Monday, October 17, 2022

You were first warned about global warming 110 years ago, did you know that?

Yes, that’s right — you were first warned about global warming 110 years ago, so stop pretending it is new! The first published newspaper warning about global warming, as a result of pumping massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, started doing the rounds way back in 1912. It was only a short note, but is was reprinted in quite a few newspapers around the world.

Here is one copy of it, from a New Zealand newspaper, for August 1912.

Note that the short text gets two things right, and one thing wrong. It correctly identifies that, in those days, it was the mass burning of coal, that was the main problem. That is, there was no warming problem before the advent of the Industrial Revolution — the burning of wood for local industry, for example, did not create an issue. The note also accurately and simply identifies the mechanism of warming. Carbon dioxide forms a blanket around the Earth, which traps the planet’s own warmth — we are heating ourselves from the inside out.

What it, sadly, gets wrong, of course, is how long it will take for this to become a serious issue. In practice, it took little more than half a century for the effects of the warming to become obvious (see my post How can you doubt global warming?), and only one century for people to become seriously concerned. That is still an awful long time; but the pace of the modern world was outside the experience of the original forecaster, and could therefore not be accounted for. Nor, of course, could the forecast account for the expansion of motor transport, which has exacerbated the problem.

The wine industry has long noted the practical effects (Grape harvest dates and the evidence for global warming), although they have not always realized that the future is now (Why have we left it so late to deal with climate change in the wine industry?).

For the wine industry, there are two obvious practical effects of climate change. The first is the change of locations that are suitable for particular grape varieties, and even for viticulture as a whole. Vineyards are moving towards the poles. The warm regions are now drought-affected (Droughts, heat and fire: the future of wine in the climate crisis), and the cool regions are now warm. In the southern hemisphere there is a limit to pole-ward movement, because the Indian Ocean separates the habitable continents from the colder one (Antarctica).

On the other hand, in the north the movement can be gradual. The most northerly vineyard that I know of in Sweden is a very small one just north of my own town, Uppsala (lat-long: 59.89159, 17.61821). This latitude would be half-way north up Hudson Bay, for you Americans. The grapevines are due for its first decent harvest, just about now. However, this does not come even close to the most northerly one in Norway. Slinde Vineyard is on the northern slope of Sognefjord (lat-long: 61.16101, 6.93094), and was founded in 2014 (pictured below). This would have been unthinkable at the turn of the century. We don’t yet have grapes from the Midnight Sun, but we may soon do so.

The second obvious effect is greater variability in weather patterns. Jamie Goode has recently suggested  the term Climate Chaos, rather than the more usual climate change, to describe this (Will climate chaos kill Burgundy?). He is exaggerating (there is a formal scientific definition of Chaos, and the current weather is far too predictable for that), but he is doing it for a very good reason. Many people are still under-estimating what we expect is going to happen next (UCSB scientists see the end of ‘normal’ climate). I have noted before that here in Sweden we have dealt with this sort of climate for centuries, and call it April Weather — the rest of you need to get used to it, too.

Slinde vineyard.

There have, of course, been lone voices in the wilderness, warning the wine industry about what is coming. One of the most prominent of these was Oz Clarke, hardly an unknown member of the wine industry. Andrew Plantinga has recently reminded us that:
Mr. Clarke was an early voice of warning. His keynote address at the 1993 New York Wine Experience, a high-profile event featuring top wine-makers from around the world, focused on the adjustments the wine industry would inevitably have to make in a warming world. He spoke of how wine-makers were going to have to change the style of their wines and adopt new grape varieties.
It sounds familiar, all of 30 years ago (10 ways climate change is threatening the world's wine industry).

Forecasting does not require a crystal ball. All it says is: “If nothing comes along to change things, then what happened last time will happen again next time.” So, the big emitters in the past will continue to be so, unless they change their behavior. For your information, the following graph is from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

CO2 emitters countries.


  1. Does anyone else see the link --
    1. burning lots of coal and petroleum (fossil fuels) created the wealthiest large country in world history. The standard of living is phenomenal when viewed on any wide time-scale or any large-geography basis.
    2. with a constitution which allowed (but did not start with) expanded liberal values, that wealth allowed people to look outside their "tribes." Note that this is a "liberal" as in open to different religions, different social structures, women's rights, the end of slavery, anti-child labor laws, etc.
    3. for a very long time, energy production which produced only water and carbon dioxide was considered "harmless." We focused on the other greenhouse gasses, chlorine, sulfur, etc. that needed to be prevented from going in the air.
    4. now that we see the carbon dioxide is a problem, how do we produce huge amounts of energy, retain a high standard of living, continue to build a liberal society and not return to tribalism? Or, are we already there?

  2. For the most part, individuals have some control over the use of fossil fuels, corporations on the other hand, are the largest users of fossil fuels. There is estimated to be 6,000 products which derive some component of fossil fuel. Many of these products are health oriented, and necessary. What would we do without cement, which has brought better living conditions (buildings, roads)? There are many trade-offs in life. Efforts should always be ongoing to mitigate air pollution, but those who think EV's, wind and solar are the answer, should do some reading on some of the consequences.