In September 1958 -- 55 years ago -- Harper's magazine published an article, "The Coming Ice Age: A True Scientific Detective Story," by Betty Friedan, who was already working on her master work The Feminine Mystique that would appear five years later and have a tremendous impact on the women's movement. The editors identified her as a summa cum laude graduate of Smith who "is married, has three children, and writes an occasional article when she has time to research the subject properly."
Freidan was not oblivious to global warming. Rather, she drew upon the extensive research of two respected scientists -- geophysicist Maurice Ewing and geologist-meteorologist William Donn -- who had spent many years researching why over the last million years huge glaciers had advanced and retreated over the face of the earth several times.
"As Ewing and Donn read the evidence," Friedan reported, "an Ice Age will result from a slow warming and rising of the ocean that is now taking place. They believe that this ocean flood -- which may submerge large coastal areas of the United States and Western Europe -- is going to melt the ice sheet which has covered the Arctic Ocean through all recorded history. Calculations based on the independent observations of other scientists indicate this melting could begin within roughly one hundred years." And so it has. They also predicted flooding of New York subways.
The work of Ewing and Donn had appeared in Science magazine in June 1956 and May 1958, but probably Friedan's report was one of the first to reach a wider circulation. Ewing and Donn attributed the apparent contradiction between global warming and the advent of another ice age to the dynamics of melting Arctic ice which is today well along. They predicted it would cause great snows to fall in the northern hemisphere. "These snows will make the Arctic glaciers grow again," Friedan wrote, "until their towering height forces them forward. The advance south will be slow, but if it follows the route of previous Ice Ages, it will encase in ice large parts of North America and Europe." The article did not mention the buildup of greenhouse gases which was not on their radar screen at the time, but which presumably is accelerating the warming process they described.
The Ewing-Donn theory described by Friedan that seems so eerily prescient suggests our long term problem is not global warming but global cooling. But it may take centuries for the ice to come and for now we have to deal with hotter temperatures, rising sea levels and more violent weather patterns. The prospect that global warming will lead eventually to a new Ice Age offers scant comfort to us now and really none at all. I mean -- who wants to live in an Ice Age?
To do what we can about the reality of global warming without undue economic disruption, we should be focusing on a new environmental paradigm that is broader than just global warming -- a model for sustainable development. By that I mean a holistic approach for business and government that requires use of processes that minimize negative environmental impacts, conserve energy and natural resources, are safe for employees and consumers, are economically efficient and add value.
Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as President of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute. Jerry is available for speaking engagements. June 2013