrors and hobgoblins with which to terrorize, trotted out with depressing regularity. All that was missing were threats of sea-level rise. Why were there no reports then of an increase in beach property? Ocean water would have been sucked up in glaciers, see.
It was a Consensus, incidentally. “Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend…But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century.” Note “almost unanimous”, which equaled ninety-seven or so percent of meteorologists—here curiously defined as people expert in weather and agriculture.
The distinctions between the old Consensus and the new one? The old Consensus was formed by meteorologists; now it’s climatologists. Though most are true believers, meteorologists are now among the prominent defectors from the current Consensus. Why? In 1975 climatology was only beginning to be a separate field, complete with their own grants (i.e. money from government), conferences in exotic locations, and journals in which to publish papers few would read.
Then, scientists were not agreed why the world was nearing a “tipping point”; that frightening term had not yet been invented, or it wasn’t in wide-spread use. They did however say that something had to be done, by which then as now meant government should increase in size and power. Makes sense: Consensus-holders depend on government for their salaries, and larger government means fatter and surer paychecks. For both, it didn’t and doesn’t matter what the government does, as long as they act in the name of the Consensus.
The older Consensus was only pretty sure that what was causing the planetary sickness was humanity. The new Consensus is morally certain of it. Both groups were convinced that whatever good happened to the planet was due to Nature, and that whatever bad happened was our fault. Scientific imagination has thus not advanced beyond paganism.
Members of the current Consensus say there is a dramatic distinction between them and the holders of the old Consensus: current scientists say that now—here and now—they know more than did the members of the old Consensus. This is true: they do know more.
But the certainty scientists in both Consensuses held in their prognosticative abilities is the same. Scientists know much more about (say) clouds now, but the folks of 1975 were convinced that what they knew was sufficient to forecast a trial by ice, just as scientists now insist it will be a gauntlet of fire.
Concentrating on the differences of knowledge is wrong, because it doesn’t answer the main question: Do they know enough? We had their word on it in 1975, just as we have sworn Congressional testimony today. Clearly, we cannot use ardency as a measure of truth. Neither is the apoplexy resulting from departures from the Consensus any guide. The very public exasperation against “deniers” is not convincing, and is not evidence, that the current forecasts are any better than the old.
A citizen is well justified to think: “Scientists were so sure before, and claim to be so again. But they were wrong before. Therefore it is rational to suppose they might be wrong again. Only a zealot would disagree. Plus, the dire threats of starvation and so forth are just the same then as now. So which is it? Is it a cooler world or a hotter one which spells death? And just what is the ideal, to-be-desired-for-all-time climate? Exactly now, please.”