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Interview of Mikhail Budyko by Spencer Weart on 1990 March 25,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Dr. Budyko briefly discusses his background and how he became interested in climatology, the breadth of his scientific interests and publications; the history of climate study in Russia; the reception of his research on global warming within the scientific community and the general public; and political and economic effects of global warming.
Our interest is in everything to do with Soviet and other climatology but I also want to start with learning something about how one becomes a climatologist, how you get interested in it. So, just a little about your personal background. All I know is that you graduated from the Leningrad polytechnicum — in 1942. What year were you born?
Can you tell me, who were your parents and what did they do?
My parents? My father finished at The Poli-Technical institute, as I did, but my specialty was applied physics and his specialty was electrotechnics. My mother graduated later and for some time was a teacher at some colleges, in foreign languages.
Were they from Leningrad?
Both of them lived in — not Leningrad, but Petrograd — before I was born but from that time, 1920, there was really a complicated situation in this country, so they left for some time. I was born in Byelorussia. After a while we returned to Leningrad.
So while you were growing up, before you went to school, you went to high school — secondary school — in Leningrad?
Yes, not only secondary but from the very beginning. I lived in Leningrad from 1928, practically all of my life… and during the time of war. I doubt if it is really very important.
No, I just wanted to get the beginning established. What is more important is how did you get oriented towards science? Was this from your family?
Difficult to say. Probably a different kind of mentality. Probably at a comparatively early age, I had some interest in scientific problems. For me it was more or less unavoidable.
Yes — I was originally a physicist myself before I came into history of physics. You went to the polytechnic and I suppose that was evacuated in 1941, wasn't it?
Well, everything was different but what are you most interested in, Russian climatology or my personal biography?
I'm interested in your biography as an example of how a person becomes interested in climatology. I want to know at what point you became interested in the climate and why.
The simplest answer was that I finished college at the time of the war and everything was mixed. Just by chance I was invited to join not a physical but a geo-physical institution which was closely connected to problems connected to the war. And in this institution I spent the main part of my life. But beginning in the 1970s I joined a second institution, so I have just two bases of employment, and both are connected with geophysics.
What did they want you to do when you first joined? Was this meteorology?
My specialty from the very beginning should be called something like applied hydrodynamics. Hydrodynamics now is very important in the field of meteorology, and I have done something in this field. But strictly speaking I never was very active in theoretical sciences. Mainly I am best known as a specialist in empirical sciences, not only climatology. Maybe this is not very modest, but I think I have publications in 15, maybe 20 branches of science, and not all of them are technical, physical, and geophysical. In a few weeks my book will appear which is pure history, not scientific history but just history. Of course it is just entertainment. I know examples of many people at a later age trying to find something more interesting so I sympathize with your activity with history, because to some degree I specialize in history, too. The history of your country, I don't know well, but I know comparatively well the history of West European countries. I visited much in them and maybe that's the reason.
And, of course, the history of the earth. The history of the earth's climate.
I am trying to understand why was there never much of interest in American history of history; that history is very short! (Laughter)
This is very true, and it is not as interesting as the history of some other countries. Frankly, I don't find it as interesting as the history of France, for example. OK, can you tell me then at this time, when you first began to work, who were your teachers?
My teachers were excellent professors in the field of hydrodynamics. One of whom was a Loizansky.
What about in physics?
In physics, Frenkel.
Can you tell me at the time when you first became aware of climate science, what would you say was the state — the nature of climate science — both in the Soviet Union and in the world as you began to learn it as a student? What was it like?
As a student, I knew nothing about climatology. I had begun my studies, just after the Second World War After the second World War I was free. I had a considerable degree of freedom. I was a comparatively young man, 25, 26 but I had a science degree and I considered what was interesting for me. I had begun then a long way, step by step; and the main direction of my way did not change considerably. I have had a lot of additions connected with the main way, but the main way was, strictly speaking, not the usual climatology; it was energetics. Energetics of our atmosphere, of the biosphere, of living beings, of man, of animals, of plants. I have a few books of some interest, which I think will make it easier for you, translated in English. [Passes over books]
Yes, thank you very much. The Evolution of the Biosphere. I have looked at it. I have not read it in full but I have looked at this.
Here are a few other books. This is Japanese. All my books have been translated into English and the majority into Japanese. Some into a few other languages.
I have looked at these. I have not read all of them but I think this recent one, History of the Earth's Atmosphere, is the only one that I own myself but I have looked through the other ones.
It is a good book, excuse my saying so.
Yes, it is very interesting.
A very new field.
That is why I say you are also a historian of the earth. We're talking about history of the earth's atmosphere. Let's go back now to the state of things. So you were a young man. You could have done anything in the physical sciences.
I was young then. I could see my job for one, maybe two years. Of course for me it would be absolutely fantastic to believe that for almost 50 years I shall go on in absolutely a direct way. Because every paper, every book was a step and after the next step was unavoidable.
Well, of course, energetics has become increasingly important as the study of these things has become very wide spread now.
It was as if it was not my own will but somebody else showed me my way. But of course that was fantasy because I don't believe in mystical factors. But I read A.R. Wallace, who was a contemporary of Darwin, he believed in a higher will and it is the reason why he rejected the theory of Darwin of the origin of man.
But the science has its own logic. It has interior logic.
