By Huck Fairman
Facing changing climates, historians, scientists and writers urge action.
It has happened before. Approximately 55 million years ago, heating up over thousands of years, the entire Earth’s climate turned tropical. The Arctic Ocean’s temperature was a sub-tropical 23 degrees celsius.
At the other extreme, the Earth has also experienced a number of Ice Ages, most recently, 3 million years ago. Comparatively, we are still in it, but in an “interglacial” period that began 11,000 years ago.
The natural causes of climate change have been variations in the amount of solar radiation reaching the planet, the varying orbit of the Earth, and/or the amount of volcano activity spewing clouds and carbon into the atmosphere, trapping heat.
But none of those warmings happened as fast as the one that human civilization, since the industrial revolution, has created.
What does the human history of climate change look like? The biblical story of Noah and his ark may be a historical story passed down through ages, reflecting a different climate and its floods.
A history of the Eastern Mediterranean world, “1177 B.C. The Year Civilization Collapsed,” by Eric Cline details how drought and a series of earth quakes destroyed cities and spread famine through Greece, Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean kingdoms or empires in the 12th century B.C. The book quotes written requests from several rulers asking neighboring states for food. But those requests were either not met, or were insufficient.
Ever-insightful Shakespeare was somehow also prescient when, in his Sonnet 64, he wrote:
… When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay,
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate
That Time will come and take my love away…
In the 1970s, approaching 50 years ago, James Hansen, then director of NASA’s Space Studies, and now at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, warned that the increasing production of CO2 and its release into our atmosphere, would begin changing our climate. He continued those warnings through the last century and into the new one.
At the end of the last century, author Salman Rushdie, in his book, “The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” took note of our changing world and urged us to awaken:
“The world is not cyclical, not eternal or immutable, but endlessly transforms itself, and never goes back, and we can assist in that transformation.
“Live on, survive, for the earth gives forth wonders. It may swallow your heart, but the wonders keep on coming. You stand before them bareheaded, shriven. What is expected of you is attention.”
Author Richard Powers’ novel, “The Echo Maker,” won the 2006 National Book Award. Amid a wealth of styles, inventive writing, and psychological insights, he added, presumably around the end of the last century and into the new one, a number of environmental observations and warnings.
“One million species heading toward extinction.”
“The river (Platte,) is being used up.”
“The flow is a quarter of what it was before development. The river slows; trees and vegetation fill in.”…
“A few more years, and we can say goodbye to something that’s been around since the Eocene.”(The Whooping Cranes.)
“He needed humans to rise to their station: conscious and godlike, nature’s one shot at knowing and preserving itself. Instead, the one aware animal in creation had torched the place.”
“He simply wanted people to be as selfless as they should be … as generous with others as nature was with them.”
In another novel, “Noah’s Children,” published ten years ago by this journalist, a fictional journalist in a town like Princeton, reflects on a beaker of water brought from a nearby lake: “… which may hold further evidence of runoff, contaminants from lawns, fields, roads, businesses, defusing as ink clouds a water glass, poisoning protozoa, rotifers, nematodes, us, befouling everything.
“… more and more studies are alerting us to climate change, to wild weather, habitat loss, extinction, and economic dislocation. A consensus of scientists warns we’re making it worse, if not causing it. By 2100 half of all species could be gone! Coasts may disappear; fish could be fished out; frogs, bees, and birds, our modern canaries in the mines, are turning up diseased, malformed, or are disappearing altogether.”
“So finally it’s struck me that people need to act; each of us doing what he or she can …”
For some time now, scientists, environmentalists, writers, and others have been alerting us to the dangerous changes we are creating. They are urging all to act, before it becomes too late.
“This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
but weep to have that which it fears to lose.”
Shakespeare. Sonnet 64