Greenhouse Gas Timeline  



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Sunday September 20, 2019 – Greenhouse Gas Timeline – Last week I read a very interesting article in the Guardian that went over the timeline where the fossil fuel industry knew about the possible problems with greenhouse gas emissions. The article covered the period from 1959 until the present.  I thought it might be interesting to summarize their findings and add some historical data.


It all started in the 1820's when French mathematician Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier noticed that the earth was actually warmer that it should be if the suns energy was the only source of heat.  He worked out that CO2 and water absorbed heat acting like a blanket keeping the planet warm. 


Fourier's theory was confirmed by John Tyndale in 1862.  In 1895 the Swedish Physical Chemist Svante Arrhenius was the first to estimate the extent to which Increases in atmospheric CO2 would impact global temperature.  The first person to liken this effect to a greenhouse was Swedish Meteorologist Nils Ekhom in a paper published in 1901. 


Nobody really thought much about the greenhouse effect and people continued to burn fossil fuels and pump CO2 into the atmosphere.  Then in 1959, at a symposium organized by the American Petroleum Institute and the Columbia Graduate School of Business, Theoretical physicist Edward Teller told the audience that a 10% increase in atmospheric CO2 would be enough to melt the ice caps and submerge New York City.


In the 1970s the fossil fuel industry began to seriously study the impact that increases in atmospheric CO2 would have on global temperature.  It has been alleged that in 1977 Exxon scientists warned that there was an overwhelming consensus that fossil fuels were responsible for increases in atmospheric CO2.


In 1998 NASA climate scientist James Hansen testified before Congress that, “the greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now”. 


Instead of shifting their business to more climate friendly products, in 1990 Exxon funded Dr. Fred Seitz and Dr. Fred Singer who dispute the consensus on climate science.  Since then the fossil fuel industry has continued to fund climate deniers.  In 2009 Senator Jim Inhofe, who received large donations from the fossil fuel industry, lead the "Climategate" attacks on scientists who were wrongly accused of falsifying data to make it appear that the world was warming.  In 2017 Exxon, Chevron and BP each donate at least $500,000 for the inauguration of Donald Trump, a well known climate denier, as president.


We have known for over 100 years that carbon dioxide creates a greenhouse effect and that increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will cause the Earth to warm up.  The evidence is now quite clear and if predictions are anywhere near correct we need to do something about it before we trigger a new mass extinction.  In the US the first step would be to get rid of politicians that still deny that global warming is occurring or that it is bad for the planet.  The failure to do this could be catastrophic for life on earth.


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