I tried to explain reason why the theory of Darwin was unsatisfactory and Wallace was quite right criticizing his theory. But his idea was not presented in rational form, just mystical. So it was unsatisfactory, too. Recently I published a paper on the origin of man, and I regret very much I have not time to write a big book on the origin of man. I have quite a new approach, connected to this quantitative studies: the method of dynamics of population. As far as I know, I read a number of books mainly western — and all of them are just describing and rarely trying to find some understanding. It is not a method which you and I learned from our teachers. I try to suggest such a method but I have only enough time for one short paper. It was published in Russian and not distributed in western countries. If I shall have time, I hope to write a book. It is one of the steps in the future, if I shall live long enough, I publish a book on the origin of man.
That would be interesting. You certainly have broad interests. Why did you pick energetics? What brought you to see this as a line to follow?
I don't know, probably mainly other people can explain why they are doing something in science. I can explain nothing. The first time I had some idea probably, because I had a feeling that it is a more fundamental approach which was available for me. When I speak of energetics, it is not an exact explanation. I was interested in all forms of exchange of energy and different kinds of matter — organic and inorganic matter — so I tried to understand large-scale processes.
So you start from the large and look at areas you could apply it to.
Yes, it was a new idea. Now it is popular and this approach is well known. But when I was young, I think it was absolutely new. Because all that I have done it was done not in a qualitative way; I try to present everything in quantitative ways. This was difficult because material of observation was very limited and it was necessary to find some new method to evaluate fluxes of energy, of water, of organic matter. For me it was a long way.
So now you take this and you begin to apply it to some geophysical problems, and particularly not just climate but the earth's atmosphere, the circulation of the atmosphere. How did things stand in studies of the atmosphere and climate at the time you first began to study these things? Who were the most important people, not just in the Soviet Union but internationally that you looked to, that you thought might be interested in your work?
We had a very good heritage of climatological study in Russia before the Revolution. We had a few excellent scientist — Woejkov, although he lived much earlier, before my activity. In the time after the Second World War I don't think I met anybody, any specialist, who was interested in the problem I tried to participate in. Of course, I met some outstanding men. One of them was Professor Rossky, but his specialty was different. I met him only once, in Leningrad just after Second World War. He was much older than I, and very well known. I was at the very beginning of my studies but I remember, he was interested and tried to understand what I'm doing. He gave me some encouragement it was probably the only way I met and outstanding specialist, a different field but he understood me very well, what I am trying to do. He lived only a short time after our meeting and died at a comparatively early age — 55 or something like it. But possibly he was the most outstanding atmospheric science specialist of our century. He was closely connected with problems of the atmospheric circulation. I never was interested in the circulation, circulation of course, not the studies of Rossby, who was an outstanding scientist. The majority of specialists when I was young believed the circulation is the reason of climate formation, climate fluctuations come from changes of circulation. At a very early age I understood that this was complete nonsense. Circulation is part of climate. Circulation — that is not a scientific definition. The Scientific definition is wind, atmospheric pressure, and a few other characteristics of circulation. All of them are parts of the climatic system, so nothing is a reason and nothing is a result of interaction in this system. This system is more or less closed. The factor which I was interested in was radiation. Because radiation is the factor which is the real reason for the energetic processes when seen from outside.
And your interest is in the radiation balance of different regions. So this was your first big problem, which I know of, studying the radiation balance in different regions (and also, of course, the hydrological balance).
I published a number of maps and two atlases, at a comparatively early age, and obtained the Lenin Prize. It is the only Lenin Prize in the field of atmospheric sciences until now. It was 1958, over thirty years ago.
I am very interested in these maps, the mapping of the radiation balance. How did you get that supported? There was a lot of work involved there. Who supported that or how did you convince people that this was worth doing? You were alone in this; there was no one anywhere else in the world doing it.
It is an unusual story. Let me explain it to you. I received my first degree and second degree. The first is Candidate of Science; the second is Doctor of science — at a comparatively early age. My doctoral dissertation was published as a book in 1948. I was 28 years.
Very young for that.
Recently I read in some scientific journal that in the last 20 years no one in our country received a doctor's degree before the age of 30. Of course, in my time it was much more difficult than now. So, comparatively, my position was recognized as a person who can do something useful. The head of our meteorological service tried to assist me administratively. They suggest me for the post of vice-director of a big institution when I was 28, but I refused. But feeling useful in some way was important. I became vice-director in '31 and in '34 I was appointed director of the oldest meteorological institution — Main Geophysical Observatory.
It was the Geophysical observatory in Leningrad?
Yes, one of the oldest science institutions in our country. So, I was responsible for all studies in climatology in our country, and responsible for a lot of the branches of sciences. So I have nobody to ask permission for any reason. But it was not free. There is no such thing as a free lunch. I was almost 20 years the director of the observatory. I had freedom but I had very little time for scientific activity.
Maybe we should ask on a higher level, how do you convince people to support a geophysical observatory?
Everything was decided by me. My heads gave me money. What to do with money was my problem. (laughter). I could do almost anything.
Yes, but the question is, why do they give you money? This is a general question I have for any institute. Why did they give you money for geophysics?
