Civilisation and Climate

A review of Historical Perspectives of Climate Change by James Fleming

It is the Greens’ wont to abandon all advance of modern civilisation and return us to the Middle Ages!

The Greens want us to abandon civilisation, so it is often proclaimed. In fact, reducing fossil fuel usage and the promotion of renewable energy sources will have no such effect. But nor will they prevent the release into the carbon cycle of all that long-buried carbon. And so they will not stop the marvellous and manifold slow-burn that on the one hand keeps modern civilisation purring along, while on the other hand (so they say) is slowly destroying it.

The reasons that the release of all this buried carbon will not be stopped with the implementation of climate change policy are mostly technological: no renewable process is even close to substituting for base-load coal-powered plants; there is no renewable substitute for the high energy mass transportation arcing across the globe day and night burning avgas; neither for base-load nor transportation are we even close to a carbon-capture burning process; nor is anyone daring to tell the Saudi’s to plug their oil wells and get back on their camels.

Thus, all and any action on climate change that has been placed upon the table for serious consideration will only ever slow down the release of the buried carbon, and so only slow the warming by a few decades or so. Otherwise we can say (if we permit a little poetic licence) that indeed we should say good-bye to modern civilisation …and back to the Middle Ages we go…

The easily discernible mismatch of the policy rationale with the outcomes of the proposed policies has prompted many attempts to explain the (coalescence of) motivations otherwise. Indeed, some Greens do have a hippy-ideal of a semi-subsistent agrarian future, however impractical such a transformation of our cities – our civil-ization – might be. A more moderate explanation is that renewables are a good thing for other reasons (environmentally, politically), and that this AGW scare (consciously or unconsciously) serves but to facilitate our inevitable transition to them. More sinister is that vested interests (in more nuclear power, more taxes, more power to the environment industry etc) are harnessing and exciting genuine concern in a Baptists and Bootleggers kind of way.


James Fleming

James Fleming as he appears on his Classic Articles site (link)

However we may come to understand what is going on in this controversy, we can always return to the fact that the AGW scare is grounded in an argument giving that, by way of the environment, civilisation is impacting profoundly upon itself (even upon its civilised appreciation of the beauty of nature). This is familiar to us in the pollution campaigns of the 1960s and 70s, but it does pay to go back much further than this and compare the current movement with earlier episodes of western environmentalism during previous centuries.

One of the rewarding features of Fleming’s Historical Perspectives on Climate Change comes where Fleming draws our attention to the all-but-forgotten environmental debates of these past centuries, where climate also came into play with claims of civilisation’s affect upon civilisation. Fleming gives particular attention to the 18th century debate of, and mostly in, the America colonies, where many scientists and learned gentlemen were persuaded to the idea of anthropogenic climate change. The difference with today is that the effect was seen as not global but local, and (at least in the debate Fleming cites) moderating and beneficial. Civilisation had a civilising effect on climate.

Yes, we have been through this all before! Differently we travel but across the same terrain. And herein is the redemption the historical perspective affords: whenever you get sucked up into the novelty of the present, the history comes up sobering, grounding. It is to Fleming’s credit that he began to dig under the surface so early, and went to press with this major study in 1998, even if this was too late for AGW’s political triumph at Kyoto.

This is not to say that Fleming presents a sceptic’s view. On the contrary, as we shall see, and like Spencer Weart (reviewed here), his primary interested in exploring the history of climate change science is to trace the history of the discovery of AGW. But nor is Fleming a toady to the Warmists. And he presents his book against any historiography fawning to the present dogma.

Not only does Fleming takes the history back further than Weart, and beyond the CO2 story, but at the latter-end he is more cautious about interpreting recent events. Where Weart ends his 2003 edition with the (now tarnished) triumph of the Hockey Stick Graph just two years earlier, Fleming choses to conclude his essays a generation back in 1958 – the very year when empirical climatic research was transformed by a massive funding boost prompted with the pronouncement of the International Geophysical Year. Thus, Historical Perspectives on Climate Change winds up well before the warming alarm emerged from the rabble of global environmental concern in the 1980s; that is, well before the IPCC was born and the expression, ‘Climate Change’, meaningfully contracted as the new catch-phrase to define our imminent self-imposed climatic catastrophe. In this way Fleming gives not so much a history of Climate Change Science but rather he offers some fresh perspectives by invoking its pre-history.

