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Friday, January 12, 2007
Climate over the centuries
In the new issue of the Times Literary Supplement, there appears an interesting review-essay by John North on the topic of climate change. But wait, it's not what you think. This piece concerns the climate history that stretches back many thousands of years, a story that puts today's situation rather in perspective, if not in a cheery way.
Two things North gleans from the books under review: One is that the tale of the scientists and anthropologists who filled out the history of man on earth is a story of "the excitement of the chase for evidence." The other is that those researchers could tell us that the earth has proven itself alternately hospitable and inhospitable to human beings since long before we started affecting the weather. Discussing Chris Stringer's "Homo Britannicus," North writes:
Stringer, by aiming at as complete a history as possible, puts us well and truly in our place. Human absence is as important to his story as human presence. Climate change has meant that while there were tropical periods in which hippos swam in the Thames, there were other periods when the advancing ice left a terrain fit only for such hardy mammals as reindeer, mammoths and woolly rhinos. The underlying message is that our occupancy of these islands cannot be guaranteed for ever.