History of Global Warming and Climatology
The foundation of contemporary research on global warming was established in the nineteenth century. Scientists noted the ability of gases in the atmosphere to provide a greenhouse effect, and discovered the correlation between the level of carbon dioxide and the earth's temperature. They also noted the increase in carbon dioxide during the Industrial Revolution.
The invention of Freon in the late 1920s played a significant role in the history of global warming. This colorless gas comprised of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) ended up cooling almost every refrigerator manufactured from the 1930s onward, and helped spark the air conditioning industry. In the late 1940s, it was found to make an excellent propellant for aerosol cans. Insecticides, hair spray, deodorants, and household cleaners were just some of the widely-used products containing CFCs.
In 1974, Dr. Mario Molina, a researcher in the chemistry department at the University of California, theorized that CFCs were destroying the ozone layer. After a few years of additional research by the National Academy of Sciences, the United States banned the use of CFCs in most aerosol cans.
Other scientific studies began to show a relationship between the use of fossil fuels and an increase in carbon dioxide. The number of automobiles on the road increased with the post-World War II population boom; in the 1950s, most cars were rather large and inefficient, and leaded gasoline was the norm. However, the smog that hung over cities was attributed mostly to industry. In 1963, the United States passed the first Clean Air Act, which set emissions standards for industry, but not for vehicles.
In 1965, geophysicist Roger Revelle, of the President's Science Advisory Committee Panel on Environmental Pollution, warned of the possibility of global warming from the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. During the next few decades, scientists from many disciplines, including biology, physics, meteorology, climatology, chemistry, and geology contributed research that demonstrated significant changes were taking place, and made dire predictions.
In response, the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, to assess the data and identify options that might stop global warming. The IPCC became the most influential group on the issue.
In 1970, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) amended the Clean Air Act and set limits for vehicle emissions in response to data that showed vehicles were responsible for roughly 80 percent of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The Clean Air Act was further amended in 1990 to address new environmental concerns such as toxic pollutants and acid deposition.
In 1992, representatives from 170 countries met in Rio de Janeiro at the UN Conference on Environment and Development, commonly referred to as the "Earth Summit." The goal of this meeting was to ensure that all industrial nations shared responsibility for global warming and other environmental issues. The 1992 Earth Summit produced a treaty called the Convention on Biological Diversity that specified conservation strategies, species protection, ecosystem oversight, environmental restoration, and economic incentives for environment-friendly policy and actions. The Convention on Biological Diversity requires each member government to develop a self-implemented strategy and plan of action for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in their country.
Perhaps the most widely known global initiative is the Kyoto Protocol, which the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) took up in 1997. The United States, under the administration of President Bill Clinton, agreed to this treaty and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent. The U.S. Senate blocked the ratification of the treaty and introduced the Hagel-Byrd Resolution, which stressed the importance of economic priorities and the belief that developing nations, including China and India, should also be required to participate in the Kyoto Protocol, which exempted developing nations because their per-capita emissions levels were considered low. Ultimately, the United States, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, supported but did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol has resulted in numerous associated environmental gains including the creation of the European Climate Change Program in 2000 and the development of a pro-climate alliance across all decision-making levels of the European Union system.
Environmental regulation focusing on ending global warming has been criticized by businesses for ignoring production processes, being expensive and excessive. Critics argue that environmental regulation has traditionally focused on "end-of-the pipe" solutions (such as emissions or waste control) rather than addressing the basic processes that created the initial environmental problem.