A long tradition of Russian science. They had comparatively big organization — scientific organization — in the field of climatology, a long time before the Revolution and there was a general regularity in financial problems. Of course in other countries, in the United States, the problem is not so simple. Some people are trying to understand for what time money is given. In our country it was much more traditional, there was two possible ways: either to have exactly the same money over the years or to obtain some increase.
So how do you obtain an increase? What argument do you use? What reasons?
For a long time I had very good understanding with the heads of our State committee. When I'd begun my activity as director, I had 500 people (staff). When I finished I had 1,500 — three times. [Moves hand up along straight line.]
I see steady growth through the years. Now let's get back to the maps of radiation balance. Was there anyone else who was doing anything like that? I know it got the Lenin prize here — but what kind of reception did it receive abroad?
All my life I had the same result from my scientific activity. Of course, not with every publication. If a publication was not very important, there were no strong feelings. But when I presented something really important, usually opinion was divided. Not in all cases, but usually. Some people were extremely disbelieving. Because if the idea of some result is very different from the general thinking earlier, to accept it — for many people who are in many cases conservative — is painful. So with radiation balance there was some exchange of opinion, a very unpleasant exchange of opinion. But after a comparatively short time I proved more or less that everything is quite reliable, and obtained the Lenin Prize. The same story was repeated a few times — with every important step I'd done. Especially painful was the reaction after I suggested not — probability: I was absolutely certain that there will be global warming. In this particular case 100% of the specialists objected, many of them were my personal friends, my position was more or less established. But in this case, nobody believed me. It was a very dramatic event when I suggested this idea. You can find some American colleagues who will remember this big scientific meeting in Leningrad and its dramatic end.
Let's talk about this.
Lawrence Gates — now at Livermore Laboratory —
I've heard the name. I haven't met him.
Lawrence Gates, a very nice man. He'd remember it, I think, he was not guilty but some people expressed their opinion in very strong words.
What year was this?
It was 1971.
Well, I want to work up to that. Let's first go back to the climatology. Was the reception the same in the Soviet Union and abroad, that is were these people in the Soviet Union and people abroad who opposed it, or are you speaking mostly of one place or the other? Were there particular places where there was a tradition that might have found this difficult to accept?
I can't explain better than that step by step number of people interested in the problem I mentioned to you, energetics and exchange of water in particular. The number of them was increasing comparatively fast, so I had more and more colleagues using — in many cases different methods — but trying to obtain answers in some form. Probably I was the one of a number of people who, after Second World War — [off tape]
You said you were one of the people who founded this new branch of physical climatology.
Of course, from the very beginning to this day, I am a comparatively well-known specialist in this field. But I was and am an unorthodox person, because I am using methods which are very different in many cases. It is a reason why results in some cases were for some time not accepted. In my country, my position is easier, but second best is the United States of America. I have lot of personal contacts. Now we are finished a joint report on climatic change, which was organized on the recommendation of two heads of state — President Reagan and President Gorbachov. We had hoped to present to the next meeting of Gorbachov and Bush a join Soviet-American book. Now we have two great powers in climate studies: The United States and our country. In our country it is a long tradition, in your country it is comparatively new but all the same now you have quite a few. In both countries, there are something like 100 people. For such a branch of science as climatology it is a lot.
There's probably not that many in the rest of the world together.
Probably 80 or 90% of leading scientists are in our countries.
You said a little while ago that you were going to tell me some things about American climatology.
American climatology is comparatively new. For Soviet-American cooperation in the field of climatology, the first important step was done more than 100 years ago. The position was very unequal. In our country a major physical observatory was founded in the 1840s and hundred years ago we had a few excellent scientists; especially brilliant was Volykov. He was an unusual man because of his origin. The majority of scientists in the 19th century were people from the middle class; he was from the elite. He was a rich man. He had absolutely no reason to do something with science. He was a brilliant scientist, a specialist mainly in climatology — the best specialist of the end of 19th and beginning of our century. As a younger man he traveled a lot, because in the 1860-70s the world was not well-known as it is now. He visited countries like Japan, which was extremely rare for a European scientist. He went to America, beginning not in United States but Central America. There were no trains or good ways of communication. All the same, on horseback he went through all Central America and finished his journey at Washington. It was the very beginning of steel ships, and it was necessary to know the prevailing winds in different parts of the globe for the ships to find the best ways.
And probably the only climatologist in the United States, Dr. Coffin, tried to prepare a big volume, this collection of all data from observations made on ships in different oceans, and to give a guidebook for every sailor. But he did not finish this very big job and died. There was nobody in United States who could continue his work. And Velgenkov, who was at Washington — I am more or less sure it was done because he was just interested, because it was not necessary to obtain any salary — spent almost one year finishing this book. It was a first step in Russian-American cooperation. [laughter]
That's quite a lot of cooperation, too! Tell me about your own intervention?
After a long time there was very little contact, and I visited the United States I think in 1957. I met not one climatologist, but two.
Which was all of them.
One of whom was not from the United States originally, Professor Lansberg, a very nice man. He died not long ago; one of my friends. He left Germany in the 1930s due to Hitler. He was a real scientist. The second person — he was well known — Professor Thornwaite — a self-made man and his ideas on climate, of course, were not exactly scientific. All the same he was very kind when I met him and helped me a lot. But just two specialists. It was not much. And for some time there was very little progress in this field of climatology, Everything changed in 1970s.
