A century-old Rodney Times snippet on climate change causes a stir

An early climate change story which ran in the Rodney and Otamatea Times in 1912 has caused a stir online.
Supplied

An early climate change story which ran in the Rodney and Otamatea Times in 1912 has caused a stir online.

The Rodney Times has always provided insightful content to readers. In fact, we even predicted climate change more than 100 years ago!

Coal consumption is producing tons of carbon dioxide each year and could raise temperatures in the atmosphere significantly.

It's hardly headline news these days with the 22 United Nations Convention on Climate Change about to start in Morocco.

Environmental historian, National Museum of Australia Dr Cameron Muir: We've known about climate change for longer than ...
Delwyn Dickey

Environmental historian, National Museum of Australia Dr Cameron Muir: We've known about climate change for longer than people realise.

But the clipping that went up on Twitter shows a snippet that appeared in a local New Zealand community paper more than a century ago. 

There was a flurry of discussion over the authenticity of the piece with many assuming it was a hoax.

Published in the Rodney and Otamatea Times, Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette - dated August 14, 1912 the current Rodney Times was been contacted from as far away as Finland asking if it is authentic.

Records for the Rodney and Otamatea Times, Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette can be found online at the National Library of New Zealand. And sure enough, on August 14 1912, the four sentence piece Coal Consumption Affecting Climate appears sandwiched between news of a skipping machine and a proposed new Russian tunnel to connect the Black and Caspian Seas.

Then links to Australian news sites turned up on Twitter that showed the piece had also appeared earlier in Australian newspapers - the Shoalhaven Telegraph in 10 July 1912 and the Braidwood Dispatch newspaper and mining journal on 17 July 1912.

The story was probably a "filler" that was syndicated across many papers at that time, environmental historian Dr Cameron Muir at the Research centre for the National Museum of Australia in Canberra says. 

Ad Feedback

That burning coal is affecting the atmosphere has been known for a lot longer than people realise, he says.

Often this type of article appeared after a natural scientist gave a lecture in one of the capital cities.

"I haven't investigated whether a professor was visiting Australia at that time or whether it was a lecture given in London or somewhere and the Australian newspapers republished from there," Muir says. "There was a longer article in Popular Science at the time that might have been the source." 

It most likely appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald first before being picked up elsewhere including in New Zealand.

It also fits in with the early timeline on the greenhouse effect and the affects by burning of coal  

1824 - Joseph Fourier, a French physicist, describes the Earth's natural "greenhouse effect".

1859 - John Tyndall, an Irish physicist, shows the greenhouse effect is created by water vapour and other gases including carbon dioxide and describes it as a necessary blanket around the earth.

(There was a letter in the scientific journal Nature in 1883 which drew on Tyndall's work to make very speculative predictions about excess carbon dioxide as a result of burning coal, Muir says. The correspondence was reported in newspapers at that time.) 

1896 - Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish chemist, recognises industrial-age coal burning will add to the natural greenhouse effect. He calculates a doubling of CO2 will raise the global temperature by several degrees Celsius. 

"We've known about CO2 and warming for about as long as we've known about evolution, or continental drift, or the age of the earth," Muir says with newspapers consistently reported the latest in climate science over much of the 20th century. 

 - Stuff

Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback