U of Virginia Professor: Global Warming Started Before Smokestacks

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People have changed the planet's climate, warming the atmosphere by churning out greenhouse gases.

But that process didn't start during the Industrial Revolution. It began thousands of years ago, according to a controversial hypothesis, before anyone uttered the phrase "global warming."

The warming, triggered by a relative handful of farmers, some cutting and burning forests and others planting rice paddies, could be the best way to explain one of the strangest oddities in earth's climate record. The notion has admirers but also adamant detractors, who say it has major holes and—just as seriously—provides an excuse for skeptics of current global warming to say that climate change is a long-term trend that has little to do with car tailpipes and modern industry.

"I think the debate is good," says the man behind the idea, William F. Ruddiman, an emeritus professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia. "Weak hypotheses get knocked down right away. Ours is still drawing attention after five years, and that's a good sign." He recently co-wrote a paper in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews, adding evidence that a small, ancient population could have produced a surprisingly large amount of greenhouse gases.

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