The Parrot and the Igloo Notes

The Wayward Wind

53   Gogi Grant’s “The Wayward Wind”: “The Top 100,” The Billboard, June 23, 1956. “For survey week ending June 13.”


53   “Presley’s songwriters had worked”: Peter Guralnick, Last Train to Memphis, Back Bay Books, 1994, Chapter Ten, “Stage Show,” 238.

Estelle Culmer, “How Presley Hit Was Written,” Fort Lauderdale Daily News, April 18, 1956.

Culmer’s story gives the sad-street city as not Miami but Jacksonville:

“I walk a lonely street.” Those poignant five words comprised the entire valedictory note left by a Jacksonville suicide one day last year. Shortly after the news of his death and the contents of the note appeared in the local papers, Tommy Durden, a musician with Tex Ritter’s band, called on his friend Mae Boren Aixion, with whom he frequently collaborates in song-writing.

Tad Hendrickson, “Heartbreak Hotel,” Rolling Stone, May 7, 2012.
Accessed 8-24-22.


53   “a morbid mess”: Peter Guralnick, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘N’ Roll, Little Brown, 2015. Chapter Seven, “Spiritual Awakenings,” 283.

“With its somber lyrics,” writes Guralnick, “to Sam’s ears . . . it was little more than ‘a morbid mess.’”

He adds, “There didn’t even appear to be much enthusiasm at RCA for the single.” It did the trick though: first single, first “big hit.” Guralnick, Sam Phillips, Chapter Eight, “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone 1957–1961,” 433.

And in the background you hear the pop charts—NWA, Nirvana, Cardi B—of the future. Guralnick, Last Train to Memphis, 239:

It was a strange choice by any kind of conventional wisdom: gloomy, world-weary, definitely at odds with the irrepressibly vibrant image that Elvis had projected from the start . . . the heavy overlay of echo and D.J.’s rim shots created a powerful, emotion-laden atmosphere of upbeat despair.

53   “The Soviet policy”: “The Perils of Peace,” Time, May 28, 1956.


53   “relaxing freedom’s watchfulness”: “Perils of Peace.”


53   “the number-two big-topper”: Time, “End of the Trail,” May 28, 1956.


54   “Suckers may still be born”: Time, “End of the Trail.”

Ernest Hemingway knew Clyde Beatty—the circus namesake—well enough to visit his dressing room. Hemingway “gave him an autographed copy of Death in the Afternoon and stayed to watch some of the rehearsal sessions. He was fascinated with Beatty’s speed and agility, his masterly footwork, and his habit of working close to the animals.” This was Madison Square Garden, 1932. “The exact way in which the circus lions ran, crouched, and sprang was of special interest to him.”

Carlos Baker, Hemingway: A Life Story, Scribner 1969, Chapter Six, “Forms of Combat,” 239.

Hemingway was such a circus fan he contributed notes to the 1953 program of the big Beatty rival, Ringling Bros. “Everything else is supposed to be bad for you,” Hemingway begins. “But the circus is good for you. It is the only spectacle I know that, while you watch it, gives the quality of a truly happy dream.”

Clifford Terry, “Why the Circus Will Always Come to Town,” Chicago Tribune, October 28, 1990.


54   “Since the start of industrial revolution”: Time, “One Big Greenhouse,” May 28, 1956.


54   In the future”: Time, “One Big Greenhouse.”


54   “When all their data”: Time, “One Big Greenhouse.”


55   The greenhouse theory had rounded 130 years old: Gale E. Christianson, Greenhouse: The 200 Year Story of Global Warming, Penguin 2000, xiii.

This is one of those prefaces that reads like a book proposal: “How we got from Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier two centuries ago to our current predicament makes for a fascinating albeit deeply sobering tale.”

The time element is that part that sobers.

Christianson took his book’s epigram from The Tempest: “How cam’st thou in this pickle?” If you ever reread this book, and also these notes, you’ll come upon this one and laugh. Basically all warming books seek to answer this question.


55   The young mathematician watched: Christianson notes a deep irony. The Joseph-Ignace Guillotin innovation was seen as humanism. An enlightened forward step:


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.”


The machine was seen, he goes on, as an instrument of mercy. Christianson, Greenhouse, Chapter One, “The Guillotine and the Bell Jar,” 6.


55   make his goodbyes: Christianson, Greenhouse, 9.


55   they set sail for the sun: Christianson, Greenhouse, 9–10.


55   “diamond in a pig’s asshole”: Francis Steegmuller, ed. and trans., The Letters of Gustave Flaubert: 1830–1857, Belknap Press, 1980, Chapter Two, “The Law 1840–1843,” 13.

The letter is dated November 14, 1840, to his friend Ernest Chevalier.


55   the French scientific mission: This was the Institut d’Égypte. Christianson, Greenhouse, 10.


55   The team dug up: Christianson quotes one of those dry bits of retrospective wisdom. Napoleon’s Egypt mission failed in 1801: “ ‘A great sacrifice,’ someone remarked, ‘for a pretty rock.’” Meaning the Rosetta stone. Christianson, Greenhouse, 11.


55   “a stone of black granite”: “An Account of Pieces of Ancient Sculpture Taken By the British Forces Under the Command of Lieutenant-Gen. Lord Hutchinson, in Egypt, From the French Army in Alexandria, and Sent To England Under the Charge of Col. Turner, September, 1802,” The Gentleman’s Magazine 72 (December 1802), 1127. It doesn’t even top the list: “8. A stone of stone of black granite, with three inscriptions, hieroglyphic, Coptic, and Greek, found near Rosetta.”

The idea that with three you could translate the hieroglyphic inscription was apparent instantly. “Triple Inscription Lately Brought from Rosetta,” The Gentleman’s Magazine 72 (August 1802), 726. (“That the three inscriptions commemorate the same thing is clear from the words at the close of the Greek.”) Noted in Donald M. Bailey, “A Barbarian Found,” The Journal of Egyptian Archeology 89 (2003), 260–261.


