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The History of Climate Change

carbon literacy net-zero sustainability Jan 06, 2024

At first glance, 1.5°C might seem negligible. However, in the context of our planet's climate, it's a colossal shift with alarming implications.


Historically, climate change isn't a new concept. The 19th-century scientist, Eunice Newton Foote, an American scientist, inventor, and women's rights campaigner, set the stage with a groundbreaking paper that hinted at the potential impact of carbon dioxide on global temperatures.

This observation, though met with skepticism at the time, is the bedrock of our current understanding of human-driven climate change.

Eunice Newton Foote | Pioneer of the Greenhouse Effect | Source: Wikimedia


The Earth, for millennia, has been our silent benefactor, its stable climate allowing civilisations to flourish. And then came the BIG BANG of the Industrial Revolution.

For Climate Scientists, this moment in time is now referred to as the "Anthropocene"- a term that suggests a new era where human activities are the primary influence on the environment.

It was physicists like John Tyndall and later Svante Arrhenius in the late 19th century who delved deeper into Earth's greenhouse effect and the implications of changes in atmospheric compositions.

News story from the Selma Morning Times about Svante Arrhenius' groundbreaking climate research. You can view the full article here.


They were the early alarm bells, suggesting that our activities might be causing these atmospheric alterations.

By 1938, Guy Callendar made the connections clearer, linking increased atmospheric carbon dioxide to global warming.

Modern-day evidences, be it from satellites, ice cores, or tree rings, reiterate the same message: our planet is warming, and it's happening fast.

The rise in global temperatures, the melting ice sheets, and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events all point to a single direction.


The IPCC Report and its 1.5°C Connection

Skipping forward on the climate history tour, we find ourselves in 2018.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have just released a new report, "Global Warming of 1.5°C".

Established in 1988, the IPCC provides comprehensive scientific assessments about the current state of knowledge regarding climate change for the United Nations.

They don't conduct new research. Instead, the IPCC reviews and summarises thousands of scientific papers to offer a clear view of what the entire scientific community understands about climate change. By doing so, it aids policymakers in making informed decisions.

"Global Warming of 1.5°C" garnered significant global attention and became a focal point for discussions around climate change for several reasons:


Clarifying the Stakes

While the Paris Agreement set out to keep global warming "well below 2°C."

The specific emphasis on the implications of a 1.5°C increase presented a clearer picture of the immediate risks at hand.

It underlined that even a half-degree difference can result in significantly increased adverse impacts on ecosystems, human health, and well-being.



A Sense of Urgency

The report projected that, at the current rate of warming, the world could reach the 1.5°C threshold by 2030.

This tight timeline emphasised the urgency of immediate action, making it clear that the world had only a dozen years to set things right.



Clear Consequences

The report provided concrete examples of how a 1.5°C increase would affect our planet, from coral reefs experiencing a 70-90% decrease (compared to today's 50%), to a significantly reduced number of days with extreme heat, affecting both human health and agriculture.



Feasible Ideas

Importantly, the report emphasised that limiting global warming to 1.5°C, while challenging, is still possible with coordinated global effort and unprecedented transformations. This provided a ray of hope and a clear call-to-action.



Media Spotlight

The media played a vital role in amplifying the findings of the report. The clarity and urgency of the message, combined with the authoritative nature of the IPCC, made it a major story globally.


Collective Action

Following the release of the report, activism surged, notably with the school strikes for climate change, led by icons like Greta Thunberg.

These movements leaned heavily on the report's findings to emphasise the pressing nature of the crisis and galvanise worldwide action.

At the same time, the insights from the report prompted businesses, investors, and policymakers to reassess their strategies.

As a result, there's been a pronounced shift towards swifter sustainable energy adoption, enhanced conservation initiatives, and policy overhauls.


1.5°C = More Than a Number

So you see, 1.5°C is not just a minor uptick on a thermometer. It symbolises receding coastlines, rising sea levels, and a tremendous shift in our global ecosystems.

It paints a picture of increasingly erratic weather patterns, from Arctic nights getting drastically warmer and intense heatwaves in already-hot regions.


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