The Dictionary of the Climate Debate (DCD)

Revelle, Roger

(1909 — 1991) One of the greats of climate science. Here are some of his firsts:

(1) He was one of the first scientists to study global warming.

(2) He was the first to suggest measuring the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

(3) In 1957, he and Hans Suess co-authored a paper that was the first to suggest that the Earth's oceans might not be able to absorb CO2 at a rate fast enough to offset human emissions, and that this might lead to global warming. To read this paper, click here.

Did he die a skeptic?

In 1991 just before he died, Revelle co-authored an article with the high-profile skeptic Fred Singer entitled What to do about greenhouse warming: Look before you leap. It contained this key recommendation:

"The scientific base for a greenhouse warming is too uncertain to justify drastic action at this time." Click here to read the complete article.

Because of this essay and his association with Singer, some writers such as George Will suggested that Revelle had become an AGW apostate before he died.

To rebut this belief, in 1992 Revelle's daughter Carolyn Hufbauer published the article Global Warming: What My Father Really Said. Here's an excerpt:

"...[Revelle] remained deeply concerned about global warming until his death in July 1991. … Will and other critics of Sen. Al Gore have seized these words to suggest that Revelle, who was also Gore's professor and mentor, renounced his belief in global warming. Nothing could be farther from the truth. When Revelle inveighed against "drastic" action, he was using that adjective in its literal sense - measures that would cost trillions of dollars. Up until his death, he thought that extreme measures were premature. But he continued to recommend immediate prudent steps to mitigate and delay climatic warming. Some of those steps go well beyond anything Gore or other national politicians have yet to advocate."

Click here to read her full article.

1. For a more complete description of how Revelle and Suess determined that the oceans would not absorb excess CO2, click here to read Spencer Weart's piece in the Discovery of Global Warming.

2. Click here to watch a Climate Science TV video in which Dr. Revelle discusses CO2, climate and the oceans. It was recorded in 1980 by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He starts speaking at 2:13.

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