56   Learning just what the sun: Christianson, Greenhouse, 10. Leaving us this baked-tone watercolor:

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.


56   Half of Napoleon’s force: Christianson, Greenhouse, 10.


56   part still in the desert: Christianson, Greenhouse, 3–4: “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.” Christianson adds, “It had been years since he had ventured forth without an overcoat and a servant bearing another in reserve, even in July and August.”

Dora Musielak, Sophie Germain: Revolutionary Mathematician, Springer, 2020, Chapter 11, “Friends, Rivals, and Mentors,” 164. Towards the end of his life, the much-decorated (and ennobled; now a baron) Fourier had become Permanent Secretary of the Royal Academy of Science:

He wore heavy coats, even in the hot summer . . . According to his friend Arago, the small townhouse of Fourier was also intensely heated year round and “the currents of air to which was one was exposed, resembled the burning wind of the desert.”

56   Fourier approached the biggest question: Christianson, Greenhouse, 12. Fourier’s paper was first published in 1824, then reprinted “virtually” identically in 1827; some scientists and historians use the 1827 date.

Fourier’s title was “Remarks on the Temperature of the Terrestrial Globe and Planetary Spaces.”


56   designed to receive and conserve heat: V. Ramanathan, “Trace-Gas Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming: Underlying Principles and Outstanding Issues, Volvo Environmental Prize Lecture, 1997,” Ambio, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 27, no. 3 (March 1998):


The mathematician Baron Jean-Baptiste Fourier suggested in the year 1827, that the atmosphere behaves like the transparent glass cover of a box exposed to the sun by allowing sunlight to penetrate to the Earth’s surface and retaining the longwave radiation (“obscure radiation”) from the Earth’s surface.


56   the first greenhouse theory: V. Ramanathan, “The Greenhouse Theory of Climate Change: A Test by an Inadvertent Global Experiment,” Science, April 15, 1988. This was “perhaps the first time” the greenhouse effect had been “pointed out.” Ramanathan, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, is sometimes known as the Pope’s Climate Scientist.


56   designed to receive and conserve heat: Mike Hulme, Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity, Cambridge University Press, 2009. Chapter Two, “The Discovery of Climate Change,” 42–3.


Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier presented an essay to the Académie Royale des Sciences in Paris on the regulation of planetary temperatures. In this essay, published later that same year, Fourier correctly understood that the atmosphere is asymmetrical with respect to the transmission of incoming solar energy and outgoing terrestrial energy—the constituent gases of the atmosphere are more opaque to outgoing thermal energy than they are to incoming short-wave solar energy. This phenomenon was later christened the “greenhouse effect.”


56   England’s scientist laureate: Faraday was in fact—advancing him for a professorship at the Royal Institution—an early supporter of Tyndall’s.

James Rodger Fleming, Historical Perspectives in Climate Change, Oxford University Press, 1998, Chapter Six, “John Tyndall, Svante Arrhenius and Early Research on Carbon Dioxide and Climate,” 66. Tyndall succeeded Faraday as Director of the Royal Institution’s Laboratory in 1867.


56   John Tyndall was on stage: “The Telephone Eclipsed,” Weekly Irish Times, February 9, 1878.


56   the first climber up the Weisshorn: Spencer Weart, “The Carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Effect,” in The Discovery of Global Warming, American Institute of Physics, Harvard University Press, 2003.

Tyndall climbed the Weisshorn in 1861; Weart calls him an “ardent Alpinist.”
Accessed 8-25-22.

This is the online version of Weart’s The Discovery of Global Warming; with Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe, one of this reader’s two favorite books on the subject. The online version, Weart informs us on the site, is a supplemented edition of his “much shorter book.”


56   “Science, like other things”: John Tyndall, Fragments of Science, Longman, Green and Co. 1879, Chapter 14, “Science and Man (Presidential Address, Delivered Before the Birmingham and Midland Institute, October 1877).”


56   a fairly soft winter: London’s Medical Times and Gazette (May 21, 1859) characterized the weather in “the first quarter of 1859” as “unusually mild.”


56      “Experimented all day”: Fleming, Historical Perspectives, 69.

May 18, for those who like an extra helping of detail.


57      “perfectly colorless and invisible gases”: Fleming, Historical Perspectives, 65.


57      test coal gas: Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming, Chapter One, “How Could Climate Change?” 3.


57      once it warmed the Earth: Climate scientist Mike Hulme sees Tyndall and Fourier as a one-two punch: “The technical term ‘greenhouse effect,’” he continues, “retains its more limited meaning of describing the physical mechanism of the differential radiative heating of the atmosphere originally proposed by Joseph Fourier in 1824 and demonstrated experimentally by John Tyndall in 1859.”

Hulme, Why We Disagree, Preface, xxxix.


57      He knew which gases: Veerabhadran Ramanathan calls this work ingenious.

V. Ramanathan, “Trace-Gas Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming,” Ambio, March 1998.

. . . the ingenious laboratory experiments of Tyndall demonstrated the selective spectral absorption of longwave radiation by atmospheric H20 and CO2.

Part of the ingeniousness: as Fleming notes, Tyndall assembled the first ratio spectrophotometer, to measure the various gases’ absorptive power. Fleming, Historical Perspectives, 69.

Tyndall presented his findings via lecture at the Royal Institute, January 23, 1863.

John Tyndall, “On Radiation Through the Earth’s Atmosphere,” Proceedings of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, Vol. IV (1862–1866), 200–206.

That Victorian note—of hard witty sensibleness—is struck in the opening sentence: “Nobody ever obtained the idea of a line from Euclid’s definition,” the scientist writes. “The idea is obtained from a real physical line drawn by a pen or pencil.” Tyndall goes on: “When we speak of radiation through the atmosphere, we ought to be able to afix [sic] definite physical ideas, both to the term atmosphere and the term radiation.”


