The Emergence Of A Scientific Consensus On Global Warming

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During this period there was a broad discursive shift in the general understanding of climate as a problem. There was a rather rapid change from the mid-late 1960s, when climate research was viewed as a precursor to humans consciously changing climate to make it more favourable, towards research into how humans may be changing climate inadvertently. The quote from Federov, Chief of the USSR Hydrometeorological Service in 1967, at the beginning of this chapter is one example. US President Kennedy proposed to the UN General Assembly in 1961 'further cooperative efforts between all nations in weather prediction and eventually in weather control' (Weiss, 1975:811, emphasis added). Revelle, while heading a White House team in the mid-1960s to evaluate the potential threat of a CO2-induced global warming, wrote in the team's report that, should such changes become likely, humanity could try to effect 'countervailing climate change' (Rowlands, 1994:67). The director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, stated to Congress that he wanted 'maximum possible mastery of the atmospheric environment' (quoted in Hart and Victor, 1993:663). However, from the late 1960s, as the first wave of modern environmentalism emerged, this technocratic image of climate as something to be controlled by humans fades towards an image where humans are more dependent on climate for their welfare, and are unable to manipulate it for their own ends (Hart and Victor, 1993:666-9). By 1971, the participants in the Study on Man's Impact on Climate (see more below) included a Sanskrit prayer as a frontispiece to their report, also cited at the beginning of this chapter.

According to Cain, the 'turning point' in relation to awareness of climate issues and to the development of greenhouse science were two studies undertaken in 1970 and 1971, the Study of Critical Environmental Problems (SCEP), and the Study on Man's Impact on Climate (SMIC) (MIT, 1970; Matthews et al., 1971; Cain, 1983:91). These studies highlighted the importance of the CO2 question and, according to Cain, caused this problem to be included on the environmental agendas of national and international institutions (Cain, 1983:91). SCEP was a month-long workshop held during July 1970 in Williamstown, Massachusetts. William Kellogg, chair of the Work Group on Climatic Effects, later wrote 'I think it is fair to say that virtually every member of the Work Group came away with a heightened awareness of the subject with which we were dealing' (Kellogg, 1987:120).

The SCEP report pointed out several possible implications of the rise in CO2 levels which had occurred since the Industrial Revolution. The Work Group concluded that, although 'the probability of direct climate change in this century resulting from CO2 is small, we stress that the long-term potential consequences of CO2 effects on the climate or of social reaction to such threats are so serious that much more must be learned about future trends of climate change' (MIT, 1970:12).

SMIC was organised as a conference by MIT and Swedish scientific bodies in July 1971 in Wyk near Stockholm, at which thirty leading scientists from fourteen countries attended (Lunde, 1991:64). Kellogg states that Carroll Wilson, the organiser (he was also the organiser of SCEP), intended SMIC to be explicitly international (Kellogg, 1987:120). The 300-page report from this conference went into greater detail about the possible climatic effects, and was used as the major background paper on climate change issues at the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment (Kellogg, 1987:121; Lunde, 1991:64).

The state of knowledge at this point was, however, still considerably undeveloped. The report from SMIC stated bluntly on the question of whether CO2 rises would lead to climatic changes: 'We do not know yet' (quoted in Lunde, 1991:67). The theory that industrial and agricultural aerosols would lead to a cooling of the atmosphere was also widespread, and no agreement could be reached between the participants as to which tendency would be most important (Kellogg, 1987:121-2; see also Ross, 1991:200-6 on the cooling debate). Its main recommendations were, therefore, that what was needed was 'more measurements and more theory!' (Lunde, 1991:67).

According to Cain, the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, which led to the founding of UNEP (Cain, 1983:81), represented a major shift in the priority given to climatic issues by international organisations. Climate impacts were 'central concerns', she suggests (Cain, 1983:82). This change led to two developments. First, there was a series of UN-sponsored conferences during the 1970s on climate-related problems. These included the UN World Food Conference in 1974, the UN Water Conference in 1976, and the UN Desertification Conference in 1977. These conferences highlighted various aspects of severe problems associated with different climatic variations, and made clear the possible consequences of significant human-induced climate change. During the 1960s and early 1970s there were several extreme climatic events, including the Sahel five-year drought, the 1962 drought in the then Soviet Union, the monsoon failure in India in 1974, and the drought in Europe in 1976. These made clear human dependence on climate and provided a rationale for stepping up research into climate in general.

