An important letter sent to the President about the danger of climate change

An important conference was held in January at Brown University:  “The Present Interglacial, How and When Will it End?”   As a result, the following letter was sent to the President.  The media has not reported this, but you should be aware of the letter and its significance.

Dear Mr. President:

Aware of your deep concern with the future of the world, we feel obliged to inform you on the results of the scientific conference held here recently. The conference dealt with the past and future changes of climate and was attended by 42 top American and European investigators. We enclose the summary report published in Science and further publications are forthcoming in Quaternary Research.

The main conclusion of the meeting was that a global deterioration of climate, by order of magnitude larger than any hitherto experience by civilized mankind, is a very real possibility and indeed may be due very soon.

The cooling has natural cause and falls within the rank of processes which produced the last ice age. This is a surprising result based largely on recent studies of deep sea sediments.

Existing data still do not allow forecast of the precise timing of the predicted development, nor the assessment of the man’s interference with the natural trends. It could not be excluded however that the cooling now under way in the Northern Hemisphere is the start of the expected shift. The present rate of the cooling seems fast enough to bring glacial temperatures in about a century, if continuing at the present pace.

The practical consequences which might be brough by such developments to existing social institution are among others:

(1) Substantially lowered food production due to the shorter growing seasons and changed rain distribution in the main grain producing belts of the world, with Eastern Europe and Central Asia to be first affected.

(2) Increased frequency and amplitude of extreme weather anomalies such as those bringing floods, snowstorms, killing frosts, etc.

With the efficient help of the world leaders, the research …

With best regards,

George J. Kukla (Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory)
R. K. Matthews (Chairman, Dept of Geological Sciences, Brown U)

Important details about this letter:

  • It was sent to President Nixon, not Obama.
  •  The date of letter:  3 December 1972.
  • The text is from slide 6 of “The Origins of a ‘diagnostics climate center“, Robert W. Reeves and Daphne Gemmill (NOAA), posted at the NOAA website — presented at the 29th Annual Climate Diagnostics & Prediction Workshop, 20 October 2004.  It did not include the text of the penultimate paragraph.  The last paragraph warned about Soviet science in this area.
  • Here is the text of the presentation.
  • The Science article about the conference was “The Present Interglacial, How and When Will it End?”, G. J. Kukla and R. K. Matthews, 13 October 1972.

The remaining sections of this post

  1. What happened next, after the President got the letter?
  2.  The conclusion of the story, results of the letter
  3. A timeline listing 47 articles before 1980 about climate change (showing the diversity of opinion)
  4. Links to more recent articles and other sources of information
  5. An afterword

(1)  Excerpt

To learn what happened afterwards, we turn to “”Global Cooling and the Cold War – And a Chilly Beginning for the United States’ Climate Analysis Center?”  By Robert W. Reeves, Daphne Gemmill, Robert E. Livezey, and James Laver (all of NOAA), and presented at The International Commission on History of Meteorology Conference in Weilheim Germany, 5-9 July 2004 (posted at the website of the International Commission on History of Meteorology).

Excerpt:

The White House assigned the Kukla-Mathews letter to the Bureau of International Scientific and Technological Affairs of the State Department who circulated it to the Interdepartmental Committee for Atmospheric Sciences (ICAS) for “review and appropriate action”, the highest level interagency body within the U.S. Government concerned with the atmospheric sciences. The ICAS then established an ad hoc Panel on the Present Interglacial to respond to the Kukla/Mathews letter, with an anticipated target submission date of September 30, 1973. (The formal publication date of their report was August 1974)

The report of the Ad Hoc Panel is listed on the US government website as “no electronic version available.”

The period following the establishment of the ad hoc Panel in early ’73 to the official publication of the report saw a flurry of activity by the various agencies. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and NOAA were particularly active. The NSF had formed a Climate Dynamics Group in the spring of 1974 with Joseph O. Fletcher in the lead, and ably assisted by Uwe Radok. There was also a considerable amount of Washington “hardball” during that period as individuals and agencies competed for the lead. The ad hoc Panel decided that the topic was of such paramount importance that they should go beyond simply reporting their findings, and include a recommendation. This they did with a companion document that was a call for a national climate program to begin addressing the climate issues. Fletcher was instrumental in the companion report’s preparation and had envisioned NSF in the lead. NOAA had other ideas.

