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The 1981 TV Documentary That Warned About Global Warming
By Leo Hickman
On the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 8, 1981, the UK's only commercial TV channel, ITV, broadcast an hour-long documentary, Warming Warning.
It was among the earliest occasions—possibly the earliest—anywhere in the world where a major broadcaster aired a documentary dedicated solely to the topic of human-caused climate change.
The documentary, which was made by the now-defunct Thames Television, has sat in the archives largely unseen ever since. Until now.
Carbon Brief has tracked down the copyright holder, FremantleMedia Ltd, and persuaded it to release into the public domain a selection of key clips from the documentary.
The clips provide a poignant, historical insight into what scientists knew about climate change almost four decades ago—and how the world was beginning to react in terms of the resulting geopolitical, technological and societal ramifications. Many of themes still resonate strongly today.
To put it in context, the documentary was broadcast seven years before Dr. James Hansen's famous "it is already happening now" Senate testimony in 1988, nine years before the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report was published, and 25 years before Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth was released. After it first aired in 1981, Warming Warning went on to be broadcast in the U.S. (in 1990 on PBS), Greece, Japan and Israel, according to FremantleMedia.
In its TV listings on the day the program aired, the Times described it as "a documentary about the serious effects our polluting of the atmosphere with carbon dioxide will have on the climate." It added: "Scientists are worried that at the present rate the Earth will be 2°C warmer by the middle of the next century with disastrous consequences for the polar regions."
New Scientist said at the time it was "excellently written and directed" by Richard Broad, a current affairs documentary-maker, then better known for films focused on the Middle East conflict. (The credits at the end thank, among others, the science writer Dr. John Gribbin.)
The film, narrated by the presenter Tom Vernon, opens with an introduction to the problem of burning fossil fuels. The narration begins:
"Since the time of the Industrial Revolution, man has consumed huge and increasing amounts of fossil fuel to sustain the growth of industrial societies … Meteorologists now believe that increased quantities of CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to significant warming of the planet within decades."
The film then introduces several U.S.-based experts, starting with Gus Speth, who is captioned as "an environmental adviser to President Carter," but who went on to found the World Resources Institute thinktank and advised Bill Clinton, among many other roles. He begins:
"It's hard for me to imagine a more serious environmental issue."
In quick succession, the film also introduces two more talking heads. First, David Burns, who was director of the "climate project" at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Then comes Dr. Walter Orr Roberts, a well-known U.S. atmospheric scientist.
Running time of this clip in original documentary: 05:25-08.07. (This, and all clips below, are courtesy of FremantleMedia Ltd/Thames Television.)
Once the film returns from the first commercial break, it introduces two more U.S. experts. Dr. William Kellogg is captioned as a "climatologist," but he played a key role researching climate change in the 1970s, in particular, based at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. Earlier in the same year that Warming Warning aired, Kellogg also co-authored one of the earliest books on the topic, titled "Climate Change and Society: Consequences of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide."
Next comes (a very young looking) Stephen Schneider, a seminal figure for alerting the world to the potential dangers of human-caused climate change. At the time, Schneider was also based at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, but he would go on to be among the world's most prominent scientists warning about climate change (and, in the process, was the target of a campaign of abuse, intimidation and even death threats).
The documentary intersperses the interviews with lots of stock footage showing human dependence on fossil fuels—aircraft taking off, coal mining, modern agriculture, etc.
This second clip also contains the views of another seminal climate scientist, Dr. George Woodwell. He was the director of the Ecosystems Center at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Four years later, he would go on to found the Woods Hole Research Center.
Running time: 11.09-17.44
The film is notable for being careful to explain the nuances of the latest scientific knowledge about climate change. For example, in the third clip below it says that the uptake of CO2 by the oceans is a "slow and poorly understood process."
Dr. Lester Machta, director of the Air Resources Lab at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), explains that "up until the 1960s the prevailing scientific view was that the oceans could soak up all of the CO2 that might come from the combustion of fossil fuels." He then explains that, from the late 1950s onwards, observatories were set up —most famously at Mauna Loa in Hawaii—to measure the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.
