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HH Lamb–“Climate: Present, Past & Future”–In Review–Part III

May 16, 2014

By Paul Homewood




In this final part of Hubert Lamb’s “Climate: Present, Past & Future”, we review what he had to say about the effects of humans on climate.

Again, I would remind readers that everything that follows is based on Lamb’s writings in this volume; any comments of mine will be within [ brackets ]. I would also point out that sections in italics are direct quotations from the book.

Lamb identifies three main factors.



Lamb was a climatologist, not a physicist, so it is unsurprising that he accepted other scientists’ findings about the warming potential of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. But he does say this

However, as noted in Vol 1, water vapour is an effective absorber of most of the same wave lengths which CO2 absorbs; and Budyko (1974) cites the work of Kondratiev & Niilisk (1963), which suggests from consideration of the effect of the atmospheric water vapour on the absorption of long wave radiation that the changes which have occurred in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere may have had only a small effect on temperature.

…..On balance, the effect of increased CO2 on climate is almost certainly in the direction of warming, but is probably much smaller than the estimates which have commonly been accepted.


Particulate Matter

Lamb has this to say.

Pending more adequate observational evidence, it seems safe to conclude that the effect of man-made dust in the lower atmosphere is mainly in the direction of cooling, and there is probably a tendency to moderate the diurnal and annual extremes of temperature.


Waste Heat (Thermal Pollution)

Rather surprisingly Lamb sees waste heat, (a sort of global urban heat island), as the threat.

Artificially generated heat is significant so far only on a local scale, in the urban heat islands where the surface air temperature in the city centre may average up to 2C higher than in the surrounding country.

An official UN report, (World Energy Supplies), estimated by carrying forward the present the present growth of demand in countries all over the world, that the total output of thermal pollution would rise from 5.5 x 106 megawatts in 1970 to 31.8 MW in 2000.

A further 12 to 15 fold increase is assumed by Budyko, Drozdov & Judin (1966) on the basis of continuity of development by 2050. By that time the output of man-made heat averaged over all land areas would be of the order of 10% of the present average absorption of incoming radiation at the surface (Haefele 1974). As the waste heat output is at present many hundred times larger than average in certain areas and city centres, these would presumably become uninhabitable..

Budyko has suggested many times that man’s output of heat is likely to become the most serious cause of change of climate within about 100 years.



Lamb sums up these and other man-made influences.

The various ways in which man has polluted the atmosphere and disturbed the environment so far have probably not individually affected the general level of prevailing world temperatures by more than 1 to 2  tenths of a degree.

Complementary to these conclusions, a theoretical modelling study by Schneider & Mass (1975) gives fresh ground for believing that the observed changes of global average surface air temperature from 1880-1970 could be rather well explained by the combined effects of volcanic activity and solar variations.

The projections of the various items due to human activity and their effects, both positive and negative on world temperature into the future, however, commonly tend to exponential increase. Forward estimates of their net effect are therefore unstable, but it appears likely that the increasing output of man-made heat will gain the upper hand in the next century, unless stronger controls are instituted than any that are believed to be yet contemplated.

[And now we are told the UHI effect is insignificant!]


The World Meteorological Organization and The Footnote

[I really cannot finish this review without commenting on what is, quite frankly, an extraordinary footnote added at the end of the final chapter. It is typed in small print, just as any other notes. It says this, no more, no less :-


Since this chapter, (Approaches to the problem of forecasting), was written, however, an official statement, issued by the WMO in June 1976, places most emphasis on the prospects of man’s impact on the global climate, through the increasing production of CO2 and waste heat, both producing a warming effect expected to become dominant over the natural climate fluctuations by about 2000 AD.

The statement warned of dire consequences to be expected within the next 50-100 years through the displacement of the natural vegetation and crop belts and melting of ice caps.


Remember that Lamb could only have written this chapter a few months previously as he refers to the 1975 Schneider paper. So, despite all of the work put in by Lamb, despite the 24 studies, many commissioned by the WMO themselves. which attempted to predict the future, and despite the experience of the recent climatic record, the WMO suddenly decide to make global warming the overriding issue.

I say “suddenly” quite deliberately. If the WMO statement had been based on long and comprehensive deliberation, there would have been a wealth of empirical studies to back it up, which Lamb in turn would have considered before coming to his own judgment. It would also have been the case that Lamb would have commented on the WMO’s evolving position on the issue, and not add a short footnote just before publication.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the WMO statement was very much a “political” decision, rather than one based on the scientific evidence available at the time.]