On August 1, 1974 the White House wrote to Secretary of Commerce Frederick Dent:

“Changes in climate in recent years have resulted in unanticipated impacts on key national programs and policies. Concern has been expressed that recent changes may presage others. In order to assess the problem and to determine what concerted action ought to be undertaken, I have decided to establish a subcommittee on Climate Change.”

The memorandum further requested the Department of Commerce to take the lead and chair the subcommittee. Secretary Dent responded on August 16, naming Robert M. White, Administrator of NOAA, as chair of the subcommittee. John Townshend, White’s Deputy, asked William Sprigg to convene a series of interagency meetings to assemble the “United States Climate Program”.

In a related effort, Sprigg, in an undated, unpublished (probably 1974) document entitled “A Climate Diagnostics Center”, began assembling some of NOAA’s concepts for such an organization, including estimated computer costs. In late 1974 Don Gilman prepared a draft Diagnostic Center Budget and Personnel for 1976 and 1977 at the request of Fred Shuman. Gilman sketched out a plan that included 24 positions in 1976 with a budget of $1.4M, increasing by 8 positions and $700K in 1977. A subsequent draft (12/30/74) by Gilman outlined 3 Diagnostic Center Functions:

  • Data Acquisition
  • Data Analysis and Synthesis
  • Prediction

In December 1974, the subcommittee produced their report “A United States Climate Program” in which it spelled out the needs for a climate program with 10 points. One of the Actions and Milestones in that report was Establish a Climate Diagnostics Center in 1976. …

About the principal author

Robert Reeves has a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Sciences … and works as a Climate Specialist at the Climate Services Division at NWS Headquarters.

(2)  Conclusion of the story – result of the letter

The Climate Analysis Center (CAC) opened in Spring 1979.    From the last slide of the Reeves and Gemmill presentation about NOAA’s origins:

“{the} Kukla-Mathews letter initiated {a} response at the highest national level and energized the science agencies.”

The rest is history, as the CAC has grown to become a valuable part of both NOAA and the global science infrastructure.  It’s hidden history in a literal sense, conflicting with current dogma and so seldom mentioned.

(3)  A timeline of articles about climate change

Climate changes have shaped human history since our earliest days.  During the past century these fears have spurred research.  The two constants in this process, both results of human nature:

  • overconfident predictions, based on exaggerated confidence in what we know
  • broader and deeper knowledge with each passing year.

The following is from the FM reference page Science & Nature – the history of fears about the climate.  It’s a list of articles I have found in my research and bothered to bookmark, with no claims to be comprehensive.  It gives a flavor for the process, and a starting point for those who would like to learn more about these issues.

This shows that there was no consensus during the 1970’s on global climate trends.  There were areas of broad agreement, esp within sub-disciplines.  That’s how science works (esp seen in term of Thomas Kuhn’s theory).  And this is true today, as shown by the articles listed here, although the area of agreement has grown far broader after 27 years of research.  From another perspective, the division lines have grown deeper, for example between those studying solar influences on earth and those studying AGW — both of which have developed so far since 1972.

