In 1896, Swedish Scientist Svante Arrhenius observed the effect of carbon dioxide on climate change. An introduction to his paper follows below. The article itself is available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14786449608620846
Carbon dioxide and climate change: two centuries of science
In 1827 (yes, the early 19th century-this is not a typo) the French scientist Thomas Fourier postulated that Earth’s atmosphere has a ‘greenhouse’ effect on Earth’s temperature. Near the end of the same century, in 1896, the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius published a landmark article in the London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine. Entitled On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground, this article spoke to the question of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO
2, or ‘carbonic acid’ as the term was then used) and its effect on climate. The article was
based on very fundamental and well-understood principles of visible and infrared radiation, including their emission by surfaces and their transmission through air.
In an era before computers and satellite imagery, Arrhenius had no choice but to distill the issue down to these fundamentals, and, even at that, his paper contains over 40 pages of results of extensive, painstaking hand calculations. But his conclusions are clear; Earth’s temperature is strongly influenced by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As an example, he predicted that a 50% increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide would lead ultimately to a 3.1 to 3.8 degree C rise in average temperature, depending on season and latitude. This is remarkably close to what has actually been happening since the beginning of the industrial era, as carbon dioxide concentrations have risen from 280 to 400 parts per million.
With today’s tools, scientists are considering additional factors that could affect the exact amount and rate of temperature rise, many of the factors being feedbacks such as increased absorption of the sun’s radiation that occurs as ice melts, or the changing cover of clouds as water evaporation increases in a warmer climate. Different computer models yield somewhat different details in the degree and pattern of climate change, doubtless fueling the propaganda of ‘climate deniers’ who claim that the scientific community is in ‘disagreement’. The simple fact is that modern models all converge to the same broad
conclusion reached by Arrhenius, namely that Earth’s average climate is warming importantly in response to atmospheric carbon dioxide. No credible scientist envisions the problem going away, and some potential scenarios could be much worse than those which Arrhenius predicted, if various feedbacks prove to act strongly.
As climate change science continues to refine these predictions, politicians, activists, and corporate interests debate the consequences of such change for human society and planetary habitability. However, it is difficult to argue, on the basis of any known science, that humans can continue to make large additions of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases as well!) to the atmosphere without seriously risking the habitability of large portions of the land surface, the productivity and distribution of agricultural lands, the movement of diseases and pests, and other primary and secondary effects whose extent is not yet known.
Fourier recognized the greenhouse effect almost two centuries ago, and Arrhenius laid out the basic physics and mathematics relating carbon dioxide to the temperature of Earth over a century ago. Surely by now it is time to recognize `climate denial` for what it is, a falsehood and a menace to our future.
Prof. Svante Arrhenius (1896) XXXI. On the influence of carbonic acid in the
air upon the temperature of the ground , Philosophical Magazine Series 5, 41:251, 237-276,