Historical events

What key historical events have contributed to global warming?


  • Since 1880, the average temperature at the Earth’s surface has increased by 0.07 ° C every ten years.
  • Evidence shows that key historical developments such as industrial revolutions have significantly contributed to global warming.
  • These events are linked to the massive combustion of fossil fuels to meet increased human demand.

World temperature graph (1851-2020)

For several years, average surface temperatures have regularly exceeded 1.5 ° C above their pre-industrial values.

Image: Visual capitalist

Since 1880, the average temperature at the Earth’s surface has increased by 0.07 ° C (0.13 ° F) every decade. This number on its own may seem negligible, but over time it adds up.

Also, the rate of temperature change increased significantly more dramatically over time – more than double to reach 0.18 ° C (0.32 ° F) since 1981. Due to this process of global warming, environmental crises have become the most significant risks in our time.

In this graph of global temperature, the climate data scientist Neil R. Kaye breaks down the evolution of monthly average temperatures over nearly 170 years. Temperature values ​​were compared to pre-industrial averages (1850-1900).

What is causing global warming?

The data visualization can be viewed in two halves, each reflecting important trigger points in global warming trends:

  • 1851-1935
    Overlaps with the second industrial revolution
    Low-high range of overall temperature increase: -0.4 ° C to + 0.6 ° C
  • 1936-2020
    Overlaps with the third industrial revolution
    Global temperature rise low-high range: + 0.6 ° C to + 1.5 ° C and above

The global temperature graph clearly shows that for several years, average surface temperatures have consistently exceeded 1.5 ° C above their pre-industrial values. Let’s take a closer look at these periods to find more context around this phenomenon.

Industrial revolutions and advances, 1851-1935

An obvious and early visual anomaly deserves to be explored between 1877 and 1878. During this time, the world has known numerous unprecedented climatic events, from a powerful El Niño to widespread droughts. The resulting Great Famine caused the deaths of 19-50 million people, even surpassing some of the deadliest pandemics in history.

In the first five lines of the world temperature graph, several economies advanced in the Second Industrial Revolution (~ 1870-1914), followed by World War I (1914-1918). Overall, the focus has been on steel production and mass consumer goods over these 80+ years.

While these technological advances have brought immense improvements, they have come at the cost of burning fossil fuels, releasing significant amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. It will be several decades before scientists realize the full extent of their accumulation in the atmosphere and their relationship to global warming.

The modern world in the red zone, 1936-2020

The second half of the world temperature graph is marked by World War II (1939-1945) and its aftermath. As the dust settled, nations began to rebuild themselves and things really got off to a hyperdrive with the Third Industrial Revolution.

As globalization and trade progressed after the 1950s, people and goods began to move more than ever before. In addition, population growth peaked at 2.1% per year between 1965 and 1970. Industrialization patterns began to intensify further to meet the demands of a growing world population and our modern world.

The importance of historical temperature trends

The history of human development is intimately linked to global warming. While some of the increase in the Earth’s surface temperature can be attributed to natural patterns of climate change, these historical trends highlight the importance of human activities driving the rapid rise in temperatures. global averages over the past 85 years.

The following graphic from the Reddit user bgregory98, which draws on a large body of data published in Geosciences of nature provides a more dramatic demonstration. It examines the escalation of global temperatures over two thousand years. In this long period of time, eight the hottest ten years on record have occurred in the past decade alone.

A graph to show the global temperature trend from 0 to 2019 AD

This graph shows the dramatic escalation in global temperatures over 2,000 years.

Image: Visual capitalist

Click on here to see the full motion picture.

Global warming and climate change are among the most urgent megatrends shape our future. However, with the United States joining the Paris Climate Agreement and reducing global carbon emissions highlighted as a key element at the 2021 Davos Summit of the World Economic Forum, some promising steps are being taken.


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