Bright blue sky over dry field.

Fifty Years of Climate Dithering

In November 1965, US President Lyndon B. Johnson was presented with the first-ever government report warning of the dangers that could result from burning large amounts of fossil fuels. And yet, though the science has been confirmed, the warming of the planet continues unabated.

SYDNEY – In November 1965, US President Lyndon B. Johnson was presented with the first-ever government report warning of the dangers that could result from burning large amounts of fossil fuels. Fifty years is a long time in politics, so it is remarkable how little has been done since then to address the threat posed by carrying on with business as usual.

In remarkably prescient language, Johnson’s scientific advisory committee warned that releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would lead to higher global temperatures, causing ice caps to melt and sea levels to rise rapidly. “Man is unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical experiment,” warned the scientists. “Within a few generations he is burning the fossil fuels that slowly accumulated in the earth over the past 500 million years…The climatic changes that may be produced by the increased CO2 content could be deleterious from the point of view of human beings.”

The committee’s foresight is not surprising; the existence of the greenhouse effect had been known to science since the French physicist Joseph Fourier suggested in 1824 that the earth’s atmosphere was acting as an insulator, trapping heat that would otherwise escape. And in 1859, the Irish physicist John Tyndall carried out laboratory experiments that demonstrated the warming power of CO2, leading the Swedish physicist and Nobel Laureate Svante Arrhenius to predict that burning coal would warm the earth – which he saw as a potentially positive development.

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