Annals of global warming: Al Gore didn’t invent it, Isaac Asimov explained in 1989

Amber Jenkins wrote over at NASA’s site:

I stumbled upon this video earlier today. It’s Isaac Asimov, famous science fiction writer and biochemist, talking about global warming — back in January 1989. If you change the coloring of the video, the facial hair style, and switch out Asimov for someone else, the video could pretty much have been made today.

Asimov was giving the keynote address at the first annual meeting of The Humanist Institute. “They wanted me to pick out the most important scientific event of 1988. And I really thought that the most important scientific event of 1988 will only be recognized sometime in the future when you get a little perspective.”

What he was talking about was the greenhouse effect, which, he goes on to explain, is “the story everyone started talking about [in 1988], just because there was a hot summer and a drought.” (Sound familiar, letting individual weather events drive talk of whether the Earth’s long-term climate is heating up or cooling down??)

The greenhouse effect explains how certain heat-trapping (a.k.a. “greenhouse”) gases in our atmosphere keep our planet warm, by trapping infrared rays that Earth would otherwise reflect back out into space. The natural greenhouse effect makes Earth habitable — without our atmosphere acting like an electric blanket, the surface of the earth would be about 30 degrees Celsius cooler than it is now.

The problem comes in when humans tinker with this natural state of affairs. Our burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) constantly pumps out carbon dioxide — a heat-trapping gas — into the atmosphere. Our cutting down of forests reduces the number of trees there are to soak up some of this extra carbon dioxide. All in all, our atmosphere and planet heats up, (by about 0.6 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution) with the electric blanket getting gradually thicker around us.

“I have been talking about the greenhouse effect for 20 years at least,” says Asimov in the video. “And there are other people who have talked about it before I did. I didn’t invent it.” As we’ve stressed here recently, global warming, and the idea that humans can change the climate, is not new.

As one blogger notes, Asimov’s words are as relevant today as they were in 1989. “It’s almost like nothing has happened in all this time.” Except that Isaac Asimov has come and gone, and the climate change he spoke of is continuing.

Asimov’s full speech can be seen here.

Scientists have been on the job that long, yes.  Al Gore didn’t invent global warming or climate change, contrary to the working beliefs of much of the “no human warming” crowd.

One of the commenters at Jenkins’ blog put things in perspective:

January 8, 2011 – 10:22 PST

Interestingly, 1988 was
• the last year that we were not in ecological overshoot
• the last year we were at 350 Parts per million CO2
• the publication date of Joseph Tainter’s he Collapse of Complex Societies


6 Responses to Annals of global warming: Al Gore didn’t invent it, Isaac Asimov explained in 1989

  1. […] “Annals of global warming:  Al Gore didn’t invent it; Asimov explained it in 1989&#8243… […]


  2. jdstripes says:

    Asimov discussing greenhouse gasses in 1979 fits well with my recollection that it was discussed when I was in high school–I graduated 1979.


  3. Ed Darrell says:

    Thanks for dropping by, Michael. Great little piece of history.

    Are you also saying that Asimov gave this almost identical speech 10 years earlier, or are you hinting that the date listed, 1989, is, perhaps, not correct?


  4. Michael McPeck says:

    In late 1979, yes ’79, Isaac Asimov was the keynote speaker at the annual convention of the American Association for Respiratory Care, of which I am a member. The convention was in Washington DC that year and Asimov gave this talk about global warming, greenhouse gases, rising atmospheric CO2, etc, then. I was 34 years old and hearing it for the first time but I immediately recognized that which he was talking about was true. I bought the cassette tape of the talk and listened to again in the car on the trip back to Long Island from DC. I wish I could find that tape today.


  5. The first person to write an article about the effect on the climate of burning coal wrote it in 1895, yes that’s 1895. Climatologists have been studying this for the last 115 years. In 1895 they thought the problem would show up in 200 or 300 years. In 1985 they thought it would be 100 years. It’s here now.

    The real problem is that it’s now too late to do anything about stopping it, or even slowing it down. All we can do now is damage control.


  6. jdstripes says:

    Geez, they were talking about the greenhouse effect when I was in high school, and that ended twenty years before this video. Of course, according to Al Gore, he’d heard about it two decades earlier. It’s the denial of climate change that is new.


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