Plows, plagues, and petroleum : how humans took control of climate


Plows, plagues, and petroleum : how humans took control of climate

William F. Ruddiman ; with a new afterword by the author

(Princeton science library)

Princeton University Press, 2016

  • : pbk

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"New Princeton science library edition, 2016"--T.p. verso

Includes bibliographical references (p. [215]-217) and index



The impact on climate from 200 years of industrial development is an everyday fact of life, but did humankind's active involvement in climate change really begin with the industrial revolution, as commonly believed? Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum has sparked lively scientific debate since it was first published--arguing that humans have actually been changing the climate for some 8,000 years--as a result of the earlier discovery of agriculture. The "Ruddiman Hypothesis" will spark intense debate. We learn that the impact of farming on greenhouse-gas levels, thousands of years before the industrial revolution, kept our planet notably warmer than if natural climate cycles had prevailed--quite possibly forestalling a new ice age. Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum is the first book to trace the full historical sweep of human interaction with Earth's climate. Ruddiman takes us through three broad stages of human history: when nature was in control; when humans began to take control, discovering agriculture and affecting climate through carbon dioxide and methane emissions; and, finally, the more recent human impact on climate change. Along the way he raises the fascinating possibility that plagues, by depleting human populations, also affected reforestation and thus climate--as suggested by dips in greenhouse gases when major pandemics have occurred. While our massive usage of fossil fuels has certainly contributed to modern climate change, Ruddiman shows that industrial growth is only part of the picture. The book concludes by looking to the future and critiquing the impact of special interest money on the global warming debate. In the afterword, Ruddiman explores the main challenges posed to his hypothesis, and shows how recent investigations and findings ultimately strengthen the book's original claims.


List of Illustrations ix Preface xiii Part 1 What Has Controlled Earth's Climate? 1 Climate and Human History 5 Part 2 Nature in Control 2 Slow Going for a Few Million Years 17 3 Linking Earth's Orbit to Its Climate 25 4 Orbital Changes Control Ice-Age Cycles 35 5 Orbital Changes Control Monsoon Cycles 46 6 Stirrings of Change 55 Part 3 Humans Begin to Take Control 7 Early Agriculture and Civilization 65 8 Taking Control of Methane 76 9 Taking Control of CO2 84 10 Have We Delayed a Glaciation? 95 11 Challenges and Responses 106 Part 4 Disease Enters the Picture 12 But What about Those CO2 "Wiggles"? 119 13 The Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Which One? 127 14 Pandemics, CO2, and Climate 139 Part 5 Humans in Control 15 Greenhouse Warming: Tortoise and Hare 151 16 Future Warming: Large or Small? 159 17 From the Past into the Distant Future 169 Epilogue 18 Global-Change Science and Politics 179 19 Consuming Earth's Gifts 190 Afterword to the Princeton Science Library Edition 195 Bibliography 215 Figure Sources 219 Index 223

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