The second development, related to the first, was a change in the character of meteorological research. Prior to this, scientific research had been largely into the general understanding of weather. After 1972-3 the research programmes expanded into the field of long-term climatic trends and conditions, rather than short-term weather patterns. This change was stimulated both by the SMIC report and by the events outlined above. Davies stated in 197 2 that WMO had already considered possible climatic changes due to increased CO2, and had begun collecting and studying the necessary data (Davies, 1972:335).

Substantial cooperative research on potential climate changes began with a Conference in Stockholm in July 1974, on the 'physical basis of climate and climate modelling'. This conference, organised by GARP, gathered together about seventy climate scientists from a wide range of countries (GARP, 1975; Lunde, 1991:64).

The GARP 1974 Conference largely repeated the SMIC statement that the state of knowledge was too uncertain to make any strong statements about any potential global warming. It recognised that some specialists believed that 'the cooling trend which began in the 1940s [would] continue for several decades' (GARP, 1975:1), and stated that, while some have claimed to be able to make climatological forecasts, the view more widely accepted by specialists was 'that our understanding of climate and climatic variability is far too meagre to warrant pronouncements of this sort' (GARP, 1975:1). The important aspect of the conference was that it was aimed at developing a consensus about how best to model the climate system, thus providing a basis on which the future growth in confidence about potential global warming could develop.

Also in 1974, WMO's Executive Committee recommended that a Panel of Experts on Climate Change be established, which happened the following year. In 1976, WMO's Executive Committee suggested that a workshop be convened to develop a comprehensive model of the atmosphere to estimate the effects of increased CO2 on climate. The first model of the atmosphere had been developed in 1956 (White, 1990:19; Lunde, 1991:62). However, models existing up to the mid-1970s remained rudimentary. The workshop was held at the offices of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from 28 November to 3 December 1976 (Cain, 1983:82), and its report constituted a full account of the state of knowledge at the time, and included recommendations to improve predictions of future atmospheric CO2 concentrations (Cain, 1983:82).

Other influential studies were published in this period which indicate that the possibility of climate change due to increased CO2 was being taken increasingly seriously by climate scientists. In 1975, the International Symposium on Long-Term Climate fluctuations was held in Norwich, organised by WMO. The importance of this meeting was that it established that industrial aerosols and smoke particles and agricultural slash and burn practices, previously thought to cool the troposphere, do not do this, thus clearing the way for CO2 to be the main candidate for affecting temperature (Kellogg, 1987:122). Also of particular note were three assessments made by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 1975, 1977 and 1979 (Lunde, 1991:71; White, 1990:20; Rowlands, 1994:69). The 1979 report was based on a study group which met during the summer of 1979 to determine whether the models being used to calculate global warming had a scientific basis and were sufficiently credible. Its conclusion stated that there was no good reason to doubt the calculations that a doubling of CO2 concentrations would lead to a warming of 1.5-4.5°C, and that, on present trends, such a warming would occur during the twenty-first century (NAS, 1979; Kellogg, 1987:123).

The recommendation of the WMO Executive Committee for an increased monitoring of CO2 was followed up at its session inJune 1977, where it set up a research and monitoring project to expand existing monitoring of CO2 (Cain, 1983:82). The 1977 meeting also discussed a broader climate research programme, and an outline of such a programme was developed at an ad hoc group of expert members meeting in Cairo in January 1978 (Cain, 1983:83). The initiation of a World Climate Programme had been endorsed by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the UN Desertification Conference in 1977 (Cain, 1983:82). In May 1978, the WMO Executive Committee's Thirtieth Session approved the programme outlined by the group which met in Cairo (Cain, 1983:83).

