The warnings of greenhouse gases (chiefly carbon dioxide) changing the climate are becoming ever more dire and regular. But history records the first warnings go back over a century, and as little as 40 years ago it was taken very seriously at the highest levels of US government.
June 19 2018: James Hansen: 30 years on, world is failing ‘miserably’ to address climate change. Hansen provided what’s considered the first warning to a mass audience about global warming in 1988, when he told a US congressional hearing he could declare “with 99% confidence” that a recent sharp rise in temperatures was a result of human activity. “All we’ve done is agree there’s a problem,” he says. Climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, who testified at the same 1988 hearing about sea level rise, said the struggle to confront climate change has been “discouraging”. link
- Earliest warnings
Earliest warnings date back to 19th century
October 2016: 1912 news article ominously forecasted the catastrophic effects of fossil fuels on climate change. A short news clip from a New Zealand paper published in 1912 has gone viral as an example of an early news story to make the connection between burning fossil fuels and climate change. It wasn’t, however, the first article to suggest that coal was wreaking destruction on our environment that would lead to climate change. The theory, now widely accepted, was mentioned in the news media as early as 1883, and discussed in scientific circles much earlier than that. The French physicist Joseph Fourier had made the observation in 1824 that the composition of the atmosphere is likely to affect the climate. But Svante Arrhenius’s 1896 study titled, “On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature on the ground” was the first to quantify how carbon dioxide (or anhydrous carbonic acid, by another name) affects global temperature. Though the study does not explicitly say that the burning of fossil fuels would cause global warming, there were scientists before him who had made such a forecast. link
May 2017: 1981 TV documentary warning about global warming. On the evening of Tuesday, December 8, 1981, the UK’s only commercial TV channel, ITV, broadcast an hour-long documentary called “Warming Warning”. It was among the earliest occasions – possibly the earliest – anywhere in the world where a major broadcaster aired a documentary dedicated solely to the topic of human-caused climate change. The documentary sat in the archives largely unseen until recently. The clips provide a poignant, historical insight into what scientists knew about climate change almost four decades ago, and how the world was beginning to react in terms of the resulting geopolitical, technological and societal ramifications. link
July 2010: Declassified documents show President Nixon warned of global warming 30 years ago. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in Nixon’s cabinet, wrote ‘There is widespread agreement that carbon dioxide content will rise 25 percent by 2000’ in a September 1969 memo; ‘This could increase the average temperature near the earth’s surface by 7 degrees Fahrenheit . . . This in turn could raise the level of the sea by 10 feet’. [Nixon established the EPA and approved of the first Earth Day held April 22 1970.] link
November 2017: ‘Letter to Humanity’. 15,000 scientists give catastrophic warning about fate of the world. The new message updates an original warning sent from the Union of Concerned Scientists that was backed by 1,700 signatures 25 years ago. But the experts say the picture is far, far worse than it was in 1992, and that almost all of the problems identified then have simply been exacerbated. If the world doesn’t act soon, there be catastrophic biodiversity loss and untold amounts of human misery, they warn. “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out,” the letter warns. “We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.” link
Bill McKibben: If we don’t win very quickly on climate change, then we will never win. That’s the core truth about global warming. It’s what makes it different from every other problem our political systems have faced (December 2017) link
November 2017: The cities that will be drowned by global warming. The UN is warning that we are now on course for 3C of global warming. This will ultimately redraw the map of the world. Until now, global efforts such as the Paris climate agreement have tried to limit global warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels. However, with latest projections pointing to an increase of 3.2C by 2100, these goals seem to be slipping out of reach. Scientists at the non-profit organisation Climate Central estimate that 275 million people worldwide live in areas that will eventually be flooded at 3C of global warming. link
An article by David Wallace-Wells in the New York Magazine in July 2017, jolted many out of apathy, prescribing the worst outcome failing immediate action. Called ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’ it cause an outcry, but is worthy of consideration as to the urgency of the problem.
July 2017: What climate change could wreak – sooner than you think. Absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century. The present tense of climate change, the destruction we’ve already baked into our future, is horrifying enough. Most people talk as if Miami and Bangladesh still have a chance of surviving; most of the scientists I spoke with assume we’ll lose them within the century, even if we stop burning fossil fuel in the next decade. Two degrees of warming used to be considered the threshold of catastrophe: tens of millions of climate refugees unleashed upon an unprepared world. Now two degrees is our goal, per the Paris climate accords, and experts give us only slim odds of hitting it. link
(May 2017) Nasa puts global warming tipping point within 10 years. NASA and Columbia University Earth Institute’s recent study verifiably asserts that with just 10 more years of ‘business as usual,’ it becomes impractical to avoid disastrous effects. The 10-year timeframe shows other recent climate studies to have underestimated the urgency of the window in which we can make significant changes. link