World On Fire Part 2: Environmental obstructionists vs. scientists in the global warming debate

World On Fire Part 2: Environmental obstructionists vs. scientists in the global warming debate - Mask Your Beliefs

Quick Review: Where were we with the first blog installment? Oh, ya…the world is on fire after decades of ignored scientific data and warnings. Instead of doing something to save us, environmental obstructionists fueled debate and delay. And we were about to head to Hawaii. The fun continues…

Aloha Indisputable Evidence of Global Warming! Which Was, Of Course, Disputed.

In 1958, climate change obstructionists (i.e., oil & gas industry) were thrown a curve. The Keeling Curve, to be exact. That was the year that Charles Keeling, a geochemist who worked for Scripps Institution For Oceanography, began taking methodical measurements of atmospheric CO2 at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Waimea, Hawaii (prior to that, measurements had been taken on a purely ad hoc basis.) What he found was overwhelming  evidence that the world was warming. Callander had been right.

Charles D. Keeling, in shown here in his lab at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Keeling was a scientist who recorded data about atmospheric carbon dioxide at the Mauna Loa Observatory, and contribution leading to the greenhouse effect. The Keeling Curve measures the progressive buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

UCSD Libraries – University of California San Diego

The Keeling Curve not only provided hard scientific evidence that the earth was warming at an alarming rate, it created an easy to understand visual charting system that is used by climate scientists to this day. 


But instead of thanking both Callendar and Keeling for their critical work and putting it to good use (like saving the world…), what did the fossil fuel fatties do? They fought. No, not global warming. The idea of global warming. After all, this bad news was just a theory. O.k., a meticulously graphed and analyzed theory. But come on! Scientists were always coming up with theories they couldn’t definitively prove. Why disrupt everyone and their god given right to make hundreds of millions in profits by actually listening to them? Besides, we’re talking way, way in the future. Right? 

Why admit to being wrong about the evidence of climate change when you don’t have to?

Wrong. But being wrong was beside the point. Winning was. And win they did. With powerful weapons such as Washington lobbyists, legislators, and even presidents.

They also developed their own arsenal of scientists who regularly fanned the flames of doubt about climate change. “Independent” experts (it was later learned actually working for Shell Oil) who regularly placed articles in major magazines and scientific journals. Like the one  published in New Scientist in 1959 that insisted the earth’s carbon cycles were too widespread to seriously disrupt the balance of nature.

So, the destructive cycle continued: both the catastrophic damage of global warming, which picked-up speed over the decades, and the endless rounds of debate that led to chronic, very profitable inaction.

Until the 1980s. When the heated global warming debate finally exploded.

The Tipping Of The Melting Iceberg: 1988, the hottest year to date in Washington DC!

The 1980s brought a lot of bad news. A B-list actor was re-elected president. Video killed the radio star. Gulp…New Coke?! And, the world had taken a global warming turn for the worse.

Things had gotten so bad, that even Washington was forced to get real. Mainly because 1988 saw the hottest year on record (and, DC was built on a swamp…you do the math.) But also, because the big brains at NASA decided it was time to enter the debate.

New York Time front page article fromn 1988 about gloval warming

That same year, in the dregs of DC summer, a mild-mannered NASA scientist James Hansen went before Congress (with way impressive scientific models and everything…) and testified under oath that he was “ninety nine percent certain” that global warming wasn’t just real. It was getting really deadly. And he didn’t mince his soft-spoken words. Thereby putting his professional reputation on the line, and the world on notice.

He scientifically linked the warming of the earth with its slow-motion implosion. Widespread droughts were widening. Wildfires were becoming wilder. Icebergs were melting at an alarming rate. And an increasing number of species were under threat or disappearing entirely.

Hansen demanded (o.k., asked respectfully) that it was time to do something rather than debate. It was time to…check back next week! Here’s a hint: Thank Heaven For Al Gore (Really…)