The film shows a chart plotting the "steady rise" in CO2 since 1958. The narrator pauses to remark that in 1981 the concentration stood at 338 parts per million (ppm)— "a rise of seven percent in 23 years." Today, in 2017, the concentration now stands at 407ppm.
He adds: "We believe now that there is some suggestive evidence now that the atmosphere is indeed warming due to the greenhouse effect."
Running time: 18:58-21:32
The viewer is then shown a scientific paper published that year in the journal Science, titled "Climate Impact of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide," which attributed the warming to rising CO2 concentrations. The lead author was Dr. James Hansen, who has since become one of the world's most prominent and outspoken climate scientists.
Dr. Woodall remarks: "There is a reasonable consensus among meteorologists that the warming will continue and will be significant and easily measurable roughly by the end of this century."
The narrator adds that most scientists agree that the temperature will rise by "some two degrees in the next century … but the warming will be much more dramatic in some areas than in others."
Dr. William Kellogg then returns to explain that "by the middle of next century, when we might have twice as much carbon dioxide than in 1900, it may rise by an average of 2-3°C, but in the polar regions 5 or 10°C, which becomes a very large change and would change the whole character of the polar regions."
The metric used to estimate the warming caused by a doubling in concentration of atmospheric CO2 is known as "equilibrium climate sensitivity" (ECS). The most recent IPCC report, published in 2013, gave an ECS range of 1.5-4.5°C, with the majority of climate scientists still believing that 2-3°C of warming is most likely from a doubling of CO2 concentration.
Running time: 23:16-25:25
The narrator explains that there is already "some tentative evidence" that the poles have already begun to warm. But the film concentrates on the risk of the "inherently unstable" Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf melting.
Schneider provides a succinct summary of what might happen if one of these "kilometer thick floating blocks of ice," which are "pinned" on islands, were to disintegrate due to global warming. Because they act like "buttresses of a medieval building," they are holding back the ice on the land, he says: "If the climate warms up by a few degrees, there are a number of glaciologists who believe these shelves could break up."
This could then lead to a "surge" of land ice entering the ocean which could cause sea-level rise of up to 5-8 meters (16-26 feet). The narrator stresses that glaciologists "disagree" whether this is likely to occur within "decades or centuries," adding:
"However, a rise of up to 20 feet would make the new Thames barrier, designed to meet surge tides of 11 feet, redundant."
It imagines a scenario—illustrated with aerial shots of 1981 central London—where "Buckingham Palace would be under seven feet of water."
Running time: 25:26-27:47
How do scientists know how CO2 will likely impact the climate in the future? The film moves on to discuss the use of computer models by climate scientists.
"The simplest way to figure out how a CO2 increase will change the climate is no theory at all. Just go ahead and find some Twin Earth and pollute it and see what happens. But we don't have a Twin Earth, so we have to build one … The only thing you can do is build a mathematical model to try to simulate the way the earth's climate behaves."
The narrator says that the "latest generation of computers," which "make 80 million calculations a second," are being used at research centers around the world, such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. The narrator adds:
"The computer is fed with equations that relate to the behavior of clouds … to that of sea … to the role of sunlight … and to the effect of the poles. The model's subtlety can be tested and refined by observing how well it imitates the real climate, responds to seasonal differences and regional change. Though crude compared to the real thing, it is a useful tool."
Dr. Kellogg remarks that they "look as if they match our real system rather well."
Then you take the model, Schneider said, and you "literally pollute it" by going to the computer and "typing in a couple of cards." That's where the climate predictions come from, he said.
Running time: 33:23-37:15
Beyond the clips highlighted above, the film also discusses the best choice of power generation, carbon pollution caused by transport, how to feed a growing population and the impact of land-use change through deforestation and agriculture. Still today, all very familiar topics of debate and research.
