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Global Cooling? Weather vs Climate

Watercolor painting of Mount Tambora eruption painted by Greg Harlin.
Greg Harlin, American, n.d.–present. Great Eruption, 2002. Watercolors. Wood Ronsaville Harlin Inc. Smithsonian Magazine. This painting shows people on the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia fleeing from the eruption of Mount Tambora.

In Cog’s Volcano video, I talk about the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora and how it caused “the year without summer.” That cold weather was a BIG deal. A great interdisciplinary website called Climate in Arts & History delves into how it actually changed history around the world. That’s BIG. The Massachusetts Historical Society says we finally figured out in the 1970’s that the "year without summer" was connected to Mount Tambora.

But it got me thinking. I wondered if that 1977 Time magazine cover you hear about that predicted global cooling was because of another volcanic eruption. Wouldn’t that have been a great tie-in to my video? But after a little scratching, very little scratching actually, it turns out . . . drum roll please . . . There was NO Time magazine cover predicting global cooling. I know!

I did a little a more scratching and found this wonderful article in Scientific American, “How the ‘Global Cooling’ Story Came to Be”. Turns out that in 1975 there was a 9-paragraph article on page 64 in Newsweek which stated that there had been a gradual decrease in average temperatures and we might be heading to a “Little Ice Age.” We now attribute that blip to soot and aerosols that may have been bouncing heat away.

Side by side comparison shows how the Time cover was photoshopped.
The real Time cover from 2007 and the hoax

But, what about the Time Magazine cover story? Well, I can only guess how that became a thing. The Time magazine cover people refer to is a hoax. I know! It's actually a 2007 cover that has been photo-shopped. The real cover, on the left, talks about repercussions of our heating planet.

Jacques Costeau alerted world to ocean warming in the 1970's.
Becoming Cousteau documentary

Then last night I watched the new documentary Becoming Cousteau, and I learned that back in the 1970’s Cousteau was already telling us about the oceans warming. I didn’t realize that he’d been instrumental in global policy-making to protect the Antarctic in order to slow climate change.

Following the breadcrumbs back, I found that Congress had learned about global warming in 1986 during a 2-day hearing on “Ozone Depletion, the Greenhouse Effect, and Climate Change.” A Washington Post article about the hearings quoted Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.) who said, “The scientific evidence . . . is telling us have a problem, a serious problem.” It’s been said that the politicians were told we had 40 years before we’d feel the effects of greenhouse warming, to which they replied, “then come back in 39 years.”

Drawing of Eunice Netwon Foote at work by Carlyn Iverson, NOAA
Drawing of Eunice Newton Foote by Carlyn Iverson, NOAA

Still curious, I wondered when we'd first learned about greenhouse gases and a heating planet. Well, it was a long time ago. This 2023 New Scientist article suggests that we’ve known since 1859 when Eunice Newton Foote was exposing tubes of different gases to sunlight. She concluded that, “The highest effect of the sun’s rays I have found to be in carbonic acid gas.” She speculated that ““an atmosphere of that gas would give to our earth a high temperature.”

So, there you have it. We’ve known that volcanoes can globally cool the weather since the 1970’s. But we’ve known for 162 years that carbon dioxide in our atmosphere can warm our earth.

Katherine Hayhoe, author of Saving Us, says that we need to start talking about climate change if we want solving it to become a priority for our leaders. Did you find something in this post that could be a conversation starter?


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