In August 1912, an article from a New Zealand newspaper called the Rodney and Otamatea Times, Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette discussed what was, at the time, a relatively new concept: climate change.
It was a succinct passage, but one which definitely does a good job at describing the general mechanism of climate change: carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, leads to global warming.
“The furnaces of the world are now burning about 2,000,000,000 tons of coal a year. When this is burned, uniting with oxygen, it adds about 7,000,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere yearly. This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature. The effect may be considerable in a few centuries.”
Well guess what — a century passed, and we’re already feeling the changes! Congrats, Rodney and Otamatea Times, Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette, your prediction was pretty good. There were some questions regarding the article’s authenticity, but it can be found in the digital archives of the National Library of New Zealand. Furthermore, as Snopes points out, an identical story appeared in the 17 July 1912, issue of The Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal, as found in the digital archives of the National Library of Australia.
You might be surprised to see that people were aware of climate change back then (even though it wasn’t yet possible to gauge the effects of the phenomenon), but the first person to discuss the effects of greenhouse gases was a Swedish scientist named Svante Arrhenius in 1896. In a paper he published (and several subsequent works), he describes how greenhouse gases can make changes in the Earth’s atmosphere and alter our climate’s planet.
So by the early 1910s, it certainly wasn’t a foreign concept (though people didn’t anticipate just how pressing it was set to become). As a testimony to that, a March 1912 issue of Popular Mechanics featured an article titled “Remarkable Weather of 1911: The Effect of the Combustion of Coal on the Climate — What Scientists Predict for the Future” — which included the caption from the New Zealand newspaper. Go figure — in 1912, people were realizing out how coal and other fossil fuels can affect the climate. If only we’d be that wise nowadays…
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