This morning, NPR reported on the United Nation’s recent and “sobering” new report about climate change, saying that we are doomed to live in dangerous conditions unless new technologies can remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. For anyone writing or thinking about climate change issues today, it would be worth your while to pick up Deborah Coen’s Climate in Motion: Science, Empire and the Problem of Scale. Of course, for me, the fun facts were the ones that had to do with medicine.
In the early 1900s, scientists created devices to record factors in the environment that were linked to health, such as measuring ultraviolet radiation, ozone levels, and the “feel” of temperature. Humidity was measured using none other than a strand of hair. Scientists back then realized what women have probably known for millennial: your hair gets frizzy in sticky weather. But here’s what most of us didn’t know: The way humidity effects the length of a strand of hair is standardized, meaning that you can calculate the amount of humidity based on how much hair shrinks or lengthens. It’s not willy-nilly but linked to the amount of moisture in the air. Thus came the Hair Hygrometer. Here’s a piece in Scientific American about how to make your own hair Hygrometer using rubbing alcohol, cotton and other household items.
Around the same time, scientists started to worry about the impact of deforestation, urbanization, and the draining of wetlands on climate. In other words, as Coen explains, these 19th century experts worried about the human impact on climate. Doctors, she writes, believed that climate had a powerful influence on human sexual function. Coen writes why this 19th century tumult matters today in this recent piece in The Conversation. They even prescribed climatic cures to relieve their ailments. Their fears fomented into political infighting—that often had nothing to do with the science but more to do with assumptions, egos, and short-term solutions to development. Sound familiar?