MSM Inertia: What We Can Learn from 120 Years of Climate Catastrophe Reporting
The media falls in love with catastrophic predictions, and is consistently 10-15 years behind(!) in reporting on what the global temperature is actually doing.
December 5, 2010 - by Art Horn
The annual Climate Catastrophe Party is marching along in Cancun, Mexico, making for a lovely all-expenses-paid vacation.
At this latest doom fest, some 20,000 delegates from around the world are doing their best to keep the scary story of man-made global warming/climate change alive. I’ve been around long enough to remember a time when global warming was a non-issue — in fact, it was the very real threat of another ice age making headlines in the 1970s. With that in mind, I did an investigation into the comings and goings of predicted environmental cataclysm in modern history. What I found is that this has all happened before — the reporting of climate catastrophe has been going on for over 120 years.
What’s fascinating about the reporting is that it has encompassed the full range of temperature: searing heat and bitter cold, both reported as real and potentially deadly.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the world is warming at an unprecedented rate. The irrefutable results of this global temperature heat wave will be starvation, drowning of coastal cities, mass extinctions, war, and the death of billions. These warnings come to us from many reliable sources, including all forms of news media. We have been alerted to this climate catastrophe for two decades now.
But when one looks back at the history of climate reporting, you find a remarkably consistent and recurring theme. The global temperature has cycled from cold to warm to cold to warm again over the last 120 years. The media cycles of impending climatic doom mirror the climate cycles themselves, but with a roughly ten- to fifteen-year lag. It seems whenever the world warms, the volume of global warming stories increases to match the trend. Conversely, when the climate cools the major media outlets pull on their long johns and warn us of the next ice age. However, it takes many years for the media to catch up to what the climate is actually doing.
On February 24, 1895, the New York Times reported: “Geologists think the world may be frozen up again.” The story wondered “whether recent and long continued observations do not point to the advent of a second glacial period.”
In 1912, shortly after the sinking of the Titanic by an iceberg, the New York Times reported on a professor from a Cornell University: “Professor Schmidt warns us of an encroaching ice age.” On the very same day, the Los Angles Times reported: “Fifth ice age is on the way. … Human race will have to fight for its existence against the cold.”
Was what they were reporting true? The temperature records from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia say yes. The Earth was cooling from about 1875 to 1910, about 35 years of downward temperature. During this time there would have been more ice in the Arctic, and glaciers would have advanced. The stories were based upon what scientists of the day were observing. From there, the media drew their own conclusions as to what this meant for the future climate and its effects on humanity. Many times, they chose disaster.
The oceans contain more than one thousand times more heat than the atmosphere, and the vast majority of that heat is in tropical waters. When the oceans warm, so does the atmosphere. When they cool, global temperature follows. The Pacific Ocean covers a third of the Earth’s surface and exhibits a dominant impact on the global temperature. Around 1920, the tropical Pacific Ocean began to warm. The impacts of such a warming are not always readily apparent — it takes years for glaciers and sea ice to react to the gradual ocean warming.
The huge social inertia generated by the ice age scare prior to 1910 continued to drive media fear stories of coming cold into the 1920s. On July 3, 1923, the Christian Science Monitor reported: “Captain MacMillan left Wiscasset, Maine, announcing that one of the purposes of his cruise was to determine whether there was the beginning of another ice age as the advance of glaciers in the last 70 years would seem to indicate.” On September 18, 1924, the New York Times declared the threat was real, saying: “MacMillan reports signs of new ice age.” Earlier that year, on April 6, the LA Times reported that Swedish scientist Rutger Sernander claimed there were “scientific grounds for believing” that “when all winds will bring snow, the Sun cannot prevail against the clouds and three winters will come in one, with no summer between.”
Unknown to anyone during this time was the fact that the Pacific was beginning to warm, and would continue to do so until the mid-1940s.
Reacting to this ocean warmth, the temperature of the Earth began to rise as well.The ice age stories began to fade from the headlines. On March 11, 1929, the LA Times reported: “Most geologists think the world is growing warmer and that it will continue to get warmer.” On March 27, 1933, the New York Times headline read: “The next ice age, if it is coming … is still a long way off.” Also that year, meteorologist J.B. Kincer of the United States Weather Bureau published in the September Monthly Weather Review: “Wide-spread and persistent tendency towards warmer weather.” He noted that of the 21 winters prior to 1933 in Washington, D.C.: “Eighteen were warmer than normal and all of the past 13 were mild.”
