70 years of helping people to care for our ocean

The history of climate change awareness

By: Judy Mann

Throwback Thursday

Climate change awareness over the years

As can be seen from the timeline below, climate change was a rather abstract concept for over a 100 years, – something that was coming, something to think about in the future – maybe.

That future is our present – and we have reached the tipping point. So far, the earth’s temperature has risen by about 1.1 oC. It may sound like a very small increase – but we all know that a few degrees increase in temperature can kill a human. So too will a small increase in the temperature of the earth destroy our planet’s ability to sustain life. 

Unless we do something urgently, life is going to become very difficult for millions of people, not to mention all the other life forms we share this planet with.

Timeline summary :

1712 – British ironmonger Thomas Newcomen invents the first widely used steam engine, paving the way for the Industrial Revolution and industrial scale use of coal.

1800 – World population reached one billion.

1824 – French physicist Joseph Fourier described the Earth’s natural “greenhouse effect”. He wrote: “The temperature [of the Earth] can be augmented by the interposition of the atmosphere, because heat in the state of light finds less resistance in penetrating the air, than in re-passing into the air when converted into non-luminous heat.”

1861 – Irish physicist John Tyndall showed that water vapour and certain other gases create the greenhouse effect. “This aqueous vapour is a blanket more necessary to the vegetable life of England than clothing is to man,” he concludes. More than a century later, he is honoured by having a prominent UK climate research organisation – the Tyndall Centre – named after him.

1896 – Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius concluded that industrial-age coal burning will enhance the natural greenhouse effect. He suggested this might be beneficial for future generations. His conclusions on the likely size of the “man-made greenhouse” we  re in the same ballpark – a few degrees Celsius for a doubling of CO2 – as modern-day climate models.

1995 – IPCC Second Assessment Report concluded that the balance of evidence suggests “a discernible human influence” on the Earth’s climate. This was called the first definitive statement that humans are responsible for climate change.

2005 – UK Prime Minister Tony Blair selected climate change as a priority for his term as chair of the G8 and president of the EU.

2010 – Developed countries began contributing to a $30bn, three-year deal on “Fast Start Finance” to help them “green” their economies and adapt to climate impacts.

2011 – Human population reached seven billion.

2013 – The Mauna Loa Observatory on Hawaii reported that the daily mean concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere had surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time since measurements began in 1958.

2019 – The purpose of the UN Climate Action Summit was to challenge states, regions, cities, companies, investors and citizens to step up their climate change mitigation efforts.

2021 – The IPCC report states ‘It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.’

Timeline extracted from BBC.