Gale E. Christianson
Greenhouse: The 200-Year Story of Global Warming

"Imagine, for a moment, that the clock governing civilization has been advanced to a summer's day a century into the future. Carbon dioxide levels, which stood at 370 parts per million on the Keeling curve in the year 2000 [and at 315 ppm in 1958], are nearing 950 ppm. On a computerized weather map of the United States, the day's low temperature of 60 degrees F is predicted for Point Barrow, Alaska, the high of 131 degrees for Palm Springs, California. The northern two-thirds of the country will suffer through yet another in a long string of days in the high 90s and 100s, while Little Rock, Atlanta, Birmingham, Houston, and Albuquerque will register highs of 105 degrees and above. Dallas, San Antonio, Tucson, and Phoenix will top out at 125 degrees. Miami would likely have done so as well but for the fact that the city, indeed the whole of South Florida below West Palm Beach, is no more because of a dramatic rise in the sea level... A health advisory has been issued by the Centers for Disease Control; the mosquito populations continue to multiply, spreading illnesses against which vaccines are ineffective." (p. 236)
Is the above really what life will be like for U.S. citizens a century from now? Probably not; hopefully not. Few scientists studying the data have forecasts quite this bad as Christianson readily admits. But some do, and most aren't too much better. There are certainly global trends in climate change happening. This is nothing new. The climate has been changing for billions of years. The rate of the changes and some of the causes of the changes are new however.

Christianson's book is incredibly well written. In terms of pure writing style, I can't think of a better book I've read this year. Such things as a history of chimney building or coal mining would put you to sleep if I were to try and tell them to you. Through Christianson's skills as a writer, though, my mind was riveted to every word.

The first half+ of the book deals with how we got to where we are on the issue. The later chapters explore what is currently being done/debated and what the future may hold. Humans, and other species, that stand to benefit the most, or at least suffer the least, from the greenhouse effect and global warming are those with the ability to change and move. Those that can't adapt will suffer and/or perish. In Christianson's words, "the one life form certain to flourish in a warmer environment is the insect population." (p. 240) So if you are an insect, or a Canadian who would like things warmer, you probably should have a very different view than that of a frog or a Texan. On the other hand, everyone may be affected since a movement in where crops can be grown, reductions in fresh water, and other effects of global warming may raise prices and cause other inconveniences that will touch the entire population.

Before concluding, I want to briefly respond to the review found here by "A reader" on July 8, 1999. The reviewer either hasn't read the book or didn't read it very carefully. For one, Gale is obviously a man as stated on the dust jacket. Gale also mentions his wife on page 269. Contrary to Jack's assertion, Gale rarely, if ever, draws or "leaps" to conclusions. The book is even-handed, fair, and both sides of the debate are presented. Christianson's "conclusion" is that we don't have all the answers and flawless predictions aren't possible. Indeed, we aren't even sure of all the possible causes. As he states, after presenting both sides of the future scenarios debate, on page 253

This much we do know: No matter which way the dice fall, it is science and not personal conviction that will have the last word.
Likewise, he doesn't "all but ignore nature's impact." Quite the opposite is the case. The book focuses strongly on nature's impact on the environment which result without any human actions. Also, the quip about "satelites (sic) that were configured incorrectly" being skipped is quite incorrect. The bad satellite data is mentioned on pages 237-8 and 250. Ironically, Jack makes it sound as if the satellite numbers showed warming when such wasn't the case. In fact, the misconfiguration caused the satellites to show decreasing temperatures. When the configuration was corrected the actual, increasing temperatures were collaborated and proven. Finally, I don't think those highly skeptical of a greenhouse effect and global warming, like Jack, will be annoyed by this book. There is no preaching, environmental extremism, or other reason to cause the bitter feelings Jack exhibits. Like I stated above, his review makes it sound like he didn't even read the book.

I highly recommend Greenhouse. It is a great history book, a great history of science book, and a great work of popular science. The fact that it deals with a timely and important issue makes it all the more worthwhile to read. I would also like to read Gale's other books since Greenhouse demonstrates he is a fine writer.

from the publisher:
There is no longer any doubt that the earth is warming; the question remains, why? For historian Gale Christianson, the emergence of global warming is one of the most compelling stories in the history of humankind, made all the richer for having been a slowly developing phenomenon.

In his brilliantly constructed book Greenhouse, Christianson blends the research of a scholar with a novelist's storytelling skill, offering an invaluable perspective on what may be the most remarkable change in nature since the retreat of the glaciers some 10,000 years ago. Like a train coming at you from a distance, global warming is first a faint, echoing whistle, then a puff of smoke, and ultimately, with a rush, an unavoidable reality.

