How 19th-Century Scientists Predicted Global Warming
By Clive Thompson
How long have we known that human-driven climate change could be a catastrophe?
In the last few decades, there have been plenty of modern warnings. Perhaps the most famous was in 1988, when James Hansen—then a NASA scientist—told Congress “the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.” Since then, the consensus from scientists has only increased, and polls show that 3 in 4 Americans agree that human activity is warming the climate, not least because the ravages are already here, with Key Largo neighborhoods underwater and California wildfires raging. There’s arguably never been as much public attention to the existential problem of runaway greenhouse gases.
But the road to understanding climate change stretches back to the tweed-clad middle years of the 19th century—when Victorian-era scientists conducted the first experiments proving that runaway CO2 could, one day, cook the planet.