Wallace S. Broecker


Google the term "global warming" and you get 456 Million results. Next, try Dr. Wallace S. Broecker—you get less than 0.1 percent of that. But it was Dr. Broecker who gave us the most common phrase used to describe the accelerating degradation of our planet.

A Columbia University professor, Broecker was one of the first scientists to sound the alarm about climate change. He possessed one of those amazing minds that's able to draw connections between seemingly disparate things. Though trained as a geologist, he also researched the Earth’s oceans, atmosphere, and ice. He had a comprehensive understanding of the Earth’s climate system. And in 1975, nearly a half century ago, he predicted that if humans continued to spew carbon dioxide into the air, the Earth's temperatures would rise to unsustainable levels.

In 1976, they did, and the warming curve has been rising exponentially since.

Broecker titled his 1975 paper: “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” And because many who know far less about the planet than he continue to push back on his findings, the term — and the problem — remain with us.

Broecker clearly had a knack for phrasemaking: he was also the first to refer to the ocean currents that circulate warm water around the globe as “the global conveyer." He also famously said, “The climate system is an angry beast and we are poking it with sticks,” by which he meant that the climate is sensitive, subject to change, and susceptible to major shifts with startling speed.

According to NASA, 2018 was the 4th-warmest year since accurate record-keeping began, some 140 years ago. The last 5 years have been the 5 warmest years in recorded history. And 18 of the 19 warmest years have occurred since 2001.

Trouble is, these statistics only have the desired impact if you believe in science. Broecker did. Called a “true Renaissance man” by his colleagues, having generated discoveries in a wide range of fields, Dr. Broecker made it a point to maintain skepticism about a theory until both scientific evidence and arguments convinced him of its truth.

About global warming, the “grandfather of climate science” was no sceptic. He had data on his side.

The climate system is an angry beast and we are poking it with sticks.
— Wallace S. Broecker

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