I would like to go forward chronologically, and let's concentrate on the problem of climate change as caused by man. I know you have many other things that you have worked on but let's follow that line. Let's start in the 1950s with how you became interested in climate change caused by man; including things like deliberate climate change; diverting the rivers to change the polar climate and so on. Then, how you became interested in the greenhouse effect, particularly — from the general question of how climate changed to the special question of greenhouse effect. Then how you came to your 1961 paper, how you came to your 1971 conclusions, and the question of what we could do to prevent the greenhouse effect. You were, I think, the first one to suggest that there might be possibilities to do something to prevent it. Then in each case, Soviet reaction and international reaction. Then the events of the 1970s, especially these international meetings and announcements, and particularly reactions in the Soviet Union to the problem of climate change. Then finishing up with your students, the rise in the Soviet Union of a group of people who are interested in studying these questions. Does this seem like a logical program?
All right, excellent program. Of course I regret that at the very beginning I had no clear idea what is our main theme. Now that you mention these questions I can present this information in much better form. But all the same, we will have some repetition. I shall try now to concentrate in strict chronological order. First, the study of energetics in which I was interested in 1950s and 1960s was an important step to compare energetics of atmosphere, of global processes, with the energetics of man. The difference was and is enormous. The general conclusion was that man cannot do anything with global processes because the difference is incomparable.
Orders of magnitude.
Incomparable. But I found two very simple effects. One well-known fact for specialists in energetics, but little known to specialists in geophysics, was the rise of consumption of energy by man, which was for a long time not an arithmetical progression but a geometrical progression. So using simple extrapolation of the geometrical, it was easy to see as unavoidable some threshold, some end. Because with such an increase of energy consumption our planet will be overheated. It was a very simple conclusion; this simple conclusion was published in 1961. With additional studies published in 1962 showing that it is not necessary to add anthropogenic energy comparable with the energy of the sun to change climate drastically. The climatic system proved to be (I used very simple model) — very sensitive to small fluctuation of energetic income.
Because of the albedo affect, the ice albedo…
You are quite right.
I am interested, not to get ahead of this, but I am interested in how you became interested in ice albedo. I was wondering, did this come from studies you did of questions of diverting the flow of rivers to the arctic and things like that?
No. Everything I try to study on a global scale. When I could calculate the heat balance of high latitudes, this balance was absolutely different. Of course, for me it was not very clear how important that is, but later I found that just after the publication of this very short paper — a few pages — my name was included in one of the last editions of Encyclopedia Britannica, with a description of only one result — this one result. A second step was that after this publication, I and some colleagues were invited to The University of California and RAND Corporation. They organized a conference with invitation of many Americans and some scientists from Canada and Norway to discuss this problem.
This was in 1962?
It was 1966 or 1967.
Still, it was a result of this paper.
Yes. But only much later I understood that our results were extremely limited at this time. In the CU and RAND Corporation there were some people of the highest qualifications who after extremely limited intervention, could understand that it is not a negligible problem.
I am interested in your own reaction to your discovery. How did it seem to you when you found that there was a possibility of rapid climate change because of the increase of the use of energy?
In the 1960s the general atmosphere was very peaceful. I mentioned to you that I presented my result in very cautious form, but in 1971 there was a very big scientific meeting of climatologists in Leningrad. The largest in all the history of our science. I was head of the committee for organization. The only time when almost all leading scientists from the United States, from Western Europe were present. It was a funny story — I don't know why. The usual way in such conference is to present just one paper. I could do it, no problem. I'd done something quite different and was justly punished. Because the custom is, when a big conference is finished, the organizer before the closing of conference says something — usually just saying very general words for the future problems or something. After this few general words, one of the oldest guests would take the floor and express gratitude for the hospitality, and after this the conference is closed everybody goes to official dinner. You understand. Instead of general words, I presented in short form an idea which proved to be absolutely unacceptable to everybody: the idea that global warming is unavoidable. I presented some quantitative data and expressed hope that everybody will try to do something in this field because it is very important. The result was a sensation, everybody had very strong feelings and extremely unfavorable for the speaker. A few, most familiar scientists after me expressed their point of view; of course nobody said anything about their gratitude. A few very prominent men said, first, that it was absolutely impossible to have any impact of man's activity on the climate.
Energetically too small?
Yes. And absolutely impossible to predict any climatic change because there was no prediction possibility. And to entertain such ideas as I suggested to them, was absolutely impossible. But one point was interesting. I published immediately everything I said and nobody in our country or abroad published anything criticizing my point of view. Maybe it was known it is not likely to win a discussion with me. To say something it was less responsible, but to print some objection — nobody printed anything.
Let's not go ahead too fast because I'm still very interested in what brought you to make this public prediction. It's a very interesting question for historians, what reasons make you so confident, and second, why being so confident you tell people about it. What brought you to be so certain?
Two reasons. First, scientific reason, because for me it was not just a question which appeared separately. For me it was an unavoidable step in a big staircase I have climbed, at this time, for more than 25 years.
What were the last steps?
Very long study of science in this direction and a very strong foundation, which foundation, of course, was insufficiently known to my colleagues. Many of my publications were published in Russian and not translated at this time. Even if they were translated, my ideas and explanations in many cases were very untraditional.
May I ask, by the way, do you remember when you first heard of the greenhouse effect? Is it possible to remember that?
