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All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

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What were climate scientists predicting in the 1970s?

What the science says...

Select a level... Basic Intermediate

The vast majority of climate papers in the 1970s predicted warming.

Climate Myth...

Ice age predicted in the 70s

"If you go back to Time Magazine, they actually were proclaiming the next ice age is coming, now it's become global warming… How do you believe the same people that were predicting just a couple decades ago that the new ice age is coming?" (Sean Hannity)

At a glance

If you are aged 60 or over, you may remember this particular myth first-hand. For a brief time in the early to mid-1970s, certain sections of the popular media ran articles describing how we were heading for a renewed ice-age. Such silliness endures to the present day, just with a different gloss: as an example, for the UK tabloid the Daily Express, October just wouldn't be October without it publishing at least one made-up account of the impending 100-day snow-apocalypse.

There were even books written on the subject, such as Nigel Calder's mischievously-entitled The Weather Machine, published in 1974 by the BBC and accompanying a “documentary” of the same name, which was nothing of the sort. A shame, because the same author's previous effort, The Restless Earth, about plate tectonics, was very good indeed.

Thomas Peterson and colleagues did a very neat job of obliterating all of this nonsense. In a 2008 paper titled The myth of the 1970s global cooling scientific consensus, they dared do what the popular press dared not to. They had a look at what was actually going on. Obtaining copies of the peer-reviewed papers on climate, archived in the collections of Nature, JSTOR and the American Meteorological Society and published between 1965 and 1979, they examined and rated them. Would there be a consensus on global cooling? Alas! - no.

Results showed that despite the media claims, just ten per cent of papers predicted a cooling trend. On the other hand, 62% predicted global warming and 28% made no comment either way. The take-home from this one? It's the old media adage, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story”

Please use this form to provide feedback about this new "At a glance" section. Read a more technical version below or dig deeper via the tabs above!

Further details

In the thirty years leading up to the 1970s, available temperature recordings, with a poor global coverage compared to today, implied at times there might be an ongoing cooling trend. At the same time, research was continuing into the building levels of carbon dioxide and their effects on future climate, but the science world of that time was somewhat disconnected, compared to the modern age of instant communication, Zoom and so on.

There were also some notably cold winters scattered through that time, such as the UK one of 1962-63. As a result of these various goings-on, some scientists suggested that the current interglacial period could rapidly draw to a close, which might result in the Earth plunging into a new ice age over the next few centuries.

We now know that the smog that climatologists call ‘aerosols’ – emitted by human activities into the atmosphere – caused localised cooling closest to the areas where most of it originated. Smogs constitute a deadly health hazard and governments acted quickly to clean up that type of pollution: highly visible (unlike CO2), it was hard to ignore. Once largely removed, its effects no longer influenced Northern Hemisphere temperatures, that have steadily climbed since around 1970.

In fact, as temperature recording has improved in coverage, it’s become clear that the cooling trend was indeed localised – it was most pronounced in northern land areas. Other places around the world revealed a different story. Furthermore, at the same time as some scientists were suggesting we might be facing another ice age, a significantly greater number - approximately six times more - published papers indicating the opposite - that we were warming. Their papers showed that the growing amount of greenhouse gases that humans were putting into the atmosphere would cause much greater warming – warming that would exert a much stronger influence on global temperature than any possible natural or human-caused cooling effects.

By 1980, with northern hemisphere smogs a distant memory, the predictions about ice ages had ceased, at least among those working on the science, due to the overwhelming evidence for warming presented in the scientific literature (Peterson et al. 2008). Unfortunately though, the small number of predictions of an ice age were far more 'sticky' than those of global warming, so it was those sensational 'Ice Age' stories in the 1970s popular press that so many people tend to remember. Sticky themes sell papers. Today of course, with 40+years more data, far better coverage and a far bigger research community, we've reached a clear scientific consensus: 97% of working climate scientists agree with the view that human beings are causing global warming.

Last updated on 8 March 2024 by John Mason. View Archives

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Further reading

Denial101x video

Related video from DENIAL101x - Climate science in the 1970s


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Comments 126 to 145 out of 145:

  1. Don @123...

    "One of the main thrusts of Ms Oresekes' article was the reversal of the dominant view - whether contrarians picked up on it or not."

