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A Cultural History of Climate

ISBN: 978-0-7456-4528-5
280 pages
December 2009, Polity
A Cultural History of Climate  (0745645283) cover image

Description

Global warming and the future of the climate is one of the greatest challenges of our time, but what do we know about climate variations 500 years ago, or 5000 years ago? How can we know anything at all about the history of weather? What impact have climate changes had on human prosperity and the spirit of invention?

In this major new book Wolfgang Behringer introduces us to the latest historical research on the development of the earth's climate. He focuses above all on the cultural reactions to climate change through the ages, showing how even minor changes in the climate sometimes resulted in major social, political and religious upheavals. By examining how our predecessors responded to climate changes, Behringer provides us with a fresh basis for thinking about how we might address the serious climatic challenges we face today.

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Table of Contents

Preface vii

Introduction 1

1. What Do We Know about the Climate? 8

Sources of Climate History 8

Causes of Climate Change 14

The Palaeoclimate since the Formation of the Planet 20

2. Global Warming: The Holocene 31

Children of the Ice Age 31

Global Warming and Civilization 39

From Roman Optimum to Medieval Warm Period 60

3. Global Cooling: The Little Ice Age 85

The Concept of the Little Ice Age 85

The Changing Environment 88

Dance of Death 103

Winter Blues 115

4. Cultural Consequences of the Little Ice Age 121

The Wrathful God 121

Sin Economics as the Motor of Change 133

The Cool Sun of Reason 146

5. Global Warming: The Modern Warm Period 168

Apparent Uncoupling from the Forces of Nature 168

The Discovery of Global Warming 182

Reactions to Climate Change 191

6. Epilogue: Sins against the Environment and Greenhouse Climate 206

Notes 218

Further reading 262

Index 264

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Author Information

Professor of History and Chair of Early Modern History at Saarland University, Germany
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Reviews

"The reaction of societies to environmental change in this thoroughly research and insightful book is presented in a highly readable way, whether Behringer is dealing with the Medieval Warm Period and wine harvest data, or with the Little Ice Age and the rise of the Dutch genre of winter landscape painting."
Sociology

"[E]xcellent ... I strongly recommend A Cultural History of Climate ... It is particularly strong on explaining the dramatic cultural and social changes that climate variations have had on humanity over the last thousands of years, and discussing the archival and physical evidence in a very compelling way."
Socialist Unity

"A daring account of the ways in which climate has influenced the human story ... he proves beyond any sensible doubt that climate has helped shape human history. BOOK OF THE MONTH."
Geographical

"Behringer's cultural history of climate shows that today's concern with global warming is only the latest example of humankind's preoccupation with weather and climate. He provides a careful and realistic view of the reaction of societies to environmental change."
J. Donald Hughes, University of Denver

"Today we may worry about global warming and climate change, but our ancestors coped with plenty of dramatic climate change too – this is the central theme of Behringer's arresting global study of human responses to changing climate since our species appeared on earth. Not all readers will share his sanguine tone but they will find this extensively researched book consistently provocative and insightful, whether it's dealing with wine harvest data, adoption of heavier clothing, the great ice age or the Dutch genre of winter landscape painting."
Peter Coates, University of Bristol

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