Climate Change— A Glimpse From 1943

climate change

Most of us would never have considered that climate change was the subject of much fascination in mid-twentieth century.  It seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon. But a 1943 Pelican Classic ‘The Weather’, proves us all wrong here since it has a full chapter on this subject.

It was written by Professor George Kimble, a one-time Royal Navy meteorologist who went on to become First Professor of Geography at McGill University in Canada and Director of the American Geographical Society.

The book has a chapter ‘Is our climate changing’ in which Kimble touches on the variety of climatic changes that have affected the planet – from the ice sheets that covered the northern hemisphere 50,000 years ago, the wet summers recorded by Egyptian geographer Alexander Claudius Ptolemaeus in 100AD and many farms in Greenland during the 11th century. But it’s his own era (1940s) that most alarms Kimble as he writes:

“It could be argued that some of the most startling changes of which we have certain knowledge are going on at the present time,…The most conspicuous and widespread change is in the realm of temperature, and by change we do not mean fluctuation. Temperature variations are nothing new,… What is more novel is the fact that currently these variations are not remaining within the limits we should expect from an examination of, say, a twenty-year, or even a thirty-year run of weather statistics.”

At one point Kimble warns of receding glaciers (particularly the Colombia Ice Field) together with decreasing levels of precipitation in Africa, Australia, Brazil and the USA. He also records the disappearance of sea ice in the Barents, Hara and Gulf of Bohemia as other indicators that the seas are warming. In a time where climate change is becoming ever more prevalent, it makes a captivating read – especially when you reach on his ‘Possible Explanations’ chapter. In that chapter, he says

“Perhaps in fifty years there will be a long enough record, with a global coverage, to enable us to establish an exact correlation between solar and terrestrial variables”.

He cites four theories, which relate to the earth’s axis, Co2 levels, shifting continents and variations in volcanic dust. Kimble said he had no evidence regarding Co2 levels “although admittedly there is not much statistical information available on this matter”.

All this gives a sense that he really did have a sneaking notion that humans were having an abnormal impact on the planet. Here are the closing lines of his text which are worth pondering upon even after 7 decades since these were written.

“Somewhere in all these foregoing facts and figures there must be a moral, which we will allow the reader to draw for himself. To us this much, at least, is clear, namely that the scientists and technologists of our generation are likely to do far more to increase the sum-total of human happiness by restoring the lost equilibrium between earth, air and water than by attempting to produce a new one of their own contriving”.

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