57      blanket more necessary: Tyndall, “On Radiation Through the Earth’s Atmosphere.”

Quoted in Elizabeth’s Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe. It’s hard to say what is so especially satisfying about this book, though the tone is characterized by an observation that appears in the New Yorker essays from which the chapters are drawn.

Kolbert is visiting with a group of Danes and Swedes at the North Greenland Ice-Core Project. These scientists are drilling out samples of old ice. “Their reason for wanting to do this is an interest in ancient climates,” the journalist writes. “My reason for wanting to watch is perhaps best described as an interest—partly lurid, but also partly pragmatic—in apocalypse.” That’s the voice: an adventurous Joan Didion, with perhaps an additional espresso. There’s no better or more elegant book on the subject.

Elizbeth Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, Bloomsbury, 2006, Chapter Two, “A Warmer Sky,” 38.


57      Tyndall, at fifty-five: Roland Jackson, “Spotlight on Louisa Jackson,” The Royal Institution, October 17, 2014. As a kind of delayed honeymoon outing, the Tyndalls scaled the Aletschhorn. This is the second tallest of the Bernese Alps; as Jackson observes, “few women would have previously climbed it.”

Accessed 8-25-22. 

57      chloral hydrate at night: Jonathan Weiner, The Next One Hundred Years: Shaping the Fate of Our Living Earth, Bantam Books, 1990, Chapter Three “Keeling’s Curve,” 29.

Weiner received the Pulitzer Prize for the book after this one on warming.


57      “Yes, my poor darling”: Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, 39; Weiner, Next One Hundred Years, 29. Tyndall knew because the chloral tasted sweet.


57      “You have killed your John”: “Mrs. Tyndall’s Fatal Error,” The New York Times, December 25, 1893.

Astringent Christmas reading: “Mrs. Tyndall here broke down under intense emotion, and the Coroner and the jury were much moved.”

They did try. Hot water bottles. Emetics. Coffee. A physician—Dr. Winstanley; background names seem to change over time—was called.

“We worked all day. It was about 8:30 in the morning I gave the chloral,” Mrs. Tyndall related to the inquest. “And about 6:30 it was all done.”

57      a scientist who loved high living: “A genial bon vivant” is how climate scientist Wallace Broecker describes the Swedish chemist. He adds, “Certainly Arrhenius had a large appetite for work as well as pleasure.”

Wallace Broecker, Robert Kunzig, Fixing Climate: What Past Climate Changes Reveal About the Current Threat—And How to Counter It, Hill and Wang, 2008, Chapter Five, “Carbon Dioxide and the Keeling Curve,” 68, 69.

New York Times science writer William K. Stevens: “Arrhenius, a rotund, 220-pound man who made friends easily and liked his parties.” Even the intellectual circle to which the scientist belonged was “yeasty.”

William K. Stevens, The Change in the Weather: People, Weather, and the Science of Climate, Delacorte, 1999, Chapter Eight, “The Greenhouse Experiment,” 136.

To Gale Christianson in Greenhouse, Arrhenius and his friend Wilhelm Ostwald had (along with future chemistry Nobels) this in common: “Both men loved their beer almost as much as they loved science.” Christianson, Greenhouse, 109.

Arrhenius married. His wife was brilliant—but also, as scientist Brian Cantor points out, “teetotal and anti-smoking. They were never going to get on well.”

Brian Cantor, The Equations of Materials, Oxford University Press, 2020, Chapter Five, “The Arrhenius Equation,” 98.


57      Svante Arrhenius: James Fleming notes the odd, loaded fact that Arrhenius was born the same year Tyndall did his work on heat-trapping gases—three months before the 1859 journal entry where the Irish scientist exults over an entirely hand-held subject. Fleming, Historical Perspectives, 74.


57      “spread joy in the lab”: Shridhar R. Gadre, “Century of Nobel Prizes—1903 Chemistry Award: Svante August Arrhenius (1859–1927),” Resonance, Indian Academy of Sciences, May 2002. 

Accessed 8-25-22.


58      to admire the Aurora Borealis: Sir James Walker, “Svante Arrhenius,” Arrhenius Memorial Lecture, Journal of the Chemical Society (U.K.), 1928. Reprinted in Annual Report Smithsonian Institution, 1928, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1928. The Northern Lights here are called “the northern dancers.”

Walker, who knew Arrhenius, was, like many others, struck by the man’s gusto. “Happy in his work and happy in his family life,” Walker writes, “Arrhenius radiated contentment.”

He shares this suave anecdote about Arrhenius’ work methods. We see a person with a useful understanding of their own mechanism. “I recollect that one day in the laboratory at Leipzig, after a long spell of very arduous experimental work, he downed tools, saying, ‘I have worked enough; now I must think.’”

Arrhenius, Walker continues, “did not reappear in the laboratory for a fortnight.”

Hubert N. Alyea, “Arrhenius 1925–6: Nobel Institute, Stockholm,” Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry. Interviews Conducted by Jeffrey L. Sturchio and Ron Doel at Princeton, NJ, 22 and 30 May 1986.

Svante’s oceanographer grandson, Gustaf Arrhenius, told science writer Fred Pearce his grandfather was “personally jovial, outgoing and gregarious.” A man who loved to socialize over theories and experiments: “Today, as then, he would have a roaring good time in mutual exchange with open-minded, objective and imaginative scientists.”

Fred Pearce, “Scientists Speculate on What the Swedish Scientist Svante Arrhenius Would Have Worked on Today,” Ambio, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, 30, no. 3, May 2001.


58      His official Nobel Prize biography: “Svante Arrhenius — Biographical,” Nobel, Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2021.
Accessed 8-25-22.


58      not just “contented” but “happy”: The same contentment is spread even in the dedicated climate change encyclopedia: “Arrhenius was a contented man, happy in his work and family life.”

S. George Philander, ed., The Encyclopedia of Global Warming and Climate Change, Second Edition, “Svante August Arrhenius,” Ingrid Hartmann, University of Hohenheim, Sage Reference 2012, 81.