But the most remarkable section of the documentary is, perhaps, its conclusion. The narration is both poignant and prescient:
"Uncertainty will permeate energy policy, if only because such a policy needs to be introduced before the irrefutable evidence that it is needed. They'll be difficulties, too. The call for restraint in a society built on the exploitation of energy may meet irresistible forces. There is, for example, the vested interests that many of the world's great corporations have in fossil fuels and the power they could wield on their behalf. International agreement will be needed to control the use of fossil fuels, but with the third world likely to benefit from climatic changes [one part of the film explores the idea of warming helping to grow crops in some famine-hit regions], and while China and Russia have vast reserves of coal, that seems unlikely.
"Alternatives to fossil fuels, such as nuclear power, have their own dangers. Or, in the case of solar energy, present technical problems. Yet a serious policy of fuel conservation, which makes good sense for many other reasons, becomes imperative as a result of the CO2 problem."
Gus Speth then reappears for a final comment: "Long before we could ever use all the coal on this planet, we will have greatly exceeded tolerable levels of CO2 concentration. We ought to face the fact that we can't use all that coal … The CO2 issue is not being seriously considered. And it is high time that it should be."
He adds: "Is the world ours to experiment with? I think not. I think we owe future generations, other life on the planet, a profound duty of restraint and, right now, we don't seem to be exercising it."
The narrator then ends the film with a concluding monologue:
"But to stop the easy flow of energy is difficult. We all enjoy it far too much … It is our wealth that has manufactured CO2. But, having created the problem, can we reasonably ask countries that have never enjoyed all this to exercise restraint?
"When economists argue that our industrial difficulties can only be relieved by promoting industry and creating growth, CO2 seems a remote problem. Yet more jobs mean more power and increased CO2 … Government today is not designed to deal with a problem of this dimension at such a timescale, a problem challenging the belief that more means better …
"The prospect of a warmer world may seem superficially attractive. Electorates are unlikely to be seduced by policies of restraint, constraint and self-denial … To apply the brake now, to introduce policies and avert the possibility of a crisis ahead, demands a vision across decades among politicians who rarely hold office for more than a few years. Economic imperatives, political realities and the very way our society is organized dictate that the power continue to flow. But now we know what this implies …
"Yet we're mortgaging the world against the future to be paid by our descendants, our children. The carbon dioxide problem is a warning …
"Man has demonstrated he has the capacity to change one of the great natural systems of the world. The sheer weight of our presence is altering the planet. Our industry has now become part of the climate, a new intruder disturbing an old system. Most of the small group of scientists who really understand the interactions of the climate have now warned us in measured language of the prospects that we face."
Running time: 46:20-53:43
Finally, for further context, Carbon Brief has produced this chart showing global CO2 emissions since 1959. It allows you to quickly see the continued increase in emissions since the documentary was broadcast in 1981. Or, to put it another way, just over a trillion tons of CO2 have entered the atmosphere since the film was first shown.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tom Duszynski
The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.
In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.
How does your body fight off COVID-19?<p>Once a person is exposed the coronavirus, the body starts producing <a href="https://www.mblintl.com/products/what-are-antibodies-mbli/" target="_blank">proteins called antibodies to fight the infection</a>. As these <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/27/serological-tests-reveal-immune-coronavirus/" target="_blank">antibodies start to successfully contain the virus</a> and keep it from replicating in the body, symptoms usually begin to lessen and you start to feel better. Eventually, if all goes well, your immune system will completely destroy all of the virus in your system. A person who was infected with and survived a virus with no long-term health effects or disabilities has "recovered."</p><p>On average, a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 will feel ill for about seven days from the onset of symptoms. Even after symptoms disappear, there still may be small amounts of the virus in a patient's system, and they should stay <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html" target="_blank">isolated for an additional three days</a> to ensure they have truly <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">recovered and are no longer infectious</a>.</p>
