Summary and Info
We often do not appreciate how ideas and concepts originated and evolved to our own time. "Climate change" is one such concept, known to all as something with which humanity must contend, but there is little appreciation of how ideas associated with it, and their connotations, have unfolded over time. "Historical Perspectives on Climate Change" offers a most useful tutorial on this subject. Written in an accessible manner by a skillful historian of meteorology, this short book (only 194 pages) offers an insightful overview of the history of how Western Civilization has understood changes in the climate. Fleming presents what would be best called essays on various episodes in the history of the scientists and other scholars who have theorized and experimented on climate change. He concentrates on the period since the Enlightenment, in which the scientific method took hold in the systematization of knowledge about the natural world, presenting a chronological account of this important subject.
Fleming discusses briefly earlier conceptions of the global environment, but it is with the dawning of Enlightenment thought that modern conceptions began to emerge. He focuses attention on the efforts of Thomas Jefferson and others to collect data and to make sense of their meteorological readings. Especially important was the belief that the Earth may be cooling, portending another ice age, and efforts to understand how and why changes in the climate might be taking place. Common conceptions of the time suggested that the combination of the Earth's hot core, changes in the sun's heat, the tilt of the Earth, and other factors probably accounted for fluctuations in the climate. Not until the work of Joseph Fourier in the nineteenth century did conditions of the atmosphere seriously enter into the equation. Others explored in detail the chemical composition of the atmosphere, the role of carbon dioxide in effecting climate change, and the place of humans in altering the environment. This led to the conclusion that the Earth is warming, and it is doing so in part because of the actions of humans on the surface. The author explores this issue in detail, and comments on some of the schemes to mitigate that warming.
Much of Fleming's work is biographical in emphasis and his portraits of key figures in this research area are fascinating. T.C. Chamberlin, Guy Stuart Callendar, Ellsworth Huntington, and Roger Revelle all emerge as towering figures in the history of climate change research. Several of them, furthermore, emerge as characters of many parts with strong appetites for fame, authority, and accomplishment.
This is a valuable introduction to a subject of real importance. Enjoy!
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