Fleming does not leave the recent anthropogenic debate entirely alone, but where he touches it there is more than a hint of cautious diplomacy. Consider how he introduces the short epilogue, ‘Global Cooling, Global Warming,’ by offering ‘only the briefest sketch of the global cooling scare after 1958 and the return of the global warming discourse in the 1980s.’ Here a break in the rhythm of the sentence draws attention to the use of ‘scare’ to describe one, but not the other, fluctuation in sentiment; and so prompting the question: Will historical hindsight reveal the current ‘discourse’ as but another of these ‘scares’? Then, in a rare personal note he recounts how he was once asked after a seminar: As a historian, could you predict the eventual demise of today’s global change discourse, since there have been so many changes in the past? He responded that while history can provide new perspectives, it has no predictive power. ‘History‘ says Fleming ‘is first and foremost the study of change.’ He continues:

For students of global change, history can serve as an inspirational story of how far we have come. It can also serve as a humbling reminder that change is indeed inevitable in our lives, in the Earth systems, and in our ideas and institutions.’ [129-30]

In other words, it is up to the reader to decide how to interpret and evaluate the present in terms of the past. Perhaps this is why I can agree with Mike Hulme in not much else (see here and here) but that on this topic Fleming’s remains the finest single account. His coverage of the greenhouse story in a set of distinct essays on Fourier, on Tyndall and Arrhenius, and on Callendar and AGW debate of the mid 20th century (titled: ‘Global Warming?‘), is exemplary (and note also his Biography of Callendar). This is much less of a valedictory speech than we find elsewhere, and indeed I would not do these stories justice by recounting them here (and anyway much of this ground is already covered by my review of Weart). The same may be said for his concise account of the development of early global weather data collection networks. Instead, it afford a more interesting discussion for us to cast the sceptical gaze over Fleming’s account of the emergence of competing theories of climate changes and their impact on civilisation. In that way I hope Fleming and I together can offer the reader new perspectives on the current controversy over civilisation’s impact on climate (as per the remit of IPCC Working group I) and climate’s impact on civilisation (Working Group II).

Environmental Determinism in the Enlightenment

Fleming begins his exploration of western climate science with Enlightenment ideas about the influence of the environment on the character of man, nation and culture. Among the 18th century literati there is a strong current of what we have come to called ‘Environmental Determinism,’ and here climate often takes centre stage. The quality of the air, whether damp or dry, stagnant or fresh, influences the character and behaviour of the people who live there, and this reflects the level of civilisation they tend to attain. In good climates the physical man and civilisation thrive, while in poor climates then are underdeveloped or diminishing. Thus, Europeans travelling to the new world were cautioned on the detrimental effects of poor climates, or of climates alien to those in which their nation grew and thrived. What exactly is going on here? What is driving this thinking?

It is difficult to answer these questions when this discussion is taken out of its milieu. And we should pause to consider the ideological context because it continues to influence later debates as we move into science that is more recognizably modern.

In the Christian tradition there are two ways by which we can explore our connection to the divine source, inwardly through the spirit, and outwardly through our bodily experience of the divine creation. That the empirical science movement of the late 17th century emphasised the outward much more in dogma than in practices is well demonstrated by the promotion to the Anglophiles of France of a Newtonian physics (with its grounding in the inward principles of mathematics) packaged in John Locke’s extreme empiricism (All from the senses! There no innate ideas! Outward). This contradiction between the propaganda of science and its actual practices is one of the tensions at the heart of what became known as the Enlightenment, and we still feel it today. The problem of man’s place as observer and of this observer’s very being in this divided science is another tension of Western thought, the history of which goes back at least to Aristotle’s rejection of Plato’s ontological ground in his pure mathematical forms.

