Additional info from The Climate Reality Project
The concept of the “greenhouse effect” is fairly new to non-scientists. In the U.S., for example, only about a third of Americans had heard the phrase by 1981.
But scientists have known about the greenhouse effect for a long time. Joseph Fourier, a French mathematician, is credited with discovering the phenomenon in 1827, more than 40 years before Lord Rayleigh figured out why the sky is blue — and more than a century before Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin.
Generations of scientists have poked and prodded at Fourier’s groundbreaking work, rejecting some of his ideas and building on others. For example, John Tyndall was the first to experimentally demonstrate that just a few trace gases in the atmosphere, including carbon dioxide, cause the greenhouse effect. And the heat-trapping ability of carbon dioxide has been repeatedly measured in laboratories around the world.
Evidence of the greenhouse effect doesn’t just come from labs, however; we also have real-world measurements of it in action. Remember that when sunlight enters Earth’s lower atmosphere, some of that energy warms the Earth’s surface. Most of the heat is then radiated from the surface and trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere … which then recycle heat back to Earth again. Here’s the cool thing: Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement program can actually measure the amount of heat recycled back to the Earth’s surface!
Importantly, Fourier’s main point about the greenhouse effect has stood the test of time: Our atmosphere helps keep the Earth warm by slowing the loss of heat to space.