A #climate warning from the 1969 Reith Lectures

We knew.  We knew.  Don’t let anyone tell you that the failure of the human response to what is fairly clearly its terminal situation was down to ignorance or a lack of advance warning.  The standard narrative has the world first being told in 1988, thanks to prolonged work by scientists like James Hansen, Bert Bolin and some canny organisational entrepreneurs.  That’s true, but incomplete.  There were scientists, 20 years before, flagging the facts  (indeed, 30 years, but that’s for another time).

And I have a hobby, of looking back at the books published in the period 1968 or so onward.  It’s there.  Admittedly, a minor thing, compared to more photogenic and immediate problems (local air pollution, oil spills etc).

The latest find/confirmation is Wilderness and Plenty, by Frank Fraser-Darling.  What makes this one a bit different is that Fraser-Darling had done this book as the 1969 Reith Lectures. So, anyone who listened to it (and my understanding is that a very sizeable proportion of the British intelligentsia does) would have heard a warning on 30th November 1969.

1969 reith lectures fraser darling

He continued

“We are not yet at the end of this story. the warming oceans would alter considerably the distribution of marine fauna.  This has happened already in this century in the warming of the North Atlantic Ocean…. The warming oceans and atmosphere would mean a recession of the polar ice caps. Our ports would go under quite literally, and with them vast tracts of fertile soil.  What happens then to the swarming human population? I suppose they move upward and back, very slowly, of course, but surely. And what then?


We knew. We knew.

3 thoughts on “A #climate warning from the 1969 Reith Lectures

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  1. ‘Havoc’…A word appropos to your perspective two days ago used in an NYT headline. First time I can recall havoc used in a climate headline…more to come, no doubt.
    ‘How Record Heat Wreaked Havoc on Four Continents

    We talked to people who found themselves on the front lines of climate change this year. Here are their stories.’

  2. Ha!
    That havoc word is getting around… just now in my FB feed. Also 2 days ago in a blog on Scientific American.

    Excerpt: First, climate change isn’t a supervillain. It’s worse. Villains, after all, clearly explain the havoc they’re about to cause, usually to the hero they’ve just captured.

    Excerpt: ‘Don’t get me wrong: climate change is an overwhelmingly horrific thing. It will lead—it already is leading- to massive economic damage, desperate refugees, and the loss of things we love. But it’s fundamentally different from an asteroid impact or zombie plague, and I think it’s important to understand why.

    I do understand the urge to catastrophize.’


  3. In the immortal words of Larry The Cable Guy, there’s your problem:

    Excerpt: ‘The point is, climate change is staggeringly fast on geological timescales, and relatively slow in comparison to a human lifetime. Given the poverty, racism, and inequality in the world, climate change is seldom anyone’s number one problem. Until, one day, it is.’

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