In 300 B.C., a student of Aristotle observed that humans could change regional temperatures by draining marshes and clearing forests. More than 2,000 years later, a Swede quantified carbon’s role in keeping the planet warm.

That Swede, Svante Arrhenius, concluded that burning coal could cause a “noticeable increase” in atmospheric carbon levels across centuries.

Interest in global warming has followed the same general erratic trend as the yearly warming of the planet since NASA scientist James Hansen first testified in 1988 before the U.S. Senate that humans were causing the change. Since then, the Kyoto Accord, detailed below, and several other climate summits, have come and gone without producing substantial changes in the way humans conduct their economic activity and produce and use energy.

Global leaders will get their next chance to act or sit still — while journalists, activists and members of the concerned public get the opportunity to wring their hands — during the 18th United Nations climate summit that begins next week in Qatar.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Reuters at Scientific American:

1957-58 – U.S. scientist Charles Keeling sets up stations to measure carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere at the South Pole and Mauna Loa, Hawaii. The measurements have shown a steady rise.

1988 – The United Nations sets up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to assess the scientific evidence.

1992 – World leaders agree the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which sets a non-binding goal of stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions by 2000 at 1990 levels – a target not met overall.

1997 – The Kyoto Protocol is adopted in Japan; developed nations agree to cut their greenhouse gas emissions on average by at least 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12. The United States stays out of the deal.

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