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MYTH #39: It didn’t warm during the Industrial Revolution


The air was much dirtier during the Industrial Revolution. Why wasn’t there any global warming back then?


Half the carbon pollution from humans took place after 1979. It's no surprise the world is warming up a lot faster since then.

Since 1880, 30 years after the Industrial Revolution ended, the world has warmed nearly 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (or 0.8 degrees Celsius). But look a little closer at the data, and you’ll see something interesting. More than half the warming has occurred since 1979. That’s not a surprise, given that more than half of the carbon pollution from human activities has also happened since the 1970s. We’re putting about 2,700 times more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere now than we were at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. That's why the planet is warming up so much faster now than it did from 1880 to 1979.

Additional info from The Climate Reality Project

For many, mention of “the Industrial Revolution” conjures up images of factory smokestacks or steam engines belching out plumes of black smoke — and rightfully so. During the Industrial Revolution, humans began intensely burning coal, a fossil fuel. As a result, our early modern cities and industrial towns were blanketed in soot — a form of air pollution that looks dirty and is harmful to human health.

From where you sit, it probably seems the air has improved a lot since then. Over time, most developed countries have applied technologies and instituted policies to help curb the visible types of pollution that once dimmed the skies over industrial cities. So you may be wondering: If air pollution was really bad back then compared to now, why would climate change be more of a problem today? Here’s why …

The burning of fossil fuels results in more than one type of pollution. When we burn fossil fuels, the pollutant driving dangerous climate change — carbon dioxide — is also produced. Odorless and colorless, carbon pollution is impossible to detect with the human eye. But there are many other ways we can measure how much of it we’re putting into the atmosphere.

This graph from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center says it all. When it comes to carbon pollution, the levels emitted at the start of the Industrial Revolution pale in comparison to what we’re emitting now. More than half of the carbon pollution from human activities has also happened since the 1970s. That’s why it’s not too surprising that half of the warming has happened in the last 30 years.