Some place to start your reading:

A timeline of articles:

  1. Prospects of another glacial period; Geologists Think the World May Be Frozen Up Again“, New York Times, 24 February 1895
  2. “Fifth Ice Age Is on the Way”, Los Angeles Times, 7 October 1912
  3. Sees Glacial Era Coming: Prof. Schmidt Warns Us of an Encroaching Ice Age”, New York Times, 7 October 1912
  4. “Mac Millian Reports Signs of New Ice Age”, New York Times, 18 September 1924
  5. “America in Longest Warm Spell Since 1776; Temperature Line Records a 25-Year Rise”, New York Times, 27 March 1933
  6. “A warmer Earth evident at poles”, Gladwin Hills, New York Times, 30 May 1947 — “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.”
  7. “Is the World Getting Warmer?”, Albert Abarbenel and Thomas McCluskey, Saturday Evening Post, 1 July 1950
  8. “Our Changing Climate … the world has been getting warmer in the last half century”, New York Times, 10 August 1952
  9. “Climate – the Heat May be Off”, Fortune,  Francis Bello, August 1954 — “Despite all you may have read, heard or imagined, it’s been growing cooler – not warmer since the Thirties”
  10. The Coming Ice Age“, Betty Friedan, Harper’s Magazine, September 1958 — “A true scientific detective story”
  11. “A Warmer Earth Evident At Poles”, New York Times, 15 February 1959
  12. Carbon Dioxide and Climate“, Scientific America, July 1959
  13. “Atmospheric Aerosols: Increased Concentrations during the Last Decade”, James T. Peterson and Reid A. Bryson, Science, 4 October 1968
  14. “Expert Says Arctic Ocean Will Soon Be Open Sea”, New York Times, 20 February 1969
  15. “Colder Winters Held Dawn of New Ice Age”, Washington Post, 22 April 1970
  16. Climate Modification and National Security“, R R Rap, RAND, October 1970
  17. Inadvertent Climate Modification: Report of the Study of Man’s Impact on Climate, MIT Press, 1971
  18. “Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Aerosols: Effects of Large Increases on Global Climate”, Rasool and Schneider, Science, 9 July 1971
  19. The Effect of Atmospheric Aerosols on Climate with Special Reference to Temperature near the Earth’s Surface“, J. Murray Mitchell Jr., Journal of Applied Meteorology,August 1971
  20. “The Present Interglacial, How and When Will it End?”, Science, October 1972 — Summary of conference held in January 1972 at Brown U.
  21. “Brace Yourself for Another Ice Age”, Science Digest, February 1973
  22. “Ominous Changes in the World’s Weather”, Tom Alexander, Fortune, February 1974
  23. “A Perspective on Climatic Change”, Reid A. Bryson, Science, 17 May 1974
  24. Another Ice Age?“, Time, 24 June 1974
  25. “Report of the Ad Hoc Panel on the Present Interglacial”, the panel was created by the US government’s Interdepartmental Committee for Atmospheric Sciences, August 1974
  26. “A study of climatological research as it pertains to intelligence problems”, CIA, August 1974 (36 pages) — PDF posted at Climate Monitor website here.
  27. “Potential Implications of Trends in Population Growth, Food Production, and Climate”, CIA, August 1974
  28. “Climate Changes Endanger World’s Food Output”, New York Times, 8 August 1974 – Picture of article.
  29. A Reassessment of Atmospheric Pollution as a Cause of Long-Term Changes of Global Temperature“, J. Murray, Mitchell Jr., in Global Effects of Environmental Pollution, edited by S. Fred Singer. Dordrecht: Reidel. (1975).
  30. “Understanding Climate Change: A Program for Action”, National Academy of Science, 1975 (I cannot find a copy)
  31. “Climate Changes Called Ominous”, New York Times, 19 January 1975 — Picture of article.
  32. “A change in the weather”, George F. Will, op-ed in the Washington Post, 24 January 1975
  33. Climate Change:  Chilling Possibilities“, John F. Douglas, Science News, 1 March 1975
  34. “The Cooling World”, Newsweek, 28 April 1975 (posted with permission at the Washington Times here; or read this image)
  35. Scientists Ask Why World Climate is Changing; Major Cooling May Be Ahead”, The New York Times, 21 May 1975
  36. “In the Grip of a New Ice Age”, Nigel Calder (was editor of New Scientist), International Wildlife, July 1975
  37. “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?”, Wallace S. Broecker, Science, 8 August 1975 (abstract)
  38. The Cooling, Lowell Ponte (Prentice Hall, 1976)
  39. Interview with Professor Reid Bryson in Mother Earth News, March/April 1976 — Wikipedia entry for Bryson.
  40. “The world’s climate is getting worse”, BusinessWeek, 2 August 1976
  41. “Global Cooling?”, P E Damon and S M Kunen, Science, 6 August 1976 (abstract)
  42. “What’s Happening to Our Climate”, Samuel W. Matthews, National Geographic, November 1976 (text; image)
  43. The Weather Conspiracy:  The Coming of the New Ice Age, (Ballantine Books, 1977)
  44. Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment“, National Academy of Science, July 1979
  45. The Ice Age Cometh?“, Time, 31 January 1994
  46. “The Little Ice Age and Medieval Warm Period in the Sargasso Sea”, Lloyd D. Keigwin, Science, 29 November 1996
  47. “The end of the present interglacial”, W.S. Broecker, Quaternary Science Reviews, 1 August 1998

