Fact Check: Did a 1912 Newspaper Article Predict Coal-Fueled Climate Change?

A scan of an article from more than a century ago mentioning coal-fueled climate change has spread on social media.

The Claim

An image shows a newspaper clipping from 1912 in which the prospect of coal contributing to climate change.

Twitter account @learnhistory shared the image on August 12 with the caption: "Climate change prediction from 1912."

The image had the date of the clipping circled in red.

At the time of writing, the post has more than 4,000 retweets and more than 15,000 likes.

The Facts

The image shows an article under the banner "Science Notes and News" with the headline "COAL CONSUMPTION AFFECTING CLIMATE."

It also shows the title of the newspaper, The Rodney and Otamatea Times, and the date of August 14, 1912—more than a century ago.

The report highlighted the amount of coal burned at the time and the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere as a result each year.

"This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature," the article states.

"The effect may be considerable in a few centuries."

Climate change prediction from 1912 pic.twitter.com/4lNDLUngQB

— Historical Photos (@Iearnhistory) August 12, 2021

Searching the content of the news article brings up a copy of it on the National Library of New Zealand's website, which has uploaded digitized versions of newspapers from the 19th and 20th centuries.

This confirms the article was on page 7 of The Rodney and Otamatea Times and the Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette on August 14, 1912.

The article has previously been shared widely on social media several times before.

The text also appeared in the magazine Popular Mechanics, prior to its inclusion in the 1912 newspaper article shared on Twitter.

A copy of the publication, dated March 1912, which was uploaded to Google Books shows the text was the caption of an image of coal furnaces on page 341.

Burning coal is known to be a major contributor to rising global temperatures.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, "the burning of coal, natural gas, and oil for electricity and heat is the largest single source of global greenhouse gas emissions."

The EPA explains that "an increase in the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases produces a positive climate forcing, or warming effect."

"Climate forcing refers to a change in the Earth's energy balance, leading to either a warming or cooling effect over time," the EPA states.

The Ruling

Fact Check - True

True.

FACT CHECK BY NEWSWEEK

The article in question is authentic and the text was published in both newspapers and a magazine in 1912, highlighting that people more than a century ago had anticipated the climate issues related to burning coal for energy that we now see today.

coal power plant in adamsville alabama
Steam rises from the Miller coal Power Plant in Adamsville, Alabama on April 11, 2021. An article from 1912 highlighted the potential of coal usage contributing to climate change. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images