It was five years before the turn of the century and major media were warning of disastrous climate change. Page six of The New York Times was headlined with the serious concerns of “geologists.” Only the president at the time wasn’t Bill Clinton; it was Grover Cleveland. And the Times wasn’t warning about global warming – it was telling readers the looming dangers of a new ice age.
The year was 1895, and it was just one of four different time periods in the last 100 years when major print media predicted an impending climate crisis. Each prediction carried its own elements of doom, saying Canada could be “wiped out” or lower crop yields would mean “billions will die.”
Just as the weather has changed over time, so has the reporting – blowing hot or cold with short-term changes in temperature.
Following the ice age threats from the late 1800s, fears of an imminent and icy catastrophe were compounded in the 1920s by Arctic explorer Donald MacMillan and an obsession with the news of his polar expedition. As the Times put it on Feb. 24, 1895, “Geologists Think the World May Be Frozen Up Again.”
Those concerns lasted well into the late 1920s. But when the earth’s surface warmed less than half a degree, newspapers and magazines responded with stories about the new threat. Once again the Times was out in front, cautioning “the earth is steadily growing warmer.”
After a while, that second phase of climate cautions began to fade. By 1954, Fortune magazine was warming to another cooling trend and ran an article titled “Climate – the Heat May Be Off.” As the United States and the old Soviet Union faced off, the media joined them with reports of a more dangerous Cold War of Man vs. Nature.
The New York Times ran warming stories into the late 1950s, but it too came around to the new fears. Just three decades ago, in 1975, the paper reported: “A Major Cooling Widely Considered to Be Inevitable.”
That trend, too, cooled off and was replaced by the current era of reporting on the dangers of global warming. Just six years later, on Aug. 22, 1981, the Times quoted seven government atmospheric scientists who predicted global warming of an “almost unprecedented magnitude.”
In all, the print news media have warned of four separate climate changes in slightly more than 100 years – global cooling, warming, cooling again, and, perhaps not so finally, warming. Some current warming stories combine the concepts and claim the next ice age will be triggered by rising temperatures – the theme of the 2004 movie “The Day After Tomorrow.”
Click the article to see the full article changing-arctic_monthly_wx_review.png.
The PDF of that page exists here from NOAA’s archives. Thanks to Michael Ronayne for locating it and many other resources you can find in the comments section below.
If Yogi Berra were here to comment on the hullabaloo over the changes in the arctic today, I’m pretty sure he’d say. “It’s Deja Vu all over again”.
Definitely also check the comments with additional confirmation of radical climatic cycles at several times over the last 100 years.
So, yeah, maybe there are other things going on. Doesn’t change the need to find alternative energy sources, but maybe not for the reasons that some would say?