COMMENTARY: Global warming is nothing new – Jefferson City News Tribune
You may think global warming is something new, but scientists and government agencies have been aware of the impact of greenhouse gases for over a century.
In 1856, Eunice Foote, an American amateur scientist, demonstrated carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere traps heat. This is the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Effect. Three years later, Irish scientist John Tyndall was credited with showing that gases including CO2 and water vapor absorb and hold the sun’s heat, warming the earth. Cloudy nights cool off less than clear ones because water vapor in the clouds is trapping the heat.
In 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius first quantified the contribution of CO2 to the greenhouse effect. He speculated variations in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 could contribute to long-term variations in climate.
During the ensuing years, we continued to learn more about the link between GHGs and global warming, which continues to change our climate.
In 1958, Charles Keeling first recorded an atmospheric CO2 concentration of 315 parts of CO2 per 1 million parts of air (ppm). Since then, the concentrations have steadily risen to nearly 420 ppm today, causing increasingly warm temperatures. CO2 stays in the atmosphere up to 1,000 years, and there is much more of it than any other GHG.
Scientists began using computer modeling during the 1960s to quantify climate changes due to GHGs. The model evolved to accurately predict global warming due to CO2.
In the 1970s, scientists and federal agencies reported on the connection between GHG emissions from burning fossil fuels and global warming. During the Reagan administration, the EPA issued a report, “Can We Delay a Greenhouse Warming?” The report projected a temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius by 2050 and 5 degrees Celsius by 2100. The report concluded fossil fuels were the source of most warming and a 2 degree warming could cause dramatic changes in precipitation and storms. The report made clear there is a high risk to a “wait and see” policy. We now know some areas of the world have already warmed 2 degrees. Missouri is experiencing severe drought, record flooding and record heat. Heat records are being shattered around the world.
George H.W. Bush acknowledged the threat of global warming and promised action in 1988. “Those who think we are powerless to do anything about the greenhouse effect forget about the ‘White House effect’; as president, I intend to do something about it.” Even though warnings about the harmful effects of GHGs have been very clear for 70 years, no administration has taken adequate steps to limit emissions.
The Sixth Climate Assessment released in February 2022 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states: “Widespread, pervasive impacts to ecosystems, people, settlements, and infrastructure have resulted from observed increases in the frequency and intensity of climate and weather extremes, including hot extremes on land and in the ocean, heavy precipitation events, drought and fire …” These observed impacts were attributed to human-induced climate change.
But there is good news. According to the World Economic Forum, “Renewables are now significantly undercutting fossil fuels as the world’s cheapest source of energy, according to a new report.” Ameren Missouri aims to buy its largest solar power plant that would power 40,000 homes. During the next five years, a Peabody coal joint venture will develop solar facilities in abandoned mines to produce 15 times that much solar energy and enough battery capacity to store half of it.
Individually, we can do many things to conserve energy and reduce emissions, including consolidating trips, car pooling, adding insulation to our homes and making our next vehicle more fuel efficient. Current hybrids are rated at 56 mpg and cost about $25,000. Solar leasing can allow us to save on electricity with no upfront cost. Charging an EV or plugin hybrid with solar could eliminate our gas bills.
We can all support policies that lower emissions and save us money. Slowing global warming should not be controversial, so let’s work together to do it.
Jeff Holzem, of Jefferson City, is a leader of Jefferson City Citizens’ Climate education/lobby and co-chairman of Trout Unlimited National Leadership Climate Change Workgroup.