Why does that matter? Because it’s the scale of the killing that inspires the Protestants for revenge. Eight years later, Oliver Cromwell will arrive in Ireland, he will depopulate the areas with Catholics, send them beyond the Shannon River. There is a huge changeover of land ownership in Ireland that is the root of the problem in Ireland today.
IDEAS: People might read the book and say, “That was then, these things could never happen now.” What do you say to that?
PARKER: Let’s start with last [May], shall we, and the millennial floods in central Europe, for which there was very little preparation, so hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes and a number of people were killed. We could go back to Sandy, to Katrina. Natural catastrophes happen, and some countries prepare for them and some don’t.
We need to protect ourselves, and pay now to avoid paying much more later. If we don’t prepare, we will be like the 17th century. The only difference is that we have the resources to do something and they did not.
IDEAS: It seems making the necessary changes can take a long time. You write about how barriers on the Thames were first proposed after devastating floods in the 1700s, but they weren’t actually funded until 1972.
PARKER: Gradually, those opposed—shipping interests, local governments who said they can’t afford it—were overruled by the central government. It’s the Tokugawa solution. You have to accept a greater view of central government action....All over the countries of the world there is a fear of central government. It’s not unjustified. But when it comes to preparing for climate change, only big government has the resources to act in advance. That’s the dilemma we face.
IDEAS: How can history help us in terms of trying to ease resistance to central government actions?
PARKER: History is the best argument for being willing to concede a certain degree of our own autonomy for the greater good. That’s the problem with civil society, isn’t it? Hobbes and Locke both wrote about it in the 17th century, both get enshrined in the Constitution. The reason we have the Bill of Rights, the amendments, is because the Constitution was thought to give too much power to central government. But the more you look at history, the more you realize we’re in a slightly different situation with regard to the climate. The dilemma is, do we pay now to prepare or do we pay a whole lot more later to repair? It’s an individual choice. The decision in the US lies with the states. They have to accept a greater degree of intervention by the federal government.
Hillary Rosner is a science journalist based in Colorado.