Dec 20, 2009

Obama's Current Science Adviser Warned in the 1970's of a New Ice Age

From George Washington

Specifically, as New York Times science columnist John Tierney noted in September:

In 1971, long before Dr. Holdren came President Obama's science adviser, in an essay [titled] "Overpopulation and the Potential for Ecocide," Dr. Holdren and his co-author, the ecologist Paul Ehrlich, warned of a coming ice age.

They certainly weren't the only scientists in the 1970s to warn of a coming ice age, but I can't think of any others who were so creative in their catastrophizing. Although they noted that the greenhouse effect from rising emissions of carbon dioxide emissions could cause future warming of the planet, they concluded from the mid-century cooling trend that the consequences of human activities (like industrial soot, dust from farms, jet exhaust, urbanization and deforestation) were more likely to first cause an ice age. Dr. Holdren and Dr. Ehrlich wrote:

The effects of a new ice age on agriculture and the supportability of large human populations scarcely need elaboration here. Even more dramatic results are possible, however; for instance, a sudden outward slumping in the Antarctic ice cap, induced by added weight, could generate a tidal wave of proportions unprecedented in recorded history.

Shooting Soot into the Upper Atmosphere

And when I wrote that some scientists considered pouring soot over the Arctic in the 1970s to help melt the ice - to prevent an ice age - I didn't realize that soot was still on the table as a way to battle climate change.

Specifically, Dr. Holdren has suggested (as a last resort):

Shooting pollution particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect the sun's rays.

The most common type of man-made "pollution particle" is soot. Indeed, as the American Lung Association points out:

Soot is an old name for particle pollution.
So President Obama's science advisor, Dr. Holdren, is now saying that we might need to use soot to stop runway global warming. (Soot in the upper atmosphere can reflect sunlight and cool temperatures, but soot on the surface of ice helps warm and melt the ice by absorbing sunlight).

What's Wrong with That?
Well, soot is a major cause of ice warming and melting in the Arctic and in the Himalayas. And as NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies has shown , soot in the upper atmosphere ends up on the surface of ice sheets and glaciers, such as Arctic ice cap:
South Asia is estimated to have the largest industrial soot emissions in the world, and the meteorology in that region readily sweeps pollution into the upper atmosphere where it is easily transported to the North Pole.
I don't know whether Dr. Holdren was one of the scientists recommending using soot to melt the ice cap in the 1970s, but the fact that he would even consider shooting soot into the upper atmosphere now to cool the planet is very troubling. If scientists had convinced policy-makers to pour soot over the Arctic ice cap in the 1970s, we might have had real problems. If scientists convince them to shoot soot into the upper atmosphere now, we might get the exact same end-game.

First, Do No Harm Read more from George Washington here