Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
Back in the 19th century, newspapers declared that something had “gone wrong” with the climate. The public was told that the telegraph system might cause the destruction of the human race.
131 years ago this month, an Australian newspaper (archived by the national library of that country) reprinted a story that had appeared in London’s St. James’s Gazette. The Gazette said it was informing its readers about “a timely note of warning” that had appeared in “one of the American papers.”
The concern back then involved the effect an expanding telegraph system might have on – you guessed it – the climate. The article says that if there were “sufficient electrical connection by wires around the earth” with the Earth itself, the planet’s polarity could be reversed.
The result would be a “sudden melting of the vast ice fields” followed by a “glacial flood” that would wipe out the human race. The article continues:
Of course, tremendous earthquakes would follow…Whether this theory prove [sic] correct or not, there cannot be a doubt that something has of late gone wrong with atmospherical arrangements, and perhaps the telegraph wires are not wholly blameless in the matter. [bold added]
Goddard asks a rhetorical question: “Would President Obama have banned telegraph lines to save the planet?”
I think it’s useful to pose a few others: Would green activists have protested telegraph lines in the same manner that they currently protest natural gas fracking and oil pipelines?
Would they have insisted that the risk was too high, that our children and grandchildren would condemn us for permitting so dangerous a technology as the telegraph to go forward?
It’s also worth observing that, back in 1881 (well before automobiles or airplanes), people were certain that something had “gone wrong” with the climate – and that we were the guilty party.
The more things change, the more we humans stay the same.
A PDF of the news article, produced by the Australian National Library website, is available here.