Finding the clues to global warming both deep in the past and right before our eyes, Christianson introduces a memorable and unlikely cast of characters and events. From the demise of the Anasazi in the American Southwest and the Vikings in Greenland, which unveil the close connection between global warming and cooling, to the politics behind the 1997 Kyoto Conference on the Environment, Christianson delves deep into the connection between human beings and the planet. Scientists, inventors, and other pioneers are woven into the narrative--among them, Joseph Fourier, the French natural philosopher who, at the turn of the nineteenth century, first envisioned the Earth as a bell jar, Richard Arkwright, who launched the modern factory system, and chemist Charles Keeling, who accidentally discovered, in 1955, that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were rising. Their stories, in Christianson's crystal prose, urgently lead us to rethink what used to be called "man's place in nature."

By gradually bringing the full range of its elements into focus, Christianson allows readers to make up their own minds as to the causes and consequences of global warming. For anyone interested in the history of science and the fate of planet Earth, Greenhouse is a unique and landmark book that will help shape the issues of the inevitable public debate to come.

Gale E. Christianson is Distinguished Professor of the College of Arts and Sciences and teaches history at Indiana State University. He is the author of several books, including Edwin Hubble: Mariner of the Nebulae and In the Presence of the Creator: Isaac Newton and His Times. A winner of many awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, Christianson teaches a variety of courses on several subjects, including science and society and world civilization. He lives in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The following is an excerpt from the book: Greenhouse: The 200-Year Story of Global Warming by Gale E. Christianson
Published by Walker & Co.; 0802713467; $25.00US; Oct. 99
Copyright 1999 Gale E. Christianson

Chapter one: The Guillotine and the Bell Jar

Where it is a duty to worship the sun it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat. --John Morley, Voltaire

Illness had been the old man's constant companion ever since his fourteenth year, when he spent his nights hidden in a large cupboard seeking to master the mathematics of Newton and Pascal by candlelight. Now, as the cycle of life played itself out, the gifted thinker who had originated the idea of global warming found himself back inside a wooden box, a device he used because he was so weakened by chronic rheumatism that to bend over was to risk a fatal attack of breathlessness. The human container had been built according to his own instructions. It kept his body upright by allowing only his head and arms to protrude, thus enabling him to work on his scientific papers to the last, even as he doggedly engaged in the voluminous correspondence required of the permanent secretary of the Académie des Sciences.

Visitors to his Paris apartment opposite the Luxembourg Gardens noticed something else. Their small and slightly built host kept the temperature extremely high, indeed almost tropical. It reminded one of Egypt, a place Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier knew only too well. Ever since his return from that afflicted land in the wake of Napoleon's debacle more than thirty years before, his interior thermostat had never readjusted itself, suggesting that he might have been a victim of myxedema, which lowers the basal metabolic rate. Whatever his malady, it had been years since he had ventured forth without an overcoat and a servant bearing another in reserve, even in July and August.

As the end neared, Fourier refused to despair. He was too old to interest fate, which had long since exhausted the many unforeseen twists it had in store for him. He yielded instead to the embrace of nostalgia, allowing his thoughts to carry him back over the accumulated images of a lifetime.

Fourier had been born sixty-two years earlier, in 1768, in Auxerre, a Burgundian cathedral town situated on the heights overlooking the river Yonne. His father was a master tailor named Joseph, who produced at least fifteen children, the last dozen by Edmie Germaine LeBegue. Little is known of his mother, Edmie, except that she died at the age of forty-two, when Jean was only nine. After placing Jean and another child in the care of the local foundling hospital, Joseph followed his wife to the grave a year later.

Luckily for the orphaned Jean, the timely intercession of a townswoman saved him from a life of servitude. A Madame Moitton recommended the youth to the bishop of Auxerre, who in turn enrolled him in the local military school run by the Benedictines. An intellectual by nature if not by nurture, Jean blossomed under the tutelage of the monks. He was soon composing verse of exceptional quality for one so young, and he fell in love with mathematics, which became his passion. One night, a monk making his rounds spied a flame through the keyhole of a classroom cupboard. Fearing fire, he flung open the doors to discover the young Fourier solving equations by the light of discarded candle ends.

After rising to the head of his class and claiming his school's top prizes in rhetoric and mathematics, Fourier, who had already begun to suffer the symptoms of insomnia, dyspepsia, and asthma, decided to enter the Church. In 1787 he arrived at the Benedictine abbey of St. Benoit-sur-Loire to prepare for his vows while instructing the other novices in mathematics. Yet his mind was elsewhere. Having renamed himself Joseph after his father, he wrote of the desire to dream Descartes's dream--a reference to the supposedly mystical formulation of analytical geometry. Torn by the conflicting demands of mind and spirit, Fourier added a wistful postscript to a letter addressed to one of his few scientific correspondents in late March of 1789: "Yesterday was my 21st birthday, at that age Newton and Pascal had acquired many claims to immortality."