For more information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See these Reference Pages for other posts about climate on the FM sites:  The keys to understanding climate change and My posts about climate change. Also see theseposts about global cooling:

  1. More forecasts of a global cooling cycle, 15 July 2008
  2. Good news about global warming!, 21 October 2008
  3. One of the most interesting sources of news about science and nature!, 27 October 2008
  4. About those headlines from the past century about global cooling…, 2 November 2009

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17 thoughts on “An important letter sent to the President about the danger of climate change

  1. The reason why the whole American climate change debate sounds funny to those in Europe is because in America the educated are considered part of the moneyed elite. So conspiracies of the educated against the honest working Americans makes sense.

    It is striking how close the rhetoric here is to that used to complain about the financial crisis.

    This is a deep problem in the US. Not only with the US be late to yet another a new industry that is forming, for nothing more than ideological-cultural reasons. But it means that the US will face popular resistance to going high end in response to the Chinese.

  2. Nice timeline of climate change! Fringe groups have always been attracted to theories of doom. Since climate is so intimately connected to crops and food supply, climate is a believable source of doom.

    The US now has the “perfect storm” of government to fall for suicidal doom theories. This is the perfect time to strike at US energy supplies, the heart of US industry and commerce. Prognosis for the US long term is dim under a regime of reduced energy supplies.

  3. Nice timeline of climate change! Fringe groups have always been attracted to theories of doom. Since climate is so intimately connected to crops and food supply, climate is a believable source of doom.

    The US now has the “perfect storm” of government to fall for suicidal doom theories. This is the perfect time to strike at US energy supplies, the heart of US industry and commerce. Prognosis for the US long term is dim under a regime of reduced energy supplies.

  4. The Journal this conference ended up in was “Quarternary Research” Nov 1972. Tempted to go look through this in the library for myself. But remember, “Soon” for a geologist is 5000 years, and this was geology, not climatology…

    Also, this is an example of science in action: Much of the work in Quarnery Research (at least according to a trivially uselessly short summary at Connolly’s blog , hardly trustable but the only thing I’ve got) was based around an assumption that glaciation intervals were very fast by geological standards, without the sedimentary data or ice core data that we have today. Improve the data, improve the measurements, and the conclusions dissapear in a puff of “hypothesis invalidated”.

    Models are not science, they are scientific speculation at best until you can devise predictions and experiments to attempt to falsify them, but measurement is.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Astonishing. This morning you instruct Nathan Myhrvold (PhD in mathematical physics at age 23) in the mathematical physics of solar cells. This evening you explain why emminent geologists lacked your deep understanding of geology. It’s like a Monty Python sketch: two senior geologists writing a letter, then the Cardinal Weaver (in red robes) bursts in yelling “Don’t sign that letter — you’re just geologists!”

    You’ve also totally missed the point of this exercise. First it shows that there was substantial concern about global cooling during the 1970’s, despite propagandists like Connolly’s attempts to misrepresent the historical record. The second is too obvious to mention (if you don’t already get it, my explanation will not help).

