Running Hot and Cold: Climate Doomsdays across Three Centuries

by Dr. Steven J. Allen

When Robert Frost wrote, “Some say the world will end in fire / Some say in ice,” he could have been thinking about historic predictions of climate disasters. Those who foresee a climate apocalypse have alternated between fears of hot and cold since the late 1800s. Here are some favorites from the last 122 years.

New York Times, February 24, 1895:

“The question is again being discussed whether recent and long-continued observations do not point to the advent of a second glacial period, when the countries now basking in the fostering warmth of a tropical sun will ultimately give way to the perennial frost and snow of the polar regions.” A subhead on the article noted: “Geologists Think the World May Be Frozen Up Again.”

New York Times, May 15, 1932:

“NEXT GREAT DELUGE FORECAST BY SCIENCE / Melting Polar Ice Caps to Raise the Level of Seas and Flood the Continents”

Washington Post, January 11, 1970:

Headline: “Colder Winters Held [sic] Dawn of New Ice Age / Scientists See Ice Age In the Future

“Get a grip on your long johns, cold weather haters – the worst may be yet to come. That’s the long-range weather forecast being given out by ‘climatologists,’ the people who study very long-term world weather trends….

“Some of them [climatologists] say the world is in a ‘cold snap’ that started in 1950 and which could last hundreds of years, even bringing on the start of another Ice Age.

“In the meantime, it could mean more snow, and more arctic freezes like the one Washington is now shivering through.

“Ice floes will continue to close in around Iceland; glaciers in the Pacific northwest will grow; there will be major changes in farming patterns – and colder late season football games.”

New York Times, May 21, 1975:

Headline: “Scientists Ask Why World Climate Is Changing; Major Cooling May Be Ahead

“Sooner or later a major cooling of the climate is widely considered inevitable. Hints that it may already have begun are evident. The drop in mean temperatures since 1950 in the Northern Hemisphere has been sufficient, for example, to shorten Britain’s growing season for crops by two weeks. . . The first half of this century has apparently been the warmest period since the ‘hot spell’ between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago immediately following the last ice age.” [Recall that the warm period in the first half of the century would have been prior to the time when man-made greenhouse gas emissions are supposed to have warmed up the climate.]

Throughout the 1970s, the news media, citing the reports of scientists, warned us that we were headed into a new Ice Age. A small sampling of the headlines, taken from a longer list compiled by Popular Technology:

Not surprisingly, the approaching Ice Age was often cited as a reason for taking away people’s rights and expanding the power of government. (Sound familiar?) Consider just one example from January 26, 1970, which appeared in the Owosso, Michigan Argus-Press, the Uniontown, Pennsylvania Evening Standard, and a number of other papers:

“. . . if by now we are accustomed, if not inured, to the physical threat of pollution, along comes a warning there may also be dire political consequences.

“Dr Arnold Reitze, an expert in the legal aspects from Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University, suggests pollution, or the effort to control it, could be fatal to our concept of a free society.

“As likely inevitable restraints on the individual and mass, Reitze suggests:

  • Outlawing the internal combustion engine for vehicles and outlawing or strict controls over all forms of combustion.
  • Rigid controls on the marketing of new products, which will be required to prove a minimum pollution potential.
  • Controls on all research and development, to be halted at the slightest prospect of additional pollution.
  • Possibly even population controls, the number of children per family prescribed and punishment for exceeding the limit.

In Reitze’s view, “We will be forced to sacrifice democracy by the laws that will protect us from further pollution.” Today, those steps are said to be necessary to save us from global warming. Bigger government and less freedom: No matter what the problem, the solution is always the same.