    And as I've attempted to explain repeatedly, there was a "reversal" because there was a "reversal" in the temperature trend. When it was cooling, the dominant position was that it was cooling. When the trend changed to warming, the dominant position "reversed" to warming.

    I'm not sure why this fact escapes you.

    "Why wouldn't 'this abrupt about-face—from cooling to warming' create doubt?"

    Because it has nothing to do with any changes in the scientific understanding of forcings on the climate system that produce warming or cooling.

    "A few years after the new consensus was formed - the hiatus made it's unfortunate debut."

    Which was much ado about nothing. There's a "hiatus" after every major el nino event.

    "I think I understand why people are interested in finding out why the abrupt about-face more than 'just accept the consensus because it's a consensus and we really mean it this time'"

    Think about this: 

    We've known since the mid-1800's that CO2 is the primary radiatively active gas in the atmosphere. We've known since the early 1900's pretty much the amount of warming we'd see from a doubling of CO2 concentratations. Nothing has changed about that concensus, in fact it's only become vastly better understood since then.

    The consensus that doubling CO2 would significantly warm the planet hasn't altered a bit. What Dr. Oreskes is speaking about is what was known about the temperature trend at the time, not the underlying physics of what was and is occurring.

  2. "I think I understand why people are interested in finding out why the abrupt about-face more than 'just accept the consensus because it's a consensus and we really mean it this time'"

    Don... Just to put a fine point on this one:

    There was and is a concensus on orbitally forced cooling over the past 5-6000 years.

    There was and is a concensus on mid-20th century cooling due to industrial aerosols.

    There was and is a concensus that doubling CO2 concentrations would produce about 3°C of warming.

    None of these are inconsistent.

  3. Don Williamson @125 :

    Agreed ~  100s of peer-reviewed papers on the Hiatus subject of atmospheric pauses in [surface] temperature rise . . . but as Rob Honeycutt says:  these pauses occur after every El Nino.   Yet these are not actual pauses in modern global warming.

    Do you understand the difference?  And do you understand that none of us today should get too exercised about the topic?

    Don , if the Hiatus is your own hobbyhorse, and you've done a lot of (internet?) research into the Hiatus . . . then you should be able to summarize its important points and place it in scientific context in today's perspective.

  4. Don @125...

    "The last time I checked, which was a few years ago, he was expecting to top 300 papers on the subject. That's a lot of papers trying to explain a 'talking point'"

    I'm very curious if you bothered to read any of these papers, or could quote the conclusions drawn from any of them.

    For my own part, based on the research I've read, whenever there's an extended period of little or no warming... what I'm assuming is that means the oceans are taking up a lot of heat energy and all that eventually has to come back into equilibrium with the atmosphere.

    "Contrarians" seem to only think, "Ha! No warming! Take that you eco-socialist!"

  5. Frankly, Don, you are now reaching the point where you are just spouting bull$#!^.

    I challenged you in comment #113 to provide two things:

    1. State clearly what you think the "both sides" are.
    2. State clearly who you think was a well-known climate scientist that was on "both sides".

    You have not done this. You have just engaged in a game of "Look! Squirrel!" to jump to some other rhetorical talking point. You are playing games of "maybe this, maybe that" with no actual demonstration of understanding the physics of climate and what is likely or even reasonable possible. You have done selective quoting, and taking those quotes out of context, in order to try to show some grand disagreement or lack of understanding that does not exist.

    The "abrupt about-face/reversal of opinion" that you are hanging your hat on is only "abrupt" if you refuse to look at the actual history of climate science and refuse to learn about the well-understood physics that explains the different observed trends and supports our understanding/interpretation. There is a term for that sort of refusal to look at the information available.

    As Rob Honeycutt explains in #122, there has been no "reversal" in our understanding of orbital mechanics and long-term trends related to glacial/interglacial cycles. There has been no "reversal" in our understanding that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and that greenhouse gases have a significant effect on global temperatures. There has been no "reversal" in our understanding that atmospheric aerosols (dust, soot, etc.) cause reductions in global surface temperatures.