    This is a common trope among believers in the green religion. While they hold science as sacred — not to be questioned — individual scientists are respected only the extent that they hew to othodox green theology. Otherwise they are dirt, their work criticized by any green believer who can count to 4. As examples we have Oldskeptic here. Even better are Brad Delong (Prof Economics at Berkeley) giving his measured opinion of the professional work of Roger Pielke Jr (source):

    * Attack-by-proxy: “The thing about a Roger Pielke Jr train wreck is that you just can’t look away.”
    * Attack-by-misrepresentation: “I do remember that what knocked my view of your work over the edge was one of your attacks on Hansen.”
    * Attack-by-hand waving: “Game, set, and match…”
    * Attack-by-calling-names: “May I just say that Roger Pielke is simply insane?”

    And who is this miscreant Pielke, that economist Delong righteously rebukes?

    Roger A. Pielke, Jr. has been on the faculty of the University of Colorado since 2001 and is a Professor in the Environmental Studies Program and a Fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). At CIRES, Roger served as the Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research from 2001-2007. … He is also author, co-author or co-editor of five books. His most recent book is titled: The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics published by Cambridge University Press in 2007. Here is a list of his publications.

  5. Ok , so global warming and our guilt are all a big con . Dreamt up by a load of Gandi types and other weirdos .
    How awful it would be if we all acted green . Couldnt fight wars abroad because of carbon footprint and pollution . Couldnt oust native people to drill oil because of the lesser spotted sand mouse . Couldnt burn the rainforests to raise cattle ( or palm oil ) because of the methane . People would have to bicycle everywhere and eat less fat . What a dreadful prospect .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: What are you talking about? Nothing like that appears in this post or any on the FM site.

    This is the familar technique in 21st century America of making stuff up and giving rebuttal to it. I find it highly annoying.

  6. Thanks for the heads up. If you look at the climate scares of the last 100 or so years they pretty much align with the change in sign of the PDO (and other) ocean oscillations. i.e. “It has been warming (cooling) for the last 30 years and if this keeps up we will burn (freeze) to death.”

    The sign of the PDO changed in (2003? 2005?) so we can expect an ice age hysteria to start around 2030 or maybe even sooner with the heightened interest in climate. Of the two possibilities I’d prefer warming to cooling. Crops don’t grow well under ice.

    BTW I was looking at this site today: “Fire and Ice“, Business & Media Institute, 2006 — “Journalists have warned of climate change for 100 years, but can’t decide weather we face an ice age or warming”

  7. Late 1960s/1970s – The coming doom was the population bomb, which when “detonated” would billions of human beings starve to death as Earth reached its carry capacity. Most famously forecast by the Club of Rome, a group of emminent scholars and scientists such as Paul Ehrlich, associated with the U.N.

    Today, another group of “emmiment scholars” – movers-and-shakers from here and there, forecast another doomsday event, this time catastrophic climate global warming, er… I mean climate change (tails I win, heads you lose).

    Not that I have been listening closely, but has Ehrlich and company ever gone on record about the failure of their predictions? Wonder what Norman Borlaug thought of their work?

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

  8. Oh but the idea of continually burning irreplacable fossil fuels just to create electricity is insane. We (and our children and grand children …) need those for chemicals, drugs, plastics .. the list is endless.

    We, as a World have the technology to replace every coal fired power station (at basically the same price per watt, or in quite a few cases less). Depending on your luck as a nation if you are not investing in nuclear, solar thermal, solar panel, goethermal, wind, wave, etc, etc, etc .. then you are doomed.

    Plus oil. Peak oil is here today. We have to reduce our wastfull use of oil. Good public tranport, electrically powered trains instead of planes, yes even electric cars.

    But to continue the way we are going is insanity. If it reduces CO2 production, which some (such as me) worry about, then that is a bonus. A true win-win solution. You don’t have to believe in human climate change to be against wasting irreplacable fossile fuels .. you just have to be smart.

  9. From section 3: “This shows that there was no consensus during the 1970’s on global climate trends.”

    I’ve changed this in the post to red type after the third email in rebuttal to my assertion that there was a consensus during the 1970’s about global cooling.

