The extraordinary ways weather has changed human history

Fascinating interview of Andrew Revkin who has written this book on history of weather. I mean how little we know of fundamental things such as weather which pretty much shape everything around us.

I think that most of us feel like we’re pretty much in control most of the time. But one thing we can’t control is the weather. How much has weather determined the course of human history?

On every level, climate change on long time scales has really powerfully shaped human history; it’s in the section in the book on the exodus from Africa. People at Columbia and other universities looked at things like seabed records in the Red Sea or near North Africa and found that there’s sort of a wobbling weather pattern over time. The Sahara Desert, as National Geographic has written about many times, was sometimes grassland and green. There are stone carvings there, people and paintings of people swimming in lakes in the Sahara.

Weather shapes our communities and our responses to the environment in different ways. The Dust Bowl was a long and extraordinary drought, with human landscape changes exacerbating the conditions to create the dust. And that had a pretty transformational impact that reverberated for a long time.

Talk about the role of weather in the outcome of conflict. Can you explain that?

Weather has influenced wars throughout history. For the book, we chose a World War II example: Russia and winter. Winter was always Russia’s biggest ally. Anyone who tried to invade Russia near winter, if they didn’t get the job done quickly, they were going to be in deep trouble.

When the Spanish Armada tried to attack England, it was stray changes in the winds that favored England and contributed to the defeat of the Spaniards. There are more examples throughout history.

There are some really strange ways that weather has messed with us through the ages; most bizarre to me in the book was the hail story. Apparently, hail can commit mass murder.

There is this one mysterious case high in the Himalayas where someone looked into a lake and found a horrific scene of slaughtered people preserved there. The presumption was that it was warfare. But then a crew of scientists from National Geographic took a closer look at the forensic analysis. All the wounds were from the top down, from some large kind of object, and the presumption was that it was hail. There was nothing around to indicate it was a weapon. You think about hurricanes and flooding, but hail causes some of the biggest financial losses every year, very consistently, in the United States.

Should try get a copy of the book.

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