Flashback 1976: Scientists Blamed California Drought on Global Cooling

By Published on May 4, 2015

California was stuck in a deep drought during Gov. Jerry Brown’s first term, much like the one the state is currently going through. The only difference is that global cooling, not warming, was blamed for causing drought in the late 1970s.

In 1976, the New York Times reported that California was “so dry, brush fires have started several weeks early” and that “water is being rationed.” But in the 1970s, scientists blamed this drought on global cooling.

The Times reported that climatologists “believe that the climate has moved into a cooling cycle, which means highly erratic weather for decades to come.” Scientists worried that the world’s population had gotten so high that minor “shifts in climate could be catastrophic.”

During the 1970s, some climate scientists were warning that the world was undergoing a cooling phase which could plummet the globe into another ice age. At the first Earth Day in 1970, ecologist Kenneth Watt warned that another ice age was on the way.

“The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years,” Watt said. “If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”

Not all scientists, however, agreed with the theory the world was heading into another ice age. Scientists didn’t even agree that global cooling was causing droughts across the U.S.

A “skeptical scientist” told the New York Times in 1976 that “some of their stuff is right out of fantasyland” regarding predictions that global cooling was going to make the weather more erratic.

But climate science has changed since the 1970s, and droughts are no longer blamed on global cooling. Instead, some climate scientists and environmentalists blame droughts on global warming — which they say is the result of man-made carbon dioxide emissions.

California’s Gov. Brown, who is serving out his fourth term, is once again presiding over a state mired in drought. Brown’s response to todays drought is almost identical to policies he pushed in the 1970s. During the 1970s, Brown said “this is an era of limits and there are very hard choices to make.”

Brown hasn’t changed his mind much since then. This time though, he’s worried that global warming could deplete California’s water supplies. The Democratic Governor has imposed severe water restrictions on households, businesses and local governments.

Drought fines could be as high as $10,000 under Brown’s water use rules. The governor wants cities to cut water use by 25 percent over the next nine months.

While California’s drought is hurting the state, scientists have said it’s not being caused by global warming.

(H/T Real Science)


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