Many North Americans believe that the public only recently recognized the issue of climate change, thanks to campaigners such as Al Gore who released his movie “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2003. Gore has been criticized for what is claimed to be an exaggerated presentation of what is really “natural variability”. These critics point out that the current variability is similar to climate experienced in the past if one reviews data about the world’s weather over the millennia.
A Swedish physicist, Svante Arrhenius, identified GHG emissions as a cause of global warming well over a century ago. Arrhenius saw only good as coming from the change. He believed that Sweden would benefit from becoming a more temperate climate.
Scientists did not immediately appreciate the significance of the consequences of global warming. Yet by the middle of last century scientists had a good theoretical understanding of what these consequences would be. A statement issued at the conclusion of a scientific assembly held in 1963 advised:
“It seems quite certain that a continuing rise in the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide is likely to be accompanied by a significant warming of the surface of the earth which by melting the polar ice caps would raise sea levels, and, by warming the oceans, would change considerably the distribution of marine species including commercial fisheries. …
The effects of a rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide are world-wide. They are significant not to us but to the generation to follow. The consumption of fossil fuel has increased to such a pitch within the last half century that the total atmospheric consequences are matters of concern for the planet as a whole.”
Although the scientists were “quite certain”, public opinion was indifferent to this projection as the world had not then experienced any disruption from the long term effects of GHG emissions. The statement that the changes would be significant “not to us but to the generation to follow” was ignored, just as many people ignore the effects of global warming that have almost become a daily experience.
For a number of years now 4RG, like other environmental organizations, has worked to persuade people that these future consequences will affect our grandchildren much more than ourselves. We believe that it is not too late, but with the passage of each year without decisive action the consequences become more threatening.