Where there any early warning signs that we were heading towards climate change that we ignored?



  1. 0 Votes

    This is a very difficult question to answer, because it’s intertwined with the history of climate science in general which is a relatively new discipline. Climatology was in its infancy in the early 19th century when scientists began to suspect that the earth had once been much cooler, and it wasn’t until 1837 that the theory of a past Ice Age was even scientifically proposed. A Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius, was probably the first person to propose (1896) that a likely increase in greenhouse gases in the future due to human activity would ultimately cause large-scale temperature increases. Arrhenius’s research could be considered an “early warning sign,” but given the mindset of the industrialized world at the end of the 19th century, where anything new and technological was a marvel expected to increase human potential, you can understand why the world community didn’t take notice of it. Indeed, climate change as an imminent problem really didn’t get on the radar screen until the 1970s, after a brief and bizarre interlude where some generally unsupported reports had it the opposite way, that the earth was actually growing cooler, and such reports were widely publicized in the media. The problem with climate change indicators is that they’re all very gradual. Increases in CO2 in the atmosphere, reduction in sea level and holes in the ozone layer necessarily have to be measured over long periods of time. At what point does any one of these indicators, or all of them in aggregation, become a “warning sign” that shouldn’t be ignored? Considering that there are still many people out there right now who believe global warming isn’t real, or that it isn’t caused by human activity, the difficulty in trying to convince people in years past that a particular sign was a harbinger of environmental disaster becomes clear. I don’t think there’s a specific warning sign that was ignored, but certainly it would have been fortunate if the global community had awakened to the problem of global warming earlier rather than later.

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