Kitchener-Waterloo

Q&A: Retired scientist warned of global warming in 1960s

Decades before climate change was part of the mainstream conversation, a meteorologist who now lives in Kitchener was warning of its potential effects.

'I was letting them know, this is happening, get ready'

The smoke stacks at American Electric Power's (AEP) Mountaineer coal power plant in New Haven, West Virginia, October 30, 2009. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Decades before climate change was part of the mainstream conversation, a scientist who now lives in Kitchener, was warning of its potential effects.   

John Rogalsky, 89, is a retired meteorologist who worked for the federal government for thirty-five years, and first learned about climate change back in the early 1960's. 

He spoke to the CBC's Max Leighton for The Morning Edition.

The following has been edited for length and clarity. 

When did you first begin to hear about climate change? 

I just looked through my files and found a reference to that concern being expressed in 1963. So that was when we were first talking about it. It was not the meteorologists who were doing most of that research, this was being done by eminent scientists who were gathering data from oceans, the atmosphere, the stratosphere, the soil and everywhere, and connecting all the dots.

Now we didn't have the mass computers in that time to be able to confirm that by analysis, but they did have a lot of information from ice cores in Greenland and the southern ice cap, and other information from stratospheric soundings that we were doing by sending rockets into the stratosphere. 

When did you become conscious of climate change as a mounting concern?

I was intrigued by these forecasts of climate change. It was not that I was skeptical, I was intrigued by it and followed along over a period of years as it became increasingly evident. And by the time the end of the 60s had arrived, I was absolutely convinced that it was real, it was just a question of how rapidly it would happen and how difficult it would become for the world at large, and how soon before people, or governments would even listen to the science. People I talked to about this, I was letting them know, this is happening, get ready.

So now at 89, you've thought about this for more than half your life. What do you think of when you hear people are still skeptical about climate change?

What I think is these people are simply denying and refusing, for some political reason or another, or they're just covering up. Or for some reason or another they don't want to hear about that.

How does it make you feel for the future?

I am optimistic that the world has finally come around to the realization that this is real, it's happening before our eyes and we've got to deal with it. I am also optimistic that we have gone through a couple of generations of naysayers and our children are being taught the climatic or the environmental issues in schools and the science is being explained to them. They are coming up now and demanding that governments act, so I am very optimistic that we are serious about it now. 

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