Impact-Driven Category Spotlight — Eunice Newton Foote

Karthiga Ratnam
3 min readSep 18, 2021


There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there — Indira Gandhi

The extinction emergency is here. Also known as the 6th mass extinction. It's not going to be like in the movies. It's not going to be quick and devastating. It's going to be slow. Painfully slow. And one day looking back we won’t know how it happened. And yet the signs are all around us.

The planet is slowly adapting. It's changing. This change might well prove to be the death of humanity. Earth will probably live on. But it might become inhabitable for humans.

At this time I am reminded of Eunice Newton Foote. Most of us have never heard of her. She was overlooked and written off. Just like climate change. A cruel twist of irony. Eunice was a female in climate science. She was the first scientist to publish a paper on how the changes in CO2 could affect our planet’s atmosphere.

As Alanis Morissette would say -“isn’t it ironic”

Just for context. Eunice Foote was born in 1819. She was an amateur scientist and women’s rights activist. She didn’t have any “equipment” that scientists had access to back in the day. She arrived at her conclusion about CO2 in the atmosphere using a homemade science experiment.

According to the Time magazine:

“Foote arrived at her breakthrough idea through experimentation. With an air pump, two glass cylinders, and four thermometers, she tested the impact of “carbonic acid gas” (the term for carbon dioxide in her day) against “common air.” When placed in the sun, she found that the cylinder with carbon dioxide trapped more heat and stayed hot longer.”

She then wrote a paper on this. It was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting. Not by Eunice but by a male colleague.

Source —

John Tyndall. He published his paper on “Note on the Transmission of Radiant Heat Through Gaseous Bodies” three years after Eunice. His paper is more comprehensive and more accurate. It also correctly ideated the effect of Co2 and water vapor on the earth’s temperature.

So why was Eunice’s work overlooked?

According to the NY Times, Roland Jackson, a scientist, historian, and biographer of John Tyndall had this to say:

“Eunice Foote was disadvantaged not only by this lack of an academic community in America and poor communication with Europe but by two further factors: her gender and her amateur status,” Jackson wrote.

Eunice Foote was the first recorded person to have noted the connection between the variability of CO2 and water vapor on climate change.

Eunice seems to have designed the early category of climate change. Whilst she may not have gotten due credit, she made her impact silently. Makes me wonder if she had access to equipment and funding what other breakthroughs she may have had. How would it be benefited humanity?

It's sad to note that 200 years later the world hasn’t changed much. Has it? If an idea comes from a man it must be better. If a man is emotional he has a reason. If a woman is emotional she is bipolar. And so it goes. And yet. Women, children, and other marginalized communities will be the most affected by climate change.



Karthiga Ratnam

Impact-Driven Category Designer | Working group member Wicked 7