Arrhenius recognized in himself that gift for happiness.

This is from Elisabeth Crawford’s study of the beginnings of the Nobel prizes. “With his robust health and optimistic outlook on life,” Crawford writes, “Arrhenius was an outgoing personality with an unusual capacity for making friends. Learning of the suicide of Boltzmann, under whom he had studied in Graz in the 1880s, he [Arrhenius] wrote to Ostwald: ‘I consider myself at the opposite pole from him since no human being can be luckier than I am. My work goes well and I live only for the highest ideals. My health and my living-conditions represent everything I can hope for.’”

As Crawford puts it, “Arrhenius’s buoyancy shines through in his letters and personal writings.”

Elisabeth Crawford, The Beginnings of the Nobel Institution, Cambridge University Press, 1984, Chapter Five, “Networks at Work in the Prize Selections,” 110.


58      enhanced summers of the future: Man-made climate change would “allow our descendants,” Arrhenius writes, “to live under a warmer sky and in a less harsh environment than we were granted.”

Elisabeth Crawford, “Arrhenius’ 1996 Model of the Greenhouse Effect in Context,” Ambio, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 26, no. 1, February 1997.


58      a local domestic cooling: Christianson, Greenhouse, Chapter Nine, “Native Son,” 113. “It was during a long period of personal discontent,” Christianson writes, “that Arrhenius set about formulating the first theoretical model with which to calculate the influence of carbonic acid (CO2) on the temperature of Earth.”

The epigraphs writers pick for chapters are fascinating—postcards from the random corners of a famous life.

Christianson here quotes the botanist son of Charles Darwin; for an inside sense of how intellectual reputations evolve. “But in science the credit goes to the man who convinces the world,” said Francis Darwin, “not to the man to whom the idea first occurs.”

The younger Darwin went on, in a part not quoted by Christianson, “Not the man who finds a grain of new and precious quality but to him who sows it, reaps it, grinds it and feeds the world on it.” We don’t tend to associate cynicism with the sciences.


58      recipient of the Nobel: Patrick Coffey, Cathedrals of Science: The Personalities and Rivalries That Made Modern Chemistry, Oxford University Press 2008, Chapter Seven, “Nobel Prizes,” 199.

Pearce, “Scientists Speculate.”


58      collected in 1903: There’s a wonderful passage about this experience. What winning a science Nobel feels like: England’s Francis Aston received his for work in Arrhenius’ own discipline. The chemist belonged to the 1922 class that included both Niels Bohr (Physics) and the absolute marquee player, Albert Einstein. (Einstein received for Physics in 1921 but only got around to collecting the award the following year.) Arrhenius led the laureates’ toast at the banquet and observed there’d never been a more impressive set of medalists.

Francis Aston’s sister was his perpetual traveling companion. Here’s her record of a unique human experience: what it’s like to receive a Nobel beside Albert Einstein.


Among our many travels abroad the one which took pride of place for all time was, needless to say, when he went to Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize. Even now it seems like a fairy story in which all good things came true, for him the pride of achievement, and for us reflected glory in a measure of which we had never dreamed.


And, for what it’s like after: Francis “never tired of recalling all that we did in those wonderful days, and the kindness and hospitality showered on us all, and indeed Stockholm has been the city of our dreams ever since, set in a place apart from anywhere else in all our memories.”

G. Hevesy, “Francis William Aston 1877–1945,” Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society 5, no. 16, May 1948.


58      in his high school class: Sir David King, “A Chemist Ahead of His Time,” The Guardian, February 3, 2005. King was then the British government’s chief science advisor. See also Christianson, Greenhouse, Chapter Nine, “Native Son,” 107–108.


58      Sofia Rudbeck: Christianson, Greenhouse, Chapter Nine, “Native Son,” 113. Arrhenius even sent love poems: Coffey, Cathedrals of Science, 27.


58      Arrhenius picked Christmas Eve: Christianson, Greenhouse, 113.


58      fourteen-hour days: Christianson, Greenhouse, 113.


58      Sofia filled her suitcases, left him: Broecker and Kunzig, Fixing Climate, 68.


58      a Svante-free life: The former love poet wrote fellow future laureate Wilhelm Ostwald, “I was blind.” Coffey, Cathedrals of Science, 27.

See also Broecker and Kunzig, Fixing Climate, 68.


58      “the most tedious”: Christianson, Greenhouse, 113. The friend he wrote about this cramming was again Ostwald.


58      unbelievable so trifling a matter”: Broecker and Kunzig, Fixing Climate, 69.


58      He published in a London journal: Svante Arrhenius, “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground,” The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science 41, 5th Series, April 1896.


59      “Is the mean temperature”: There’s a terrific anthology of climate papers: David Archer and Raymond Pierrehumbert, The Warming Papers, Raymond Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Archer is a University of Chicago geophysicist, Pierrehumbert an Oxford climate scientist; each piece is introduced by one of their sharp, chunky considerations. On page 45, the two write: “In Arrhenius’ 1896 paper we witness the birth of modern climate science.”

See also Arrhenius, “On the Influence.”


59      Halve carbon dioxide: Arrhenius, “On the Influence.”

The gloss from the American Institute of Physics historian Spencer Weart:


He announced that cutting the amount of CO2 in the air by half would cool the world by maybe 5°C (that is, 8° Fahrenheit). That might not seem like a lot. But thanks to feedbacks, as extra snow accumulated and reflected sunlight, it might be enough to bring on an ice age.


Spencer Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming, Harvard University Press 2003. Chapter One, “How Could Climate Change?” 5.


59      Double it: Arrhenius, “On the Influence.”

The doubling CO2 range Arrhenius provides in the London Philosophical is 3–4° Celsius (p. 265). When Arrhenius published this study in Worlds in the Making, he settled on the upper range, 4°. (Worlds in the Making, 1908, 53: “Any doubling of the percentage of carbon dioxide in the air would raise the temperature of the earth’s surface by 4°.”)


