Since the start of the industrial revolution, mankind has been burning fossil fuel (coal, oil, etc.) and adding its carbon to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. In 50 years or so this process, says Director Roger Revelle of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, may have a violent effect on the earth’s climate.
The temperature of the earth’s surface depends largely on two minor constituents of the atmosphere: water vapor and carbon dioxide. They are transparent to the short-wave energy (light and near infrared) that comes from the sun, but opaque to most of the long-wave heat radiation that tries to return to space. This “greenhouse effect” traps heat and makes the earth’s surface considerably warmer than it would be if the atmosphere had no water vapor or carbon dioxide in it. An increase in either constituent would make it warmer still. Warm eras in the geological past may have been caused by CO2 from volcanoes.
At present the atmosphere contains 2.35 trillion tons of carbon dioxide, existing in equilibrium with living plants and sea water (which tends to dissolve it). Up to 1860, man’s fires added only about 500 million tons per year, and the atmosphere had no trouble in getting rid of this small amount. But each year more furnaces and engines poured CO2 into the atmosphere. In 1900, the amount was 3 billion tons. By 1950, it was 9 billion tons. By 2010, if present trends continue, 47 billion tons of carbon dioxide will enter the air each year. [actual @37 billion tons]
This will be only 2% of the total carbon dioxide, but if it is more than can be dissolved by the oceans or absorbed by plants or minerals, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will tend to increase. The greenhouse effect will be intensified. Some scientists believe that this is the cause of recent warming of the earth’s climate. Dr. Revelle has his doubts.
In the future, if the blanket of CO2 produces a temperature rise of only one or two degrees, a chain of secondary effects may come into play. As the air gets warmer, sea water will get warmer too, and CO2 dissolved in it will return to the atmosphere. More water will evaporate from the warm ocean, and this will increase the greenhouse effect of the CO2. Each effect will reinforce the other, possibly raising the temperature enough to melt the icecaps of Antarctica and Greenland, which would flood the earth’s coastal lands.
Dr. Revelle has not reached the stage of warning against this catastrophe, but he and other geophysicists intend to keep watching and recording. During the International Geophysical Year (1957-58), teams of scientists will take inventory of the earth’s CO2 and observe how it shifts between air and sea. They will try to find out whether the CO2 blanket has been growing thicker, and what the effect has been. When all their data have been studied, they may be able to predict whether man’s factory chimneys and auto exhausts will eventually cause salt water to flow in the streets of New York and London.
Time Magazine, May 28, 1956
Whoa! How is that? They predicted Superstorm Sandy 55 years in advance. And, deniers have been telling us all along that scientists were predicting a new ice age in the 1970s. Well, that's alright, because the deniers assure us there is no consensus among climate scientists on climate change. But wait! Take a look here at the report of the Environmental Pollution Panel, President's Science Advisory Committee from 1965. Speaking of carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of fossil fuels, the report stated (page 113),
The part that remains in the atmosphere may have a significant impact on climate: carbon dioxide is nearly transparent to visible light, but is a strong absorber and back radiator of infrared radiation, particularly in the wavelengths from 12 to 18 microns; consequently, an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide could act, much like the glass in a greenhouse, to raise the temperature of the lower air.This was so phenomenal, President Lyndon Johnson sent it to Congress as a special message.
But, it continues. The history of climate science shows it was becoming increasingly clear during the 1960s and 1970s that fossil fuel emissions would change the climate. The NRC report of 1977, the JASON report of 1979 and the Charney report of 1979 all came to the same conclusion: carbon dioxide emissions would lead to global warming.
So, not only is there a consensus, but that consensus was reached over 40 years ago!
You mean, the deniers were lying to us? How could that be?
There is an excellent video of Naomi Oreskes discussing this history. I highly recommend it.
The point being, the denier industry, led by the Three Stooges (the George C. Marshall Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Heartland Institute - all stooges for the fossil fuel industry) have been heavily involved in a campaign to mislead the public. And, they are very skilled at this. These are the same people that led the fight to convince the public the medical research linking tobacco to heart and lung disease was flawed. Their work ended up killing hundreds of thousands of people by delaying regulation of tobacco products. Today, they are killing hundreds of thousands of people by delaying action on climate change.
Keep telling yourself these people have your best interest at heart.