During the brief Florentine Renaissance, the young Count Pico della Mirandola had come up with the idea that while in the hierarchy of being man is based in his bodily nature, his psyche places him between the physical and the angelic. And so while he could tend either way, his divine purpose is to wilfully uplift himself towards the angelic realm. This kind of thinking is behind notions of cultural advancement in the Enlightenment, including hierarchies of culture from primitives (close to the natural state) to the city cultures with their contemplative scholars (close to the divine). With his doctrine of predestination, Luther (and Calvin) had rejected the renaissance idea (of Pico, Erasmus etc) of our wilful freedom to determine our own destiny. While Romanticism would not so much as attack this hierarchy but engage with it anew.

Now, if we return to what is now called ‘Environmental Determinism,’ we find that it is mostly about how our creaturely nature is fundamental to our way of physical being. Fleming quotes various proclamations of an extreme climatic determinist, a little known Frenchman, Espiard, as giving that the climate is the most fundamental cause of  national character. But if Espiard were a Huguenot then he is not giving it away here, and we should be careful not to take Flemings use of ‘determinism’ too strongly, especially given its usual derogatory connotations. Fleming does not mean that these determinists give that the environment is the only influence on the race, nation and culture, nor that mankind is entirely a prisoner of its influence. This becomes clear in his section on Montesquieu, who is introduced as the most famous and influential environmental determinist of the Enlightenment. But his determinism is undoubtedly qualified:

While for Montesquieu climate was the first of all the empires, it was not the only one. Human ingenuity and effort in areas such as education, government, medicine, and agriculture could overcome the negative influence of climate.

For today, we might add to this list what we now call ‘climate control,’ that is, heating and air conditioning! Sounding more like Pico than Luther, Fleming gives Montesquieu the last word:

Man is not simply subject to the necessity of nature; he can and should shape his own destiny as a free agent, and bring about his destined and proper future. [p17]

Anthropogenic Climate Change in the 18th Century

It is in his discussion of the climate debate of colonial North America during the 18th century that Fleming properly addresses the early debates over anthropogenic climate change. The story goes that, because the colonies had gained a reputation of harsh climatic extremes, apologetics developed to counter these perceptions. One of these was to concede that, while indeed the climate had been harsh for the pioneers, it was now moderated and moderating due to the influence of civilisation. Fleming:

Responding to early disillusionment and the contempt of the European naturalists, they firmly believed that improvements wrought by settlement – clearing of forests, draining the marches, cultivating the fields – were causing rapid and dramatic changes in the climate.

It is mainly by the replacement of the (dank and gloomy) forests with (open and light) cultivation that the climate is becoming less harsh, healthier for the body and better for farming. Fleming shows how this doctrine – promoted by scientists and in scientific publication upon (fragmentary) evidence of (dubious) causations – was most resilient. With its origins early in the 17th century, it persisted, despite sustained attack, beyond the war of independence and into the 19th century, where we find Thomas Jefferson continuing to defend it; in fact his advocacy of accurate and consistent measurement of weather was so as to settle the matter in its favour.

The first sceptic to make significant inroads into this dogma was Noah Webster, publishing right at the end of the 18th century. He not only attacks anthropogenic climate change, but also the very notion that there had been any climate change at all. Thus, not only was he facing up to the anthropogenic theory of Jefferson and other patriots, but also against the fame of Jean-Baptiste Dubos, Comte de Buffon, David Hume, and of late, the Roman historian Edward Gibbon, for their suggesting that the climate of Europe had change since Roman times. (Writing in and around the Little Ice Age, they mostly proposed that the winters must have been less severe in Roman times). Webster attacks their use of historical accounts as supposed evidence of a general climatic conditions, ridiculing their gullibility in generalising from particular and perhaps embellished reports and memories of what is likely exceptional if it be worthy of remark.  His criticism of the anthropogenic hypothesis was not against how farmers might moderate the micro-climate (by introducing sunlight with the removal of trees or by calming the wind with windbreaks), but that he could find no evidence of major climatic change in either Europe or North America.

But then of course in 1799 there was not much evidence to go by. By the 19th century it was a different story, with some substantial time-series of instrumental data now available, and the debate became informed with statistical meteorology. The meteorologist Charles Schott compiled charts of rainfall and temperature going back nearly 100 years and used these to show no permanent change in the climate. (It is interesting to note here that the increasing heat of expanding towns was in fact one local anthropogenic change that sceptics conceded, and this was altogether uncontroversial, whereas now its has become controversial, not because of disagreement about this local anthropogenic effect, but because its precise magnitude is critical for removing a false indication of a global effect.)

