A Brief on the History of Climate Change – Part 1
The fact that Climate Change is a real issue has been suggested by climate scientists for several decades. But where did it all begin? When did people start to realise that something was wrong with our climate?
The History of Climate Change: 1700 – 1900
Thomas Newcomen, a British ironmonger, invented the first widely used steam engine in 1712, thereby ushering in the Industrial Revolution and the industrial-scale use of coal.
Then in 1824, Joseph Fourier – a French physicist – first described a “greenhouse effect”, followed by Irish physicist John Tyndall in 1861, who showed that the greenhouse effect was produced by water vapour and certain other gases. But of course, they did not have the global climate in mind, yet.
In 1886 the first automobile was invented by Carl Benz in Germany (“Motorwagen”).
It was Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius who in 1900 first suggested that industrial-scale burning of coal would enhance the natural greenhouse effect (1896), and that even in trace amounts, CO2 in the atmosphere could produce greenhouse warming.
The History of Climate Change: 1901- 1962
In 1927, carbon emissions from the use of coal in industry and the burning of fossil fuels reached one billion tonnes per year. In 1938, British engineer Guy Callendar demonstrated for the first time that temperatures had been on the rise for the past century, and that there was also a corresponding increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Although he suggested a correlation between the two, his theory was widely derided by meteorologists.
Then in 1955, using state-of-the-art equipment (including early computers), US researcher Gilbert Plass was able to show that doubling the level of atmospheric CO2 would lead to an increase in average global temperature by about 3-4°C. It was followed by a finding in 1957 that the world’s seas and oceans would not absorb all the excess CO2 that was being dumped into the atmosphere, as had previously been postulated.
A year later, Charles David Keeling began his famous measurements of atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa in Hawaii (which continues to this day). By 1962 the measurements provided irrefutable proof that global CO2 concentrations were on the rise.