I went into television in 1979, when I was 25 years old. The weather was cold, very cold. The winters of the 1960s and 1970s were some of the most brutal of the last century. And stubbornly, the cold would not release it’s bone-numbing grip.
Magazines sported stories of a coming Ice Age. The winter of 1976-77 was so cold that the state of Ohio virtually closed for the month of January. A great blizzard in January 1978 brought hurricane force winds and record snowfall to the Midwest. Just a few weeks later, another massive blizzard of historic proportions closed Boston and Providence for a week. Snow fell in Miami on January 19, 1977.
Energy conservation was all the rage. People were buying solar panels to put on their houses to heat hot water. Tiny little Japanese cars were selling faster than Japan could make them — not only for the fuel efficiency, but because they were all front-wheel drive, better for handling in the never-ending snowstorms.
The situation was alarming to some people. A select committee of climate experts came together in January 1978. They declared that there was no end in sight to the 30-year cooling trend.
The stage was set for news media to capitalize on these captivating weather stories — but it never happened to the degree it has today. Not even close.
There were several factors at work regarding why. First, there were only three channels on television. They were very competitive with each other, but they were all essentially printing money. NBC, ABC, and CBS controlled what the public saw and heard, along with the newspapers — which were thriving. The major media outlets were king.
Second, there was no internet. You got your news from the small group of information outlets, and that was it. It’s hard to imagine a world without blogs and websites freely writing and editorializing about the stories of the day, but this simply did not exist.
And third, there were no rapidly evolving technologies forcing change. Television, radio, and print were healthy and profitable. The marketplace was in their control, and life was good.
As the 1980s dawned, market conditions began to change. It started with CNN, ESPN, HBO, and The Weather Channel, among others.
The planting of cable TV across the nation was a double-edged sword for the traditional television networks. It gave them a much better and more consistent signal, but it also put a hole in their revenue stream. Total audience for the big three television networks peaked in the early to mid-1980s and has been falling ever since. Combine that with the internet, satellite TV, and expanded radio offerings, along with a myriad of other technological innovations, and today you have a much more complex and competitive marketplace.
How does this figure in with global warming? It all started in 1988, when Dr. James Hansen of NASA testified before Congress on a very hot summer day. He said global warming is real, is caused by human burning of fossil fuels, and is a danger to the future of the planet.
Overnight, everything changed.