What about immunity?<p>In general, once you have recovered from a viral infection, your body will keep cells called lymphocytes in your system. These cells "remember" viruses they've previously seen and can react quickly to fight them off again. If you are exposed to a virus you have already had, your antibodies will likely stop the virus before it starts causing symptoms. <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.5114%2Fceji.2018.77390" target="_blank">You become immune</a>. This is the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27158/" target="_blank">principle behind many vaccines</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, immunity isn't perfect. For many viruses, like mumps, immunity can wane over time, leaving you <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421145747.htm" target="_blank">susceptible to the virus in the future</a>. This is why you need to get revaccinated – those "booster shots" – occasionally: to prompt your immune system to make more antibodies and memory cells.</p><p>Since this coronavirus is so new, scientists still don't know whether people who recover from COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">immune to future infections of the virus</a>. Doctors are finding antibodies in ill and recovered patients, and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html" target="_blank">that indicates the development of immunity</a>. But the question remains how long that immunity will last. Other coronaviruses like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25685" target="_blank">SARS and MERS produce an immune response</a> that will protect a person at least for a short time. I would suspect the same is true of SARS-CoV-2, but the research simply hasn't been done yet to say so definitively.</p>
Why have so few people officially recovered in the US?<p>This is a dangerous virus, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being extremely careful when deciding what it means to recover from COVID-19. Both medical and testing criteria must be met before a person is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html" target="_blank">officially declared recovered</a>.</p><p>Medically, a person must be fever-free without fever-reducing medications for three consecutive days. They must show an improvement in their other symptoms, including reduced coughing and shortness of breath. And it must be at least seven full days <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">since the symptoms began</a>.</p><p>In addition to those requirements, the CDC guidelines say that a person must test negative for the coronavirus twice, with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/care-for-someone.html" target="_blank">tests taken at least 24 hours apart</a>.</p><p>Only then, if both the symptom and testing conditions are met, is a person officially considered recovered by the CDC.</p><p>This second testing requirement is likely why there were so few official recovered cases in the U.S. until late March. Initially, there was a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-test-shortages-face-masks-swabs.html" target="_blank">massive shortage of testing in the U.S.</a> So while many people were certainly recovering over the last few weeks, this could not be officially confirmed. As the country enters the height of the pandemic in the coming weeks, focus is still on <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/hcp/clinical-criteria.html" target="_blank">testing those who are infected</a>, not those who have likely recovered.</p><p>Many more people are being tested now that states and private companies have begun <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/testing-in-us.html" target="_blank">producing and distributing tests</a>. As <a href="https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200406/coronavirus-in-ohio-from-its-rocky-start-testing-for-covid-19-slowly-ramping-up" target="_blank">the number of available tests increases</a> and the pandemic eventually slows in the country, more testing will be available for those who have appeared to recover. As people who have already recovered are tested, the appearance of any new infections will help researchers learn <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/24/we-need-smart-coronavirus-testing-not-just-more-testing/" target="_blank">how long immunity can be expected to last</a>.</p>
Once a person has recovered, what can they do?<p>Knowing whether or not people are immune to COVID-19 after they recover is going to determine what individuals, communities and society at large can do going forward. If scientists can show that recovered patients are immune to the coronavirus, then a person who has recovered could in theory <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/3/30/21186822/immunity-to-covid-19-test-coronavirus-rt-pcr-antibody" target="_blank">help support the health care system</a> by caring for those who are infected.</p><p>Once communities pass the peak of the epidemic, the number of new infections will decline, while the number of <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/china-says-passed-peak-coronavirus-epidemic-covid-19-1491863" target="_blank">recovered people will increase</a>. As these trends continue, the risk of transmission will fall. Once the risk of transmission has fallen enough, community-level isolation and social distancing orders will begin to relax and businesses will start to reopen. Based on what other countries have gone through, it will be <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00154-w" target="_blank">months until the risk of transmission is low</a> in the U.S.</p><p>But before any of this can happen, the U.S. and the world need to make it through the peak of this pandemic. Social distancing works to slow the spread of infectious diseases and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/what-you-can-do.html" target="_blank">is working for COVID-19</a>. Many people will <a href="https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/2019-novel-coronavirus/" target="_blank">need medical help to recover</a>, and social distancing will slow this virus down and give people the best chance to do so.</p>
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.
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By Zulfikar Abbany
Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.