The possibility of this effect was well known to me in the 1960s.
So do these scientific reasons, there was no one time when it became —
The impact of the greenhouse effect on climate was comparatively old idea. That is long story. My position is different in only one way. I could, after lot of difficulties, more or less systematically explain now to practically everybody that such effect will take place. And now we have 99 and maybe more percent of consensus in this field. People who have such ideas earlier had absolutely no support. Everybody forgets the earlier proposals of such kind. Scientific ideas usually had a few attempts —
Yes, I know Arrhenius and Chamberlain, and so on. What were the final steps that made you convinced it was so certain?
I have two reasons. I mentioned to you first, the consequence of my studies, for me it was unavoidable. I cannot miss it. An absolutely necessary next step in a definite way. Second reason, I had a few discussions earlier. In some of them a lot of funny events took place, but in all cases I proved to be right. At the time when I suggested this idea I was a comparatively sufficient age, I was 51. I was more or less sure, psychologically sure that all I am suggesting should be right. Because I had no —
Because you had enough experience in the past, it gave you the confidence. That's very interesting.
Now I have almost, in the same position, because I suggested from my point of view real practical important ideas. This idea, to some degree, is accepted in the United States, included in our joint report. When I try to explain this idea to scientists in Western Europe, I understood that it was impossible. Of course, earlier the problem was not so urgent for me. Earlier I invented the rule: it’s necessary to wait five years, and in five years everything is understood. But just now we have no five years. Just now decision on this problem could be a reason for solution of enormous practical questions like, two degress or not two degress of greenhouse effect. Now we have no time to wait. But —
This is very common, by the way, with scientists. Scientists always like to talk about the present. There is also the problem that I don't speak Russian, so we're not doing it in your language, which is always more difficult. On that subject that we were just talking about, practical steps to take, this takes us again back —
Let me continue chronologically.
I wanted to ask especially about when you first — I think this was 1971 — suggested practical steps that could be taken.
My booklet with a description of this problem was published in 1972. I mentioned a number of practical problems and presented ideas of what we could do and what we could not do. 1972 — almost 20 years ago — my conclusion was that data included in this booklet are not sufficient to decide a big economical problem now. But they are sufficient to determine how long we can wait before such a decision will be done. I concluded that we had approximately 10-20 years.
Which is now.
And if in ten years this problem will not dissolve, the consequences can be grave. It was not very different from the real history of the problem because in tem years understanding was incomparable with the beginning of the 70's. But until now we have a big problem, and till now I have a painful feeling that I know much more than is accepted and taken into account now. I think the history is now repeating, in less dramatic form, but all the same it is repeating. Understand that to be an inventor, to present new ideas; it is not a big pleasure. It is lot of negative feelings, and frankly speaking I am a bit tired of such activities. That is the reason I am now interested more in the origin of man, as I mentioned to you, and why in a short time a historical book written by me will be published.
I am interested in your specific suggestion of sending planes up to spread sulphur in the upper atmosphere. Can you tell me where this idea came from?
This idea was suggested in this book which was published in Russian in 1974, in English in 1977. This idea from the modern point of view is absolutely possible but not absolutely safe. Recently I have had some communication with Professor Broecker in the United States, who tried to organize discussion of this idea but this conference was delayed. But let me finish the next important step of the last 20 years. The next important step was that in 1975, three years after publication of my booklet (which was translated into English) two men, very prominent scientists in our field obtained approximately the same results. One was Professor Broecker in the United States, a specialist in geochemistry —
Yes, I have interviewed him.
Well, then you know him. Very well-known man. The second was Dr. Bohlin of Sweden, a specialist in carbon dioxide exchange. Both of them published the same conclusion, but both of them presented it in only qualitative form. They did not give the quantitative prediction. I gave quantitative prediction for 100 years — the change in mean global temperature. In a few years there was considerable progress. In 1977 the first book on this topic was published in the United States, Energy and Climate. A number of people participated in this book. The conclusion was not very homogeneous. In one chapter it was more definite then in others. But all the same it was easy to see that we had a common purpose.
Yes, I think it is still seen as a book that tried to wake people up to the problem.
In your country from the very beginning, to study this problem, models of climate were applied in the best existing computers. In our country in very short time it was easy to understand we have no good computers; we will not have them in the future till now, so such a kind of competition was impossible.
This is why you chose to study it through the history of climate?
Quite right. It was the only way to do something with practically very little expense. Of course the result was unpredictable until recently. The great majority — including me — believed that computer models in comparatively short time can solve all problems. An exception was Professor Smagorinsky. An extremely clever man who was most active in the organization of theoretical studies of climate in the United States, but at the same time he was pessimistic about results. He published in the 1974 — that the first result about the real climate will be obtained using models in 100 years.
So this was encouraging for you.
Optimism with the use of climatic models. I was optimistic. Smagorinsky was a pessimist. He and his colleagues, especially brilliant man, Manahe — probably you know him —
Manahe, yes. I've spoken with him also.
An extremely brilliant man, probably the best scientist in this field in the United States for a long time now. And an extremely nice person.
Yes, I was very impressed by him.
A lot of very interesting and important models were suggested. And now, especially in the last 2 or 3 years, it is easy to see Smagorinsky was a much more clever man than it seemed to me 16 years ago. Because the latest models gave less definite results. Extremely difficult proved to be the problem of presentation of quantitative estimation of the impact of clouds on radiation —
Yes, a central problem.
