Why was there Resistance to the Callendar Effect?

Despite Guy Callendar continuing to collect vital statistics on global warming, and publishing significant papers (such as one in 1961) his ideas met with dogged resistance from fellow meteorologists. Callendar explained this in a revealing note in his papers:

His fossil fuel theory was seen as too single-minded; ” the idea that man’s actions could influence so vast a complex [system] is very repugnant to some”; authorities in the past had pronounced against it, on the basis of faulty observations (which he had corrected); “Last, but not the least. They did not think of it themselves”.

Finally: ” CO2 as a cause of climate change… is above the heads of nearly all writers on the subject”‘

[from Fleming, Callendar Effect, pp.82-83] 

The Callendar Effect and Global Warming

Guy Callendar wrote a game-changing paper in 1938 documenting rising global temperatures and linking this to the increasing burning of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution. Since 1900 humans had added over 150,000 million tons of CO2 to the air, and this was not dissipated in any of the ways that scientists had suggested (absorbed by oceans, circulation of the atmosphere, etc). He predicted a steady increase in temperatures in the century ahead.

However as James Fleming has pointed out, “Callendar was by no means an environmental alarmist, since he wrote of the benefits of the combustion of fossil fuels, including extension of the cultivated region northward, stimulation of plant growth by CO2, and the probable indefinite delay of the ‘return of the deadly glaciers’ “. [Callendar Effect].

Callendar’s thesis was for a time weakened by the fact that there was a period of relative cooling from the 40s to the 60s. Callendar himself became more seriously alarmed about disastrous future trends in climate change as he got older, and his “Callendar Effect” would go on to become a highly influential climate change theory.

Ups and Downs of Climate Change Theory

In the 19th century great scientists such as John Tyndall and Svante Arrhenius anticipated greenhouse theory, arguing (in Tyndall’s words) that “rays from the sun and fixed stars could reach the earth through the atmosphere more easily than the rays emanating from the earth could get back into space” (1863) and that concentrations of CO2 could trigger feedbacks that would account for rising global temperatures (Arrhenius 1896). This in fact became conventional wisdom until critics in the early 20th century suggested other factors to explain climate change than human production of CO2. The critics included T. C. Chamberlin who pointed to changes in oceans as a key cause, Knut Angstrom, Charles Greely Abbott and F. E. Fowle who believed water vapour would absorb infrared radiation. By 1929 G. C. Simpson was able to say confidently that CO2 could have no real effect on climate. This became the orthodoxy until Guy Callendar strongly challenged it in 1939.

[source: Fleming, Callendar Effect ]



Who was Guy Callendar?

“Guy Stewart Callendar (1898-1964) is noted for identifying, in 1938, the link between the artificial production of carbon dioxide and global warming. Today this is called the “Callendar Effect”. He was one of Britain’s leading steam and combustion engineers, a specialist in infra-red physics… and designer of the burners of the notable World War II airfield fog dispersal system, FIDO. He was keenly interested in weather and climate, taking measurements so accurate that they were used to correct the official temperature records of central England and collecting a series of worldwide weather data that showed an unprecedented warming trend in the first four decades of the twentieth century. He formulated a coherent theory of infrared absorption and emission by trace gases, established the 19th century background concentration of carbon dioxide, and argued that its atmospheric concentration was rising due to human activities, which was causing the climate to warm”:

[James Rodger Fleming, The Callendar Effect (2007), p. xiii}

see Paul website under Writings.

More on Gaia

Gaia is “a complex entity involving the Earth’s biosphere, atmosphere, oceans and soil… the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet” [Lovelock’s definition].

“organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet”.

Gaia was the Greek goddess of the earth, mother of all living things.

Wherefore art thou Gaia?

Here are some descriptions of the “Gaia Effect”, first put forward by James Lovelock in his book Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth (1979) and many works since.

“All living things on earth (biosphere) function as one SUPERorganism that changes its environment to create conditions that best meet its needs, with the ability to self-regulate critical systems needed to sustain life”

“Over 4.6 billion years the Earth has become self-evolving, self-regulating, self-sustaining”.

Lovelock’s Gaia and the Critics

The medical engineer ad earth scientist James Lovelock – still active and alert at 100 – became famous (or infamous) for his Gaia Hypothesis, which suggested that the earth was a self- regulating system (unless, as is now happening, it is threatened by dangerous human behaviours). As he defined it Gaia was “the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet”.

He was attacked by some biologists (such as Richard Dawkins, whose views outside biology are to be treated with suspicion) for breaching natural selection theory, which Lovelock has robustly rebutted. He has not been helped by over-enthusiastic Greens, futurists and fantasy writers, who have taken his ideas to mystical heights. Lovelock modestly keeps proclaiming that he knows nothing about spiritualist things and is just an engineer trying to save the planet from environmental disaster.

How to be a climate science activist

The distinguished climatologist James Hansen (b. 1941) is an example of a leading scientist who has had the moral courage to speak out against politicians’ failure to act effectively against global warming. He was trained in astrophysics and became an authority on planetary atmospherics, working for NASA for many years. He developed global circulation models that have been used to analyse greenhouse effects and the human role in rising temperatures (pioneering work used by the IPCC). From about 2007 he has been a robust critic of the coal industry and of politicians who accepted money from fossil-fuel interests and encouraged climate change denial. He was arrested in 1911 and 1913 for joining protests outside the White House against the Keystone pipeline plan to bring oil from Canada to the lower US. He eventually left NASA because (he claimed) they tried to gag his more political statements and has since worked for the Earth Institute at Columbia. He has courageous continued his activism against climate change despite being demonised in many quarters.

Alerting Us about Global Warming: James Hansen

Showing what one person can do, American climatologist James Hansen testified before a Senate committee in June 1988 warning about global warming and the greenhouse effect, alerting the public to the perils of climate change and was a turning point in the public debate. As Roger Pielke said Hansen’s “call to action.. elevated the subject of global warming and the specter of associated impacts such as more hurricanes, floods, and heat waves, to unprecedented levels of attention from the public, media, and policy makers”.

Global Warming Predicted 82 years ago: G S Callendar

I’m getting interested in Guy Stewart Callendar, an English/Canadian meteorologist who demonstrated global warming as early as 1938. He collected data from world weather stations to show that temperatures had risen by over 0.3 degrees in the previous 50 years, and he correctly explained this as due largely to the burning of fossil fuels. which had concentrated carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. Although this spurred more research, sadly it was ignored at large until the 1960s and 70s when anxiety about future climate change began to figure in public opinion, and politicians were the last to act.