THE FACES OF CHAngE
David Victor, professor of international relations
at UC San Diego’s School of global Policy and
Strategy (gPS), specializes in energy research
and climate change policy.
SFROm THEn TO nOW Scientists first began to grasp the greenhouse effect of natural atmospheric gases in the early 1800s. Around the turn of the 20th century, select researchers speculated that industrial emissions contributing to higher CO2 concentrations could cause warming of the planet, but their findings were regarded as a curiosity, not yet a crisis. By the 1950s the theory was accepted, yet many researchers assumed that oceans would take the brunt of the missions associated with burning fossil fuels. At Scripps Institution of Oceanography, renowned oceanographer Roger Revelle
wasn’t so optimistic. His research on the
complex chemistry of oceans suggested that
the buffering mechanism that stabilizes the
acidity of sea water would also prevent it
from absorbing much excess gas—at best, it
could take in a scant 10 percent of what was
predicted. In a landmark paper published in
1957, Revelle concluded that global warming
could become a serious issue if industrial
fuel combustion continued to grow. “Hu-
man beings are now carrying out a large-
scale geophysical experiment of a kind that
could not have happened in the past nor be
reproduced in the future,” he wrote.
One year later, Revelle’s pioneering
Scripps colleague, Charles David Keeling,
took his first measurements of atmospheric
CO2 concentrations at the South Pole and
in Hawaii. Prior to his groundbreaking re-
search, changes in CO2 concentrations were
considered natural fluctuations. But as he
perfected his measurement techniques year
after year, Keeling revealed something more
ominous about the annual uptick. “At the
South Pole the observed rate of increase is
nearly that to be expected from the combus-
tion of fossil fuel,” he wrote in a now-iconic
1960 paper in the journal Tellus.
It’s been nearly six decades since Revelle
published his eyebrow-raising paper, and
the Keeling Curve is still headed upward.
Climate change has come to affect nearly
every facet of human life—from economics
to public health and safety—and as such, its
study has become an interdisciplinary focus
among UC San Diego researchers.
David Victor, professor of international
relations at UC San Diego’s School of Global
Policy and Strategy (GPS), is an expert on
energy research and climate change policy,
as well as a lead author in the IPCC reports.