Professor Emanuel began the lecture by noting that science proceeds as series of revolutions and collective small steps taken by a large body of scientists. In a course about revolutions we tend to focus on the big jumps that caused controversy and redefined the science of an era; however, the sum progress of these “small steps” outweighs the advancement by any single jump, these small steps just tend to go unnoticed. Newton, a revolutionary scientist, accredited the large body of scientists that created the base for his knowledge when he said that “if [he] [had] seen further, it [was] by standing on the shoulders of giants.” The sum of small scientific discoveries, or even corrections of previous thought, creates a collective body of knowledge, without which large jumps in scientific knowledge could not occur.
Climate science, like all science, had progressed since around the 18th century in both small steps and large leaps. It all began with curiosity. 18th Century scientists noticed large markings, striations, on massive rocks and wondered how they got there. This sparked research into glaciers, and eventually precipitated the idea of ice ages. In 1875 James Croll published Climate and Time–an accessible book that caused in revolutionary thought by explaining climate shifts over time. Croll, however, was not a revolutionary scientists, he was a gifted writing that could explain the revolutionary ideas of the scientists before him for the greater public to understand. Without the contributions of his many predecessors, Climate and Time would not have been written, and the revolutionary ideas never circulated throughout society-at least not for some time.
Fourier and Kirchloff were among the first scientists to explore radiation of heat. Their work was not directed at explaining climate change, but rather exploring curious phenomena. Their theories and equations contributed to the work done by later scientists, like Tyndall, Stefan and Boltzmann, Planck, Arrhenius, Milankocíc and Urey who were able to, collectively, explain how the concepts proposed by previous scientists contributed to the increasing temperature of the earth.
The idea that humans have caused major and disproportionate changes earth’s climate is a revolutionary and, for some, controversial fact that prevails in the modern world. The advancement of climate science stemmed from revolutions, and small steps, in geology, physics, and chemistry. Climate change is the most relevant issue relating to the future of humankind in the modern world, or at least it’s up there with total nuclear destruction. Have we exploited the planet irreversibly, and thus ruined the existence of our kind? How much more can the planet take? What can we do to change and reverse our mistakes? Further research into climate science, geology, physics, and chemistry might be able to supply the world with some answers, but are we willing to accept them?