1912 reports on fossil fuels & climate change

matt canavan climate change fossil fuels

Reports from 1912 show people knew over a century ago that burning fossil fuels impacted the climate. But obituaries for climate change denial remain premature. Last week, Queensland LNP Senator Matt Canavan gleefully partied with a lump of coal.

I suppose at least Canavan, Barnaby Joyce’s former chief of staff, wasn’t committing adultery while screeching that gay weddings would destroy traditional marriage. (Though Matt Canavan did vote against the important reform.)

But while most LNP climate change deniers have gone quiet in the face of overwhelming evidence, Canavan smirks in the face of fact.

And following the lead of his former boss, Minister for Everything (and then a Little More), Scott Morrison, Matty thinks it’s Witty AF to cart a lump of coal around with him. What’s next? Party shop doggy doo-doo?

Hardly surprising.

Asbestos, tobacco, fossil fuels….

It was the same with asbestos.

A British Parliamentary inquiry established the dangers of the deadly silicate in the early 1930s. Yet Lang Hancock (father of Gina Rinehart) whose fortune originated in his Wittenoom asbestos mine, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, “went to his grave swearing that asbestos wasn’t dangerous.”

Scientists proved that smoking caused lung cancer in 1950. Yet industry spokespeople in Australia continued to deny that tobacco caused the disease into the 1990s.

Likewise, fossil fuel companies have fought to protect their right to pollute this planet and destroy its health for decades.

But check out this article from the Braidwood Dispatch & Mining Journal on July 17, 1912. The same article appeared in Australian papers from Bundaberg to Broome.

climate change
Braidwood Dispatch & Mining Journal July 17, 1912

Popular Mechanics

The report originated from a caption on an illustration in a much bigger article in Popular Mechanics magazine of March 1912.

“The furnaces of the world are now burning about 2,000,000,000 tons of coal a year. When this is burned, uniting with oxygen, it adds about 7,000,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere yearly. This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature. The effect may be considerable in a few centuries…

“It is perhaps somewhat hazardous to make conjectures for centuries yet to come but in the light of all that is known, it is reasonable to conclude that not only has the brain of man contrived machines by means of which he can travel faster than the wind, navigate the ocean depths, fly above the clouds, and do the work of a hundred, but also that indirectly by these very things, which change the construction of the atmosphere, have his activities reached beyond the near at hand, and the immediate present, and modified the cosmic processes themselves.”

Of course, it didn’t take centuries. Previously unimaginable population increase and the burning of much larger amounts of fossil fuels hastened climate change.

But some recognised the dangers even earlier.

Back in 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius published a paper suggesting a link between carbon dioxide levels and temperature.  (On the Influence of Carbonic Acid [carbon dioxide] in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground.)

Research in the decades since proved the hypothesis, and now, except for cookers, wearers of tinfoil hats, and far-right fringe politicians, climate change is an accepted fact. The mainstream accepts the need to lessen our reliance on fossil fuels.

As the US Environmental Protection Agency says, “the burning of coal, natural gas and oil for electricity and heat is the largest single source of global greenhouse emissions.”

It is time we left both fossil fuels and political fossils behind.

Also: Barnaby Joyce in Art: Kulture with a Kapital K.

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Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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