In the 1800s, people starting putting up signs about climate change. Here's what people knew and when they knew it.
In the 1800s, people starting putting up signs about climate change. Here’s what people knew and when they knew it. © Images AGN

In the 1800s, people starting putting up signs about climate change. Here’s what people knew and when they knew it.

There is still a lot of political lies going around about climate change. It is like a thick fog rolling in from the rising ocean. But a lot of government papers and reports by researchers and historians show what scientists and government officials knew and when they knew it.  

By the late 1800s, scientists knew that a greenhouse effect keeps the world warm and that the carbon dioxide made by burning coal can make this effect stronger. In the 1970s, scientists started to measure these releases in the atmosphere and warned that by the middle of the 21st century, the Earth’s temperature could rise by 0.5 to 5 degrees Celsius.

On August 14, 1912, The Rodney & Otamatea Times in New Zealand published an article about the greenhouse impact of climate change. It was inspired by an article in Popular Mechanics magazine published earlier that year. © The Rodney & Otamatea Times, via Peter Gleick.

Fifty years later, most scientists agreed that the average world temperature was already one degree Celsius higher than it had been in the late 1800s, and that it had been increasing-at-a-rate of 0.2 degrees Celsius every 10 years since the the year of 1970s.

Some people still say, wrongly, that climate change is just a new trend.

Even though scientists and the military have been keeping track of rising temperatures, rising sea levels, and more extreme weather around the world for a long time, people often repeat myths and spread false information.

In one of the most recent cases, presidential candidate and governor of one of the states most affected by climate change, Ron DeSantis, talked about warming in an interview with Trey Gowdy on May 24 on FOX News.

When Gowdy asked DeSantis about the U.S. military, he said, “You talk about how they’re worried about things like global warming, but that’s not the military I served in.”

But the Navy and other parts of the military have been worried about climate change for a long time.

Peter Gleick, a co-founder & senior fellow at the Pacific Institute (PI) who has studied the United State military’s studies on climate change for more than 30 years, says that DeSantis is wrong.

Before DeSantis joined the Navy in 2004, Navy leaders had been talking about the effects of climate change for more than 15 years.

  • In February 1989, after being nominated by President George H.W. Bush to be Secretary of Energy, retired Navy Admiral James Watkins told members of Congress, “We are all aware of the possible threats that global climate change poses.”
  • By 2001, Navy subs had found that the new ice in the Arctic Ocean was getting thinner in a “striking” way.
  • In 2001, the Navy held a two-day symposium to think about what actions might be needed in an Arctic with less ice.
  • The Navy released its “Climate Change Road Map” in 2010, the same year that DeSantis left active service. “Climate change is a threat to national security that has strategic implications for the Navy,” it said.

What we knew about climate change and when we knew it

Scientists have been building on the work of other scientists for more than 150 years to figure out how carbon dioxide emissions warm the Earth.

Gleick said, “Any politician who doesn’t believe climate change is happening today either doesn’t know much about science or is trying to mislead the public for political reasons.” 

Concerns about coal combustion emerge early.

Early in the 1300s, people start to worry about burning coal. King Edward of England bans coal burning because he believes it is the cause of the thick, black smoke that chokes the air in London.

In Europe, the first Industrial Revolution starts in the 1700s, when coal-powered companies start to pop up in Great Britain.

Irish physicist John Tyndall writes in 1861 that water vapor and gases like carbon dioxide form the Earth’s greenhouse effect, which keeps the planet warm by trapping the Sun’s heat.

1896: Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius publishes a have a have a look at that shows he “is aware of that growing carbon dioxide in the environment will enhance temperatures and recognizes that burning fossil fuels is a source of carbon dioxide (Chemical formula CO2), but stops surely short of explicitly predicting man-made international warming,” stated Robert Rohde, lead scientist for Berkeley Earth. In his later work, Arrhenius positioned the portions collectively.

Thomas Chamberlin, an American geologist at the University of Chicago who has studied ice in the Arctic, has also written about how carbon dioxide affects the temperature of the Earth.

1912: A newspaper from New Zealand says that burning coal could change the weather in the long run. The piece was based on a story from that year’s Popular Mechanics magazine that talked about Arrhenius’s work.

As science moves forward, we keep talking about climate change.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, science makes more progress and more data is collected.

1958: At the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, scientist C. David Keeling from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography starts taking direct readings of the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Since then, the amount of carbon dioxide in the air has gone up by 34%, from 315.98 parts per million to 423.78 parts per million.

1970: At Johns Hopkins University, meteorologist George S. Benton writes “Carbon Dioxide and Its Role in Climate Change” for Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He says: • If carbon dioxide levels go up by 10%, the normal temperature should go up by about 0.3 degrees Celsius. • In some places, temperatures have gone up by as much as 3–4 degrees Celsius.

1974: The Central Intelligence Agency puts out a study called “A Study of Climatological Research as it Pertains to Intelligence Problems.” The agency points out that climate change is bad and asks the government to fund more study, saying, “It is becoming clear that the intelligence community needs to know how big the international threats are that climate change creates.”

1975: Geochemist Wallace Broecker of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory releases a study called “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?”

During the Carter Administration, new research opens up a floodgate of knowledge.

By the end of the 1970s, the term “climate change” was often used in study papers, government reports, and even newspaper articles.

After Jimmy Carter became president in 1976, a number of important things happen, such as the creation of a group to look at carbon dioxide levels and a study for the Department of Energy.

