The Climes They Are A-Changin'

Nobel laureate economist and Princeton Professor Paul Krugman opines on the causes of a recent run-up in food prices:

Droughts, Floods and Food


So what’s behind the [food and commodity] price spike? American right-wingers (and the Chinese) blame easy-money policies at the Federal Reserve, with at least one commentator declaring that there is “blood on Bernanke’s hands.” …

But the evidence tells a different, much more ominous story. While several factors have contributed to soaring food prices, what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production. And these severe weather events are exactly the kind of thing we’d expect to see as rising concentrations of greenhouse gases change our climate — which means that the current food price surge may be just the beginning.

Pretty scary stuff, huh?

But haven’t we heard this all before?

“Gee, this is some crazy weather we’ve been having.”

I’m old enough to remember some pretty darn extreme weather, like Hurricane Camille, a monster Cat 5 storm that devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969. There was the Super Tornado Outbreak of April, 1974: a complex of 148 twisters that spun across hundreds of mile of the Midwest, killing 148, injuring 5,300, and wiping the town of Xenia, OH off the map. And lest we forget the record cold winter of 1977-78, when natural gas supplies ran low.

Many of our impressions of current extreme weather conditions have to do with the fact that 1) they’re fresh in our memories; 2) we have better communications and 3) higher population densities than in times past.


Complaining about extreme weather is part of the human condition. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane with The New York Times, all the way back to 1888:

1977, a Year of Weather Extremes,
Causing Concern Among Experts

HOUSTON, July 13 The year began with a blizzard of superlatives: It was among the coldest winters in history in the East, the driest in the West. People froze in New York, tomatoes glaciated in Florida, streams ran dry in Oregon and bears sweated in Alaska in January.

[This was the summer before the record cold winter of 1977-78. – Ed.]

Experts Fear Great Peril If SST Fumes Cool Earth

A federally sponsored inquiry into the effects of possible climate changes caused by heavy supersonic traffic in the stratosphere has concluded that even a slight cooling could cost the world from $200 billion to 500 times that much in damage done to agriculture, public health and other effects.

Scientists Ask Why World Climate Is Changing – Major Cooling May Be Ahead

The world’s climate is changing. Of that scientists are firmly convinced. But in what direction and why are subjects of deepening debate.

Climate Changes Endanger World’s Food Output


Scientists View Global Climate Changes as Threat to World’s Food Output; Soviet Estimate Rises New Pattern Emerging; 7th Year of Draught Problems in Iowa; Benefits of Technology

Worrying About a New Ice Age

For the past few hundred thousand years the climate of the earth has oscillated enough to produce a succession of frigid ice ages and warm interglacial periods. It has generally been assumed that these climate changes were gradual, but new theories that they occur with devastating suddenness are now being tested.

[… and there’s this, also by Walter Sullivan, three days previous. – Ed.]

Expert Says Arctic Ocean Will Soon Be an Open Sea –
Catastrophic Shifts in Climate Feared if Change Occurs; Other Specialists See No Thinning of Polar Ice Cap

Col. Bernt Balchen, polar explorer and flier, is circulating a paper among polar specialists proposing that the Arctic pack ice is thinning and that the ocean at the North Pole may become an open sea within a decade or two.

But Climate Experts Meeting Here Fail to Agree on Reasons for Change

After a week of discussions on the causes of climate change, an assembly of specialists from several continents seems to have reached unanimous agreement on only one point: it is getting colder.


[What do you call it when “scientists agree”? Oh, yeah … a consensus! – Ed.]

Winters Since ’40 Found Colder In Studies by Weather Bureau;
Data Indicate, a Reversal of a Warming Trend That Began in 1888

Winters throughout the world have been getting steadily colder since 1940, according to a study carried out by the United States Weather Bureau.

ICE IN ANTARCTIC REPORTED ON RISE; Sheet Growing at Rate of 293 Cubic Miles Yearly, Soviet Expert Says; I.G.Y. DATA DISCLOSED; Hoarfrost Is Said to Fall the Year Around in Heart of Polar Continent; ICE IN ANTARCTIC IS FOUND PILING UP

HELSINKI, Finland, Aug. 3 — The immense mass of Antarctic ice is growing at the rate of about 293 cubic miles a year, a Soviet glaciologist estimates.

[“I.G.Y.” was the International Geophysical Year. – ed.]

5-Degree Rise Over the Last Half Century Is Recorded at Little America; ICE IS FOUND THICKER; Director of U. S. Program Says Sheet Drops 10,000 Feet in Many Areas

An analysis of weather records from Little America shows a steady warming of climate over the last half century. The rise in average temperature at the Antarctic outpost has been about five degrees Fahrenheit.


Carbon Dioxide Due to Change Climate

Why Earth Warms;

Scientist Blames Man-Made Changes on Earth’s Surface

Dr. John G. Hutton of the General Electric Company’s engineering laboratory in Schenectady, N.Y., told the Cleveland section of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers last week that the man-made increase in the belt of carbon dioxide around the earth may be “having a greenhouse effect on our climate.”

Astrophysicist Says There Is Definite Link Between Solar Radiation and Weather

WASHINGTON, Aug. 15 — A farmer or a resort owner may some day be able to look at a chart and accurately determine certain general weather trends that will tell him years in advance about when there will be rain and about when there will be drought.

Is Climate Changing?; Habits of Mammals and Birds Suggest World Is Warmer

Is the world warming up? Dr. Joseph J. Hickey, Professor of Wildlife Management at the
University of Wisconsin, holds that it is. He has drawn his evidence from the changing habits of some half-dozen species of mammals …

Weather Man Disagrees With Theory of Paul Painleve — Says Radio Cannot Control Elements — Sun Spots Responsible


AMERICAN radio men and weather forecasters do not agree with Paul Painleve, the French Minister of War, that radio waves are responsible for the rainy, chilly weather that has persisted this Spring. The Minister of War called attention to the fact that the introduction of radio waves into a tightly closed room where the air is absolutely transparent cause little drops of water to form on the faces of those in the room.

[Editor’s note: This observation predated the formation of the Black Eyed Peas by some 80 years.]

There Has Been a Decided Decrease in Rainfall and Humidity Here in Five Years.HAVOC IN CENTRAL PARK Record Cold Killed 4,000, but Poor Soil Is Chief Cause of Loss–Suggestions for Restoration.

New York’s climate has changed considerably in the last twenty years, and that is one of the reasons for the wholesale death of trees in Central Park, according to Charles Lathrop Pack, President of the American Forestry Association, who has written in the current issue of American Forestry an extended review of the causes of tree failure in Central Park, …


With and Bad Drainage of Melbourne — Sydney and Auckland Remarkable for the Severity of Rains — Queensland and New South Wales Have Ideal Winters — Tasmania Has the Healthiest of Climates — Easy of Access to Invalids — Air Good for Consumptives.



An article in the Forum for February is upon the subject of the much-talked-of change in our climate. The writer, Prof. CLEVELAND ABBE, says that the notion that it is possible for a climate to change to a modern one. Our ancestors lived in a region …

Is Climate Changing?

Formerly wine was made in England, the change of climate might be the principal reason that this manufacture does not now flourish. There are, however, many reasons why British wine does not command a market at present. At the best it must have been sorry stuff; …

Cross-posted at Vladenblog.



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