Publisher: Cambridge University Press Date of Publication: 2005
Price: ISBN: 0 521 82409 5
Pages: xii + 356 Format: Hardcover

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1 - Introduction; 2 - The climate of the past 100,000 years; 3 - Life in the ice age; 4 - The evolutionary implications of living with the ice age; 5 - Emerging from the ice age; 6 - Recorded history; 7 - Our climatic inheritance; 8 - The future.



The rise in interest in global warming has had a number of knock-on effects not least the interest in recent climate events. The argument is simple, if potentially mis-guided: if we know how climate has changed in the past we can know what might happen in the future. Of course, this assumes that we have change in the business-as-usual category and not something as yet unseen. Leaving that aside, there is need to gather and present evidence of the recent past if for no other reason than it allows greater, more accurate study of the recent past. In this way, the book is part of a wider scheme to permit integrated study of our ancestors and this is the path taken here.

We open with a review of some evidence: cave paintings suggesting different biogeographies, ice cores with their isotope records and DNA hoping to bring some order to the spread of the human population (such as this study). This leads on to a discussion of the focus of the book. Chapter two sets out to show the changes in the last 100 thousand years. The reader is given an account of the ice ages and the changes seen therein but also a good review of the evidence used to reach such conclusions. Usefully, there's also a section describing how this change might have affected the people living in the areas. Chapter three adds another dimension by examining the changes to life, especially human life, during the Ice Ages. We start with an account of the major changes to climate and then switch to the expansion of the human population (the "Out of Africa" idea) and a discussion of some of the changes seen around the world at this time. There's also an examination of the 'super-volcano' that might have been responsible for dramatic climate shifts at this time. Finally, there's a look at the broader range of evidence that is now being pieced together, including studies of body lice evolution! Chapter four looks at the changes in evolution as a result of the ice age. Much of this is human but because of the change in lifestyle there's also some discussion of the way in which plants and other animals have been affected as well. Chapter five takes us beyond the ice age to the conditions which were emerging and the human responses to them. Starting with a review of physical changes globally, the discussion moves on to see the depletion of the megafauna, the rise of herding and agriculture and even the implications of 'flood myths' to our knowledge. Chapter six moves further towards our time starting with Assyria and Egypt and moving on to the Bronze Age and up to the Mayans in early AD. The links between climate and human action are made very clear as are the impacts of some of the continuing natural phenomena such as El Nino. Chapter seven is more tangential looking at the way in which human action such as warfare might have been shaped by climate. There's also a link to Diamond's thesis from his book 'Guns, Germs and Steel' which is more than appropriate given the way the argument has been developed up to this point. It also gives more than a passing reminder of earlier work by Don Arthur (Survival - English University Press 1969) which for many years was a standard reference for these issues. The final chapter looks at what this climate change information might tell us about the future.

This is a text which gives more than the title suggests. The subtitle 'the end of the reign of chaos' suggests that current patterns are stable which it is clear is very far from the case. Neither do we get a dry exposition of the latest climate data. What we do have here is a very clearly written text from a leading climate writer who is using the wealth of information we now have to link previously disparate areas with the intention of highlighting how much we are affected by climate (and still are). It brings a physical background to human development and evolution and demonstrates the holistic nature of change. As a discussion of current ideas in the field it is an excellent book which has much to recommend it.


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