Stuff.co.nz, One half of the New Zealand MSM duopoly ran an interesting article today about a 104 year old letter to the editor. A letter from 1912 in the Rodney Times raised the concern that carbon dioxide produced by the combustion of coal may increase temperatures. What impressed me was that a short timeline of early research into areas related to climate change was given at the end; namely the work of Fourier, Tyndall and Arrhenius in the 19th century.
I think that it’s helpful to have these pieces of history publicised, given the amount of confusion surrounding climate change in the general public. In particular, there seems to be an impression that climate change science is a young area of research. I imagine this is because climate change has only been widely reported on for the last 3 decades. Indeed, by casting climate change science as a recent development serves denialists well in their attempts to discredit it.
For example, one conspiracy theory claims that climate change was invented by Margaret Thatcher as part of promoting nuclear power or weakening mining trade unions. Or, that “eco-socialists” fabricated climate change following the collapse of the USSR as a new vehicle to promote their agenda. Or even climate change was manufactured in order to get research grants. Such conspiracy theories would have to take place in the 1980s, i.e. not long ago. This allows denialists to paint climate change science as an “inferior” field of study compared to other areas of science.
Denialists support this by arguing that “global cooling” was de rigueur in the 1970s. It never was, as I found out while reading an electrochemistry textbook published in 1974, which clearly stated on the second page that global warming was taking place as a result of carbon dioxide emissions (electrochemistry underpins many of the technologies that help with the transition away from fossil fuels).
Stuff got it right today. By highlighting the long timeline of climate science, they have served to bolster public confidence in the work of modern-day researchers and policy-makers. The denialists lost the battle on evidence in the 19th century (i.e. before they even started). With the publication of human interest stories that can capture attention while passing along factual information like the one on Stuff today, denialists shall continue to march onward to their defeat in the battle on rhetoric.