    What has changed is which of these factors is playing a dominant role in current temperature trends. CO2 is "winning", and it is winning rapidly.

    You will probably come back with some sort of quip about "Oreskes said this". Well, the anti-evolution crowd is fond of claiming that Darwin said that evolution could not produce the eye. No, he didn't, and you are using the same rhetorical ploy in quoting Oreskes out of context.

    You have now switched to shouting "hiatus!" from the treetops. Guess what? Climate science is interested in what factors affect these short-term variations in global temperatures. So, they study them in greater and greater detail (because instrumentation improves) each time they happen. And they happen on fairly regular intervals. So regular that you can track them by how often the contrarians need to update their "no warming since..." myths. Pretty soon, we're going to have to start to rebut "no warming since 2023", since 1998 2016 won't work any more:

    Search/replace 1998


    We even have a term for these "hiatus" events: we call it The Escalator. The graphic is in the right-hand margin of every SkS page, but here it is in full glory:

    The Escalator

    You keep saying "isn't this interesting?". No it is not interesting, it is tiresome. This site exists because some people refuse to learn the science and understand it. The "hiatus" was yet another temporary pause in one metric of global climate, and does nothing to reverse our expectations of future warming as CO2 continues to increase.

    Your continued use of ":)" at the end of your comments suggests that you are now just trolling. (Gee. Isn't speculation without evidence just so much fun?)

  6. One more challenge for Don, which I predict will be ignored or deflected:

    In comment #125 you mention that there are 100s of papers on the hiatus and claim:

    ...but I've done a lot of research into the hiatus - peer-reviewed papers 'research'

    To demonstrate the level of "research" that you have done, here is the challenge:

    Pick one - just one - of those papers, and provide us with a thorough review of that paper and how it supports your argument that the hiatus represents a serious challenge to the consensus position on anthropogenic increases in global temperature.

    Don't forget to include a link to the paper.

  7. Don, I think you are reading an awful lot into the Oreskes MS that simply isn't there. The piece is a whistle-stop and thus by definition incomplete tour through the history of science in the 19th and 20th centuries.

    Just to cite one example in the MS: "the most recent glacial maximum was temporally located only ten to twelve thousand years ago."

    That's a snapshot of the thinking in the mid 1950s. In fact it was known by 2004 - widely known - that the LGM was more like 25,000 years ago - so well known that Oreskes probably didn't see fit to point it out!

    There's a lot more intermingling these days between Earth Science disciplines than there was in the 1950s or 70s, as the planet is considered more holistically now and the tremendous importance of palaeoclimate has become widely accepted.

  8. To Eclectic 

    Use Google Scholar as well as a couple of search engines reading peer-reviewed paper on the 'hiatus' 'wsrming slowdown'

    If you jot down the various reasons that were used in the multiple papers you'll understand why Dr Michael E Mann said, "The problem isn't that we cannot explain the temporary slowdown in warming — ???????????? ???????????????????????????? ???????? ???????????????? ???????????????????? ???????????? ???????? ???????????????? ???????????????????????????????????????????????? ???????????? ????????"

    Dr Kevin Trenberth Trenberth was a co-author on a paper published in Nature Climate Change that used models to show that pauses in surface temperature warming correspond to additional heat being stored deep in the ocean, ???????????????????? ???????????????????? ???????????????? ???????? ???????????? ???????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????????? ????????????????????????????.

    The 'warming' was taking place where there's little to no measuring devices?

    Is that sound science?

    link to quotes above:



    [RH] Link activated.

  9. Don:

    Just as I thought. You have not actually read any of the papers - you only have a link to something with selected quotes. And the "multiple papers" you claim are available just lead to Michael Mann mentioning a "temporary slowdown"?

    I repeat my challenge:

    Pick one - just one - of those papers, and provide us with a thorough review of that paper and how it supports your argument that the hiatus represents a serious challenge to the consensus position on anthropogenic increases in global temperature.

    You're just blowing smoke.

