Noah Webster's Influence Went Beyond Writing a Dictonary
He's also responsible for halting climate talks for 190 years
You’ve probably been expecting a Curious Adventure newsletter about climate change for a while. After all, global warming is dominating today’s headlines—and for a good reason. It’s one area that will affect every single person alive today and for generations to come.
It makes me wonder about everyone who came before us. I mean, climate change wasn’t on my radar until my senior year of high school, and then only because it was a point of focus during the George Bush Jr. vs. John Kerry presidential election. Back then, climate deniers were many and the debate was raging. I can’t help but wonder just how long this discussion has been going on.
At Least Since the 1700s
As far as I can tell, serious conversations about global warming started over 200 years ago, in America at least. On the same day he signed the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson began recording weather fluctuations twice a day and continued for 50 years!
Jefferson wrote a book called Notes on the State of Virginia in 1787, which included discussions of the climate in both the United States as a whole and his home state of Virginia. Near the end of one chapter regarding wind, rain, and temperature, Jefferson concluded:
“A change in our climate…is taking place very sensibly. Both heats and colds are become much more moderate within the memory of the middle-aged. Snows are less frequent and less deep….The elderly inform me the earth used to be covered with snow about three months in every year. The rivers, which then seldom failed to freeze over in the course of the winter, scarcely ever do so now.”
Jefferson wasn’t alone in his judgment. He had support from Samuel Williams, a contemporary authority and author on the matter. Williams wrote in his 1794 book The Natural and Civil History of Vermont:
“[Climate] change…instead of being so slow and gradual, as to be a matter of doubt, is so rapid and constant, that it is the subject of common observation and experience. It has been observed in every part of the United States; but is most of all sensible and apparent in a new country, which is suddenly changing from a state of vast uncultivated wilderness, to that of numerous settlements.”
So, if we knew over 200 years ago that human action was negatively impacting the environment, why was nothing done to stop it? Given our situation today, you might assume greed is the reason. However, for once, it wasn’t about money.
It was Noah Webster
According to the Smithsonian, Noah Webster, as in Merriam-Webster Dictionary, was ardently opposed to Jefferson and William’s climate arguments. I mean he acknowledged humans might impact nature, but believed it occurred only on an infinitely smaller and slower scale than Jefferson and Williams claimed. He wrote his own booklets and conducted multiple speeches against the idea of global warming.
Webster dismantled Jefferson and William’s claims one at a time. He insisted that Jefferson and Williams didn’t have enough scientific data or accurate measurements to support their arguments. (Keep in mind that the thermometer had only been invented recently in 1724, and was still considered inaccurate and dubious by many.)
Noah Webster discredited Jefferson’s findings by stating they were based solely on his personal observations and other people’s opinions rather than on scientific facts. In the end, Webster had the last word on the matter and remained essentially unchallenged for 190 years until scientists began to understand greenhouse gases and their impacts in the second half of the 20th century.
Regardless of where you live, I’m sure you’ve already experienced the wrath of global warming. I suppose one good thing about the steady increase in mega-storms/fires/floods is that denial is no longer a choice. The debate is over.
Global warming is very real and has been scientifically proven (over, and over, and over). These mega climate catastrophes are no longer considered “once in a century.” Instead they’re our new normal with plenty more headed our way.
An estimated 150,000 people are already dying from climate-related disasters each year, and 30.7 million out of the 40.5 million displaced people in 2020 were due to natural disasters. Youth today have every right to be angry at every single one of us adults, considering studies predict that,
A newborn will experience on average seven times more heatwaves, twice as many wildfires, three times as many droughts and river floods, than previous generations.
Humanity could have acted to slow global warming over 200 years ago, but we didn’t. Our ancestors could have taken precautions, such as issuing sanctions, or limits to protect the environment, but that didn’t happen either.
What might the world look like today, if society had investigated the warnings instead of dismissing them? Maybe more children today would look forward to their futures instead of fearing them. Perhaps our cultures would already favor renewable energy and we’d be living more in harmony with nature instead of fighting it.
Then again, maybe we don’t have to wait around for governments and so-called leaders to save us. Perhaps instead, the change we need can come from the bottom up. Despite continued resistance, there are plenty of people working tirelessly to help. New ideas and inventions are announced every day that can restore our hope and reignite excitement for the future.
It’s pretty incredible to witness the ingenuity and creativity humanity possesses. But we’ll talk about that on Monday in Curious Life.
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