Two weeks later, the Estates-General assembled at Versailles for the first time in 175 years. In the beginning Fourier appeared little interested. Not only was he still too young to speak in public, but he did not believe that the old tyranny would be replaced by anything better: "A new usurper tends to pluck the scepter from his predecessor," he wrote. Furthermore, he had reverted to his youthful habit of working into the small hours, and his health was suffering because of it.

In late October the newly established National Assembly issued a decree forbidding the taking of any further religious vows, the first step toward the abolition of the monastic orders. Fourier, who had not yet committed himself to the Church, bid farewell to St. Benoit and returned to Auxerre to teach mathematics at his old military school.

Meanwhile, the Paris physician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, a recently elected deputy to the National Assembly, had authored a novel proposal. Decapitation, Guillotin argued, should no longer be a right of the privileged classes alone, while the poor died by inches on the rack or the gibbet. Every person sentenced to death had a natural right to expire as swiftly and as painlessly as possible, "without torture."

This would be accomplished by the use of a machine whose origins might have dated from Roman times. Dr. Guillotin's modernized version was the very essence of simplicity: It consisted of two upright grooved posts surmounted by a crossbeam. Fitted into this wooden frame was a knifelike ax of forged steel. As the ax was released from a height, it gained momentum, slicing through the neck of the prone victim whose severed head conveniently dropped into a basket, a model of technological efficiency.

Guillotin cultivated the support of his fellow deputies, some of whom had already begun to address one another as "Citizen." Still, this was an enlightened age, calling for a certain amount of scientific experimentation. Several unclaimed corpses were beheaded in the hospital at Bicetre. Louisette, or Louison, as the machine was called, performed admirably and soon won the approval of the Assembly. On April 25, 1792, on the Place de Gréve, the highwayman Nicolas Jacques Pelletier had the dubious distinction of becoming its first living victim. Dr. Guillotin, who by now had presciently retired from politics, was toasted throughout Paris, while his instrument of mercy was hailed by the habitués of executions as la guillotine.

Two short years later found Joseph Fourier in prison despairing of his life, all dreams of scientific immortality forgotten. His eloquence as a speaker and growing sympathy with the revolutionary cause had moved him to become involved in local politics. He had helped raise money, recruits, and horses for the war with Europe, then accepted the offer of a position on Auxerre's Committee of Surveillance, which, like dozens of others throughout France, had originally been entrusted with the relatively innocuous task of keeping an eye on passing strangers. Then came the Terror, forced on an inept government and National Convention by near famine conditions and the widening military threat. The powers of the local committees were expanded by the revolutionary tribunal in Paris as the nation was sucked into the vortex. One of Fourier's intellectual heroes, the mathematician and philosopher Condorcet, an original supporter of the revolution, had defied the radical Jacobins and died in prison. Another, Antoine Lavoisier, the genius and founder of modern chemistry, was guillotined. Fourier attempted to resign from the Committee of Surveillance, but his request was denied, giving rise to suspicions of the darkest kind in the minds of zealots who questioned his motives.

With one half of France in mourning for the other, Fourier was arrested for his vigorous public defense of three local families who had run afoul of the authorities. Anticipating his fate, he had traveled the 180 kilometers to Paris to plead his case before none other than Maximilien Robespierre, the guiding force behind the twelve-member Committee of Public Safety. Prim, chaste, and puritanical, the terror within the Terror listened politely as Fourier delivered his eloquent self-defense. A smile occasionally crossed the revolutionary's thin lips, for the onetime lawyer from Arras was partial to a facile tongue. Unfortunately, the fanatically idealistic Louis de Saint-Just, who also attended the proceedings, was not. A favorite of Robespierre and member of the committee, Saint-Just refused to be moved: "Yes, Fourier speaks well" he sneered, "but we no longer have any need of musical patriots."

Fourier was arrested on July 4, 1794, released, then rearrested a few days later as the so-called Great Terror reached its climax. The insatiable guillotine was devouring its daily offering of victims with an efficiency that exceeded every prediction, including that of the public prosecutor Antoine Fouquier-Tinville, who spoke proudly of heads falling in assembly-line fashion, "like tiles."