  10. As a further part of the challenge to Don:

    You have referred to "the hiatus". I will repeat the graphic of the Escalator:

    The Escalator

    Since the topic of the OP here is "cooling in the 1970s", and The Escalator shows seven periods of "no warming", please be specific as to which of those seven periods represents "the hiatus" you are talking about. Or a different period, if you have found an eighth.

  11. Also note that the article in Scientific American that Don has pointed us to is phrased in the form of a question: "Has global warming paused?"

    Also note that the subtitle is "Climate scientists know the answer is no, but have trouble communicating that".

    Don needs to read up on Betteridge's law of headlines.

    Seriously, is that the best you can do, Don?

  12. "The 'warming' was taking place where there's little to no measuring devices?

    Is that sound science?"

    Don... If heat energy is moving into realms that have little or no measuring devices, it's absolutely science. Researchers don't get to pick and choose how the physics operate. They can only devise methods to better account for the physics. This is precisely what science is about.

    If you look at the animated escalator graphic, this is exactly what it's telling you. Heat energy is moving into and out of other systems which are coupled to the atmosphere. This has been understood for many decades, regardless of whether you're just catching on. Your only mistake would be to become so ideologically entrenched so as to be unable to grasp such a simple concept.

    It's honestly okay to just say, "Hm, I hadn't thought about that."

  13. Don Williamson @133 & others,
    Discussion of the early 21st century SAT/SST record is hardily on-topic for this comment thread. The handful of years showing a reduced rate of warming surface tempertures did not lead to a reversal of warming but to an increased rate of warming, so any linkage to 1970's ideas of a coming ice age is entirely absent, despite an attempted linkage @108 up-thread. (And for the record, the take-away from the SciAm article referenced @133 is the ascribed response fro 'researchers' to all the 'hiatus' nonsense:-

    "Picking a period of a decade or so where one part of the Earth's climate system fails to warm and using it to discredit all of climate science is a fallacious argument, and one driven by those with an agenda to discredit climate scientists."

    Don Williamson, you have up-thread referenced Oreskes in the discussion of the 1970's idea of a coming ice age and insist there is some missing argument that gives continuing credibility to this 1970's idea (which are also ideas of earlier times according to Oreskes. "Throughout most of the history of science, geologists and geophysicists believed that Earth history was characterized by progressive, steady, cooling.") Do note the referenced pre-print conference paper does not constitute proof of a 'missing argument'. And were one sought, perhaps Oreskes (2007) 'The scientific consensus on climate change: How do we know we're not wrong?' can provide it.

  14. Don Williams:

    The "hiatus" papers do not show what you are claiming.  Yes, Mann et al claimed that the "pause" was statistically significant.  You can quote that paper.  But in science it is not individual papers that count, it is the conclusions that count.

    Foster and Ramsdorf replied to the Mann et al paper and claimed that the Mann et al paper had made calculation errors that invalidated their result.  Foster et al claimed that there was no statistical significance.  The scientific method is to exchange peer reviewed papers to debate facts.  After several papers were exchanged, Mann et al conceded that they had made a mistake in their calculations and the "pause" was not statistically significant.  It was magnificent to watch top scientists debate a fact and reach a consensus on what the true result was.

    The scientific consensus is that the "pause" was simply random variation and not a change in the warmng pattern.  Data collected since then have conclusively confirmed that the climate did not stop warming as demonstrated by the escalator.  The Mann et al scientists agree with the consensus.

    Mann and his collaborators are great scientists.  Sometimes everyone makes mistakes.  The difference between scientists and deniers is that when data shows that a scientist made a mistake they learn from the experience and move on.  Deniers just regurgitate the same old debunked "pause" claims after everyone informed has moved on.

  15. MA Rodger @ 138:

    Yes, this discussion is wandering off the blog post's topic. There is no way to determine Don Williamson's motives unless he explains them, but it appears that he is trying to do two things:

    1. Take Oreskes' paper out of context to make it look like the 1970s "cooling" story was an indicator of a huge shift in climate science [it wasn't] - I presume to discredit climatology as a science [he hasn't].
    2. Bootstrap the idea that "they don't know what they are talking about - they'll just make stuff up" by using the hiatus as an indicator that warming isn't linked to CO2 increases [he's wrong] and we might flip back into decades or centuries of cooling even if we burn every last bit of fossil fuels [we won't].