    It’s astonishing how so many intelligent and well-educated people become dogmatic churchmen when talking about the climate. They hear scepticism and think “heretic” — then read a tract their Shaman passed out last week. The tract is not relevent to the discussion, of course. It is intended to bring the heretic back to the pen of othodox thought.

  10. I meant that if the whole global warming thing is a con trick load of rubbish , it could be a darn useful , well devised con trick by scientists to solve a load of problems from imperialism to obesity .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: It is neither a con trick or a load of rubbish. It’s a theory, with considerable evidence supporting it. However that does not mean that it so well-supported at this time to justify massive public policy changes.

  11. FM: “It is neither a con trick or a load of rubbish. It’s a theory, with considerable evidence supporting it. However that does not mean that it so well-supported at this time to justify massive public policy changes.

    exactly! it is a scientific issue and should be debated and explored using the methods of science ( which espouse open inquiry) not the methods of politics ( demonize your oponent). demogougery aside
    a lot has been lost in the elevation of efforts which loosely lie in the green/ environmentaist/ gaia worship/ new age fad domain to cult/ conformist status.

    For the idiot housewife ownership of a prius has become a statement re their committement to conformity and political correctness.

    in most post industrial western societies strong adherence to traditional religions is falling esp among the young educated( beyond their natural ability to comprehend) set. I think there is a certain amount of converging data opinion, that we as a specie may be hard wired from an evolutionary perspective to belive in a ( for want of a better word) god/ religion ( atheists like myself being a very small minority). The absense of religious bearings in this demographic leaves a void, that is easily exploited and filled with new age mumbo jumbo – the foremost contender being the somewhat neo-luddite green movemnt. Of course as in any religion, there are those who tend to benfit from their exalted status as intermediatories between the puny humans and their gods. Hansen and others in the big science establishment that lives or dies on grant money are one example of these high preists ( see richard lindzen – prof og atmospheric science at MIT), and the other end are the Al Gore’s who are likely to profit big time from proposed environmental regimes.

    the absurdity of the of some environmental claims is best exeplified by “Save the planet, eat a dog“, Dominion Post, 22 October 2009.

    and the way steven levitt has been ravaged about his new book superfreakonomics. bottom line when a serious debate is impossible and treated like heresy, people wanting open debate are treated like apostates and pushed into opposition, cetainly not something i would have wanted, but the rational analytical scientific side of me finds some attitudes so abhorent that I find myself being overly dismissive of the AGW crowd.

  12. I cant get why you people are so rabidly anti green . I see ‘ green ‘ as a very promising new way foreward in social evolution.

  13. Don’t be anti-green. Greens are good for you and have what your body needs — electrolytes! I see coevolution with greens as a promising path to freedom of thought and action. Mao thought highly enough of greens that he pulled hundreds of thousands of educated city dwellers out of their offices, labs, and classrooms, and put them on the farms to grow greens.

    Lenin likewise favored greens, and built hundreds of collective farms for growing green cabbages. The potatoes were for making vodka, of course.

    I like green so much that whenever President Obama is on the screen, I adjust the color so that his face looks green. It gives everything he says a greater depth of meaning. Try it.

  14. Ah well . As Shakespear might have said ,

    Fear no more the screened-out sun,
    Nor the line managers furious rages ;
    Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages ;
    Thou thy earthly task has done ,
    Golden data inputters all must
    As cabbage growers , come to dust .

  15. FM Note: Significant news, well-worth reading! About the report “A study of climatological research as it pertains to intelligence problems”, CIA, August 1974
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    I have been able to trace the CIA “study” (reference 26) (albeit I have to confess, I looked for it from a WP 1976 article, not from your blog).

    I have written about that document in an article printed in The Spectator (UK), it is mentioned in another printed article in Italian daily Il Foglio and I have written a blog about it (all articles have come out on Dec 3).

    The CIA document is now available in PDF format at the Climate Monitor website.

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