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WIREs Clim Change
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Linking energy and climate (before 1974)

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Establishing a link between the consumption of fossil fuels and global climate change has depended both on scientific research as well as assumptions about the pace of social change, technological innovation, and economic growth. Late 19th century research into the role of carbon dioxide and climate focused on explaining the historical cooling of the ice ages; consideration of future warming as a result of energy use remained theoretical and focused on benefits centuries away. After declining scientific interest in the carbon dioxide theory in the early 20th century, it was revived again in the late 1930s, gradually stimulating further research that led to a more sophisticated understanding of the global carbon cycle and prospects for future warming. This research began incorporating more realistic expectations of future energy growth. In the early 1970s, scientists, politicians, and the general public began paying more attention to research into anthropogenic climate change, in part due to a renewed attention to the social costs of energy systems alongside a growing focus on global environmental issues. Future historical research into energy and climate change should examine the role of predictions and expectations of social change in shaping the agenda of scientific research. WIREs Clim Change 2010 1 773–780 DOI: 10.1002/wcc.78

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