Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Sixth Winter

Recently and for amusement, TOF has been rereading a potboiling SF adventure from the 80s entitled The Sixth Winter by Douglas Orgill and John Gribbin. It was written during the Global Cooling scare and involved the sudden onset of a new ice age. TOF found interesting the following, supposedly an excerpt from a report:
FIVEIn warm decades, such as those prior to 1950, this jet [stream] follows an almost perfect circle around the globe. At the same time, it pushes with it a succession of weather systems: rain, followed by a dry spell, more rain, and so on. But when the atmosphere cools, the jet stream becomes more erratic, swinging in zigzags, first north then south, and becoming very weak and susceptible to disturbances caused by sea temperature and by snow and ice on land and sea.
SIX: Recent severe weather conditions in North America and elsewhere are a result of this weaker, more erratic pattern of windflow. High pressure building over the southwestern United States seaboard, aided by ocean temperature conditions, zigzags the jest stream so that it is too weak to push the "blocking high" system away. A dominant flow from northwest to southeast is established across the whole of the United States east of the Rockies, encouraging the southward flow of the jet stream and cooling a great area of ocean south of Newfoundland. The severe United States winters of 1977 and 1978 marked the return of this pattern as a common feature after more than 100 years of relatively equable weather.
Anyone who has seen the hoo-hoo about the "polar vortex" on the weather reports during the recent cold spell immediately recognizes the pattern described by Gribbin, although it is today blamed on global warming, rather than global cooling -- or at least (tautologically) on "climate change." Elsewhere in The Sixth Winter, characters ascribe to the cooling climate of those days the more variable and extreme weather that is today ascribed to a warming climate.

Ah, sure, and it's the wonderful modern age we live in.  "Men are always powerfully affected by the immediate past," Belloc wrote. "One might say that they are blinded by it."  So in the 1970s they wrote of global cooling, ironically at about the time temperatures turned around and began to warm again. After another thirty years or so, interest in warming reached a pitch -- just in time for temperatures to flatten out and begin to drop again, as the had done after the peak in the 1940s.


  1. So basically, after the next generation has grown to adulthood and started to assume positions of responsibility in society, they notice that the winters are not as cold as/are colder than the winters they grew up with, and the summers are hotter than/not as hot as the summers they grew up with, so SOMETHING'S WRONG!!! The circumstances of my upbringing are definitive for everyone everywhere, and non-conformity with that must be rectified.

    1. This brings to mind:

      "I have spoken of the rich years when the rainfall was plentiful. But there were dry years too, and they put a terror on the valley. The water came in a thirty-year cycle. There would be five or six wet and wonderful years when there might be nineteen to twenty-five inches of rain, and the land would shout with grass. Then would come six or seven pretty good years of twelve to sixteen inches of rain. And then the dry years would come, and sometimes there would be only seven or eight inches of rain. The land dried up and the grasses headed out miserably a few inches high and great bare scabby places appeared in the valley. The live oaks got a crusty look and the sagebrush was gray. The land cracked and the springs dried up and the cattle listlessly nibbled dry twigs. Then the farmers and the ranchers would be filled with disgust for the Salinas Valley. The cows would grow thin and sometimes starve to death. People would have to haul water in barrels to their farms just for drinking. Some families would sell out for nearly nothing and move away. And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way."

      Steinbeck, East of Eden

  2. I find it interesting that I have distinct recollections from the early 1970s of a NASA Ames climate scientist predicting the coming ice age based on the clear evidence of his numerical models. A serious looking chap named James Hansen.

    And, lo and behold, here today is the soon to retire NASA Ames climate scientist James Hansen, attesting to the certainty that humanity is releasing so much carbon dioxide, etc., into the atmosphere that his models predict with great confidence the inevitable overheating of the planet's atmosphere.

    It would appear from Dr. Hansen's example that Hegel (if the internet source attributions are correct) may well have been correct in observing that "The one thing we have learned from history is that we don't learn from history."

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

    1. Memory is a tricky thing; it's very common to remember things that have not happen. You should rely more on research. For example, from a site that is skeptical the globe is warming:

      it turns out the NASA scientist predicting the cooling was a Dr. Rasool.

  3. Google says that Hansen only write a program that was used to make the prediction. He himself describes it as like, " loaning a pen" to the author.

  4. Mr. TOF, did you read Peter J. Leithart's recent post on Noah's Ark ( First thing I thought of was "this would make a wild, theologically-informed sci-fi story!" Has it been done?

