Our world and us: How our environment and our societies will change · 2015

Will solar geoengineering help us manage the risks of climate change?

David Keith and Andy Parker

In 1896, the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius was the first to publish a quantitative estimate of how much the world would warm if industrial activities increased the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. His estimate was roughly the same as that generated today by climate models running on the world latest supercomputers. Yet Arrhenius was not troubled by industrial pollution as we are today. Instead he speculated about a virtuous circle in which warming caused by the carbon accumulating from burning coal would warm the world, spreading the limits of agriculture northward and so help to feed a growing population.
We draw a simple lesson from Arrhenius: understanding of the basic science linking CO₂ and climate change has remained remarkably constant while the social context of this obstinate fact has changed hugely over the century.

Related Content