Fleming finishes his survey of the sceptical assault upon the supposition of climate change with an article published by Cleveland Abbe in 1889 entitled ‘Is Our Climate Changing? By this stage, what Abbe called ‘rational climatology’ could conclude that, as Fleming puts it, ‘the old debate of climate change is finally settled.’ The evidence showed that no important climatic change has yet been demonstrated since human history began. For Fleming, the scientific debate was settled and (as his the chapter title says) ‘climate discourse transformed.’ The statistical meteorologists had completed the shift from literary to empirical studies of climate, from impressionistic evidence to statements of fact, from dim apprehensions to a recognizable modern climatology. [p53]

Indeed this shift was a significant advance towards a more exacting evidence-based science, but was this fledgling statistical climatology advanced enough to settle this debate? Cleveland Abbe had 24 years of climate data from 3 German cities. He admits the problems of variability introduced by instrument breakage, changes in exposure due to vegetation or buildings, observer error, etc. The error that these problems introduce partly contributes to his accounting as insignificant the observed variability of 0.4 degrees. Indeed, but is this or even Schott’s evidence enough to generalisation globally and across all historical time? What is most striking is Abbe’s circular definition of climate as ‘the average about which the temporary conditions permanently oscillate; it assumes and implies permanence.

Fleming’s discussion of the controversial emergence of statistical climatology was of particular interest to me for it enlightens some of Hubert Lamb’s ideas on how to explain the resilience, especially among meteorologists, of the dogma of natural climate stability. Lamb cites the unfortunate circumstance that when statistical analysis began in the late 19th century it looked back to the beginning of the record late in the previous century – which just happened to be experiencing a similar climate. He also notes the convenience of the presumption of climate stability for statistical analysis, and how this presumption had allowed meteorologists to take a given period of 30 years, find its average and variance, and them confidently pronounce on probabilities, even of 1 in 100 year events. It is just as Cleveland Abbe says: the statistician’s definition of climate assumes its permanence.

This also explains something else that is striking when reading the history of this science. Unlike Webster, writing in 1799, Schott and Abbe were working during the geology’s extraordinary coming-of-age, when the evidence of climate change across geological time was becoming most persuasive. In fact, by 1889, when Abbe’s article was published, evidence had already emerging that at least 2 but maybe 4 or more waves of glaciation had crept out and back across the northern continents. Cleveland Abbe does in fact conceded climate change in geological time, but not in historical times. OK, let’s leave Abbe aside for the moment and consider whether historical climate change would have been a reasonable scientific hypothesis at this time. It had long been proposed, and historical evidence (however dubious) had been advanced in its support. Now, with the geology telling of long cycles of cooling and warming, what would be so unreasonable about proposing smaller fluctuation in between? Given the evidence around at the time, one does wonder in hindsight why there was so much resistance to the idea of a naturally fluctuating climate. Only if you begin with Abbe’s circular definition of climate can you be persuaded that the likes of his 4 and 20 years in 3 northern cities can say anything about what was happening to the climate south of the Alps 2000 years earlier. Indeed, there is evidence in the history of this science of repeated and persistent resistance to considering this possibility. And some of this evidence is in the very historiography of the science.

Writing in 2003, Spencer Weart describes how 1965 was the turning point. It was at a conference on climatic change in Boulder Colorado that the interest began to switch from geological change to change in recent times. I don’t doubt that this was true for many of the participants Weart interviewed. But this cannot be the whole story, for where does that place Hubert Lamb’s monumental contribution to the study of historical climatic change? Lamb began publishing his research in the 1950s and it attracted so much interest that The Climatic Research Unit was established with the view to continue and expand this new field. Yet Lamb does not rate a mention in either Fleming or Weart’s histories. Now, if we go back to Lamb’s early writing, we find him in 1959 recounting that the switch to recognition of recent and historical climatic change came about in the 1940s. Indeed, that was surely the horizon of his youthful epiphany. Elsewhere Lamb tells of how (before he made his  own contribution) C E P Brooks’ Climate Through the Ages was something of a standard. In the 1950s Lamb was probably using the 1949 2nd edition. Already in the 1st edition of 1926, and in the earlier The Evolution of Climate of 1922, Brooks tells of yet another sea-change moment. This was an international geological conference in Stockholm in 1910….

