Long before the current political divide over climate change, and even before the United States Civil War (1861-1865), an American scientist named Eunice Foote documented the underlying cause of today’s climate change crisis.
The year was 1856. Foote’s brief scientific paper was the first to describe the extraordinary power of carbon dioxide gas to absorb heat – the driving force of global warming.
Carbon dioxide is an odourless, tasteless, transparent gas that forms when people burn fuels, including coal, oil, gasoline and wood.
As Earth’s surface heats, one might think that the heat would just radiate back into space. But, it is not that simple. The atmosphere stays hotter than expected mainly due to greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and atmospheric water vapour, which all absorb outgoing heat.
They are called “greenhouse gases” because, not unlike the glass of a greenhouse, they trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere and radiate it back to the…