In 1957, Climate Scientist Warned Congress That Fossil-Fueled Global Warming Could Turn California Into A Desert

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 10 Sep 2020 17:18:00 GMT


Dr. Roger Revelle (seated, far right) testifies before Congress, May 1, 1957. (Roger Revelle papers, UCSD)

Unprecedented heat and wildfires driven by fossil-fueled global warming are ravaging the forests of California and the Pacific Northwest – in line with scientific predictions to the U.S. Congress from the 1950s.

Over sixty-three years ago, physical oceanographer Roger Revelle testified to Congress that fossil-fueled climate change could turn southern California and most of Texas into “real deserts.”

On May 1, 1957, Dr. Revelle testified at the hearing on appropriations for the International Geophysical Year, Independent Offices Subcommittee, House Committee on Appropriations:

The last time that I was here I talked about the responsibility of climatic changes due to the changing carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere and you will remember that I mentioned the fact that during the last 100 years there apparently has been a slight increase in the carbon dioxide because of the burning of coal and oil and natural gas.

If we look at the probable amounts of these substances that will be burned in the future, it is fairly easy to predict that the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere could easily increase by about 20 percent. This might, in fact, make a considerable change in the climate. It would mean that the lines of equal temperature on the earth would move north and the lines of equal rainfall would move north and that southern California and a good part of Texas, instead of being just barely livable as they are now, would become real deserts.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in 1957 were 315 parts per million. It reached 378 ppm, Revelle’s cautioned 20 percent increase, in 2004. As of September 2020, the planet is now at 410 ppm, a 30 percent increase.

Revelle’s testimony in the previous year in support of federal funding to monitor atmospheric and oceanic carbon dioxide levels was the first time that manmade global warming was discussed in the Congressional record.

“We are making perhaps the greatest geophysical experiment in history,” he said on March 8, 1956, “an experiment which could not be made in the past because we didn’t have an industrial civilization and which will be impossible to make in the future because all the fossil fuels will be gone.”

Revelle also noted that regional shifts in climate in the past led to “the rise and fall and complete decay of many civilizations.”

In response to questions from Rep. Sydney Yates (D-Ill.) and Rep. Albert Thomas (D-Texas), Dr. Revelle elucidated further:

People talk about making fresh water out of sea water. God does that for them far better than any man ever could. He evaporates three feet of water on every square foot of the ocean every year. The problem is that the distribution system is bad. The water coming from the ocean moves over the land but mostly over the northern and southern parts of the land, and this circulation pattern, or transport of water vapor from the sea to the land and the precipitation on the land, apparently shifts with the temperature; at least we think it does, and there seems to be a broad belt called the horse latitudes between the equatorial regions and the belt of cyclonic storms where the precipitation is minimal.

If you increase the temperature of the earth, the north latitude belt, which covers most of the western part of the United States and the Southwest, would move to the north.

“Only God knows whether what I am saying is true or not,” Revelle concluded. But his understanding of the science of fossil-fueled global warming has now been proven correct. The climate of southern California has undergone a phase shift to a persistently hotter, drier regime — a permanent shift if action is not taken to end the burning of fossil fuels and reduce the concentration of industrial greenhouse pollution in the atmosphere.