“Is Man Changing the Climate?”

Current political contestation aside, there has emerged in the past decade or so a strong consensus among climate and other scientists that the earth’s climate is rapidly changing as a direct result of human activity.

As a leading research university, Adelaide has been part of global scientific efforts to understand the threat posed by climate change to the biological systems on which we depend. The Environment Institute, for instance, coordinates research groups from across the University in the fields of science, engineering, economics and social science. Part of this is the Climate and Ecology program directed by Professor Barry Brook whose Brave New Climate blog, among other projects, has been internationally acclaimed.

I was curious, then, to find evidence of the discussion of climate change within the University as early as 1975. The following is a draft abstract for the Department of Physics Summer School of that year from atmospheric physicist Dr John Carver. Elder Professor of Physics from 1961 to 1978, Carver’s paper was titled ‘Is Man Changing the Climate’. We can speculate that few at the time would have foreseen this becoming the defining environmental problem of the 21st century:

UAA Series 984, 1975.

Professor Carver’s suggestions here have been largely substantiated in recent times, and it’s interesting that he mentions damage to the ozone layer by CFCs, a problem that was dealt with on a global scale some time before the more vexing issue of carbon emissions was being serious considered.  His reference to the central role of environmental satellites in measuring changes in atmospheric composition no doubt reflected his pioneering contribution to development of the first Australian launched satellite in the 1960s.

Unfortunately Archives Series 984 (Department of Physics Correspondence) does not contain the full paper. It may, however, be among Professor Carver’s papers which can be  viewed in the Barr Smith Library’s Rare Books & Special Collections.

The University Archives also contains a number of other series related to Physics at the University. Descriptions of these can be viewed on the Guide to Records.

This entry was posted in Research / expeditions, Schools / disciplines and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses

  1. Jennifer says:

    Great example of how archives and libraries, as storehouses of knowledge and information, can help us reflect on scientific and environmental concerns of today.

    • Andrew Cook says:

      Thanks, Jennifer. What you say is true. Another example of this kind from the University Archives is our collection of records from the Koonamore Vegetation Reserve -these are being used by researchers to gauge environmental and climatic change over time. And on this, the Showcasing Research Data project is an important step toward identifying and making available previously hidden or inaccessible data/information/knowledge.

  2. Hannes Griesser says:

    Indeed it is near incredible how long theories of man-made climate change have been ignored . the phenomenon could be predicted on spectroscopic grounds much earlier than the 1970’s, the quote “the more things change, the more they stay the same” seems quite applicable. Even more incredible that a few still publicly deny it’s existence, given the fairly basic science beneath the theory. It makes one wonder, for how many more decades will the short term interests of a few continue to prevail over the interests of countless generations to come.

    • Andrew Cook says:

      Hopefully not much longer, Hannes, as by most accounts we’re rapidly running out of time to get this under control. Sadly, though, it seems it has been all too easy for a powerful minority to delay the complex process of drawing down CO2 emissions.

      Thank you for your comment.