After it was understood, all results of modeling proved to be not very reliable. A second reason is that then, there was Manahe and a few of his colleagues, almost a monopoly. It was easy to believe Manahe. Now there's a great number of different models, all of them are very complicated, and in very important datas, the results are often different. To say what is right and what is wrong is difficult.
I have a suggestion for how we can structure the next step which I think is to talk about your use of history. Maybe I should just ask you to tell me what were the main problems in constructing the climate history to use as a model, and how were these problems overcome?
Climate history, it is the approach of poor people. Because such data are not expensive. Of course, it is necessary to spend some time to collect, data because such data are very important for geology, for geography and many sciences connected with the past of our planet. Such branches of science are better developed in our country and less in the United States. The reason, for me is rather simple. In United States a lot of achievement is connected with big well-known problems of considerable practical importance. But most of our efforts were for a long time more scientific and less practical. Of course, for our mining industry, it was important, but not enough to spend a lot of time. In Russia it was a bit different. Russia was connected with a different approach of European science, especially the science of Germany in the 19th century when the main aim was pure science, not applied problems. So they had a lot of materials which were obtained without any practical aim, and then it was necessary to use these materials. I can use data absolutely unknown to my American colleagues, because books on this topic were not translated into English. Nobody was interested in them. Of course, it is not difficult for such countries as The United States to repeat such investigations and obtain such data five or ten years. The example of climate modeling shows how easy it is to organize big project when a lot of money is available and a lot of people who are available. Then it is easy to have some progress. But an important point is that it is necessary to have different new ideas. The majority of our colleagues — less in United States than in Western Europe, but in the United States too — they have something lacking. It is the reason why from the very beginning of such studies till this moment, from my point of view, we have more reliable results on the future climate than any other countries.
You've certainly done much more. Now, you had to take these data and then you had to use them to extrapolate or to apply them to the future. What were the main difficulties in doing this? Where are the problems you had to get through?
The problem of prediction, of climatic change can be divided into two main parts. The first part, more or less now in the same position for every specialist in different countries, is to find the change of mean global surface temperature in 10, 20, 50 years — for more than 60 years I don't believe such results scientific value, but even for 20, 50 years it is a lot to have information. To obtain such information is, of course, not very simple. The first example was presented by me 20 years ago. It’s interesting that the result obtained by me 20 ago now can be checked against data observation for 20 years. The correspondence is fantastic. I was surprised myself. I never believed such accurate prediction was possible. The mean temperature for the northern hemisphere near the surface, it was predicted almost 20 years ago.
And also as you go to higher latitudes, the warming effect seems to be greater.
At higher latitudes the effect was not predicted in a quantitative way from the very beginning. But I had a feeling the effect would be stronger. It is not as strong as I thought 20 years ago. It is easy to explain, but to explain an event after we observe it is no big problem. But to predict a trend, especially for 20 years — nobody believed in such a possibility. Even now only in some joint reports is this result mentioned. It is very simple facts, but all the same some facts are not easy to accept by conservative people.
Now you said two problems?
The second problem is more difficult. That is the reason for my distress. To know the change of mean global temperature is interesting theoretically, but practically there is only little value. We should know the change of temperature for different regions; the temperature for the summer, the temperature for the winter. Even more important, we should know change of precipitation, because precipitation is most sensitive in a climatic system. With comparatively little general change in climate, precipitation can change considerably with enormous impact of agriculture and many branches of economic activity.
Now you have published some maps of what you expect the change to be, especially for the Soviet Union. What were the main difficulties in getting these maps? What sets the limits on their accuracy?
Probably you know, but the main idea how such maps would be compiled was to use empirical data, paleo-climatical data of warm epochs in the past.
What sets the limits on your ability to make these predictions?
Limits — few of them are known. Some of them are really not very important but obviously we usually mention them in a publication of this kind. Most important probably is, in the time of all my studies in the field of physical climatology, I never presented any quantitive result obtained by just using just one method. I had a reason and this reason was quite sufficient, that our science is not in the position of the real precise sciences, like some problem of theoretical physics or astronomy — especially astronomy — to calculate everything and to say the result is absolutely precise. From the very beginning my first paper on heat and water balances, I used at least two independent methods, much better three, and in rare cases even four, to obtain the value in which I was interested. It is the reason why I never make any mistakes.
This might give you confidence, also.
Yes, a very interesting small detail. The first calculation of heat and water balances for a definite area was the area of Washington, D.C. Because some observations were done near Washington during the Second World War by two American scientists (who are long ago dead). It was a first step of such science. Taking into account limitations of such an approach, I tried to find independent ways to check my results on the climate of the future. One of them was to use data for different warm epochs, with larger scale of increase of global temperature or a smaller scale, and compare maps. Because, if the reaction was not very different. (Not very different of course in relative values), but if the relative distribution was more or less the same it was strong proof that results are realistic. At the same time I have done comparison of results obtained using different models. I found in all comparisons of the first kind I obtained high coefficients of correlation, in all cases. In comparisons of the second kind, in majority of cases, I obtain no correlation at all. It is one of the reasons why I believe that models now are in difficult position especially in modeling of precipitation. The temperature is a little better, especially better for temperature in winter. The temperatures of summer are predicted by models not very well, too.
