Tributes to brilliant scientist who warned of climate change 50 years ago

 In News

Tributes have been paid to a scientist who spent a lifetime warning the world of climate change and who died last month aged 88.

Physicist Sir John Houghton gave his first lecture on the dangers of global warming in 1967 and his Nobel prizewinning work led to the delegates of 177 governments agreeing the 1997 Kyoto treaty to cut greenhouse gases.

“He was an amazing person, years ahead of his time,” said Midlands green energy expert Ron Fox, “who convinced sceptical political leaders that human activity was to blame for an increase in the earth’s temperatures.”

John Theodore Houghton, was born in Dyserth, North Wales, in 1931 and went to Rhyl grammar school where he scored the highest marks of all Wales in the physics exams.

He won a place at Jesus College, Oxford, two years early aged 16 to study physics, where he scored the highest marks in his year.

The scientist, who became professor of atmospheric physics at Jesus College, gave his first lecture on climate change in 1967 saying the earth’s temperature had gone up by nearly one degree Centigrade, a figure he said was of some concern.

He was appointed chairman of the World Climate Research Programme in 1980 before becoming director-general of the Met Office, which was then the only establishment in the country running computer models of the climate.

While there he persuaded the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, of the importance of climate change and to support the creation of the Hadley Centre, a branch of the Met Office devoted to climate science. 

In 1990 as chairman of a working group of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) he managed to get all the delegates from 177 countries, some of whom were very hostile, to agree that more convincing evidence is emerging about the human effect on climate. This was then used to help draw up the 1997 Kyoto treaty.

He collected the Nobel peace prize awarded jointly to the IPCC and the then American vice president Al Gore, before receiving a knighthood in 1991 and the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal in 1995.

As well as a top physicist Sir John was a very committed Christian believing that God had commanded humanity to look after the planet in Genesis and that people were also obliged to be Good Samaritans as the global warming problem would affect poorer countries far more than rich ones.

He retired to Aberdyfi, Wales, where he published a fifth edition of his book, Global Warming: the Complete Briefing in 2015 and he died on April 15, 2020, of complications from Covid-19.

“Sir John will go down as one of the environmental heroes of the 20th and 21st centuries,” said Ron, of Noreus Ltd on the University of Keele Science and Innovation Park. “It is partly due to his hard work and influence that climate change is high up today on all the world’s agenda.”

For more advice on green energy matters contact Ron on 0845 474 6641.

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