Fifty years ago today, as the American Association for the Advancement of Science highlighted, US president Lyndon Johnson’s science advisory committee sent him a report entitled Restoring the Quality of Our Environment. The introduction to the report noted:
Pollutants have altered on a global scale the carbon dioxide content of the air and the lead concentrations in ocean waters and human populations.
The report included a section on atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate change, written by prominent climate scientists Roger Revelle, Wallace Broecker, Charles Keeling, Harmon Craig, and J Smagorisnky. Reviewing the document today, one can’t help but be struck by how well these scientists understood the mechanisms of Earth’s climate change 50 years ago.
The report noted that within a few years, climate models would be able to reasonably project future global surface temperature changes. In 1974, one of its authors, Wallace Broecker did just that in a paper titled Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?.
You can read the details about this paper and Broecker’s modeling here and in my book Climatology versus Pseudoscience. His model only included the effects of carbon dioxide and his best estimates of natural climate cycles. It didn’t include the warming effects of other greenhouse gases, or the cooling effects of human aerosol pollution, but fortunately for Broecker those two effects have roughly canceled each other out over the past 40 years.
Broecker’s model predicted the global warming anticipated by 2015 both from carbon pollution alone, and when including his best estimate of natural climate cycles. In the figure below, the carbon-caused warming is shown in blue, and in combination with natural cycles (which Broecker turns out not to have represented very accurately) in green, as compared to the observed global surface temperatures from NOAA in red. As you can see, the climate model predictions from over 40 years ago turned out to be remarkably accurate.