During the early 1920s, the Atlantic Ocean began its cyclic 30-year warming trend. This warmer water combined with the warmer Pacific pumped up world temperature to the point where everyone began to take notice. By November 6, 1939, the Chicago Daily Tribune published the story: “Experts puzzle over 20-year mercury rise.” The story noted: “Chicago is in the front rank of thousands of cites throughout the world which have been affected by a mysterious trend towards warmer climate in the last two decades.”
They knew it was warming, but not why. On August 2, 1952, the New York Times reported that Eskimos were eating cod, a fish not previously in their diet. The following year the Times reported that studies confirmed summers and winters were getting warmer. Again, unknown to the Times and other media outlets, was the fact that the oceans were changing again.
The stories of a warming continued into the late 1950s as the media inertia plowed forward with the popular warming stories of the 1930s and 1940s. The Atlantic Ocean had been warming since the early 1920s. This warming was keeping the Arctic milder by pumping warmer water northward trough the Gulf stream. On February 15, 1959, the New York Times reported: “Arctic findings in particular support theory of rising global temperatures.” However, the temperature of the Earth was not warming at this point, it was falling.
The massive and dominant Pacific had been cooler since the mid-1940s and would continue to be so into the middle of the 1970s. The climate data show that starting in the middle 1940s the Earth began a multi-decadal cooling trend. Around 1960 the Atlantic began to cool again. Both oceans were in their cooler phase, working together to chill the planet.
It was not until later in the 1960s that the media noticed.
On November 15, 1969, Science News quoted meteorologist Dr. J. Murray Mitchell Jr.: “How long the current cooling trend continues is one of the most important problems of our civilizations. … If the cooling continues for another 200 to 300 years the Earth could be plunged into an ice age.” On January 11, 1970, the Washington Post reported: “Colder Winters Held Dawn of New Ice Age. … Better get a good grip on your long johns, cold weather haters, the worst may be yet to come.” Fortune reported in February 1974: “It is the root cause of a lot of that unpleasant weather around the world and they warn that it carries the potential for human disasters of unprecedented magnitude.” (Sound familiar?) On June 24, Time wrote: “Climatological Cassandras are becoming increasingly apprehensive, for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age.” Newsweek said on April 28, 1975: “The Earth’s climate seems to be cooling down. … [Meteorologists were] Almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century.”
So it looked like we were on the precipice of a new ice age with cataclysmic consequences for the world. Then, unannounced to all, the Pacific Ocean began to warm again, and so did the Earth’s temperature.
The warming Pacific Ocean began to nudge global temperature up in the late 1970s. This warming continued through the 1980s — soon, the ice age stories were gone. By 1993, from U.S. News and World Report: “Global Climate Change may alter temperature and rainfall patterns, many scientists fear, with uncertain consequences for agriculture.” Time wrote on November 13, 2000, that 27 European climatologists have become worried that the warming trend “may be irreversible, at least over most of the coming century.” Newsweek, in its August 8, 2005, edition: “Extremely dry weather of recent months has spawned swarms of locusts.” Was global warming the cause? The story concluded: “Evidence is mounting to support just such fears.”
On April 3, 2006, Time magazine’s cover story — accompanied by a picture of a lonely polar bear on a small piece of ice — read: “Be Worried, be very worried. Climate change isn’t some vague future problem — it’s already damaging the planet at an alarming pace.” It also stated on the cover in bold: “Earth at the tipping point. How it threatens your health. How China and India can help save the world, or destroy it.”
What can we learn from 120 years of media reporting on climate change?
1: The mainstream media outlets are going to publish whatever sells. If someone publishes a story about the world getting colder and people buy it, you can be sure there will be many more stories touting the same headline.
2: There is a long lag between what nature is doing and what the media will report. The lag seems to be anywhere from 10 to 15 years after the climate changes. There is an inertia problem with the mainstream media even when the evidence is clear.
3: When all the stories are about warming or cooling, you can be sure they are all wrong.
When government agencies or United Nations Climate Change conferences warn you that the climate is changing you can be sure that is true — the climate is always changing. Determining the direction is the hard part. Based on the past reporting of these changes, be it from global cooling or warming, the trend will have reversed many years earlier than reported.
Incidentally there has been no global warming for a decade. Get a good grip on your long johns. Maybe a trip to Cancun is not such a bad idea after all, but I’ll wait until the delegates have gone home.
Art Horn spent 25 years working in television as a meteorologist. He now is an independent meteorologist and speaker who lives in Connecticut. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.