Anyone under the age of 40 would find it difficult to remember a time when CO2 emissions increased, be it through the ‘greenhouse gas effect’ or ‘global warming’, or ‘climate change’. ‘ or now ‘climate crisis’, which was not in the news. About 35 years ago, in 1988, the summer heat lasted for a long time and at that time world leaders started discussing these issues.
We have become accustomed to many things, such as pictures of wildfires, charred animals, ice cubes melting in the ocean, promises from world leaders that they will heed scientists’ ‘last chance’ warnings. Anyone under the age of 40 would find it difficult to remember a time when CO2 emissions increased, be it through the ‘greenhouse gas effect’ or ‘global warming’, or ‘climate change’. ‘ or now ‘climate crisis’, which was not in the news. About 35 years ago, in 1988, the summer heat lasted for a long time and at that time world leaders started discussing these issues.
The then US presidential candidate (who soon became president) George H.W. Bush used to say that he would use the ‘White House Effect’ to control the greenhouse effect. Margaret Thatcher, the then Prime Minister of Britain, warned against large experiments ‘with the Earth’s system’. 35 years have ped since the above incident, but in fact 35 years before that, i.e. 70 years ago, in the same month, the discussion on the danger of increasing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere started in the world.
Carbon dioxide absorbs heat, this is an undisputed fact. Irish scientist John Tyndall demonstrated that the level of carbon in the atmosphere had begun to rise as early as the mid-eighteenth century. In 1895, Swedish Nobel laureate Svante Arrhenius indicated that carbon dioxide emitted by humans burning oil, coal and gas over hundreds of years could accumulate in the atmosphere, storing enough heat to melt the tundra. And the cold winters can be history.
His work was challenged, but the above ideas continued to appear in popular journals on various occasions. In 1938, English steam engineer Guy Callender told the Royal Society in London that temperatures were rising, but at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in May 1953, Callender’s contemporary, the Canadian physicist Gilbert Pl, told the scientists present there that the crisis was imminent. The beginning is over. Pl said: Large-scale increased industrial activity during the current century is causing large-scale emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and causing an average temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius per century.
Pl’s essment was picked up by the ociated Press and other news agencies, and published in newspapers around the world (including as far away as the Sydney Morning Herald). Pl’s warning was published in Newsweek on 18 May and in Time on 25 May of that year. The fact that the Earth is warming is undisputed among scientists, but Pl’s theory of a connection to carbon dioxide was completely new, in contrast to competing theories, such as orbital oscillations or ‘sunspot’ activity. Pl became interested in the question of manufacturing carbon dioxide while working for the Ford Motor Company.
Pl continued to work on the issue with technical and popular publications throughout the rest of the 1950s. In the year 1956, his research paper was published in the Swedish scientific journal ‘Telus’ with the title ‘The Carbon-dioxide Theory of Climate Change’. This research paper also became popular among American scientists. As a result, Pl was part of the first major meeting called to discuss the issue of carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile, the carbon-dioxide theory began to receive more coverage by science journalists.
One of such science journalists gave this discovery a place in the prestigious UNESCO Courier of that time and it was also published in the Irish Times in the year 1954. In the same year, British journalists also started mentioning this discovery. Then ‘New Scientist Magazine’ also mentioned it. By the end of the 1950s, it was a situation that everyone who read newspapers was aware of this basic idea. In the 50s and 60s of the last century, American, Swedish, German and Soviet scientists continued to study this issue. Even in the year 1965, the then US President Lyndon Johnson mentioned the issue of carbon emissions in his address to the Congress.
International cooperation began in the late sixties of the last century. However, apprehensions still remained. For example, Charles Keeling, an American scientist who measured carbon dioxide levels at the Hawaiian Observatory, revealed in April 1969 that he had a problem with the title of his lecture “If Carbon Dioxide from Fossil Fuels Is Changing the Human Environment.” What can we do about?” to “Is carbon dioxide from fossils changing the human environment?”
was asked to do. For climate historians like me, the 1970s are a fascinating period of modelling, observation and thinking, which by the end of the decade produced a consensus that there was serious trouble ahead. In fact, it was Pl who inspired it. When Pl spoke about this issue, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 310 parts per million (ppm) which is now 423 or more. Every year we are burning more oil, coal and gas, increasing greenhouse gas levels and trapping more heat. Plas’s warning is about 100 years old and levels will be much higher. It is quite possible that we have crossed the 2°C level which is considered to be a ‘safe’ level.
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