A cold air blast from the past
Take a moment and try to place yourself in the spring of 1976. You might not have known it, and you probably wish you did, but Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne form Apple Computer. Other events include the $2 bill is reintroduced in circulation by the United States Treasury. And, the country is coming together to celebrate our bicentennial birth year as a nation. “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley” are the top TV shows, and your beloved Yankees would later in the year return to the World Series after the dog days of the last 10 years.
You are an environmental scientist, and there is a mood of solidarity by folks for the work you are performing. It had only been six years since the country rallied together across multiple generations to support the first Earth Day in 1970.
Earthday.org would many years later best summarize the 1970s environmental solidarity: “Groups that had been fighting individually against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife united on Earth Day around these shared common values. Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labor leaders.
But while the country was preparing to party — and yes, we were finally heading in the right direction with our environment — you realize that we still have much work to do. The brook trout fishing in your favorite Adirondack ponds didn’t offer the same enjoyment as years earlier when your grandfather angled those honey holes. Also, the spruce and maple trees were dying off at an unacceptable rate. And it wouldn’t be too long before you learn of this plague of “acid rain” crushing the Adirondacks.
By 1976, you are also startled by news reports regarding the cold-weather trends and the fear of a coming ice age. You quickly recall the 1974 Time magazine article, “Another Ice Age?” and the New York Times article from 1975, “Scientists Ask Why World Climate Is Changing; Major Cooling May Be Ahead.” And from the Chicago Tribune, “B-r-r-r-r: New Ice Age on the way soon?”
Many scientific voices were warning of the bitter cold trends plaguing the planet. And in that worry was a focus on food production and growing seasons. Moreover, the Adirondack winters had felt frigid for many years. The fear of an ice age resonated with you, and you were worried, too.
So as a scientist, you do what scientists do. You examined the temperature record from a nearby weather station in Indian Lake, New York. And as the figure shows, your concerns and those of many others are confirmed.
The average temperatures from 1930 to 1975 were decreasing, and the trend was also statistically significant. “Wow!” you say, this coming ice age could be accurate, and as such, we may have a serious issue facing the world.
And just then, two angel scientists, Ruth and Dajus, show up in your laboratory and scare you half to death. They just left the future, and they are in the middle of an argument over what your figure is revealing. Dajus tells you to ignore your observation and informs you that the next 45 years will be much warmer, with a different kind of doom coming.
He tells you of what will first be called global warming and later climate change. Human-made carbon dioxide (CO2) will be the reason, and legions of scientists will teach the world that it is a pollutant. He says that since industrialization took off and humans started progressing, CO2 also has increased, and eventually it would destroy the world through catastrophic warming.
Ruth sighs. She has been debating Dajus for centuries on similar matters. She then asks you, “What do you know of CO2?”
“Well,” you say, “all of us exhale CO2 with every breath we take.” You discuss how CO2, along with sunlight and water, drives the process called photosynthesis. You mention how this process makes sugar, oxygen and water. And from those elixirs, life is created. You also note that plants and crops grow faster under higher CO2 levels. And, it helps make beer!
“All correct,” Ruth says, and she then reminds you that human-made CO2 at the end of 1975 is about 20% above the pre-industrial era concentration, while pointing to your temperature findings. She looks at both you and Dajus and asks the rhetorical question: “If CO2 is such a powerful warming pollutant, how can temperatures be significantly decreasing, and a fear of an ice age be upon the world, all while it, CO2, is increasing?”
Given that you favor life-creating processes, your data’s clarity and anything involved in beer making, you decide to side with Ruth and dismiss Dajus’s rhetoric. After all, you have a plot of temperatures that show the Adirondacks are getting colder, and it seems many scientists studying the issue agree with you. While you still have concerns about what is going on with these crazy cold Adirondack winters of late, what Dajus says about CO2 makes even less sense.
Dajus can see that he lost this battle, then gets angry and disappears, back to the future. Ruth says, “Ignore him. When I catch up with Dajus, I will take him to a Red Sox game. We’ll get seats above the Green Monster. It is his favorite place.” You’re puzzled. “Seats above the Green Monster?” you say. “Yes, they are great, but expensive,” Ruth says, “and it’s nearly $10 for a beer!”
However, before Ruth leaves, she tells you that what Dajus has revealed will become the science of the future. She reminds you never to forget this time and always question the data. Ruth can see you are completely confused, and she says she may come back to explain more. She also tells you never to lose your faith, hope and love for a better world, and that the Yankees will win seven World Series in the next 45 years!
Jed Dukett lives in Tupper Lake.