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Discussion > Climate concern in the 50s?

I just saw The Bride of the Monster, a truly bad movie despite Bela Lugosi's magnetism. But this thread is not about film criticism, as entertaining as thta might be.

At one point in the movie, one of the characters remarks of the frequency of severe thunderstorms that "as the newspapers say, perhaps all the atomic explosions have affected the atmosphere." Or something to that effect. My question is whether there was any actual concern of climate change due to atomic testing in the 50s? Or was this merely a throwaway anti-atomic-energy remark? Was it merely a popular fear -- an urban myth -- or were there technical papers supporting these conjectures?

So far, all I've been able to unearth (via Google) is a Science article (vol. 121) saying

We cannot, with our present knowledge of meteorology, dismiss the remote possibility that the atmosphere is so unstable that some small impulse such as that given by an atomic explosion could produce a weather change that might otherwise never take place. However, there does not seem to be any reason why such modification would necessarily produce worse weather than might occur naturally.

So it seems that such fears were common enough that scientists investigated, but found no evidence for such a hypothesis. Can anyone else add to this, or correct it?

Aug 8, 2011 at 7:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW

By coincidence I was discussing this just a couple of days ago.
As far as I can tell every technological development of the 20th century has resulted in mankind coming under the threat of some sort of doom or other.
Radio waves were going to kill us all in the 30s and as for television ...
There certainly was a sort of low-level urban myth during the 50s that nuclear explosions were disrupting the weather (I don't recall we'd heard of 'climate' in those days) and like most scares it had the essential requisite of being at least credible on the face of it. There was a lot of film of nuclear tests in the Pacific and we'd all seen the sort of devastation that nuclear weapons could cause.
I think it was all part of the "Red Menace"! I remember as a teenager reading a novel in which the Soviets had blanketed the whole if the UK under about 10 feet of snow in August (I'm not sure if I ever found out why they would do that) by the use of some form of snow generating machine. We only found out it was artificial when we managed to get a plane up and they discovered the cloud cover was exactly rectangular! The machines were situated at each corner so we bombed them and that was that!
All very silly but it says something about the thinking at the time.
What I find significant in the article you quote is the common sense approach: "there does not seem to be any reason why such modification would necessarily produce worse weather..." But, but, surely it must be worse than we thought! It does seem as if mankind is programmed to assume the worst, doesn't it? A failing on which certain activist organisations rely for their existence, innit?

Aug 9, 2011 at 10:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

Mike, thanks for the recollections.

Assuming that the general response was along the lines of the Science article, yes, it seems a common-sense approach, avoiding speculation.

While this takes us rather off-topic, my Google-browsing -- growsing? -- on the above subject did reveal that followers of Arrhenius were not necessarily so circumspect in the 50s. From Popular Science June 1958:

“Melting polar ice will make ocean levels rise at least 40 feet, and inundate vast areas in the next 50 or 60 years unless atmospheric temperatures are controlled.” –Dr. Joseph Kaplan, chairman of International Geophysical Year [according to the article].

Aug 10, 2011 at 1:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW


Aug 11, 2011 at 2:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterKBD

Another anecdote, from commenter AusieDan:

"When I was a young lad, it was during the period of atmospheric testing of atomic bombs.
We were told that the radioactive particle so released were affecting the weather.
Whenever it was unusually hot or cold or wet or dry, it was all due to the atomic bomb.
At first we believed it.
Gradually, it became a figure of fun.

Aug 30, 2011 at 12:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW

re above from KBD.....


Aug 11, 2011 at 2:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterKBD

Love it

Aug 30, 2011 at 5:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Walsh