By models, you mean computer models?
Yes. But just now we have found a new interest in possibility. This approach is under study, such data are not finished. But the idea is extremely simple. I mentioned to you that to check predictions of mean global temperature with the change of temperature for 20 years is possible. The result is statistically, absolutely fool proof and everything is clear. But in 1980s there was considerable warming, much stronger than in 1970s.
By the way, in the United States we had some famous heat waves. When you talk about warming you talk about global warming but, I wonder whether in the Soviet Union there were also particular periods when people noticed that it was warm?
In the United States, as far as I remember, the course of reaction of the climatic system in the 1980s was not as strong as in our country. In western part of our country, especially last few years, we have practically no winter. Our winter is usually very cold.
I must say when I came to Moscow it was warm and sunny. I was very surprised.
It is not a weather of just days, it is a weather of the last few last years. Now everybody knows about global warming. Of course, nobody is surprised because modern people are accustomed to everything unusual. When somebody mentions this topic usually they're saying something like 'you are guilty' and so on.
You are what?
I am guilty — I am to blame for climatic change.
Blame the messenger! I wanted to ask about, since we are up to the 1980s or late 1970s now, what have you done to make the problem known? You have written your books and so forth but I wonder whether you have also tried to go to journalists or to talk to the public, or on the other hand whether you have tried to do anything within the Academy. What besides your book have you done to make the problem known?
My position is very different. My country and outside. In my country, long ago — probably 15, maybe 12 years – my state's committee had trust in our results. They sent our conclusions to higher authorities as regular information, and from my point of view, that's why I obtained some money for this project. We're responsible for all kind of forecasting and you know very well that usual forecasting for 3-4 days is pretty bad. But for them to have reliable forecasting for a few years, well, it was a pleasant and unusual event. So my bosses were glad to have such results and are using them permanent.
It is because your results have been confirmed?
They are confirmed, yes. But in foreign countries there is quite different organization. The only country with a large number of specialists is the United States of America. Your country and my country have, let's say, approximately 100 people interested in this problem. In our country all people are members of the same project. For a long time — from 1961 — I was responsible for this project. We have 100% mutual understanding; no differences of opinion. Of course, some people who are not on this project, who are not professional climatologists, in some cases we have a different opinion. But their opinion nobody is interested in because they are not professional. Professional people have the same opinion in our country and it is a reason why our result is used in an official way. In the United States everything is very different. Lots of small organizations, mainly connected with universities, and a lot of differences in funding.
Yes, in the United States the way to get funding is through the newspapers. Weart: Has there been a point at which you went to your head or went to people and said, 'we need to take economic steps now — we need to start taking expensive steps'?
Two years ago, in western countries, some people who are not specialists in climatology understood that this problem is a real one and global warming can take place. Due to reasons which are not very easy to explain, some persons in high position presented the idea that the result of climatic change will be a catastrophe and it is very necessary to stop the increase of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Such a proposal was discussed first in Toronto. After I was in Hamburg and tried to explain that this is not right, but without any success. The main speakers and main organizers of such conferences were mainly prime ministers. At least two of them were ladies, so I have now some doubts, is it a good idea to have women as prime ministers?
Margaret Thatcher and the woman from Norway.
Quite right. I don't think that such proposals can be rationally discussed now. Because, from my point of view, we are very near an understanding of the climate of the future. All the same people who are trying to suggest some drastic measures to decrease global warming have very limited knowledge about the climate of the future. As a rule, using wrong results. Specialist professionals know very well — this idea is right, this is wrong. People who are interested in sensations try to find a sensation and usually sensations are in wrong publications. Because it is easier to publish unusual result when everything is wrong. Such misunderstandings took place, but now probably it is a less important point. More important point: very little was done to estimate the economical effect of global warming. Some ideas are presented about the possible harm done by increase of sea level — it's a simple idea — but almost nobody calculated the impact of climatic change on agriculture. This problem is extremely sensitive for the future, because the demographic explosion does not stop and prediction of the quantity of people who should be provided with food, for let us say the beginning of the next century — it is extremely difficult to solve this problem just by improvement of argotechnics. Many people are discussing a probability of enormous loss of human life due to hunger in the beginning of the next century.
Of course, you have published suggestions that in the Soviet Union — and this is some time back already — there will be mixed results, that there may be periods or places where the climate may be improved and other places and times where we'll have worse.
Generally you are right but I think you changed considerably our prediction. Our prediction — me and my colleagues — is that until the end of this century and maybe the very beginning of the next century, some unfavorable change of climate for agriculture could take place in only some areas of two countries in middle latitudes: our country and the United States. In all other countries the precipitation will increase and will be favorable for agriculture. Empirical data collected and presented, not in our country but in the United States, showed that for a comparatively long time precipitation is regularly increasing, so this idea is empirically more or less reasonable. Probably even more important is the direct impact of carbon dioxide on harvests. Because carbon dioxide is a food for plants estimation made in different countries shows that even now when we have an increase in carbon dioxide only by 25% in comparison with the 19th century, harvest could be 5-10% higher in comparison with the standard level of carbon dioxide in the past.
Has all of this made you reluctant to suggest that we do anything to prevent the greenhouse effect?