It was Thermidor (Heat), the eleventh month of the French revolutionary calendar, and Fourier could expect the end at any moment. Then, amazingly, word arrived by courier from Paris that Robespierre, Saint-Just, and their fellow Jacobin Georges Auguste Couthon had been shouted down by the National Convention and arrested. The next morning, after witnessing a screaming Couthon struggle mightily for fifteen minutes and Saint-Just submit without a word, a semiconscious Robespierre, who had been wounded by a bullet in the face during his arrest, was dragged up to the platform and strapped onto a plank. The bandage was torn from his shattered jaw before his head was pushed through a little window, causing him to cry out in pain seconds before the steel blade descended. Robespierre had fallen exactly one year to the day after joining the Committee of Public Safety.

The deserted convents, abandoned chateaux, vacated schools and warehouses that served as makeshift prisons were soon emptied of their political captives. A liberated Fourier offered up a silent prayer of gratitude and made plans to depart Auxerre as soon as the opportunity presented itself. There was no trusting the people among whom he had been born and grown up, nor for that matter anyone else.

If ever Fourier was to establish a permanent place for himself in science, or natural philosophy as it was then known, the road lay through Paris, the mecca for all aspiring young Frenchmen. While the revolution had claimed certain of his heroes, Pierre-Simon Laplace and Joseph-Louis Lagrange were still very much alive, plumbing the firmament with telescopes, calculating the movements of the planets, comets, and tides as they dispelled any lingering doubts that Newton's law of gravitation was superior to the vortices of Descartes. At the same time, Fourier hoped to shed his revolutionary past by donning the cloak of anonymity.

In the spring of 1795, he wrangled a nomination to the École Normale, recently created by the National Convention for the purpose of redressing the nation's acute shortage of elementary school teachers. There he finally set eyes on Lagrange, "the first," he wrote, "among European men of science." The mathematician Laplace, who was also among the first rank of natural philosophers, was less appealing, perhaps because of the his obsequious manner in the presence of authority.

Just as Fourier was getting his feet on the ground, rumors began circulating of actions against him back in Auxerre for the part he had played in the revolutionary government. On the night of June 7, 1795, he was awakened by armed guards and marched off to prison in the Rue des Orties, having scarcely been given time to dress. As he was being led away, the concierge expressed the hope that Fourier would return soon, prompting the chief of the armed guard to retort, "Come and get him yourself--in two pieces!"

As in Auxerre, Fourier was released within a short time of his imprisonment, then rearrested weeks later in the middle of the night. This time the authorities charged him with terrorism, of being a Jacobin and abettor of the same Robespierre who had denied Fourier's earlier appeal on the grounds that a lukewarm revolutionary was a luxury France could ill afford.

What happened at this point is a matter of conjecture. By now Fourier's gifts as a mathematician had become known to Lagrange, Laplace, and Gaspard Monge, the leading geometrician of the day. Indeed, Fourier was enrolled in Monge's course in descriptive geometry at the newly opened École Polytechnique, whose standards were more rigorous than those of the École Normale. It seems likely that Monge, perhaps with the support of others, gained Fourier's release, aided by a changing political climate. No sooner was he back out on the street than the Convention was attacked by a proroyalist mob, in October of 1795. An obscure corporal named Napoleon Bonaparte, who had himself been briefly imprisoned during the Thermidorian reaction, scattered the assailants with what he contemptuously dismissed as "a whiff of grapeshot."

In March of 1798, Citizen Fourier, whose reputation as a mathematician had grown during his three years in Paris, gaining him a professorship at the École Polytechnique, received a letter from the minister of the interior. The Republic was in need of his "talents" and "zeal" for an unspecified mission in a foreign land. One month later Fourier stepped onto the deck of a ship for the first time in his life, joining the company of Napoleon, his fellow generals and officers, some 200 scientists known as the corps des savants led by Monge, and 50,000 soldiers and sailors, all crowded onto 180 vessels destined for they knew not where.

The French armada passed through Gibraltar with the English in hot pursuit. Horatio Nelson's squadron of thirteen seventy-four-pounders came as close as two miles to them on June 22, but their luck held and they reached Malta without incident. The island's long-resident Knights of St. John were easily subdued and forced into exile, enabling Napoleon to add 7 million gold francs to his burgeoning war chest. On July 1, 1798, the armada sighted Pompey's pillar at Alexandria, and the city was taken the following day after little more than token resistance.

It was in the land of the Sun-worshiping pharaohs that Fourier's scientific interest in heat was kindled. Yet he was too preoccupied by his duties as secretary of the newly formed Institute d'Egypt to carry out much research on the subject.