There does appear to be a pattern here. Within each generation of researchers the science of natural climatic variation is excitedly rediscovered, only to again slip away. What this repeated forgetting suggests is hard to say, but it does prompt comparison with a similar forgetting of recent times. Natural fluctuations of climate are well remembered in the 1st IPCC report of 1990. There Lamb’s work informs a discussion of the  Medieval Warming, the Little Ice Age and the possibility that some of the recent warming trend could be the continuing recovery from the Little Ice Age. It ends with the warning: it is important to recognise that natural variations of climate are appreciable and will modulate any future changes induced by man [203]. But by the 3rd Report in 2001, with its Hockey Stick and all, there seems to be a move down once again into the cycle of forgetting.

The Scientific Confirmation of Climatic Variability in Historical Times

Exploring this cycle the other way, by taking Brooks’ lead, we arrive at the source. There we do not discover the literary studies of armchaired savants pouring over the impressionistic evidence of fabulous Roman histories. And nor do we find meteorologists extrapolating from meager and flawed weather data. What we find instead are small groups of Swedish, Austrian and American scientists out there in the field discovering new ingenious techniques for gathering evidence previously thought unattainable.

De Geer and members of the 1920 North American Expedition

Gerard De Geer (2nd from left) with Ernst Antevs (right) on an expedition to North America in 1920. Ernst Antevs carried out extensive varve work on the North American continent. (link to source)

Imagine, if you will, this 1910 conference in Stockholm presided over by Gerard De Geer, the discoverer of varves, when he sets the tone with a paper entitled ‘A Geochronology of the Last 12000 years.’  Brooks was clearly inspired by the entire conference, and he presents his entire account of historical climate change as little more than a summary of the papers presented at this conference. Brooks tells us that previously it was generally believed that variation of climate came to an end with the last Ice Age…

…But since the geological deposits undoubtedly point to changes of climate, slight indeed in comparison with the preceding ice-age, but still marked enough to leave their traces permanently written on the face of the earth, the unvarying climate of history is evidently a myth.

He explaining how the supposed beginning of “the period of unchanging climate” has advanced later and later before the attacks of geologists, but then meanwhile a different, and on the whole more logical, view has arisen, which was:

…that the present does not differ from the past, that variations of climate are still in progress, which are similar in kind, though not in extent, to the climatic vicissitudes of the ice-age. [p321-2]

There is much that can and should be said about this research to which Brooks refers, some of it well underway before the turn of the century, but  let us briefly consider one of these scientists, the Austrian, Eduard Brückner, for he also provides a new perspective on the anthropogenic debate.

We have already gleaned from Fleming the emergence of the argument that deforestation and settlement improves the climate, and how this was roundly refuted by the statistical meteorologists. But before these attacks, a second anthropogenic argument had emerged in direct contradiction to the first. It came with a push for the conservation of woodlands. The climatic argument was that forests actually promote rainfall, and it cites a causal mechanism that deferred back to the scientific discovery of the enormous expiration rates of trees. (Richard Grove in Green Imperialism gives an extensive account of this theory and its various associations with Romanticism, the origins of the modern environmentalism and with anxiety over a shortage of quality timber.)

Thus, by the late 19th century there are now two competing theories of anthropogenic climatic change directly opposed both in their policy implications and in the effect that deforestation has (especially) on rainfall. And then the statistical meteorologists step in and say Hang On! the numbers are actually showing that there has been no significant change at all. This is how it was when Brückner’s Klimaschwankungen seit 1700 (‘Climate Change Since 1700′) was published in 1890. Brückner sets the scene of this 3-sided debate with a length and sometimes comical review of the research on all sides. Then, finally, he steps in and offers the possibility that they might all be right.

