Mankind’s Impact on Climate: The Evolution of an Awareness

Article Link

Kellogg, W.W. 1987. Mankind’s Impact on Climate: The Evolution of an Awareness. Climatic Change 10, no. 2, 113-136.

Essay about this article

William W. Kellogg (1917-2007) reviewed the history of scientific findings suggesting an anthropogenic influence on climate. He cited Fourier, Tyndall, and Arrhenius who contributed to early understanding of the greenhouse effect and carbon dioxide’s role in climate change. In the mid-twentieth century Budyko, Sellers, and Manabe and Wetherald created physical models of the Earth’s climate and its likely changes under anthropogenic stresses, such as a doubling of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Kellogg praised early integrated assessments such as PSAC (1965), SMIC (1971), SCEP (1971), the “Charney Report” (1979), NAS (1983), and the Villach Conference Report by the WMO (1985) for their contributions to humankind’s present understanding of climatic change and its human dimensions.

Observations of temperature and trace gases, especially carbon dioxide also played important roles in raising awareness. Charles D. Keeling began systematic measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in 1958 and soon identified, beyond doubt, that it was rising each year due to human activities, primarily fossil fuel combustion and deforestation. Global temperatures did not rise in lockstep with CO2, and many scientists suspected that aerosols from volcanic eruptions and human activities were responsible for a global cooling averaging about 0.25 oC between 1945 and 1980.

Kellogg reviewed government policies concerning fossil fuel consumption in light of increasingly better climate models that indicate significant regional changes in rainfall amounts and temperature. With the centers of continents showing the greatest effects of warming and desiccation, he speculated about what this might mean for superpowers such as the United States, the Soviet Union, and China. Currently less fertile areas may receive more rainfall in the future and vice-versa, resulting in a shift of agricultural zones and potentially large implications for the biosphere and species diversity. Such changes will undoubtedly trigger policy changes in the affected nations. Like all climatologists, Kellogg stressed the urgent need for a greater understanding of the Earth’s atmosphere. He pointed to a sharp divide between the activists on global climate change who sought international agreements and those who wished to wait and see, perhaps taking actions locally as necessary to mitigate adverse effects.

Many of the articles cited by Kellogg were also included in the current collection.

Discussion Questions

a. What is an “integrated assessment” and what are some early examples of these?

b. How does Kellogg describe the growing awareness of humankind’s influence on climate?

c. Compare and contrast climate activists and those with a wait and see attitude, both from an intellectual perspective and based on social factors. Where is the balance between doing too much and doing too little?


President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), 1965. Restoring the Quality of Our Environment. Report of the Environmental Pollution Panel. Washington, DC: The White House.

Inadvertent Climate Modification, 1971. Report of Conference, Study of Man's Impact on Climate (SMIC), Stockholm. C.L. Wilson and W. H. Matthews, ed. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.

Man's Impact on the Climate, 1971. Study of Critical Environmental Problems (SCEP) Report. W.H. Matthews, et al., ed. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.

National Academy of Sciences, Carbon Dioxide Assessment Committee, 1983. Changing Climate. Washington, DC, National Academy of Sciences.

World Meteorological Organization, 1985. International Assessment of the Role of Carbon Dioxide and of Other Greenhouse Gases in Climate Variations and Associated Impacts (Report of the Villach Conference). Geneva, World Meteorological Organization.

Select articles citing this paper

Mitchell, T. D., M. Hulme, et al. (2002). "Climate data for political areas." Area 34(1): 109-112.

Mitchell, T. D., M. Hulme, et al. (2002). "Climate data for political areas." Area 34(1): 109-112.

Agrawala, S. (1998). "Context and early origins of the intergovernmental panel on climate change." Climatic Change 39(4): 605-620.

Weart, S. R. (1997). "The discovery of the risk of global warming." Physics Today 50(1): 34-40.

Macdonald, G. M. (1993). FOSSIL POLLEN ANALYSIS AND THE RECONSTRUCTION OF PLANT INVASIONS. Advances in Ecological Research, Vol 24. 24: 67-110.

Handel, M. D. and J. S. Risbey (1992). "AN ANNOTATED-BIBLIOGRAPHY ON THE GREENHOUSE-EFFECT AND CLIMATE CHANGE." Climatic Change 21(2): 97-253.

Allen, R. G., F. N. Gichuki, et al. (1991). "CO2-INDUCED CLIMATIC CHANGES AND IRRIGATION-WATER REQUIREMENTS." Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management-Asce 117(2): 157-178.

Cohen, S. J. (1990). "BRINGING THE GLOBAL WARMING ISSUE CLOSER TO HOME - THE CHALLENGE OF REGIONAL IMPACT STUDIES." Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 71(4): 520-526.


Adams, R. M. (1989). "GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE AND AGRICULTURE - AN ECONOMIC-PERSPECTIVE." American Journal of Agricultural Economics 71(5): 1272-1279.