Join getAbstract to access the summary!

The Discovery of Global Warming

Join getAbstract to access the summary!

The Discovery of Global Warming

Harvard UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

The saga of how scientists found and confirmed global warning (p.s. it’s officially here).

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Scientific
  • Overview


Drawing from scientific discoveries in oceanography, meteorology, geochemistry, biology and astrophysics, author Spencer R. Weart draws you into the puzzle of climate change as it is unfolding through time. No one person had an “aha” moment and discovered global warming. Instead, today’s understanding required an accumulation of theories from disparate areas of research, shaped by the rigors of the scientific method. These discoveries convinced most scientists that global warming is a serious phenomenon. Weart outlines the scientific process that led to today’s climate diagnosis. He also relates lively stories about the people behind the discoveries. That may not be as immediately applicable, but getAbstract finds that it is illuminating and could help readers feel like insiders in this fight.


Developing the Framework for Warming

The first climatologists were fascinated by the challenge of explaining Earth’s ice ages. In 1824, scientist Joseph Fourier studied the way the atmosphere traps heat, and theorized that the “greenhouse effect” kept Earth’s climate habitable and not frozen. In 1859, John Tyndall identified carbon dioxide (CO2) as a heat absorbing “greenhouse gas.” He noted its opacity and light-blocking traits. In 1896, Svante Arrhenius found that a temperature drop of 5° C (8° F) could plunge the planet into another ice age. Increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere twofold, as could happen due to industrial growth, would raise the Earth’s temperature 5° or 6° C.

Popular accounts of a warming trend appeared in the 1930s. In 1938, engineer and amateur climatologist Guy Stewart Callendar told London’s Royal Meteorological Society that the trend was manmade, a result of burning fossil fuel. He postulated that the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere would continue to warm the Earth. Other scientists challenged Callendar. Some data seemed to show that the “greenhouse effect” was mature, and that adding CO2 or water vapor could not throw it out of balance...

About the Author

Spencer R. Weart directs the History of Physics program at the American Institute of Physics. His previous books include Nuclear Fear and Scientists in Power.

Comment on this summary

More on this topic

Learners who read this summary also read

Related Channels