59      a United Nations scientific panel: This is, of course, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whom we haven’t yet met in the book.

“Equilibrium climate sensitivity,” explains the panel, “quantifies the response of the climate system to constant radiative forcing on multicentury time scales.”


It is defined as the change in global mean surface temperature at equilibrium that is caused by a doubling of the atmospheric CO2 concentration. Equilibrium climate sensitivity is likely in the range 1.5°C to 4.5°C (high confidence).


IPCC, 2013, “Summary for Policymakers,” Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, T. F. Stocker, et al., eds., Cambridge University Press. 

Accessed 8-26-22.

For a good quick backgrounder on climate sensitivity, there’s the U.K. site Carbon Brief.

Zeke Hausfather, “Explainer: How Scientists Estimate ‘Climate Sensitivity,’” Carbon Brief, June 19, 2018. 
Accessed 8-26-22.


59      But his doubling estimate held: The surprising sturdiness of Arrhenius’ prediction has been noted by commentators.

Here’s Kerry Emanuel (of MIT and Time’s 100 Most Influential People list, 2006), in What We Know About Climate Change:


Swedish chemist and Nobel laureate Svante Arrhenius realized that increasing combustion of fossil fuels would eventually raise CO2 concentrations, simply because human emissions were far too large for the natural system to deal with on human time scales. By 1906 he had calculated that doubling the concentration of CO2 would raise the earth’s surface temperature by about 4°C, a number well within contemporary estimates of 2–4.5°C per doubling of CO2. It is important to note that Arrhenius did this without the benefit of computers, relying on basic physics already fairly well quantified by his time.


Kerry Emanuel, What We Know About Climate Change, The MIT Press, 2018. Chapter Two, “Greenhouse Physics,” 14–15.

Emanuel plots the Arrhenius numbers on a grid, along with temperature rise. “While there are many natural influences on climate,” he writes, “one can see that Arrhenius’s prediction has so far been well verified.”

This calculation’s longevity is also noted by Weiner, The Next One Hundred Years, 61; Patrick Coffey, Cathedrals of Science, 27–28; and Brian Cantor, The Equations of Materials, 98. (Cantor calls him “a remarkable scientist.”) The U.K. climate scientist Mike Hulme, in Why We Disagree, offers a neat summation: “Arrhenius’s calculations were performed by hand, not computer,” he writes on page 46. Yet “over a hundred years later,” the “laborious manual calculations made by Arrhenius were not significantly in error.”

An international study released in summer 2020—its sponsor was the World Climate Research Program—suggested temperature increase at the spread’s upper end. One warming researcher, Texas A&M’s Andrew Dessler, called the work “a tour de force of climate science.”

Andrew Freedman and Chris Mooney, “Major New Climate Study Rules Out Less Severe Global Warming Scenarios,” The Washington Post, July 22, 2020.


The current pace of human-caused carbon emissions is increasingly likely to trigger irreversible damage to the planet, according to a comprehensive international study released Wednesday. Researchers studying one of the most important and vexing topics in climate science — how sensitive the Earth’s climate is to a doubling of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — found that warming is extremely unlikely to be on the low end of estimates.

These scientists now say it is likely that if human activities — such as burning oil, gas and coal along with deforestation — push carbon dioxide to such levels, the Earth’s global average temperature will most likely increase between 4.1 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit (2.3 and 4.5 degrees Celsius). 


That is, still more or less the Arrhenius 4°.

The story ends with a mordant reflection from one study author: “The primary determinant of future climate is human actions.”

Arrhenius scholar Elisabeth Crawford, composing the Britannica entry on the Swedish chemist, notes that his doubling estimate of “3 to 4°C (about 5 to 7°F) [is] probably what has earned Arrhenius his present reputation as the first to have provided a model for the effect of industrial activity on global warming.”


59      If “modern industry”: Arrhenius, “On the Influence.”


59      for thousands of years: “Arrhenius, however, could not envision how rapidly an intensely fossil fuel-dependent industrialized society would arise,” explains Harvard’s James McCarthy.


He estimated that it would take about 3000 years for the atmospheric CO2 concentration to double, whereas current IPCC scenarios for the rate of combustion of fossil fuel and proportion of the CO2 absorbed by the ocean project a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentrations to occur between 2050 and 2080.


James McCarthy, “Reflections on Our Planet and Its Life, Origins, and Futures,” Presidential Address, 175th Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science, December 18, 2009.


59      a balmier Sweden: Grandson Gustaf Arrhenius: the Swedish scientist “looked upon the greenhouse effect as a potential blessing for humanity with a more benign climate at the higher latitudes and improved harvests.”

Pearce, “Scientists Speculate.”

Man-made climate change would “allow our descendants,” Arrhenius reflects, “to live under a warmer sky and in a less harsh environment than we were granted.”

Elisabeth Crawford, “Arrhenius’ 1896 Model of the Greenhouse Effect in Context,” Ambio, February 1997.

Oxford scientist Brian Cantor mounts a defense of the Arrhenius optimism: “To be fair, levels of industrialization during the late nineteenth century were gentle by modern standards,” Cantor writes. “With subsequent population growth and economic development way beyond what might reasonably have been predicted.”

Cantor, Equations of Materials, 98.

There was even a “why wait?” spirit among some Arrhenius friends. This is Walther Nernst, who’d receive the Chemistry Nobel in 1920: “Nernst later also favored increased global warming and suggested a proactive approach, [proposing] underground fires in used-up coal mines to release carbon dioxide into the air.”

Coffey, Cathedrals of Science, Chapter One, “The Ionists: Arrhenius and Nernst,” 28.


59      Gingerly: Maria Johansson, in 1905. Fleming, Historical Perspectives, 75.


59      the sister of a: The brother was Johan Erik Johansson, physiology professor and Arrhenius’ “close friend.” Crawford, Beginnings of the Nobel Institution, 79.


