Same fears, different name?

  • Date: 10/12/09

Spiked Online: Maurizio Morabito uncovers a 1974 CIA report showing that the ‘scientific consensus’ then was that the world was cooling.

Panic about climate change is not an entirely contemporary phenomenon. In fact, 40 years ago, some scientists were similarly fearful about an impending climate catastrophe. The world would be harmed and life would become harsh, we were told. Policies were drawn up to deal with the coming change, and the scientists crossed their fingers. But there is one vital difference between the panic then and the panic now. It wasn’t global warming that was concerning scientists 40 years ago; it was global cooling.

This revelation comes from a recently unearthed 1974 CIA report. Because of this we now know that a large number of scientists really were convinced that world temperatures were on the way down. The only uncertainty centred around the strength and duration of the upcoming cooling of the planet. Yet this apparent consensus around global cooling, so prevalent during the 1970s, seems to have been erased from history. Why?

The principal reason is that awareness of this contrasting consensus threatens the current climate change edifice. Try to put yourself in the uncomfortable shoes of an advocate of climate change policies, determined to scare the wits out of the majority of voters and world leaders about global warming by presenting it as the consensus view amongst scientists. What would you do with a previous consensus that contradicts the current view? ‘If scientists in the 1970s were predicting an imminent ice age’, summarises John Fleck in the Skeptical Enquirer, ‘how can their forecasts of greenhouse warming today be trusted?’ (1)


Forgotten for 35 years, the CIA report, A Study of Climatological Research as it Pertains to Intelligence Problems frequently mentions a scientific acceptance of global cooling. It also reveals how most climate fears have never really left us, regardless of the underlying temperature trend.

Having seen the CIA report mentioned in a 1976 Washington Post piece, but with no copy of it on the internet, I obtained the microfiche document from the British Library. The content of the report’s 36 pages is striking. It may have been written in 1974, but the depictions are uncannily familiar: climate change, it says, will lead to floods and famines, and leaders in climatology are issuing stark warnings about threats to ‘the stability of most states’. The only thing to differentiate it from today’s scaremongering is the fact that the CIA in 1974 was concerned about global cooling, not warming. The report even mentions a ‘consensus’ among scientists.

The document is embarrasing to read. The ‘new climatic era’ is described in 1974 as a harbinger of famine, starvation, refugees, floods, droughts, crop failures, monsoons and the cause of all kinds of meteorological phenomena. As expected, potential benefits are downplayed and potential harms highlighted: the Sahara is expected to expand, and world grain reserves may last less than one month, the report claimed. There is even a cursory list of past civilisations destroyed by climatic episodes: The Indus, the Hittites, the Mycenaean and the Empire of Mali.

According to the CIA, these climate models are being refined (as always) and the energy balance of the atmosphere is perfectly explicable without a single reference to greenhouse gases. Thanks to government intervention (of course), many famous scientists, until then victims of ‘personality clashes’, have managed to establish a ‘scientific consensus’ about ‘global climate change’, including vague threats about a ‘greater variability’ in climate and serious economic problems around the world. And not only that; they all agree on a series of proposals about the creation of new government agencies. This is exactly the agreed scientific position as reported at the time by Newsweek, the New York Times, the Washington Post and so on.

So what prompted the CIA’s interest in climate? The prime reason was the reported loss of a ‘significant part’ of the USSR’s wheat crop during the winter of 1972. Aware of the potentially dire consequences on the ‘politics of food’, the CIA was forced to acknowledge the lack of serious ‘analysis tools’ for climate. Hence, it wanted scientists to respond (unanimously) to policymakers, another feature of climate discussions common to both then and now.

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