Bright blue sky over dry field.

Cinquante ans d’atermoiements sur le changement climatique

SYDNEY – En Novembre 1965, le président des États-Unis, Lyndon Baines Johnson recevait le premier rapport qui fût jamais remis à un gouvernement pour l’avertir des dangers pouvant résulter de l’utilisation à grande échelle des combustibles fossiles. En politique, cinquante ans sont une longue période. Il est donc étonnant que si peu ait été fait, depuis, pour répondre à la menace que constitue l’inaction.

En des termes parfaitement prémonitoires, le comité de conseil scientifique du président Johnson signalait qu’en libérant du dioxyde de carbone dans l’atmosphère, on aboutirait à une augmentation des températures sur la planète, provoquant ainsi la fonte des calottes glacières et l’augmentation rapide du niveau des océans. « L’homme s’est imprudemment lancé dans une immense expérience géophysique », avertissaient ces scientifiques. « En quelques générations – notaient-ils – il consume les combustibles fossiles lentement accumulés sur terre au cours des 500 millions d’années précédentes […]. Les changements climatiques que laisse augurer l’augmentation de la teneur en CO2 pourraient s’avérer nuisibles pour l’espèce humaine. »

Les prévisions du comité n’étaient à vrai dire guère surprenantes ; l’existence de l’effet de serre était connue depuis les travaux du physicien français Joseph Fourier, qui laissaient entendre, en 1824, que l’atmosphère terrestre fonctionne comme un isolant, retenant la chaleur qui sans elle s’échapperait. En 1859, le physicien irlandais John Tyndall effectuait en laboratoire des expériences qui démontraient les capacités réchauffantes du CO2 dans l’atmosphère, ce qui devait conduire le chimiste suédois Svante Arrhenius, lauréat du Nobel [1903], à prédire que la combustion du charbon réchaufferait la terre – une conséquence à ses yeux virtuellement positive.

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