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From Smithsonian Magazine:
The opposing voices in America's first great debate about global warming was
between Thomas Jefferson and Noah Webster in 1799
As the tumultuous century was drawing to a close, the conservative Yale grad challenged the sitting vice president’s ideas about global warming. The vice president, a cerebral Southerner, was planning his own run for the presidency, and the fiery Connecticut native was eager to denounce the opposition party.
The date was 1799, not 1999—and the opposing voices in America’s first great debate about the link between human activity and rising temperature readings were not Al Gore and George W. Bush, but Thomas Jefferson and Noah Webster.
As a gentleman farmer in Virginia, Jefferson had long been obsessed with the weather; in fact, on July 1, 1776, just as he was finishing his work on the Declaration of Independence, he began keeping a temperature diary. Jefferson would take two readings a day for the next 50 years. He would also crunch the numbers every which way, calculating various averages such as the mean temperature each month and each year.
In his 1787 book, Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson launched into a discussion of the climate of both his home state and America as a whole. Near the end of a brief chapter addressing wind currents, rain and temperature, he presented a series of tentative conclusions: “A change in our climate…is taking place very sensibly. Both heats and colds are become much more moderate within the memory of the middle-aged. Snows are less frequent and less deep….The elderly inform me the earth used to be covered with snow about three months in every year. The rivers, which then seldom failed to freeze over in the course of the winter, scarcely ever do so now.” Concerned about the destructive effects of this warming trend, Jefferson noted how “an unfortunate fluctuation between heat and cold” in the spring has been “very fatal to fruits.”
Jefferson was affirming the long-standing conventional wisdom of the day. For more than two millennia, people had lamented that deforestation had resulted in rising temperatures. A slew of prominent writers, from the great ancient naturalists Theophrastus and Pliny the Elder to such Enlightenment heavyweights as the Comte de Buffon and David Hume, had alluded to Europe’s warming trend....MORE