We might think of climate change as a phenomenon only reported on by the 21st Century media and imagine that only the people of today are really aware of the risks posed by the rising level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Although the science dates back to the mid to late 19th century, why would anybody of that period take an interest in or even know about the impact that this might have on future generations?
Much to my surprise I recently found that there was interest and from somewhere close to home (for me at least). The clip below comes from a small country newspaper, printed not far from Canberra in Australia in July 1912.
The furnaces of the world are now burning about 2,000,000,000 tons of coal a year. When this is burned, uniting with oxygen, it adds about 7,000,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere yearly. This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature. The effect may be considerable in a few centuries.
The newspaper in question was the Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal, which first appeared on 10 April 1859 and was published twice weekly from 1859 until January 1958. Braidwood was not a big town and was hardly a centre for global studies. A picture of the town centre some twelve years earlier at the turn of the century is shown below.
What I find as interesting as the article itself is the fact that it was printed in such a newspaper. This was a small country town yet the newspaper had a science column (Science Notes and News), which is where the snippet comes from. A science column would be hard to find in any newspaper today. Other stories in the same edition talk of a seven thousand foot bore hole drilled in Germany and the revelation that core temperature rises by about 1°C per 100 feet, not to mention the arrival of a skipping machine on the market which turns the rope and records the number of skips.
But perhaps the most interesting question to ponder is where the story came from? Sixteen years earlier Svante Arrhenius had published his paper on the influence of carbonic acid (N.B. Arrhenius refers to carbon dioxide as “carbonic acid” in accordance with the convention at the time he was writing.) in the air upon the temperature of the ground and in it he made mention of the combustion of coal and its release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. He wrote more on this in later work. It is unlikely, but not improbable, that the editor of the local newspaper in Australia was busy reading scientific papers by Arrhenius, but the copywriter may have been reading a variety of magazines and publications from which he or she would extract bits and pieces for republication in the Braidwood Dispatch. That means the story probably came from a longer discussion in another journal, but I don’t know which one. It also means that the copywriter thought that the readers of the Dispatch would be interested in this article, which in itself is a revelation.