While climate change may seem like a modern concern, it has only become one over the course of history. For centuries, small discoveries regarding carbon dioxide, our atmosphere, and heat-trapping gases are the foundation of modern climate research.
Yet, many are unaware of how this research has progressed throughout the centuries. Today, I am going to briefly cover the scientific history of climate change.
1640: Johann Baptista van Helmolt discovers that air is a mixture of gases. Eventually, he was also the first to notice that when wood or coal is burned, a gas is released, which he referred to as a wild spirit. Today, we call it carbon dioxide.
1754: Joseph Black discovers “fixed air”, which we know today as carbon dioxide. He was able to measure it using a limewater instrument, which is the first carbon dioxide detector. Eventually, this would be improved upon by Lord Cavendish.
1760: The Industrial revolution begins. At this point, there were about 280 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere. Most famously, the Paris Agreement wants to limit global warming to 1.5C compared to this milestone.
1824: Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier concluded that gases in the atmosphere could increase the surface temperature. He hypothesized that the Earth’s atmosphere acts as an insulator, which his calculations fully supported.
This is the birth of what became the Greenhouse Effect.
1856: Eunice Foote discovered that carbon dioxide and water vapor cause the air to warm when exposed to sunlight. While the concept was previously discussed, this was the first set of experiments that provided conclusive evidence.
1859: John Tyndall showed that gasses within our air can cause the temperature to rise. Oxygen and Nitrogen do not have this ability, but carbon dioxide, water vapor, and ozone all have the ability to raise the temperature.
1896: Svante Arrhenius released his findings that fossil fuel combustion may result in a global temperature increase. The more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the hotter it will get, and also concluded that the opposite was true with calculations to back it up.
1938: George Callendar concluded that humans have added an additional 150,000 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This increase in carbon dioxide directly correlates with the rising temperature.
1988: James Hansen famously addresses the US Senate to tell them climate change has begun. He highlighted the fact that the planet is warming, greenhouse gasses are to blame, and humans are responsible for releasing them.
2006: The Stern Review examines the economic impact of climate change. It concludes that while the cost of stabilizing the economy is high, it is economically viable to do so in comparison to the cost of dealing with the effects of climate change.
2015: Nations begin signing the Paris Agreement. It sets a new global goal to limit global warming to 1.5C above the pre-industrial level.
There’s A Lot More
The above outlines just some of the major scientific contributions that led us to where we are today. Yet, there are so many more to explore. Many have found links between the temperature increase and extreme weather.
And I’m confident, the next decade will discover a mountain of research and the potential effect climate change will have.
Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.