Exactly 106 years ago today, an article titled “Coal Consumption Affecting Climate” ran in “Science News and Notes” warning that carbon being released into the atmosphere by human activity was negatively impacting the climate — and all these years later, the U.S. government is failing to heed that warning.
In 2016, Snopes confirmed that a New Zealand newspaper did indeed publish a brief article about how burning coal could raise global temperatures. Its author notes that approximately 2 billion tons of coal were burnt each year back in the early 20th century, and that those emissions combine with oxygen to add 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the Earth’s atmosphere. “This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature,” the article reports. But the author isn’t too worried, since they expect the effect won’t be felt for another few centuries. Perhaps they were not factoring in the exponential growth of the then still-new automobile.
While the New Zealand publishers of 1912 couldn’t predict the drastic rise of modern industrialism over the next century, today’s climate scientists estimate that negative carbon emissions are needed to meet the Paris climate agreement goals.
Ignoring warnings such as that offered more than 100 years ago has allowed for extraordinary corporate profits, as industrial giants lobbied — and continue to lobby — for political inaction, Inverse notes, and the ramifications will reach far a wide.
At this point, global temperature increase appears an inevitability, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change seeks to reduce the damage to between 2 and 1.5 degrees Celsius. For that to happen, the percentage of atmospheric carbon needs to fall to somewhere between 430 and 480 parts per million. Almost all options require pulling carbon out, not just reducing the global footprint. There are options, including planting tons more trees, but as with all things climate-related, the future is bleak.