Meeting Information

Warm Weather and Heated Debate: A Short History of Beliefs about Global Warming

December 17, 2008
American Center for Physics
College Park, MD

Speaker: Spencer R. Weart, Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics TOPIC: Warm Weather and Heated Debate: A Short History of Beliefs about Global Warming

Time and Location: The talk will start at 1:00 pm with a Q&A session to follow. It will be held in one of the first floor conference rooms at the American Center for Physics, One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD. This is located off River Road, between Kenilworth Ave. and Paint Branch Parkway.

Abstract: In the 1930s, people began to notice that the weather was getting warmer. Few believed this had anything to do with the old, discredited theory that emissions from burning coal and oil would cause a global warming. The balance of nature was expected to maintain itself, whatever humans did. Views began to change in the 1960s, driven by new theories and data and a growing awareness of the fragility of global ecosystems. But scientists were quick to admit they knew too little to make solid predictions about climate. In the 1980s, improved computer models and studies of ancient climates convinced many experts that warming might pose a serious risk. Some warned governments and the public it was time to consider action, but the discussion became enmeshed in fierce political arguments over environmentalism, regulation and taxes. The world’s governments devised a novel mechanism to coordinate scientific advice, and by 2001 they were told that there is a large risk of grave harm. The public remained divided on whether to trust this advice. Should society transform itself, based only on theories and evidence that nobody but expert scientists could understand?

Biography: Spencer R. Weart, born in 1942, received a B.A. at Cornell University in 1963 and a Ph.D. in Physics and Astrophysics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1968. He worked as a postdoc at Cal Tech, publishing papers in leading scientific journals. In 1971 he began graduate work in history at the University of California, Berkeley, and in 1974 became Director of the Center for History of Physics. He has written or co-edited nine books, including Nuclear Fear: A History of Images and The Discovery of Global Warming (2nd. ed. 2008, expanded at