This is how he does it: firstly he dismisses the idea of progressive climate change in one direction only, and replaces it with the idea of climate fluctuations. Then he shows how both sides of the anthropogenic debate are often indeed detecting climatic change, but at different times and in different directions. When they witness wetter conditions locally (associating this either with local deforestation or reforestation) it is because at that time there is a general wetter-cooler climatic change evident across the temperate zones of both Europe and America. And, likewise, for those that find evidence of dryer-hotter conditions locally (upon local deforestation or reforestation), this is because at that time there is a general dryer-hotter trend. And where no trend is found? This is because (as Lamb would note in hindsight) there is no general trend across that time period.

Resolving this debate is only one of the applications of the main argument of what seems to be the first major work ever published on historical climatology. Brückner’s thesis is that the global climate cycles from wetter-colder periods to dryer-warmer periods repeating somewhat erratically every 20 to 50 years. This is supported by evidence obtained by the newly invented techniques for establishing the past advance and retreat of alpine glaciers, and for establishing past levels of lake, as well as historical documents and the instrument data from both hemispheres.

Another pioneer in historical Climatology, Ellsworth Huntington, is not at all overlooked by Fleming, indeed a whole chapter is dedicated to him. However, the treatment is most unflattering, and the discussion of the climatology is almost entirely distracted by Fleming’s unrestrained disapproval of the values apparent behind some of Huntington’s related research. I have no interest here in rehabilitating the reputation of this man, who has indeed allowed his science to be infected by the racial chauvinism of his time, but it would be a travesty of history not to recognise his contribution to historical climatology.

While travelling with an expedition through central Asia it struck Huntington, as it had struck many before him, how some of the very first civilisations lay in ruin in regions that are now desert. The evidence was convincing that these regions had been wetter in these former times. At first Huntington accounted for this by subscribed to the theory of global desiccation: the world has been slowly drying out since the end of the last ice age. But then other evidence, including drowned ruins in the Caspian Sea, pointed to periods in the past that were dryer than today. This led him to the hypothesis of climatic pulsations. Much as the glaciations advanced and retreated across geological time, so too, across the centuries of historical time, we find evidence of milder fluctuations, where the storm zones circling the North Pole advanced and retreated across the margins of the desert zones. When advanced, northern parts can become too wet for agrarian civilisation, but the desert fringes can become optimal for agrarian-based settlement.

A E Douglass

A E Douglass, the pioneer of dendrochronology, used his work to try to establish a correlation between climate fluctuations and sunspot cycles

After first proposing this explanation in his The Pulse of Asia (1907) – upon what he later admits was flimsy evidence – Huntington went about collecting data from North Africa, Central Asia and North America…and this lead him to collaborations with A E Douglass the founder of dendrochronology. The tree-ring analysis assisted in the dating of the construction of abandoned settlements in the deserts of North America, but more significant was the analysis of the ancient giant Redwoods of California, which provided a new means for Huntington to identify climatic fluctuations of the semi-arid regions far back through the historical period. And so with Brückner, De Geer, Huntington and others, knowledge of the variations in climate across the Holocene began to develop. And of course, as with the ice ages, many theories of causation emerged.

Free Will and Determinism

Now that we have brought the science of climatic fluctuations back into the picture, let us review this history of Climate Change Science up to where it stood just a century ago. First we had the civilising theory – we improve our climate for the better by removing the forests. The sentiment is that civilising is good for civilisation, and the policy implication is, of course, to continue the unrestrained deforestation. Then, after a while comes the counter-claim that we degenerate our climate by deforestation, that the civilising process can be detrimental to civilisation, and so we should mend our ways to limit deforestation and preserve the forests. The meteorologists step in and say, well, whatever your persuasion, climate change has nothing to do with it, because the climate does not change anyway. Finally there is the theory that seemed, in hindsight and upon the science (to this writer at least), the most convincing; and yet it is also the one that keeps slipping out of the mainstream thinking. This is that, yes, the climate is changing, but no, we can’t control it. Should we wish to speculate that down through the centuries these debates have been driven by those sentiments to which they have affinity, then the sentimental affinity of the two anthropogenic theories, are apparent: the one is in affinity with the pioneering spirit, while the other with the spirit of conservation. But what is the affinity of the one that keeps slipping off the scene?

