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For well over a century: #climate in #PopularMechanics

June 9th, 2017 · No Comments

Popular Mechanics is an American institution, a window on “how your world works” for 115 years. Amid its myriad pieces fascinating to tech geeks of all colors and strains (including Energy COOL-loving geeks), it has published quite a few pieces directly on or related to climate change over the years.  Little did I know, but that ‘climate change-related’ publishing history goes back at least 105 years.

The caption from the photo above:

The furnaces of the world are now burning 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.

Here is Popular Mechanics, in 1912, talking about CO2 as a blanket around the earth, sounding somewhat like Al Gore a century later.

As to “effect may be considerable in a few centuries”, note that 1912 coal use was about 2 billion/tons/year.  We are a century later and, in addition to massive use of other fossil fuels (oil and natural gas), global coal use is about 8 billion tons/year. When you consider the increased fossil fuel use (and thus increased emissions), not surprising that a century after Popular Mechanics‘ ‘in a few centuries’ we’re already experiencing ‘considerable effect’ on the climate from increased emissions with even more significant ‘considerable effect’ in the decades to come (especially without serious mitigation efforts).

Coal use: China vs the world  (Note: above chart is illustrative and could mislead. PRC coal use peaked in 2013 and decline in each of the following years.)


Popular Mechanics doesn’t stand alone in discussing such climate impacts outside pure scientific journals. Quartz had a discussion late last year looking at 19th century discussions that relate to global warming and climate change building off discussion of the following New Zealand article (which directly took the words from Popular Mechanics picture caption) entitled “Coal Consumption Affecting Climate“.


From Quartz,

A short news clip from a New Zealand paper published in 1912 has gone viral as an example of an early news story to make the connection between burning fossil fuels and climate change.

It wasn’t, however, the first article to suggest that our love for coal was wreaking destruction on our environment that would lead to climate change. The theory—now widely accepted as scientific reality—was mentioned in the news media as early as 1883, and was discussed in scientific circles much earlier than that.

I, too, had seen (often) that ‘viral’ NZ article … and was interested, as per this post, to learn that it came from the much better known and far larger distribution Popular Mechanics.


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Tags: climate change · coal