Google Books Ngram Viewer was released today and is being heralded as a new tool to peer into our collective social conscious (whatever that is). Basically, Google has scanned zillions of books and created a database of all the words they contain. This data base allows anyone to search for a specific word or phrase and see how often it comes up (as a fraction of all words written in books).
Below are a few graphs that seemed interesting, where I was looking for terms that are often used in academic discussions of the "global environment". I'm not sure exactly what these tell us, but I think they're fun to look at.
Words related to global climate change seem to have exploded in the late 80's. But the "greenhouse effect", which actually describes the scientific concept underlying the issue, seems to have peaked early. Meanwhile "albedo", which is just the scientific term for the reflectivity of the surface (an important parameter in climate dynamics) was moderately popular long before warming was an issue and hasn't grown in usage with the other terms.
If we look at a few terms that describe human developments, "industrialization" grew early and fast, peaking in the 60's and then declining. Meanwhile the "green revolution" gained notice as it was occurring in the 70's, but never was widely discussed. "Globalization" and "sustainable development" grew together at almost identical rates in the 80's and 90's. I think the original synchrony of those two terms in the "collective consciousness" is something quite meaningful, actually, although they diverge later.