Since the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, climate change has been an issue of growing global concern. As late as in December 2015 nearly 200 states and thousands of other actors such as firms and organizations agreed on the Paris treaty to reduce climate gas emissions sufficiently to hold the global temperature increase below 2.0 and possibly below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Climate is today largely defined as an environmental issue, perhaps the largest of all such issues. Environment as a concept for the surroundings that humans disturbed and destroyed had been around since the 1940s, almost a half century before the IPCC. Why this late arrival of climate? It is a remarkably interesting story.
First of all, it needed a redefinition of climate itself from a local and complex characteristic to a simple matter of global mean temperature. Second, it required a reorientation from a scientific focus on past records to future projections. Third, it required a theoretical revolution moving atmospheric physics and meteorology, including computer models, to a central position. Fourth, it required that the previously largely military interest in climatic conditions and climate change as a ‘high politics’ security issue was seen as a major issue for society at large, which in turn required the involvement of the environmentalist movement. Also essential were devoted individuals who could translate facts on the ground and complex theory into compelling narratives of the looming dangers: US scientists Wally Broecker, James Hansen and Stephen Schneider, and a surprisingly large number of Scandinavian experts, from the father of modern meteorology, Norwegian Vilhelm Bjerknes through to Swedish born meteorologist Carl-Gustaf Rossby (Bjerknes’ student) who was a key leader of the training of meteorologists for the US war effort, and Bert Bolin (Rossby’s PhD student), the founding president of IPCC. In this talk, these will be portrayed as core actors in the modern breakthrough of climate as an issue of major environmental concern.