    I have an off-topic challenge to Don that he has not yet responded to (review one example of the many "hiatus" papers he insinuates support him). I need to let him respond, if he is willing or able.

    If the off-topic sound bites continue without responding to that challenge, I will probably need to bow out of the conversation and take on a moderator role.

  16. Don Williams :

    Since you seem reluctant to engage in rational discussion ~ may I suggest you instead join the comments columns of WattsUpWithThat  blog?

    There at WUWT  one will find scores of commenters brimming with anger at the world  ( and at themselves, inwardly ).    Plenty of disingenuousness and deliberate ignorance there . . . enough to satisfy any like-minded spirit.   You might well be pleased!

    At WUWT  blog, the ice age has never ended.


    [BL] This really isn't constructive....

  17. I've recently posted quotes supported by links but the comments haven't appeared on this forum. I understood that forums on Skeptical Science was the go-to for tough questions but I'm beginning to see the filtering - maybe the statements from well respected climate scientists are to difficult to acknowledge or too difficult to explain? IMHO offering a narrow view on a be arrow set of discussion points isn't helpful to those seeking answers and clarification. Please rethink the silencing of those that are bringing up genuine issues for discussion  :)


    [BL] The only comments I can see from you begin with your first post, in this thread, on August 15, 2023.

    You have made a total of 21 comments on this site, and all are still visible. None of your comments have been deleted, and the only changes to the contents of those comments has been to activate links - in which case the displayed text may have changed, but the embedded link is still the same.

    This comment is the exception. You have made accusations that are not acceptable according to the Comments Policy, and I have applied a "warning snip" to the portions that violate the policy. Please read the policy thoroughly, and make sure that future comments adhere to the policy.

    Moderation actions here are always applied post-facto. If you attempt to make a comment and it never appears, then you have done something wrong.

    The moderation sequence you can expect is

    • Warning snips, such as done here. Others will still see your text, but you are beginning to skate on thin ice and you can expect more severe moderation if you continue.
    • Full snips, where offending text is removed and not visible to others.
    • Deletion of entire comments.
    • ...and if you continue to violate the Comments Policy, then your account will be deactivated.

    Also note that moderation policies are not open to discussion, and moderation complaints are always off-topic.

     Also note:

    If you are looking at comments on the Recent Comments page (accessed from the Comments link under the masthead), then clicking on a comment that takes you to a blog post with a long comments section will take you to the wrong page of comments. There is a bug where the link in "New Comments" assumes 50 comments per page, but there are only 25, so it will try to take you to e.g., page 3 instead of page 6.

    This comment of yours, in Recent Comments, shows this incorrect link, which will show you older comments on page 3.

    If I change "p=3" to "p=6" in the link, I get to the correct comment.


  18. Don... "...offering a narrow view on a be arrow set of discussion points isn't helpful to those seeking answers and clarification..."

    It seems to me, reading back through the conversation, you're not actually seeking answers or clarification at all. When offered such you've merely rejected it and doubled down on your errors.

    Seeking answers requires that you are open to understanding explanations and have some capacity to move a conversation forward through adjusting and learning.

  19. Don Williamson at 142:

    The software at SkS automatically logs users out after a period of time.  If you spend too long typing out a comment (for example while you are finding relevant links), you get logged out. You cannot tell that you have been logged out.  When you hit submit your comment vanishes.  Vanished posts cannot be recovered.

    At SkS all comments are posted immediately without moderation.  If your comment does not appear immediately then you posted after you were logged out.

    Long time users copy their posts before submitting or type their posts in word and then copy them into SkS.  It is frustrating to have a post with a lot of time consuming links vanish.

  20. Michael... The other one that has confused me a couple of times is when a post becomes the first on a new page. Even though you hit submit, and it starts a new page, the page numbers don't update. You have to reload the page to see the new page number. I think that often leads to our "contrarian" friends here to jump to the conclusion they're being stifled in some way.

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