Retro News: Cronkite's 1980 Global Warming Alert

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On April 3, 1980, Cronkite tossed to a news piece from CBS veteran Nelson Benton. Thirty-five years ago, for two and half minutes – an eternity even then by TV news standards and a near-impossibility today – a broadcast anchored by The Most Trusted Man in America tried to warn us about climate change.

Actually, "climate change" wasn’t mentioned in Benton's piece, but CO2, "global warming" and the "Greenhouse Effect" were. "Scientists," intoned Benton, "and a few politicians are beginning to worry."

The story features Senator Paul Tsongas at a Senate hearing, reciting a list of cities that could someday be under water. Scientist Gordon MacDonald of the non-profit Mitre Corp. predicts a summertime temperature hike of 16 F.

Benton quotes another unnamed scientist’s reference to the book of Genesis: "Noah knew trouble was coming, and he prepared for it."

Despite thirty-five years of accumulating evidence, national TV news can't much be bothered with covering it. CNN boss Jeff Zucker candidly said last year that climate change "deserves more attention," but there's "a tremendous lack of interest on the audience's part."

In all likelihood, the no-nonsense, avuncular Cronkite or Nelson Benton couldn't get past the first job interview today. And the top-rated anchorman doesn't get called "The Most Trusted Man in America" anymore. For the past several years, the top-rated anchor has been Brian Williams, and neither he nor his rivals or successors would air a prime time editorial to change hearts and minds on climate change.

The book of Genesis is still invoked in climate discussions, but these days, it's often by James Inhofe, whose full-bore denial screeds have taken the place of the cerebral Senator Tsongas.

And to paraphrase the signature close to Uncle Walter's nightly newscast, that, unfortunately, is The Way It Is.


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This segment is brought to you through a partnership between the UNDP Climate Change Team at the Ministry of Environment in Lebanon and the NAHARNET team. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any party/institution.

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