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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

The March of Ideas

The March of Ideas

Author: Reilly Capps/Wednesday, July 10, 2013/Categories: climate change

[This graph from 1959 shows the rise of temperatures around the world. It ventured that the cause could be carbon dioxide. From Scientific American.]

By Reilly Capps

One of the beautiful things about science is that, generally, there is an orderly progression in which ideas build on ideas. And one of the real pleasures of studying history is watching the good, the true ideas rise through the muck of all the mediocre or bad ones. 

Here is an article from Scientific American from 1959, more than 50 years ago, in which the basic theory of carbon dioxide as a trigger for climate change is laid out. 

It was just a theory, though it was building on a theory from way earlier, 1861, and lots of other writing between those two dates. 

There is a tentative nature to the writing, as there is to most scientific writing. It's always full of caveats about what they don't know. But here's the bold end: 
"if carbon dioxide is the most important factor, long-term temperature records will rise continuously as long as man consumes the earth's reserves of fossil fuels."

This paper predicted that "if fuel consumption continues to increase at the present rate ... this should raise the earth's average temperature 3.6 degrees." That was an over estimate. It's only gone up by about half that amount during the entire 20th century. 

Science shouldn't be expected to be perfect, and the future is never knowable -- we live in a probabilistic universe, not a deterministic one. But anyway. This article is interesting. It's always fascinating when people from the past turn out to be right.

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