  1. May 16, 2014 4:08 pm

    In 1959 Hubert Lamb (born 1913) wrote,
    __’Not so very long ago – between the wars in fact – climate was widely considered as something static, except on the geological scale, and authoritative works on the climates of various regions were written without the allusion to the possibility of change. see: .’
    It seems, he and colleagues, saw a good chance to invent climate change to draw meteorology out of scientifically backwaters for gaining big funding.

    During WWII HH Lamb was at Foynes in the west of Ireland for five and a half years (as the reference mentions) and conscious of the severe winters of 1939-40, 1940-41 and 1941-42 which affected most of Europe, in marked contrast to the predominance of mild winters during the previous 40 years, during which particularly the Arctic heated up Since 1940 the world was cooling for three decades. Two climatic changes in three decades under HH Lamps eyes. He was presumably one of the best in meteorological-statistical science, but that was too little to understand what drives the climate. After WMO made a “political” decision, Lamp followed.
    Thanks for the instructive HH Lamb’s “Climate: Present, Past & Future” analysis.

  2. Sceptical Me permalink
    May 16, 2014 10:33 pm

    Many thanks for this three part review of HH Lambs book. I had read two of his other books and have now bought this one for future study. I feel that I need to better understand the climate variations of the recent few thousand years to really appreciate so called late 20th century warming and its absence during the last two decades.
    I am surprised at the animosity expressed towards Lamb within your comments section.

  3. tom0mason permalink
    May 18, 2014 12:56 am

    “So, despite all of the work put in by Lamb, despite the 24 studies, many commissioned by the WMO themselves. which attempted to predict the future, and despite the experience of the recent climatic record, the WMO suddenly decide to make global warming the overriding issue.”
    An interesting comment.

    It would be instructive to look at what was going on in thje USA at the same time as Professor Lamb would have doubtless been well aware of most of these activities.

    Firstly in 1972 George J. Kukla (Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory) and R. K. Matthews (Chairman, Dept of Geological Sciences, Brown U) had sent a letter to the then President Nixon about their wories about climate and in particular the cooling that appeared to be apparent. The date of letter 3 December 1972
    A good outline of the outcomes of the result of this letter is here –

    Important fact from here are –

    Nixon takes these concern seriously and start the ball rolling in the states by putting together an ad hoc team to see what can be done.

    The White House assigned the Kukla-Mathews letter to the Bureau of International Scientific and Technological Affairs of the State Department who circulated it to the Interdepartmental Committee for Atmospheric Sciences (ICAS) for “review and appropriate action”, the highest level interagency body within the U.S. Government concerned with the atmospheric sciences. The ICAS then established an ad hoc Panel on the Present Interglacial to respond to the Kukla/Mathews letter, with an anticipated target submission date of September 30, 1973. (The formal publication date of their report was August 1974)

    And August 1, 1974 the White House wrote to Secretary of Commerce Frederick Dent:

    “Changes in climate in recent years have resulted in unanticipated impacts on key national programs and policies. Concern has been expressed that recent changes may presage others. In order to assess the problem and to determine what concerted action ought to be undertaken, I have decided to establish a subcommittee on Climate Change.”

    In a related effort, Sprigg, in an undated, unpublished (probably 1974) document entitled “A Climate Diagnostics Center”, began assembling some of NOAA’s concepts for such an organization, including estimated computer costs.

    Just before this however in 1971, John Holdren, edited and contributed an essay to a book entitled Global Ecology: Readings Toward a Rational Strategy for Man. He wrote (along with colleague Paul Ehrlich) the book’s sixth chapter, called “Overpopulation and the Potential for Ecocide.” and on pages 76 and 77 Holdren the climate scientist speaks about the probable likelihood of a “new ice age” caused by human activity.
    (from )

    If man survives the comparatively short-term threat of making the planet too cold, there is every indication he is quite capable of making it too warm not long thereafter. For the remaining major means of interference with the global heat balance is the release of energy from fossil and nuclear fuels. As pointed out previously, all this energy is ultimately degraded to heat. What are today scattered local effects of its disposition will in time, with the continued growth of population and energy consumption, give way to global warming. The present rate of increase in energy use, if continued, will bring us in about a century to the point where our heat input could have drastic global consequences. Again, the exact form such consequences might take is unknown; the melting of the icecaps with a concomitant 150 foot increase in seas level might be one of them.

    Interestingly this essay gives the broad outlines of the greenhouse theory as it is currently concieved. Remember at the time Paul Ehrlich was making a big name for himself and influenced many people of the day.
    And if you’re wondering yes this is Dr. John Holdren, President Obama’s Science Advisor, that introduced the National Climate Assessment for President Obama and will oversee how new approachs to energy will help combat climate. Strange how thing go arround.

    I don’t suppose that HH Lamb read this essay but he might have. However he was almost certain to have seen all the activity that the Americans were putting into climate science.
    Was he after a bite of the same cherry?

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