These developments culminated in February 1979, when WMO, in conjunction with other UN bodies and the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), organised the first World Climate Conference (WCC) in Geneva. Greater concern about possible effects of increased CO2 on climate was one of the major reasons for convening this conference (White, 1979:4; Lunde, 1991:71). The conference was attended by approximately 400 'scientists and other specialists from fifty different countries representing many scientific and other disciplines' (WMO, 1979a: Preface). Its purpose, decided at the twenty-ninth session of the WMO Executive Committee during May-June 1977, was '(a) To review knowledge of climatic change and variability, due both to natural and anthropogenic causes; and (b) To assess possible future climatic changes and variability and their implications for human activities' (Davies, 1979:vii).

By the time of the World Climate Conference, its participants were prepared to state that:

„.we can say with some confidence that the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and changes of land use have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by about 15 per cent during the last century and it is at present increasing by about 0.4 per cent per year. It is likely that an increase will continue in the future. Carbon dioxide plays a fundamental role in determining the temperature of the earth's atmosphere, and it appears plausible that an increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can contribute to a gradual warming of the lower atmosphere, especially at high latitudes. Patterns of change would be likely to affect the distribution of temperature, rainfall and other meteorological parameters, but the details of the changes are still poorly understood.

The Declaration also appealed to nations to 'foresee and to prevent potential man-made [sic] changes in climate that might be adverse to the well-being of humanity' (WMO, 1979b:713). While this appeal did not have a significant direct impact, the conference did publicise the climate issue, and gave extra legitimacy and profile to the activities of the soon-tobe-formed World Climate Programme. Many of the supporting documents to the Conference Declaration were concerned with the prospective aims of the Programme and how it should be supported by scientists and governments. Lunde states that the conference 'marked a new important threshold in the international efforts at improving our knowledge of man's [sic] impact on global climate' (Lunde, 1991:14).

Later, inJune 1979, the Eighth WMO Congress formally established the World Climate Programme (WCP), following the outline developed by the WMO Ad Hoc group, the ECOSOC endorsement, and the World Climate Conference recommendations. The WCP was the first internationally coordinated programme of research into the world's climate system (WWW and GARP focused on weather). It works generally on understanding climate more fully, as well as on specific issues of climatic change such as global warming, ozone depletion and acid rain.

The WCP has four main components; the World Climate Data Programme, concerned with 'the assembly and availability of climate data sets'; the World Climate Application Programme, which deals with

'the use of knowledge about climate to increase the safety and economy of human activities'; the World Climate Research Programme, concerned with the influence of changes in the composition of the atmosphere on climate; and the World Climate Impact Studies Programme, which deals with the 'effect of climate change on ecosystems and human activities' (Cain, 1983:83).

The WCP provided the organisational framework within which much climate change research has operated. Possibly more importantly, it organised the Villach conference of 1985, which began the process through which global warming became politicised (Bruce, 1991:152).

A scientific consensus on global warming appeared to be emerging for the first time at the 'International Conference on the Assessment of the role of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in climate variations and associated impacts', held in Villach, Austria, during 9-15 October 1985 under WCP auspices. This conference aimed to examine the state of knowledge on climate and climate change, and to establish some sort of scientific consensus on the degree of responsibility for global warming of each gas, and on a preliminary prediction of what sort of warming the world was likely to see. There were also some generalised reports on what might happen to different specific parts of the world. In Lunde's words the conference was 'probably the most important greenhouse event between 1979 and the convening of IPCC in October 1988' (Lunde, 1991:77).

The statement and conclusions of the Villach conference were significantly more confident than that of the WCC. It stated that the current consensus was that:

The most advanced experiments.. .show increases of the global mean surface temperature for a doubling of the atmospheric CO2 concentration or equivalent, of between 1.5 and 4.5°C.

The confidence expressed at Villach was based on a significant growth in both the scope and the complexity of climate research during the 1980s. The most important of these developments included much more realistic models of the atmosphere, and the consolidation of the realisation that other anthropogenic gases (CFCs, methane, nitrous oxide, tropospheric ozone) are radiatively important (Malone, 1986:30).10 This had been realised in the mid-1970s by some scientists (Ramanathan, 1975) but it was only by the 1980s that it was widely incorporated into models, or that its policy significance was realised (Victor and Clark, 1991:21, 54-8; Jaeger, 1996).

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