Science

When did scientists first warn humanity about climate change?

Warnings about climate change come from scientists with speed and force; Thousands have signed a document claiming that ignoring climate change would produce “incalculable suffering” for humanity, and more than 99% of scientific papers agree that humans are the cause. But climate change wasn’t always on everyone’s radar. So when did humans first become aware of climate change and the dangers it poses?

Scientists began to worry about climate change in the late 1950s, Spencer Weart, historian and retired director of the Center for the History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Maryland, told Live Science in an email. electronic. “It was just a possibility for the 21st century that seemed very distant, but that was seen as a danger for which you had to be prepared.”

The scientific community began rallying for action on climate change in the 1980s, and the warnings have only intensified since then. However, these recent warnings are only the tip of the melting iceberg; People’s interest in how our activities affect the climate dates back thousands of years.

Related: 10 Devastating Signs Of Climate Change Satellites Can See From Space

As early as ancient Greece (1200 BC to 323 AD), people debated whether draining swamps or clearing forests could bring more or less rain to the region, according to the Discovery of Global Warming website. de Weart, hosted by the American Institute of Physics and shares the name with his book “The Discovery of Global Warming” (Harvard University Press, 2008).

The ancient Greek debates were among the first documented debates on climate change, but they focused only on local regions. It wasn’t until a few millennia later, in 1896, that Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927) became the first person to imagine that humanity could change the climate on a global scale, according to Weart. It was then that Arrhenius published calculations in The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and the Journal of Science that showed that adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere could warm the planet.

This work was based on the research of other 19th century scientists, such as Joseph Fourier (1768-1830), who hypothesized that the Earth would be much colder without an atmosphere, and John Tyndall (1820-1893) and Eunice Newton Foote (1819-1888), who separately demonstrated that carbon dioxide and water vapor trapped heat and suggested that an atmosphere could do the same, reported JSTOR Daily.

Arrhenius’s climate change predictions were largely spot on. Human activities release carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases that trap radiation from the sun and keep it in the atmosphere to increase the temperature like a warming greenhouse, hence the term “greenhouse effect.” However, Arrhenius’ work was not widely read or accepted at the time, it was not even intended to serve as a warning to humanity; it can only be seen as such in hindsight. At the time, his work simply recognized the possibility of humans influencing the global climate, and for a long time, people viewed warming as beneficial, according to Weart.

There was some coverage of fossil fuels affecting the climate in the mainstream media, according to a now-viral 1912 article first published in Popular Mechanics magazine, USA Today reported. The article, which appeared in some New Zealand and Australian newspapers later that year, acknowledged that burning coal and releasing carbon dioxide could increase Earth’s temperature, noting that “the effect may be considerable within a few centuries.”

Why the 1950s?

Scientific opinion on climate change would not begin to change until two major experiments, some 60 years after Arrhenius was performed. The first, led by scientist Roger Revelle (1909-1991) in 1957 and published in Tellus magazine, found that the ocean will not absorb all the carbon dioxide released in mankind’s industrial fuel emissions and that the levels of carbon dioxide of carbon in the atmosphere could therefore increase significantly. Three years later, Charles Keeling (1928-2005) published a separate study in Tellus that detected an annual increase in the levels of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. Since carbon dioxide levels are known to affect climate, scientists began to raise concerns about the impact that human-related emissions could have on the world.

From there, more studies began to highlight climate change as a potential threat to species and ecosystems around the world. “Scientists began in 1988 to insist that real action should be taken,” Weart said. This occurred at the Toronto Conference on the Changing Atmosphere, where scientists and politicians from around the world came together to address what was framed as a global threat to Earth’s atmosphere, with calls to reduce emissions and side effects such as acid rain.

“In the 1990s, most scientists thought action was necessary, but opposition from fossil fuel companies and ideologues who opposed any government action were effective in hiding the facts and blocking action.” Weart said. “Also, normal human inertia and unwillingness to do something without immediate benefits for oneself.”

Originally posted on Live Science.

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