In May 1859, leading physicist and later Haslemere resident John Tyndall fired up an ingenious apparatus to measure whether common atmospheric gases could absorb heat. His experiments proved conclusively that carbon dioxide, like water vapour, not only absorbed heat, but could radiate it out again.
In other words, CO2 in the atmosphere has a ‘greenhouse effect’. Or, as Tyndall put it: “The atmosphere admits of the entrance of solar heat; but checks its exit, and the result is a tendency to accumulate heat at the surface of the planet”.
He immediately understood the implications. Every variation of the constituent gases in the atmosphere “must produce a change of climate”, wrote Tyndall.
We have been pumping millions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution. This massive variation in the composition of the atmosphere is producing the climate crisis that we are experiencing today.
Tyndall was one of Britain’s most brilliant scientists. He was the first to explain why the sky is blue and worked with Louis Pasteur on how germs can result in disease. He was also a public intellectual and influential educator, advocating for scientific explanations for the natural world and its phenomena.
Such was his reputation that mountains, glaciers and craters on the Moon and Mars have been named after him. The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia recognises his work on greenhouse gases and, more locally, we have Tyndalls Wood near where he built his home in Hindhead in 1870.
Since Tyndall’s first experiments we have gathered mountains of further evidence that CO2 causes global heating while glaciers that bear his name have begun to melt as a result.
We honour the achievements of this distinguished local figure by promoting a scientific understanding of climate change and acknowledging and taking responsibility for the impact of our carbon emissions.