My idea is not to do anything because such attempts to change anthropogenic climatic change are connected with fantastic expenses. Of course, I know only very limited estimation, but a trillion dollars was mentioned as expense, not to stop it but to make it considerably slower. A trillion dollars in our not very rich world for many countries it is not even possible — money is absolutely unavailable. My conclusion is very simple. Everything should be solved on the best scientific level, including the climatology part of problem. I am not absolutely sure that everything is done. We need no long studies but one or two years is probably necessary with good organization. We need very good understanding of all kinds of impacts and very good economical estimations. Until then we don't have such results to have international decision on such enormous scale, with such enormous expenses, I don't think it is reasonable. My ideas are so simple, that I am more or less sure that it's easy to understand. But one or two years ago — for example, when I visited The Hamburg Symposium — I had a feeling that it was not a scientific event but some kind of demonstration, some big political meeting. The Green Party, they were very active. They have very little knowledge on the topic but some important people — Willy Brandt presented a lecture.
Who is not scientific.
Why it's necessary I don't understand. So we are near a right solution of problem but all the same we have some difficulties. We have a very big project — international project — organized by The World Metrological Organization, which from my point of view is very far from a satisfactory level of organization. All the same, possibly mankind is not wise enough to do everything in the optimal way, especially when the real interests of different countries are understood in different ways.
I wanted finally to ask a little about the future in the Soviet Union. What do you think are the new people, who have you tried to train, what has been done to make the future of climatology in your country?
We have now a number of able young people, some of whom spend some time in the United States. One of them visited New York University and it was very good exchange with their specialist. One American post graduate student is working with us now. We have exchange. The only good organization in this very broad field is Soviet-American collaboration. Of course, it has some difficulties, but it is incomparable with the insufficiently good organization in all other cases.
Do you feel now you are a member of a community now in the Soviet Union?
In the last 15 years we have had at least 20 good scientific meetings, joint meetings with American scientists. When I was more active, usually we went to some exotic part of our country just to give our friends the possibility to see something new. Now it is more. We have three important meetings of experts and publish joint conclusions and now a finished book with a joint report, which in May probably will be printed in the United States (in English), and in June given to President Bush and President Gorbachov. Reagan and Gorbachov in one of their joint statements, in December 1987 expressed hope that such a problem will be considered by scientists in both countries, and we are very near the end.
What do you think will be the future of human impact on climate? Do you feel it will follow this inevitable path or do you feel that people will start taking steps to change it?
I have a few opinions. First, the problem will be important for about 60 years. Not exactly 60, maybe 50 or something. Because in this time it is unavoidable, a considerable emission of greenhouse gases. I have some good friends — specialists in energetics in our country — who are responsible in this field. They are trying very hard to find different ways to produce energy and such different way usually have little or no impact on climate.
Like nuclear power, for example.
Nuclear power. It is absolutely necessary to find a way in let us say, in 50 years, not leading to dangerous climatic change. It could be very considerable and dangerous, of course. But the cost of fossil fuel will become more and more expensive.
Surely you have been drawn into discussions about the future of nuclear power, in particular.
Nuclear power is a difficult but very important problem. We are responsible for approximately 50 years. In this 50 years climatic change will be considerable, but I have a simple explanation why it is not very dangerous. Because we have lived in the past this way — more or less stable climate but we lived with strong fluctuations every year. Such fluctuations in many cases are much more important economically than the predicted climatic change in the future. Of course, not in all cases was it pleasant. But mankind showed that adaptation is possible. So ideas about global catastrophe are just nonsense, from my point of view. An important point that it is very necessary to predict climate of the future and to have good planning of agriculture, and many different ventures of human activity. In such case, economic loss will be minimal and economic gain will be maximal. It is very necessary to have such result but to think that we shall — not we but our grandchildren — will see some catastrophe due to climatic change, I am absolutely sure it is impossible. I would even hope (of course maybe this is exaggeration but in some cases I use such words) that the climate of the future will be in many ways better than climate now or climate in the distant past. Because the "warm" epochs of the past — climate was not only warmer in the epoch but much more homogeneous. Probably you remember well the known information about the vegetation in high latitudes. The Sahara was, in the warm epoch, populated with a lot of animals in the central Sahara. So we have some strong hints that climate in many ways will be attractive for mankind and good for the biosphere. In some cases I say, unofficially of course, it can be compared with returning to the "paradise lost." But I usually add that the ticket for this journey will be very expensive. (laughter) Of course this is a joke. It is not a scientific statement.
I understand but it is a good way of putting it. Well, anything that you think we have missed in all of this history? Something important that we may not have touched upon?
I think you and I spent almost two hours. If you wish, just as a memory. [Gives photograph of himself.]
Thank you. I haven't seen this. You know we collect photographs in our Institute also. Is it all right if this tape is made available to other historians in the future? Do you have any objections?
No objections, but frankly speaking I paid little attention to my form of presentation.
Should I have someone bring you a transcript so you can warn me if there are some parts that should be particularly left out?
In the future you will have other questions and if necessary you can send me then. Mail is extremely slow now and better to use Telex should questions arise. All the same, I advise you to collect such kind of information from American colleagues and after it you shall have much fuller understanding of the problem from different points of view.
I am doing that, and I do expect that I will have other questions for you at that time.