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Four Revolutions in the Earth SciencesFrom Heresy to Truth$
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James Powell

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780231164481

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231164481.001.0001

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Origins of the CO2 Theory

Origins of the CO2 Theory

(p.239) Origins of the CO2 Theory
Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences

James Lawrence Powell

Columbia University Press

This chapter takes a look at the origins of the carbon dioxide theory of climatic change. In 1938, Guy Stewart Callendar, a British steam engineer and amateur meteorologist, had explained to the Royal Meteorological Society that by burning fossil fuel, humans were adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Since carbon dioxide traps rising heat rays, he argued, adding more would be bound to warm the Earth. During and after World War II, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere did rise as humans burned more fossil fuel, but global temperatures fell. Callendar estimated that twenty years should provide enough data to test his theory. Over the years, scientists assembled a mountain of evidence that confirmed Callendar's theory. Callendar was right about carbon dioxide, but his timing was off. This chapter examines the work of Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier, Claude Pouillet, and Jozef Stefan that shed light on the greenhouse effect and greenhouse warming.

Keywords:   carbon dioxide theory, climatic change, Guy Stewart Callendar, carbon dioxide, Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier, Claude Pouillet, Jozef Stefan, greenhouse effect, greenhouse warming, global temperatures

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