AN UNTOLD STORY! (or a story not told often enough)
President George W. Bush (R) awards the prestigious United States Medal of Science to Dr. Charles D. Keeling in recognization of his lifetime of work on climate change and identifying its anthropomorphic sources.
“Dr. Charles David Keeling is the pioneering scientist who discovered how to meticulously measure the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Dr. Keeling’s techniques have been key in the understanding of the current and past levels of carbon that exist in the atmosphere. His measurement technique has been transformative in the world of science and is regarded as one of the great achievements in modern science.
“When Dr. Keeling, as a young researcher, became the first person in the world to develop an accurate technique for measuring carbon dioxide in the air, the amount he discovered was 310 parts per million. That means every million pints of air, for example, contained 310 pints of carbon dioxide. Keeling worked tirelessly to both measure the level of carbon in the air, track it’s increase and determine what the overall affect would be on humanity and the planet earth. By the time of his death in 2005, the level of carbon had reached 380 parts per million.
“Scientists have long known that carbon dioxide traps heat at the surface of the planet. They cite growing evidence that the inexorable rise of the gas is altering the climate in ways that threaten human welfare.
Fossil fuel emissions, they say, are like a runaway train, hurtling the world’s citizens toward a stone wall — a carbon dioxide level that, over time, will cause profound changes. The risks include melting ice sheets, rising seas, more droughts and heat waves, more flash floods, worse storms, extinction of many plants and animals, depletion of sea life and — perhaps most important — difficulty in producing an adequate supply of food. Many of these changes are taking place at a modest level already, the scientists say, but are expected to intensify.
“Sadly, much of Dr. Keeling’s work is being minimized or outright ignored, putting much of humanity and the planet at grave risk. I find it shocking,” said Pieter P. Tans, who runs the government monitoring program of which the Mauna Loa Observatory is a part. “We really are in a predicament here, and it’s getting worse every year.”
“As the political debate drags on, the mute gray boxes atop Mauna Loa keep spitting out their numbers, providing a reality check: not only is the carbon dioxide level rising relentlessly, but the pace of that rise is accelerating over time.
“Nature doesn’t care how hard we tried,” Jeffrey D. Sachs, the Columbia University economist, said at a recent seminar. “Nature cares how high the parts per million mount. This is running away.”
“However, to this day Dr. Keeling’s work remains unchallenged. So as the contrarians do all they can to throw a fit about any risk that their taxes may rise, the earth remains at great perilous risk. But the essence of his scientific legacy was his passion for doing things in a meticulous way. It explains why, even as challengers try to pick apart every other aspect of climate science, his half-century record of carbon dioxide measurements stands unchallenged.
“By the 1950s, when Dr. Keeling was completing his scientific training, scientists had been observing the increasing use of fossil fuels and wondering whether carbon dioxide in the air was rising as a result. But nobody had been able to take accurate measurements of the gas. As a young researcher, Dr. Keeling built instruments and developed techniques that allowed him to achieve great precision in making such measurements. Then he spent the rest of his life applying his approach.
“Most importantly, it was Dr. Keeling that proved it was man made fossil fuels that was contributing to the rapid and persistent increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A more ominous finding was that each year, the peak level was a little higher than the year before. Carbon dioxide was indeed rising, and quickly. That finding electrified the small community of scientists who understood its implications. Later chemical tests, by Dr. Keeling and others, proved that the increase was due to the combustion of fossil fuels.
“Dr. Keeling was also dogged in his pursuit of combating the myths and dis-information about climate change.
“In an essay in 1998, he replied to claims that global warming was a myth, declaring that the real myth was that “natural resources and the ability of the earth’s habitable regions to absorb the impacts of human activities are limitless.“
“Also, Dr. Keeling would have been truly dissappointed by the illogical and intransient approach of his own political party, the Republican party, on the issue of climate change. In an interview in La Jolla, Dr. Keeling’s widow, Louise, said that if her husband had lived to see the hardening of the political battle lines over climate change, he would have been dismayed.
“He was a registered Republican,” she said. “He just didn’t think of it as a political issue at all.”