While this appears to be the first televised warning, there was a warning broadcast on the radio show, “General Electric: Excursions in Science,” about the research of physicist Gilbert Plass.
Back in May 1953, Time magazine reported on Plass’s work in an article titled “Invisible Blanket,” which ends, “for centuries to come, if man’s industrial growth continues, the earth’s climate will continue to grow warmer.”
As NASA wrote in a 2010 blog post on the Capra film, “Global warming is not a new concept”:
The Victorians knew about it. John Tyndall (born 1820) knew about it. So did Svante August Arrhenius. In April 1896, Arrhenius published a paper in the London, Edinburgh and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science entitled ‘On the influence of carbonic acid [CO2] in the air upon the temperature of the ground.’
In 1965, the president’s Science Advisory Committee warned President Johnson that “Man is unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical experiment,” and that “Within a few generations, he is burning the fossil fuels that accumulated in the earth over the past 500 million years.”
In 1979, the U.S. National Research Council assembled a panel of experts who wrote a report warning of the prospects for serious warming if we continued on the path of unrestricted carbon dioxide emissions. The panel explained, “A wait-and-see policy may mean waiting until it is too late.”
In 1981, James Hansen and six other NASA atmospheric physicists published a seminal article in Science, “Climate Impact of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide.” That paper warned with remarkable prescience — or, rather, with remarkable science — “Potential effects on climate in the 21st century include the creation of drought-prone regions in North America and central Asia as part of a shifting of climatic zones, erosion of the West Antarctic ice sheet with a consequent worldwide rise in sea level, and opening of the fabled Northwest Passage.” Check, check, and check.
The New York Times even reported on that study with the headline “Study finds warming trend that could raise sea levels.” By 1988, the science was so well understood and documented, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up by the U.N. and World Meteorological Organization to provide regular summaries and analysis of the science.
Perhaps it’s time politicians start listening.