La Science en marche vers Copenhague

BERLIN – Le 10 juin 1859, six mois avant la publication de L’ Origine des espèces de Charles Darwin, le physicien John Tyndall fit une remarquable série d’expériences à la Royal Institution de Londres. Le Prince Albert présidait la réunion. Ni l’un ni l’autre, ni les personnalités notables de l'assistance, n'aurait pensé que le résultat de ces expériences serait au cœur des préoccupations de la planète cent cinquante ans plus tard.

Ce mois-ci, des milliers de personnes du monde entier, chefs d’état y compris, se retrouveront à Copenhague pour tenter de rédiger un accord visant à réduire de manière drastique les émissions d’un gaz invisible et inodore : le dioxyde de carbone. Même si quelques grands pays font de considérables efforts pour tempérer les attentes suscitées par la conférence, cette dernière est toujours considérée comme la plus importante depuis la seconde guerre mondiale. Or, les expériences de Tyndall sont au cœur de cette conférence.

L’histoire commence même avant Tyndall, avec le génie français Joseph Fourier. Orphelin éduqué par des moines, Fourier devint professeur à l’âge de 18 ans, et fut gouverneur d’Egypte sous Napoléon avant de revenir vers une carrière scientifique. En 1824, Fourier justifia le climat si chaud de notre planète – des dizaines de degrés supplémentaires à ce qu’indique un simple calcul d’équilibre énergétique. Le soleil apporte de la chaleur, et la Terre renvoie cette chaleur dans l’espace – mais les chiffres ne se compensent pas. Fourier comprit alors que les gaz de l’atmosphère capturent la chaleur. Il intitula ce phénomène l’effet de serre .

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