59      Worlds in the Making: Svante Arrhenius, Worlds in the Making: The Evolution of the Universe, Harper and Brothers, 1908.

The original Swedish is lovely: Världarnas utveckling.


59      probably the source: Christianson, Greenhouse, 113–114.

“Arrhenius was the first to employ the term hothouse, which would be renamed the greenhouse effect decades later.” Pearce, “Scientists Speculate.”


59      hot-house: Arrhenius, Worlds in the Making, 51.

Elisabeth Crawford, Arrhenius’ biographer, points out the Swedish word actually used by the chemist was drivbänk: hotbed. The translator Englished this as “hothouse”—without which, we could have ended up with decades of stories about “the hotbed effect.”

Crawford, “Arrhenius’ 1896 Model.”


59      He called it an overcoat: Arrhenius, Worlds in the Making, 52. “. . . which thus stops any loss of heat, just as an overcoat protects the body against too strong a loss of heat by radiation.”


60      500 million annual tons: Arrhenius, “On the Influence.”


60      “rapidly increasing”: Arrhenius, Worlds in the Making, 54.


60      “within a few centuries”: Arrhenius, Worlds in the Making, 54.


60      By Arrhenius’ reckoning: Arrhenius, Worlds in the Making, 54: “The sea, by absorbing carbonic acid [CO2], acts as a regulator of huge capacity, which takes up about five-sixths of the produced carbonic acid.”


60      “for the benefit of rapidly propagating mankind”: Arrhenius, Worlds in the Making, 63.


60      Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Research anything and you find links, shadows, narrative accidents worth texting a friend about. The first Invasion of the Body Snatchers was in theaters February of the same year Roger Revelle appeared in Time magazine. So there was Arrhenius’ legacy, nibbling away at the national contentment from two angles.

See the last note before this chapter’s space break for the rest. The basic cite is:

Charles Freund, “Pods over San Francisco,” Film Comment, January/February 1979.


60      “ultra-modern in every respect”: Scientific American, Review, “Das Werden Der Welten, Von Svante Arrhenius,” October 5, 1907.

There were excerpts, too, in Scientific American and the Atlanta Constitution. Of the panspermia material.

Professor Svante Arrhenius, “Panspermy: The Transmission of Life From Star to Star,” Scientific American, Mar 2, 1907.

Professor Svante Arrhenius, “Where Did We Come From?”, The Atlanta Constitution, June 4, 1911. (They used to put academic titles in the byline.)

“What is the origin of the life which has, through millions of years, crawled up the ladder and become man and the things about man? The question of the ages, this! Here, Svante Arrhenius, one of the greatest Norwegian scientists, gives his startling . . .”


60      “dazzling”: The New York Times, “Mars and Venus,” May 27, 1922. Also:

Mary Proctor, “Did Life First Come to This Earth in a Meteor?” The New York Times, November 20, 1910: “Endless are the speculations that might be indulged in regarding the interplanetary transmission of messages to other worlds than ours by means of meteors . . .”


60      director of the Nobel Institute: Arrhenius exerted a great shaping force over the prizes: per Elisabeth Crawford, he also had “decisive importance” in creating the Nobel’s “international standing.”

Crawford, Beginnings of the Nobel Institution, “Introduction,” 8.

Here’s why there are Nobel Prizes. I’d always wondered. Alfred Nobel’s father manufactured armaments. So the younger Nobel, with no doubt some family feeling, “went on to invent dynamite, gelignite, ballistite (a rocket propellant), detonators, blasting caps and many other explosive devices.” This is from Brian Cantor’s Equations of Materials.


When one of his brothers died while visiting Cannes, a local newspaper wrote an obituary of Alfred by mistake, saying: “Le marchand de la mort est mort”  [“The merchant of death is dead”] and continuing, “Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”


This hurt.


Nobel was upset and, having no wife or children, resolved to leave his wealth to charity. By the time of his death in 1896, he owned 90 armaments factories and was worth about 30 million Swedish kroner (about half a billion US dollars in today’s terms).


His will put “almost all his wealth into a trust to fund the Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature and Peace.”

Cantor, Equations of Materials, Chapter Five, “The Arrhenius Equation,” 99.


60      “Literary Gossip”: Los Angeles Times, “Literary Gossip,” July 16, 1911.


60      Arrowsmith: Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith, Harcourt, 1925. Arrhenius’ bust is shelved alongside Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Pasteur on page 41.


60      “the best known”: Benjamin Harrow, “When the World Has No Coal, Iron and Oil,” The New York Times, January 3, 1926. “His influence upon the development of modern chemistry,” the piece continues, “can be matched by no individual living today.”


60      The First World War: In Arrhenius’ final book—he’s going to pass quietly out of the chapter after a one-week illness in about three paragraphs—he refers to the war as “the recent great misfortune,” perpetrated by “the so-called civilized nations.” This is on page 143; but right on the first pages, the book’s preface, Arrhenius discusses “the bitter experience given us by the World War.”

For a person as naturally buoyant as Arrhenius—“an optimist,” writes the climate scientist Wallace Broecker, “even by the standards of his pre-World War One era”—the words “bitter experience” must have been themselves bitter to set down.

His grandson Gustaf Arrhenius: “He trusted to human ingenuity. He was a cultural optimist. But the First World War showed him that his optimism was misplaced. By 1918 he was in many ways a changed person.”

Pearce, “Scientists Speculate.”


61      cars in the America of 1908: “State Motor Vehicle Registrations, By Years, 1900–1995,” Highway Statistics Summary, Federal Highway Administration, Department of Transportation.

Accessed 9-01-22.


61    Two decades later: “State Motor Vehicle Registrations, By Years, 1900–1995,” Highway Statistics Summary, Federal Highway Administration, Department of Transportation.

Accessed 9-01-22.

See also Christianson, Greenhouse, 139.