After his return to France in 1801, he wanted nothing more than to resume his work at the École Polytechnique, but Napoleon had different ideas. The general had spotted Fourier's administrative genius and appointed him prefect of the department of Isère, with headquarters in Grenoble. There Fourier would remain for the next twelve years, so pleasing his diminutive benefactor that Napoleon made the onetime egalitarian a baron.

Meanwhile, Fourier had tackled the complicated question of how heat spreads, or what physicists call diffusion. Working with objects of various shapes, he developed the now famous "diffusion equation," which expresses the movement of heat within the body itself. No matter what form he was working with--be it a cylinder, sphere, rectangle, or ring---he was able to account for the phenomenon mathematically. To his lasting credit, Fourier then carried his work a step farther. He developed a second equation to deal with heat movement on the surface of an object, the so-called boundary value.

In December of 1807, a hopeful Fourier presented the fruits of his concentrated labors to the Académie des Sciences in the form of a long paper. Of the four examiners, Monge, Laplace, and Lacroix opted for its publication. However, Lagrange voiced strong objections to it on the grounds that the mathematics, now known as the Fourier series, contradicted Lagrange's own trigonometric formulations. Unfortunately, one outweighed three in the eyes of the Académie , so the paper went unpublished.

Fourier got a second chance when, in 1810, the Académie offered a prize to the person who could successfully solve a problem on heat diffusion. He revised his earlier paper, adding a new mathematical analysis on heat flow in infinite bodies, and sent it off to Paris. The prefect's entry, titled "The Analytical Theory of Heat," won the competition, but not cleanly as it turned out. Lagrange launched new criticisms on the grounds of "rigor and generality." Fourier reacted by penning a withering reply via Laplace. The Prize Essay, as it became known, was not published, nor would it be until 1822, well after Lagrange was in his grave. Yet history was on Fourier's side. The powerful mathematical tools he invented were destined to motivate much of the leading work in that field for the remainder of the century and beyond, spilling over into physics, theoretical astronomy, and engineering.

With his niche in the pantheon of scientists secure, Fourier began thinking on a grander scale--the laboratory of the macrocosm. In Egypt he had watched Bedouin traders, their lumbering camels in tow, disappear into the Sun's blinding golden eye while their wavering images were reduced to vapor. Constant, eternal, without mercy, the giant fireball heated the sands until, by midday, the desert surface cut and burned like the blade of a newly forged knife. Long before Napoleon's troops were frozen stiff in the Russian winter, fully half of his expeditionary force baked to death under the African Sun, "a great sacrifice," someone remarked, "for a pretty rock," meaning the Rosetta stone.

One day in the early 1820s, Fourier began to ponder the question of how Earth stays warm enough to support the diverse range of flora and fauna inhabiting its surface. Why is the heat generated by the Sun's rays not lost after striking and bouncing off the great oceans and landmasses of the world? Taking pen in hand, he set down a novel hypothesis. Much of the heat does in fact escape back into the void, but not all. The invisible dome that is the atmosphere absorbs some of the Sun's warmth and reradiates it downward to Earth's surface. Fourier likened this thermal envelope to a domed container made of glass, a gigantic bell jar formed out of clouds and invisible gases. In coming together, the water vapor and other gases simulate a vault that receives and conserves heat, without which all life would surely perish.

Fourier shaped his thoughts into the article "General Remarks on the Temperature of the Terrestrial Globe and Planetary Spaces," which the editors of the Annales de chimie et de physique were only too happy to publish in 1824. Three years later, virtually the same article appeared in the pages of Memoires de l'Académie Royale des Sciences. Because of its speculative nature, the bell jar hypothesis was not considered Fourier's best work or his most memorable.

Only with the onset of the industrial revolution would this French genius's obscure papers come to light. And even then the phenomenon of global warming was thought of in the most benevolent of terms. What would it matter if gases emitted by Europe's giant smokestacks raised the temperature of Earth's atmosphere by a few degrees, a process that would almost certainly take many centuries to unfold?

Thus we are left with the surreal image of an old man, draped in thick woolen clothes and heavy blankets, propped up in his boxlike chair, slaving away to the end, his hand so cramped as to render his script unreadable. The honors he had dreamed of when young were now his without the asking: membership in the Royal Society of London, elevation to the Académie Française, the presidency of the council of the École Polytechnique, and more.

As death approached, he wrote a friend of having already glimpsed "the other bank where one is healed of life." Just as he wished, the call came suddenly on May 16, 1830, when he suffered a fatal heart attack late in the afternoon. The funeral took place two days later, with burial in the cemetery of St. Pére Lachaise on the outskirts of Paris. Fourier had chosen the spot himself, it was close to his revered master Gaspard Monge, the companion of his long days in Egypt, where he had always been warm.

Copyright 1999 Gale E. Christianson