Climate: The New Protagonist in History

Friday, 28 June 2013 | A Public Affair

global crisisOn the Friday, June 28th A Public Affair, host Esty Dinur was joined by Geoffrey Parker, history professor at Ohio State University and winner of the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for history. He is also the author of “Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century.”

Parker became interested in 17th century climate change through his study of the crisis during that time. He explained how different records of growing seasons, tree rings and sun spots can all point to climate trends and climatic aberrations. Specifically, he noticed a specific shift from the 1630s and 40s to the end of the century. Then, eventually, he realized that climate was perhaps an actual protagonist in history.

Global cooling in the 1600s led to a snow fall that caused a massacre in Ireland, and a failure of crops in France that led to the overthrow of King Louis XIV. Parker equated this with a Paris heat wave in 2003 which caused a spike in the European death toll, and the explosion of bread prices that led to the Arab Spring. Global warming, of course, might be seen as different from global cooling – but in reality life is supported in a very narrow temperature band and even a small difference in the average very slight average can change things drastically. Following from this, the political upheavals of the 17th century were in no small part due to the changes in climate. Parker warned, too, that we could face those same upheavals today due to a changing climate.

The biggest issue with today’s climate change, as in the seventeenth century, is the lack of preparation and the constant of denial. For example, the worst thing to do when you’re running out of resources is to make war, as war is about destruction and consumption. Instead, however, we continue doggedly to fight for resources – while consuming more of the same resources we fight for.

For the skeptics, Parker also explained how fail-safe indicators of changes in climate are insurance companies. He explained how some scientists will still claim smoking does not cause lung cancer, but the insurance companies will still charge you more for life insurance as a smoker. Similarly, if you live in Tornado Alley or along the coast, your rates are on the rise.

Listen to the entire interview:

A Public Affair
A Public Affair
Weekdays @ Noon
John Quinlan, Carousel Bayrd, Tim Hansel, Karma Chavez, Allen Ruff, & Esty Dinur
A Public Affair is WORT's daily hour-long talk program. It aims to engage listeners in a conversation on social, cultural, and political issues of importance. The guests range from local activists and scholars to notable national and international figures.

rev. 52M