61      The world’s gasoline supply: This made the papers, as such warnings will.

“One More Long Look Ahead,” Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1920.

Edwin E Slosson, “This Changing World. II—The Fall of Energy and the Rise of Man,” The Independent, February 12, 1921.

Gale Christianson told Fred Pearce—Pearce’s study was commissioned by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research—that in his later years “Arrhenius was a conservationist. As he pondered the rapid increase in the consumption of fossil fuels, he came to believe that the world was faced with a crisis of catastrophic potential.”

Pearce, “Scientists Speculate.”


61      Arrhenius wrote in his last book: Harrow, “When the World Has No Coal.”

Arrhenius put the stakes quietly high. Without some new energy source, he writes, “humanity will fall back to a state of civilization similar to that [of] about a century ago, while the number of inhabitants of our planet will have to diminish to a corresponding degree.”

Luckily, there were centuries to find it. Worldwide coal would allow for that. Arrhenius couldn’t know how coal was just about the worst conceivable choice when it came to climate change.

And just because it’s fascinating, and very close to what Edison would hear from Einstein at light’s jubilee, here’s how Arrhenius stated the problem: that we had put ourselves into an entirely new state to which we had not at all adapted ourselves.


The material basis of our present civilization depends on the use of fossil fuel, chiefly coal and petroleum. In earlier periods of history one generation of men lived very nearly as did the preceding one. Centuries were necessary to produce great changes in the conditions of life. This circumstance has been completely altered by the use of fossil fuel, for the development has taken on an explosive character. During the last century as much coal was consumed in each ten years as had been used in the whole preceding time. . . Humanity stands, therefore, before a great problem of finding new raw materials and new sources of energy that shall never be exhausted. In the meantime we must not waste what we have, but must leave as much as possible for coming generations.


Svante Arrhenius, Chemistry in Modern Life, D. Van Nostrand, 1925, “Preface to the American Edition,” vi–vii.


61      “States which lack”: Arrhenius, Chemistry in Modern Life, 143.


61      “lands on the other side of the seas”: Arrhenius, Chemistry in Modern Life, 143.


61      a mining expedition in uniform: On the same page, the scientist notes “Historical research of the future will demonstrate how much desire for raw materials was a cause” of the war.


62      “It is clear that some day”: Arrhenius, Chemistry in Modern Life, 143.

And then—a distinctly modern touch—this 1859-born Swede makes the pitch for solar: “Mankind must finally come,” he writes, to “make use instead of the great power for work poured out by the sun above us in apparently undiminishing amount.”


61      “Thou shalt not waste!”: Arrhenius, Chemistry in Modern Life, Chapter XV, “Housekeeping With the Treasures of Nature,” 276. “Wise housekeeping,” Arrhenius calls this. The chemist adds, “herein lies our hope for the future.”


61      statesmen are only in exceptional cases”: Arrhenius, Chemistry in Modern Life, 267.

What they offered instead was politics, “lightly leavened with a veneer of law and literature.”

And then Arrhenius adds a sentence that’s a pocket history of the next ninety years. He’s been making the following case: “an age of feverish development”—that was the pre-war.

“In each ten years’ time we used up as much good coal as constituted mankind’s entire previous supply,” he writes. “Of many other raw materials the story was the same. For that reason voices were raised asking the question, ‘What will happen if we continue living in this way? Like insane wastrels, we spend that which we received in legacy from our fathers.’”

But, he goes on, “the group who thought and spoke in this manner were few in number and they were soon silenced by the prevalent, boastful bluster about industrial conquest.”

And the politicians? “They counted these warnings to be curiosities of no practical importance.”

Later in these notes there’ll be a moment when the essayist and novelist E. B. White says of the American response to a natural fact that it was as if the nation felt it could “damn well rise above planetary considerations, as though we were greater than our environment, as though the national verve somehow transcended the world.”

Later still there’ll be a moment when one lauded scientist briefs Washington officials about the dangers of CO2 warming. It’s 1979. One politician asks, “When will these effects happen?”

The scientist responds, “About forty years.”

The politician replies, “Get back to me in thirty-nine.”

Naomi Oreskes, Erik Conway, Matthew Shindell, “From Chicken Little to Dr. Pangloss: William Nierenberg, Global Warming, and the Social Deconstruction of Scientific Knowledge,” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 38, no. 1, Winter 2008. Naomi Oreskes is such a powerful writer on the various forms taken by denial.


61      It’d taken Arrhenius just three decades: “His optimism had largely evaporated in his later years.” Pearce, “Scientists Speculate.”


61      doesn’t even mention: New York Times, “Prof. Arrhenius, Scientist, Dead,” October 3, 1927. One of the subheads was, “Honors Showered on Him.”

Here’s what they mean:


The list of his honors in science is a long one, including medals of the highest distinction and degrees from the leading universities. He won the Davy Medal in 1902 and the Faraday Medal in 1914. Heidelberg and Groningen made him a Doctor of Medicine, honoris causa; Oxford and Cambridge bestowed honorary degrees of Doctor of Science. He was also an honorary Doctor of Philosophy at Leipzig and a Doctor of Laws at Birmingham. Many English and Continental scientific societies paid him the tribute of honorary membership.


61      “ingenious”: The New York Times, “Life at Low Temperatures,” April 15, 1938.


61      “into the star-sprinkled evenings”: Loren Eiseley, “The Great Deeps,” Harper’s, December 1951.


61      “that almost forgotten theory”: Here’s the rest of that Invasion of the Body Snatchers note: It was crowded in with Sweden—and, also, because it’s fun to have beside the Loren Eiseley quote.

“Few narratives in American popular culture have proved as durably resonant—or as endlessly adaptable—as ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers,’” is how the Times puts it. “This paranoid fable has now cloned itself several times over, spawning four movies in five decades [and] become an all-encompassing metaphor that finds a sociopolitical relevance whatever the period.”

