Climate Change Déjà Vu

By Harold Brown

Harold Brown, Senior Fellow, Georgia Public Policy Foundation

Harold Brown, Senior Fellow, Georgia Public Policy Foundation

This week in the U.S. Senate, Democrats took to the floor to attack national and state organizations that oppose their climate policies in what they called a “Web of Denial.” The Georgia Public Policy Foundation was among 22 signatories to a letter that denounced Democrats’ attack on free speech.  

But what about the so-called Web of Denial?  

Global warming is not new. In the middle of the 20th century, climate predictions, patterns and clues were similar to what we hear today, though not as loud and frequent.

A Saturday Evening Post headline asked in 1950, “Is the World Getting Warmer? The article reported the first January melting ever of an ice bridge in 1948-1950 that a colony of Penobscot Indians used (“since time immemorial”) during winter to go back and forth to an island in the Penobscot River near Old Town, Maine.

It also told of New Yorkers experiencing the winter of 1949-50, “when almost no snow fell and there were four days of record-breaking heat.” It said New Jersey fishermen had reported schools of “rare tropical fish” off their coast.

Swedish climatologist Hans Ahlmann, writing in the Geographical Journal in 1948, gave an analysis of climate change that easily could have been written today:

“The present shrinkage of the glaciers is exposing districts which were cultivated by the early medieval farmers …”

“Muir glacier in Glacier Bay (Alaska) retreated 22 km (14 miles) between 1902 and 1946 …”

Off the west coast of Greenland, “… the cod(fish) has migrated 9o of latitude (north, about 600 miles) in twenty-seven years.”

“…in Iceland the northern species of both birds and insects are gradually disappearing and southern species are taking their place.”

“The trees (in northern Scandinavia) are spreading rapidly above their former limits …”

Perspective colors all of history. And Ahlmann’s perspective was the reverse of today’s climatologists. His shocking conclusion? “[A]t no time since 1400 has the climate been so favourable as it has been since the 1920s.”

Ahlmann describes a 1947 cartoon depicting a man going to bed in an icy bedroom, holding a flask of brandy. He tells his wife, who is already in bed, “Things are looking up, my dear. The meteorologists say that the temperature during the last 200 years has risen 2 degrees and the glaciers are disappearing in northern Norway.” His wife responds, “Thank goodness for that.”

The positive effect is reinforced in Ahlmann’s 30-page paper: He uses some form of the word “improved” 14 times in describing global warming in the first half of the 20th century.

Despite recent climate publications citing “unprecedented warming” in the last few decades, a 2004 article in the Journal of Climate concluded, “The huge warming of the Arctic that started in the early 1920s and lasted for almost two decades is one of the most spectacular climate events of the 20th century.”

Before he was “for” climate change policies, Dr. James Hansen minimized 20th-century warming. In one 1999 article, he and coauthors concluded most of the U.S. 20th-century warming was in the first half. Minimal warming was reinforced in a Science Brief posted on the NASA website: “The U.S. has warmed during the past century, but the warming hardly exceeds year-to-year variability.”

Unlike today, in the first half of the 20th century nobody thought about “fixing” the climate. Much of today’s huge investment is in data analysis and adjustment, apparently intended to establish a warming trend and assess its magnitude.

A great deal of the “fixing” is by lowering early 20th-century temperatures. The national annual temperature average from 1895-1945 is 53.2 degrees F, calculated from state averages reported by the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Commerce. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – which falls under the Commerce Department – now presents a temperature trend on its “Climate at a Glance” website with the average for 1895-1945 lower by more than a degree.

Another reset: In NOAA “State of the Climate” reports beginning in 2006, the 20th-century average annual temperature for the 48 contiguous states was 52.8 degrees F. From 2012-2014, it was 52.1 degrees, and in 2015 it was 52 degrees. A retroactive reduction of 0.8 degrees is drastic for a century average. The result: The 21st century seems warmer!

The United States has some of the best and most complete temperature data in the world, but there were multiple problems, especially in the early 20th century: fewer weather stations, old-fashioned equipment, inappropriate siting and, sometimes, relocation of equipment.

It is a measure of the zeal to “improve” data (and temperature trends) that many of those problems are “corrected” mathematically, with complex models that fix the temperature data retrospectively. It gives new meaning to the well-worn phrase “anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change.”

And it raises the question: Just who is spinning a “Web of Denial”?

University of Georgia Professor Emeritus Harold Brown is a Senior Fellow with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and author of, “The Greening of Georgia: The Improvement of the Environment in the Twentieth Century.” The Georgia Public Policy Foundation is an independent, state-focused think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (Jly 15, 2016). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.