What exactly was “One hundred metres” Williams talking about?
There was a very interesting excerpt from the first ABC Science Show with Robyn Williams from 1975 to celebrate the programme’s 35 years. In it, Williams was interviewing Peter Ritchie-Calder, father of infamous Nigel Calder, the internationally renowned British global warming sceptic. I got the impression that Williams was making the point that all that long ago he was on the money, already talking about carbon pollution and the dangers of global warming. But, in listening carefully to what they both said, there is a strange feeling that something was missing.
Robyn Williams: Hello, this is Robyn Williams in Vancouver with the very first edition of The Science Show.
Yes, we’re 35 this week, and so today a brief look back to 1975. And what is really striking in Science Show number one is that even then we were talking about climate and energy sources. What have we learned? Just listen.
Lord Ritchie-Calder came to Vancouver to talk about energy problems, a subject he knows all about having sat on countless advisory panels over the years.
Peter Ritchie-Calder: In the course of the last century we’ve put 360,000 million tonnes of fossil carbon into the atmosphere. On the present trends the accumulated requirements between now and 2000 AD will come out as something like 11,000 million tonnes of coal a year, 200,000 million tonnes of crude petroleum and liquid natural gas, and 50 million million cubic metres of natural gas. Remember, this is coming out of the bowels of the Earth, and now we are taking it out and we’re throwing it back into the atmosphere, and into the climatic machine, into the weather machine, where it is beginning to affect the climate itself. Now this is a very serious matter, and to me there is no question that our climate has changed.
Robyn Williams: Do you expect the limitation to this ever-expanding use of fossil fuels to be due to either running out of them, or to this second question of climate effect?
Peter Ritchie-Calder: I think definitely that environmental factors…that you will simply be confronted with a situation which will make life virtually intolerable.
Robyn Williams: We’ve got these different possible techniques, there’s a nuclear fusion, nuclear fission, solar power, tidal power and so on. What do you think will happen to determine which of these will become the satisfactory energy source?
Notice that the issue for the discussion is energy. You can see, in the last two responses from Williams there is scant regard to the climate that Ritchie-Calder thinks is urgent. The programme was, after all, made barely a year after the first big and very damaging oil crisis of 1974, and Williams was only concerned with how to find an alternative “satisfactory energy source”. There was certainly no Robyn “100 metres” Williams jumping on the climate band wagon. Indeed, at that time, almost everyone was talking about global cooling and the prospects of an ice age due to carbon emissions.
Significantly, just after that show, in November 1975, the US National Academy of Sciences published a report, Understanding Climate Change: A Program for Action. In it was stated the fact that
we do not have a good quantitative understanding of our climate machine and what determines its course. Without the fundamental understanding, it does not seem possible to predict climate.
Indeed, at the time most people were spooked by doomsday announcements of a runaway cooling of the planet. This comes from Newsweek, April 28, 1975
The Cooling World
There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production – with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth …
The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it. In England, farmers have seen their growing season decline by about two weeks since 1950, with a resultant overall loss in grain production estimated at up to 100,000 tons annually.
Of course, this alarmism sounds almost identical to what the media publishes today, except that it is for the opposite reason! The problem is that it is hard to know with the excerpt Williams gave on his Science Show promotion the other day, whether or not he and Ritchie-Calder were not referring to global cooling and the impending ice age, if indeed Williams was thinking much about climate change at all.
Maybe Williams could clarify that for us.