The movie, per the Times, is a kind of medical file, any era’s Rx’s. “A veritable catalog of anxieties that have plagued the American psyche in the last half-century.”

Dennis Lim, “Same Old Aliens, But New Neurosis,” The New York Times, August 12, 2007.

Jack Finney, author of the Body Snatchers novel, told a journalist how panspermia had helped him out of a narrative jam:

“When I started to write this story, I just had the idea of doing a book about a small town which is affected by unusual events.” The basics: Town doctor, mysterious doings. “It didn’t pan out. Still, I liked the town and the doctor, so I started another story, this one about a mania spreading through the town in which the people start to think that their close family members aren’t who they’re supposed to be. I got stuck on that one too, until I happened to come across an article which discussed an old theory, new to me, that living matter may have arrived on Earth from outer space. After that, the story developed quickly.”

Freund, “Pods over San Francisco.”

For what it’s worth, the critic and science-fiction writer Damon Knight thought Finney had gotten panspermia wrong. This comes from Knight’s 1967 study In Search of Wonder. “The seed pods, says Finney, drifted across interstellar space to Earth, propelled by light pressure. This echoes a familiar notion, the spore theory of Arrhenius. But the spores referred to are among the smallest living things—small enough to be knocked around by hydrogen molecules in the upper atmosphere.”

By swapping “these minute particles with three-foot seed pods” Finney had made the idea “ludicrous.” Still, the book got written, the movies released, the idea planted, the anxieties spread.

Damon Knight, In Search of Wonder: Essays on Modern Science Fiction, Advent, 1967, Chapter Six, 74.

Damon Knight is probably most famous as creator of maybe the paradigmatic Twilight Zone episode: “To Serve Man.” (“It’s a cookbook!” warns an overdue translator about the benevolent-seeming aliens and their fat hardback; this plot was later repurposed for the first Simpsons Halloween special.) So Knight knew himself about how to make a stretcher seem true.


61      the two planets: McCarthy, “Reflections on Our Planet.”

From that ‘50s moment, “it would be another couple of decades before we would know how different the atmosphere is on Venus and Mars.” McCarthy, a Harvard professor we’ll meet again, explains that in a sense, Venus and Mars are Earth’s controls in a large experiment. He’s alluding to a celebrated observation by Roger Revelle.

See also Wallace Broecker and Robert Kunzig, Fixing Climate, 67.


62      The placid red-desert look: Mars Facts, “All About Mars,” NASA Mars Exploration Program. 

Accessed 8-26-22.

Elsewhere on the NASA site there’s an unforgettable physical detail. Demonstrating just what Tyndall learned about an atmosphere’s heat-trapping gases:


Because the atmosphere is so thin, heat from the Sun easily escapes this planet. If you were to stand on the surface of Mars on the equator at noon, it would feel like spring at your feet (75 degrees Fahrenheit or 24 degrees Celsius) and winter at your head (32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius).


In Depth, “Mars—Solar System Exploration,” NASA Science. 
Accessed 8-26-22.


62      And Venus: James Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About The Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, Bloomsbury 2009, Chapter Ten, “The Venus Syndrome,” 224–225.

Hansen, who became America’s most celebrated climate scientist, began as a Venus researcher. You can feel his relish for the planet in these paragraphs.

See also Broecker and Kunzig, Fixing Climate, 67.


62      for about an hour: David K. Shipler, “Soviet Spacecraft Lands on Venus and Sends Back Photo of Rocks,” The New York Times, October 23, 1975.

The trip itself took four and a half months. The Soviet Union’s Venera Nine lasted fifty-three surface minutes and sent back the photo.

“The surface of Venus is one of the most hostile environments in which man has sent one of his machines to work,” reported the Times. Previous probes had lasted “23 and 50 minutes.”

The blog reproduces all extant pictures. It’s something to see—what other era’s eyes have had this privilege? (The Times reported Soviet ground personnel as “ecstatic” when the first image came in.) Both moving and humdrum: it looks like rocks. Rocks anywhere—but never before seen by a creature., “Every Picture from Venus’ Surface, Ever,” The Planetary Report, March 21, 2021. 
Accessed 08-25-22.


62      probes: Noted here for one detail: that the probe deposited on the planet’s surface the Soviet coat of arms and a (presumably miniature) portrait of Lenin.

Bernard Gwertzman, “Venus Craft Sent Data for 53 Minutes,” The New York Times, May 17, 1969.


62      lip-unbuttoning effect on headline writers: Thomas O’Toole, “Venus Called a Boiling Hell-Hole with Weird Psychedelic Imagery,” The Washington Post, October 24, 1967. “Planet Venus Called Stifling, Choking Hades,” Associated Press, March 30, 1961.

Some additional candidates:

Walter Sullivan, “Probe Shows Venus in Terrifying Light,” The New York Times, January 25, 1979.

Thomas O’Toole, “Fiery Heat, Fierce Winds Keep Venus a ‘Hell in the Heavens,’” The Washington Post, December 15, 1978.

Walter Sullivan, “The ‘Queen of the Night’ Is a Ghastly Inferno,” The New York Times, January 31, 1971.


62      reminders: The Pulitzer-winning science writer Jonathan Weiner shares an interesting theory:

“Climate experts William Kellogg and James Hansen and the astronomer Carl Sagan were among the first scientists to look into the Venusian inferno. Each of them later became outspoken about the greenhouse effect on Earth,” Weiner writes. “In part they were radicalized by Venus.”

Weiner, Next One Hundred Years, Chapter Five, “A Slow Eureka,” 64.

And while we’re on the inferno-ness of Venus. In the Walter Sullivan 1978 piece noted above, the science journalist adds, “It is ironic that [the] brilliantly white planet named for the goddess of love and beauty should prove to be a ghastly inferno.” And one wants to add, Not to anyone who’s ever heard lyrics by Pat Benatar.


62      Goldilocks Problem: Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren, 224–225.

The Parrot and the Igloo by David Lipsky