Climate Change Predictions – Twenty Years Ago

by Mark Lovett on January 16, 2012

I often ask people just how long we’ve know about climate change / global warming. Those folks who have been following the topic have an answer that’s in the ballpark, but at least half of those questioned reply along the lines of, “Probably 7 or 8 years.”

Current human activities – such as the widespread burning of fossil fuels to run power plants and vehicles – are releasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere (gases so named because they trap heat much as the glass in a greenhouse does).

If present trends continue and these gases effectively double in concentration during the coming century, a committee of the National Academy of Sciences predicts that global average temperatures would rise between 3 and 8 degrees farenheit (between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees centigrade), leaving the Earth warmer than at any time in human history.” – From the preface – Fred Krupp, Executive Director, Environmental Defense Fund, and George Langdon, President, American Museum of Natural History

Global Warming Understanding the Forecast by Andrew RevkinThe quote is within the preface of Global Warming, Understanding the Forecast, by Andrew Revkin. What is quite surprising is that this book was published in 1992, 20 years ago, and based on scientific research that was conducted before publication.

At the time this book first came out, in tandem with a traveling exhibition on climate change sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History and the Environmental Defense Fund, the general feeling was that action was called for to reverse the trends.

Andrew points out early on that climate change is nothing new, and has been in play throughout humankind’s duration on this planet, but the other point he makes, some two decades ago, was that scientific evidence had already indicated human activity was having a profound negative influence on global climate.

The Story That Needed Telling

Since global population has risen from less than 5 million, at the end of the last ice age, to our current level of 7 billion (a 1,400 fold increase) it’s not so surprising that our planet would experience some sort of imbalance, but what had scientists worried back then was the possibility that this imbalance could potentially threaten all life on the planet.  That realization prompted more and more climate scientists to speak up.

Thus an era has begun in which humans are no longer simply polluting a particular lake, or cutting down a certain forest, but changing the composition and dynamics of one of the essential components of the planet.

The book is relatively brief at under 200 pages, but rich with examples of how the earth evolved from its formation some 4 billion years ago, and most importantly, how the greenhouse effect works and CO2′s role in changing our climate as levels rise.

The challenge now is to find a way to act that will make geologists of the future look upon this age as a remarkable time, a time in which a species began to take into account the long term impact of its actions.

What I love most about the book is its accessibility; a teenager, with a modicum of science background, can easily grasp all the concepts presented.  What’s perplexing is why, some twenty years later, such an easy to understand problem, backed up by thousands of pages of scientific research, is denied and attacked by a small, though very influential, slice of our society.

The answer lies in two fundamental motivations: Greed and Ideology

Stay tuned, as the next Global Patriot blog post will cover the history of those liars and deniers who set about convincing us that tobacco was safe to use, the ozone layer was doing just fine, and now tell us climate change is nothing to worry about.

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