Brückner, Huntington and Lamb all advance their investigations into the impacts of climate change. And where they do it is not a pretty sight. Climate change is implicated in droughts, famines, plague, barbarian invasions and the decline and death of entire civilisations. It is implicated by Brückner and Lamb in events as late as the Irish potato famine, and wax and wane of the settlement of America. While the settlers in the American mid-west are boasting that rain follows the plow, Brückner is warns that the current climate optimum now driving forward the limits of settlement might soon end, resulting in lots of anguish and pain. The implication of natural climate change theory is that climate will surely shift, and sometimes with devastation implications…and there is nothing you can do about it. Scary stuff. Compare this to the redemption story of the forest conservation: It is getting bad…but we can change it. And isn’t this the same with AGW? Consider the popularity of the idea that we have a CO2 emissions thermostat: We can control the temperature…if only we control our emissions. And this was not some fringe idea dreamt up by some extreme soapbox alarmists, instead it has been promoted by some of the leading scientists, such as James Hansen and Mike Hulme (as discussed here).

The greens don’t want us to abandon civilisation, they just want us all to jump on their redemption train. This desire is so strong that it doesn’t matter if the science doesn’t add up, nor if the policy proposals don’t match the science. Let’s jump on their train for a moment, take up their cry — We can and should control our climate destiny — with all its emotional impetus, and consider how these natural climate change folks appear from this position. They are fatalistic determinists. They must know (as we do) that climate change will cause civilisation to collapse and we look out at them in their denial, with our disgust, as they carry on with the destruction…of our civilisation.

Huntington might have said that climate is but one of 3 main factors shaping the character of nations, and instead of arguing the point, we reject him as this quirky comical bad-guy, as a climate determinist. Brückner, Huntington and Lamb all came to the conclusion that climate and climate change are factors influencing the history of civilisation, and in this way their investigations inform the study of ‘the impacts of climate changes.’  Should not the prognostics of the AGW impacts be something of an extension of this? They are not. It’s all about the modelling. We circle clear of this historical stuff because it serves a story of fatalism where we cannot determine our own destiny.

What this longer view of the controversy might be revealing, is that one of its main drivers is a very base tension coursing deep through our culture: Could it be that this supposed conflict over the scientific interpretation of the evidence has always been defined by our sentimental attachments to either free will or determinism on the question of the fate of civilisation? Perhaps, with this Climate Change Science, modern sciences has degenerated, if not to Savonarola and his redemptive bonfires, then it has returned us to Erasmus vs. Luther and all that…

We can’t determine our destiny, for it’s in the hands of God.

Oh yes we can!



On this Classic Articles site, James Fleming has assembled a collection of key articles tracing the history Climate Change with an emphasis on Anthropogenic Greenhouse Warming.

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4 thoughts on “Civilisation and Climate

  1. Bernie, this is a superb piece of work and I have just recommended it to readers of Judith Curry’s blog. Thanks so much for spending a lot of time and thought on producing this, which is available at no cost (or reward to you) to anyone with an internet connection.

  2. A must read!
    The major problem with the ‘redemptionist’ recommendations this time around is that they will cripple the adaptation capacities of the world’s economies. So they amount to ‘deconstructionism’!

  3. We can’t determine our destiny, for it’s in the hands of God.
    Oh yes we can!

    In other words, this is basically a religious argument.
    They have decided there is no God, based basically on this argument:
    There is no God.
    And you must believe me because.
    I am God.

    That latter statement must be true if the other statements are to be true, after all, why should I beleive you about the first statements, simply because you say so? The first statements can only be true if you came MAKE them true, which you can only do if you are God. Of course, if I believe you, I must then disbelieve you, since you just told me you don’t exist. Oh well.

    But seriously, they have decided there is no God based entirly on their say so (you really can’t prove the idea “there is no God”). They like there to be no God because they want to be God. They thus tend to gravitate toward philosophies that support this. One of those is that idea that mankind alone is in total control of our environment. The global warming idea is all that. They thus reject, emotionally (just look at their reactions) to any idea that suggests that nature is doing it. Anyone who disagrees is a heritic. They also like to be the one to tell you what you must do to appease the new Gods, pay tiths (carbon taxes, higher utility bills etc) and do penence (reduce your carbon footprint, or in other words, give up little things like fire and the wheel). They are the ones to tell you what you may or may not do, they like that godlike feeling this gives them.

    Bow to your new God.

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