    Also, is there a preferable way to post questions? One that doesn't "hijack" a post that ought to be read in its own right?

    Also, keep up the awesome work! I follow your blog every day (the days with no new posts are hugely disappointing)!

  5. My previous try at this seems to have disappeared...

    So in the 1970s they wrote of global cooling, ironically at about the time temperatures turned around and began to warm again.

    Who are "they"?

    The majority predict warming, and warming is favored 6:1 over cooling.

    1. Perhaps you are too young to remember; but it was a big deal for a while in the 1970s. See if you can find a copy of Gribbin's Forecasts, Famines, and Freezes.
      Humans put too much weight on recent experience, expecting it to continue indefinitely. Hence the concern about global cooling in 1923
      Professor Gregory of Yale University stated that “another world ice-epoch is due.” He was the American representative to the Pan-Pacific Science Congress and warned that North America would disappear as far south as the Great Lakes, and huge parts of Asia and Europe would be “wiped out.”
      – Chicago Tribune, Aug. 9, 1923

      “The discoveries of changes in the sun's heat and southward advance of glaciers in recent years have given rise to the conjectures of the possible advent of a new ice age
      – Time Magazine, Sept. 10, 1923

      “America is believed by Weather Bureau scientists to be on the verge of a change of climate, with a return to increasing rains and deeper snows and the colder winters of grandfather's day.”
      – Associated Press, Dec. 15, 1934

      But the warmth of the 30s/40s led to a new pravda:
      Warming Arctic Climate Melting Glaciers Faster, Raising Ocean Level, Scientist Says – “A mysterious warming of the climate is slowly manifesting itself in the Arctic, engendering a "serious international problem," Dr. Hans Ahlmann, noted Swedish geophysicist, said today.
      – New York Times, May 30, 1937

      “Several thousand scientists of many nations have recently been climbing mountains, digging tunnels in glaciers, journeying to the Antarctic, camping on floating Arctic ice. Their object has been to solve a fascinating riddle: what is happening to the world's ice?
      – New York Times, Dec. 7, 1958

      until they realized temps were coming down:
      “After a week of discussions on the causes of climate change, an assembly of specialists from several continents seems to have reached unanimous agreement on only one point: it is getting colder.”
      – New York Times, Jan. 30, 1961

      culminating in the 1970s
      Because of increased dust, cloud cover and water vapor, "the planet will cool, the water vapor will fall and freeze, and a new Ice Age will be born.”
      – Newsweek magazine, Jan. 26, 1970

      “The United States and the Soviet Union are mounting large-scale investigations to determine why the Arctic climate is becoming more frigid, why parts of the Arctic sea ice have recently become ominously thicker and whether the extent of that ice cover contributes to the onset of ice ages.”
      – New York Times, July 18, 1970

      “In the next 50 years, fine dust that humans discharge into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuel will screen out so much of the sun's rays that the Earth's average temperature could fall by six degrees. Sustained emissions over five to 10 years, could be sufficient to trigger an ice age."
      – Washington Post, July 9, 1971

      “An international team of specialists has concluded from eight indexes of climate that there is no end in sight to the cooling trend of the last 30 years*, at least in the Northern Hemisphere.”
      – New York Times, Jan. 5, 1978

      just in time for the turnaround:
      “A global warming trend could bring heat waves, dust-dry farmland and disease, the experts said... Under this scenario, the resort town of Ocean City, Md., will lose 39 feet of shoreline by 2000 and a total of 85 feet within the next 25 years.”
      – San Jose Mercury News, June 11, 1986

      “New York will probably be like Florida 15 years from now.
      -- St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 17, 1989

      And in 2014 we are treated to explanations of how global warming has caused massive snowfalls.
      So geht's im Leben.

    2. Perhaps you are too young to remember; but it was a big deal for a while in the 1970s.

      Perhaps you are too young to realize this, but memory itself is unreliable.

      However, based on your quotes, your answer to the question of 'Who are "they"?' seems to be the major media outlets. I'm sure don't consider such outlets to be a reliable source of history or even mathematics, based on your previous posts. So, why should we consider them to be reliable at reporting what the scientific claims in the early 1970s were?

    3. The sometimes unreliability of memory is not an indictment of memory per se. If it were, no art or science would be true. Better we inquire into what sorts of memories are reliable and under what circumstances. A useful book in this regard is Oral Tradition as History by Jan Vansina, which includes a variety of useful pointers.


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