Greenhouse: The 200-Year Story of Global Warming


305 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55054-731-3
DDC 363.738'74





Reviewed by W.J.C. Cherwinski

W.J.C. Cherwinski is a professor of history at Memorial University of
Newfoundland and the co-author of Lectures in Canadian Labour and
Working-Class History.


It is much easier to accept criticism when it is offered in a nice way
and supported by a reasoned argument. Many have taken Western society to
task for the way that industrialization has created a critical situation
due to global warming of the earth’s greenhouse. Their doom-and-gloom
predictions often fall on deaf ears, however, because the presentation
is too shrill. This book, the work of an American environmental
historian, patiently traces three inextricably interrelated developments
over the past two centuries to demonstrate that global warming is not
merely the concern of modern-day zealots and activists.

As the title indicates, Christianson’s primary focus is the idea of
the greenhouse. The greenhouse envelopes the earth and is influenced by
warming and various pollutants (natural and manmade) that the author
traces from the French mathematician Fourier to the 1997 Kyoto
Conference on Climate Change.

The book’s second, and most detailed, treatment describes the process
of industrialization (first in England, and subsequently on the
continent and North America) and the inventors and entrepreneurs who,
either consciously or unwittingly, exploited fossils fuels for
efficiency and profit. The heroes of the coal-based factory
system—among them Kay, Hargreaves, Arkwright, Crompton, and
Cartwright—are given their due attention, as are tycoons like
Carnegie, Rockefeller, Daimler, and Ford, who created our dependence on
petroleum with the internal combustion engine. The impact of both
technologies on the production of CO2 is a given throughout.

Christianson’s final theme describes the warning signs in nature that
all is not well. Like the problem and the theoretical explanation, these
signs began long ago, first with the peppered moth, which became
noticeably darker as it adapted to the industrial grime that collected
on its habitat.

The “big picture” presented in this impressive volume should serve
as a wake-up call to even the most closed-minded skeptic in the global
warming debate.


Christianson, Gale E., “Greenhouse: The 200-Year Story of Global Warming,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 18, 2024,