In a letter to Carter in July 1977, Carter’s science adviser, geophysicist Frank Press, says that the use of fossil fuels has increased “at an exponential rate” over the past 100 years, that carbon dioxide levels are 12% higher than they were before the industrial revolution, and that they could grow 1.5 to 2 times higher within 60 years, which would raise the temperature warning by anywhere from 0.5 to 5 degrees Celsius, and that a rapid increase could be “catastrophic.”

In 1978, during a hard winter in California with lots of rain and mudslides, Peter Gwynne and Sharon Begley wrote a story about climate change that was published in Newsweek. This was one of the first times that climate change was mentioned in the news.The authors asked if the Earth is moving into a time of colder weather, and climatologists said that climate change is not short-term weather, but what happens over decades.The story said that more and more meteorologists think that the weather is warming up instead of cooling down. “And if the arena is getting hotter, it’s normally due to the fact the quantity of carbon dioxide (Chemical formula CO2) in the air goes up.”

In the month of July 1980: The Global 2000 Study Report to the President, which turned into written by using a collection led by means of Martha Garrett and Gerald Barney, brings environmental problems into American politics for the first time. Among what it found:

  • Even a 1°C rise would make the earth’s temperature warmer than it has been in 1,000 years.
  • A rise in temperature caused by carbon dioxide is likely to be three or four times bigger at the poles than in the middle latitudes. (Today, government officials say that the Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as anywhere else in the world, and even faster in some places and at some times of the year.)

December 1980: A large study done for the Energy Department by the American Association for the Advancement of Science says that the likely results of the amount of CO2 in the air are “beyond human experience.” The study says that climate change caused by CO2 could:

  • Cause floods and droughts, which could lead to hunger and malnutrition.
  • “Put group towards institution and country against country.”

The Associated Press writes that Roger Revelle, who used to be president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says that if carbon dioxide levels doubled by the middle of the 21st century, average global temperatures would rise by 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the year of 1988, James Hansen, who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Institute, and George Woodwell, who runs the Woods Hole Research Center, tell members of the United state Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources committee that the amount of carbon dioxide within the surroundings goes up, that is causing the average temperature round the arena to upward push and higher latitudes to warm.

In the year of 1989: The National Academy of Sciences, which is now led through Press, Carter’s former science adviser, sends a letter to President-decide on George H.W. Bush urging him to put the threat of rising worldwide temperatures excessive on his agenda and to look for options to coal, oil, and different pollutants that make a contribution to international warming.

Gleick puts out a study that talks about how many people are worried about how climate change and other environmental problems could affect international security. The study also suggests ways to deal with the problems to make them less bad.

1990: The U.S. Navy War College sends a report to the Select Senate Committee on Intelligence called “Global Climate Change: Implications for the United States.” This is the first time, according to Gleick, that the possible threat of climate change to national security is made clear.

In the year of 1991, the Bush administration’s National Security Strategy (NSS) of the United State of America mentions the climate peril twice, pronouncing that environmental issues like weather alternate and deforestation have been “already contributing to political war.”

1997: In December, the Kyoto Protocol is approved by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Kyoto, Japan. Over the next 15 months, 84 people sign it.

1998: The federal government makes public information that Navy subs gathered about the thickness of Arctic sea ice. This information is important for studying how global warming affects ice cover.

1999: As the millennium comes to an end, scientists Michael Mann, Raymond Bradley, and Malcolm Hughes look at past temperatures and say that the rise in the second half of this century is unlike anything that has happened in at least 1,000 years. People started calling it the “hockey stick theory” because of the line that shows how the rate of growth jumped up quickly in later years.

A new 100 years

2002: The National Academies of Science publish the study “Abrupt Climate Change, Inevitable Surprises.”

2003: In an article for Defense Horizons, former Navy Rear Admiral Richard Pittenger and oceanographer Robert Gagosian say that sudden climate change could have “specific effects on the US military.” They say that thinking about the military effects of sudden changes in temperature seems like a good idea.

2009: The U.S. Navy makes a Climate Change Task Force to figure out what the Navy should do when the Arctic marine climate changes quickly. Rear Admiral David Titley, who led the venture force, said later that the counterarguments that have been made in the course of the look at “fell apart in the face of overwhelming evidence.”

The task group will put out a “Arctic Roadmap” and a Navy Climate Change Roadmap by 2010. Some of the comments are: • The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.

• “Most scientists agree that the Arctic may also have almost ice-free summers by using the use of the in the year of 2030s.”

• “Climate change affects military bases and access to natural resources all over the world.”

2015: An investigation by Inside Climate News finds that Exxon and Exxon Mobil Corp. correctly predicted that people were causing global warming from 1977 to 2003, but they “hid the information.”

In 2019, a study from the Department of Defense during the presidency of Donald Trump says that climate change is causing problems at dozens of bases, such as rising sea levels, thawing permafrost, drought, and wildfires. “If we need to preserve the world Safe, we need to do something fine approximately the existential threat of climate exchange.  In the past few months and years, wildfires, floods, droughts, typhoons, and other extreme weather events have happened at a scale that has never been seen before. This has caused damage to our sites and bases, slowed down the readiness and operations of our forces, and made the world less stable.

In the month of June 2023, Titley, a retired rear admiral who led the Navy’s 2009-10 project pressure, instructed USA TODAY that the army is “constantly interested by changes (political, economic, demographic, agricultural, engineering, era, and so on.) that will affect war fighting, readiness, and the abilities of both us and any potential enemies.”

Titley said that when people asked him why the military would care about climate change, he asked them his own question. “Why wouldn’t we be if it affects our ability to fight and get ready for war? It would be careless and unfair to our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines not to think about the changes that a changing environment will bring.

This story was first published on USA TODAY: In the 1800s, people starting putting up signs about climate change. Here’s what people knew and when they knew it.

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