According to the Spokane Press, “Spokane’s climate is growing milder; its winters are less severe and during its summers there is more rain than there was in the early days when the city was first founded.” Old timers recalled cattle dying from the bitter winter cold, until a local Indian taught them to send out horses to break through the ice crust and expose the grass, and grizzled residents who’d been in the area for years recalled that the valleys used to be sunburned deserts, but were now lush and green due increased rain.
Up in Minnesota too winter weather seemed warmer. “Is Minnesota’s climate changing? With the middle of December already here and winter caps, earmuffs and fur-lined gloves hardly used at all as yet, this question, for years the subject of heated and cold argument in Minnesota, has leaped to the fore and is again a common topic of discussion.”
Astute weather observer Charles P. Lovell noted the change. “Why, thirty years ago,” said Mr. Lovell in the Minneapolis Journal, “people were wont to go sleigh riding in the afternoon, but almost invariably they were compelled to seek their firesides by 4 o’clock because it began to get cold at that hour. Now you see them starting out at noon and riding until midnight. They had fur robes then and were bundled up just as tightly as they are now, but it got too cold for them before the afternoon was well spent.”
Lovell had his own theories as to why the climate was changing. “I have pondered long on this question and have reached the conclusion that railroad rails and telegraph and telephone wires played an import role in making this once frost-bitten, barren country a veritable Eden. These rails and wires seem to absorb electricity from the air.” More plausible was Lovell’s argument regarding re-forestation, “Timber, given a chance to grow after the settlers stopped the prairie fires that formerly kept it razed, has also contributed by breaking the force of the wind and dissipating storms that originate in far-off regions.”
It wasn’t just in the western portion of the country that folks were concerned about climate change. “People in the northeastern sections of the country, in particular are saying that something has happened to the winter;” wrote the New York Tribune, “that when they were children there was always deep snow at Christmas and the sleighing lasted for weeks.” Theories were advanced as to the cause; the Gulf Stream had shifted, as civilization pushed westward the growth of farming and land clearing had changed the topography and with it the weather, or that rising urbanization was to blame.
Robert De Courcy Ward, Professor of Climatology at Harvard University, weighed the scientific evidence regarding climate change. He consulted records from the Roman Republic, three centuries worth of grain harvest dates from France, obscure meteorological data regarding English farming, rainfall in Greece, Syria, and North Africa, the high water marks from the Caspian Sea and temperature surveys taken throughout North America over a period of thirty years.
Finally, De Courcy Ward announced the results of years of work. “The idea that the agency of man in cutting down forests and in cultivating new soil has resulted in a change in the climate of the United States finds no support in the recorded instrumental data…” Professor Ward announced emphatically, “The answer to the question ‘Is the climate changing?’ is a negative one.”
So my friends, there lies the story of how Robert De Courcy Ward, Professor of Climatology at Harvard University, and Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science, resolved the debate about global warming…in 1906. Aren’t you glad we got that one resolved?