Chemical leavening<p>If you like a little heft in your loaf, you will need a leavening agent.</p><p>For those short on time, you can use baking soda. That's a chemical compound of sodium bicarbonate mixed with potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar.</p><p>Soda breads have their traditions in parts of eastern and central Europe, and in Ireland and Scotland, with Melrose loaves and "farls."</p><p>They can taste a bit bland, though, and are often considered only as an emergency solution on Sundays. No disrespect intended: They taste just fine fresh from the oven.</p><p>Whether it's chemical or more "natural," leavening relies largely on the production of carbon dioxide.</p><p>When you mix an acid, such as vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt or apple cider, with an alkaline compound like baking soda, you get CO2. That CO2 creates bubbles, which in turn capture steam in the oven and allow a bread to rise.</p><p><span></span>But it's better with yeast. Tastes better, too. It just takes more time. </p>
What is yeast?<p>There are yeasts all around us — on grains, in the air, in biofuels. It even lives inside us, but that's not always a good thing.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1090575/pdf/1471-2334-5-22.pdf" target="_blank">Candida yeast</a> can cause infections of the skin, feet, mouth, penis or vagina if it builds up too much in the body.</p><p>One of the most common yeasts, however, is <em>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</em>. That's <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/an-early-beer-archaeologists-tap-ground-at-worlds-oldest-brewery/a-45480731" target="_blank">"brewer's"</a> or "baker's" yeast.</p><p>You can get fresh baker's yeast, often in 42-gram (1.48-ounce) cubes, or as dried yeast (quick action or active, which requires rehydration) in a sachet of 7 grams.</p><p>There's little difference: One is compressed and the other is dehydrated and granulated. But they do the same thing, essentially. </p><p>Some commercial yeast producers add molasses and other nutrients. But natural yeast has plenty of useful nutrients in it anyway, including B group vitamins, so who knows whether it's good or necessary to add them. </p>
How does yeast work?<p>When you mix flour, yeast and water, you set off a veritable chain reaction. Enzymes in the wheat convert starch into sugar. And the yeast creates enzymes of its own to convert those sugars into a form it can absorb.</p><p>The yeast "feeds" on the sugars to create carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast burps and farts, releasing gases into the mix, and that creates bubbles to trap CO2. </p><p>It's a vital fermentation process that breaks down the gluten in the flour and helps make your bread more digestible.</p><p>The yeast cells split and reproduce, generating lactic and carbonic acid, raising the temperature and ultimately adding flavor to the mix.</p><p>The longer you leave the yeast to do its thing, the better for your bread. Time is more important than the amount of yeast. </p><p>In fact, that's an enduring question — how much yeast? I'll use 20 grams fresh yeast for 500 grams of flour. Others say that's enough yeast for 1 kilo. If you are converting a dry-yeast recipe to fresh yeast, some bakers advise tripling the weight. So, if a sachet of dried yeast is 7 grams, your fresh yeast is 21 grams.</p><p><span></span>But that also depends on the flours you are using, temperatures in the bowl and the room, and a host of other things. You'll just have to experiment and see. No number of books (and I've read a stack on bread) will help as much as trial and error.</p>
Wild yeast: Sourdough<p>So, good bread needs time. If you have a lot of time, why not move it up a notch and grow wild yeast — a sourdough starter — in your own home?</p><p>A sourdough starter is not to be mistaken (as it often is) for the leaven, or "mother," "sponge," or <em>levain</em>. That's more a second stage, a descendant of the starter. You take a scoop from your starter and add it to another flour and water mixture when you prepare the dough for a new loaf. </p><p>The sourdough process utilizes yeasts naturally present in flour and … yet more time. A longer fermentation process allows a richer lactic acid bacteria <em>lactobacilli</em> or LAB to evolve, and that can be healthy for your gut microbiome.</p><p>It's simple enough to start a sourdough starter. All you need is flour, warm water and time.</p><p>Some suggest equal measures of whole-grain flour and water at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), some say room temperature — just don't let the water exceed 40 C or the yeasts will die. Some suggest two parts flour to three parts water. But it's up to you whether you want a drier or wetter starter. You will know only through experimentation. </p><p>Some say you should filter tap water to remove chemicals like fluoride and avoid using water that's boiled and then cooled. Others say that really doesn't matter.</p><p>The main thing is, keep it clean and give it time. Days, weeks, months and years.</p>
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