Climate change and the perils associated with it are not hidden from anyone. From Greta Thunberg becoming a youth icon for those challenging world leaders on climate change, to scientists warning us about the same, it has become one of the most discussed topics lately. The seriousness is reiterated by the fact that almost all researchers around the world are in agreement that humans are the main cause of it. All this makes us ponder the question, ‘When did humanity realise for the first time that climate change was an issue?’
The first time the scientific community began to worry about climate change was in the 1950s, according to Spencer Weart – a historian and retired director of the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Maryland. “It was just a possibility for the 21st century which seemed very far away, but seen as a danger that should be prepared for," he told Live Science.
Although the first organised resistance against climate change was begun by scientists in the 80s, the seeds had been sown thousands of years back, during the prehistoric times in ancient Greece. According to Heart, in between 1200 BC and 323 AD, there were panels, discussions and debates held on whether draining swamps or cutting down trees in the forest would bring more or less rainfall to the region. There were similar debates held all across Greece although they catered only to local regions and not on a global level.
According to the Live Science report, the first person to throw light on the fact that climate could be adversely affected by humans on a global scale was Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius. In 1896, he documented the calculations in The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science. Svante noted that adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere through human activities could warm the planet.
Although Arrhenius’ calculations and predictions were spot on, his work was largely ignored at that time and not taken seriously. Weart said that around that time, people wrongly thought that warming the planet was a boon. It was only in 1912 when an article was published in the magazine Popular Mechanics that spoke of burning coal heating up the atmosphere by releasing carbon-dioxide, that it was officially recognised that burning fossils would have a considerable effect on the planet in a few centuries.
The works of scientist Roger Revelle and Charles Keeling, both of whom recorded their findings in the journal Tellus in 1957 and 1960 respectively, were instrumental in shaping the beliefs of the scientific community on climate change. Revelle talked about how the ocean was unable to absorb all of the carbon dioxide released by human activities, increasing Earth’s temperature while Keeling’s findings detected an alarming rise in Earth’s carbon dioxide levels.
Subsequent studies thereafter followed suit in highlighting climate change as a major threat and in the 1988 Toronto Conference on Changing Atmosphere, the issue was taken up for the first time on a global scale by scientists and politicians.