The Politics of Climate Change

The Politics of Climate Change

On July 12, 2016, a California state proposal was introduced to attempt to extend some of the pollution curbing initiatives under the Brown administration beyond his term in office. In 2 years, his term is scheduled to end, and with it, the initiatives his administration has worked hard to put in place.

The flagship of Governor Browns initiatives is a cap-and-trade program that targets the reduction of fossil fuels by introducing tougher emissions limits. This would force the industry to curb their use of fossil fules or buy credits to exceed the limits. However, the initiative is only authorized for enforcement through 2020, so it faces termination at that time if no efforts are made to extend it.

The proposal introduced would allow the cap-and-trade program to extend past 2020, and calls for lowering the allowable pollution limits to be reduced by approximately 3.5% per year through 2030. This is certainly a step in the right direction, although scientists claim a more aggressive stance is necessary if the earth will have any chance of reversing the damage caused by fossil fuel usage.

Unfortunately the politics of this proposal may crush this effort as has happened so many times in the past. There are hurdles within the state’s system that would require legislative approval. There are also factions that will argue the program represent a form of illegal tax, not an overuse fee. Furthermore, no board vote is scheduled until March of 2017, delaying by precious months while global climate changes gets worse and worse.

What is necessary is faster action. There is no hope for recovery from climate change damage if the politics of the world keep getting in the way. While this is the unfortunate reality, our only hope is for bigger and bigger governing bodies to start to take action fast, and swiftly curb fossil fuel pollution, and encourage green energy solutions.

The California proposal should be applauded for their efforts, and other states need to take heed and follow along.

You can read more about the story in their official press release: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/382baf364b1943f588aa11de3148a588/california-governor-looks-extend-climate-change-efforts

Reasons You Should Choose A Green Energy Provider

Reasons You Should Choose A Green Energy Provider

Have you ever thought about how you could use green energy, but didn’t know where to start? Does it seem confusing or too costly for you to get started? Stop living in the past and start living in the future, by reading the tips laid out here, so you change life in your house for the better.

You can cut your energy consumption by a lot if you just cut back on the electricity you use. If there is an appliance you aren’t using, then unplug it. Turn off the lights and TV when not in the room. This is an excellent way of saving yourself some money.

Start paying attention to your energy consumption. Unplug the charger for your iPod and XBox when they are not in use. Many chargers for various electronics continue to draw electricity even if they are not plugged into a device. The energy usage is not as high, but it wastes electricity and adds up to a considerable amount over time.

TIP! People can get government grants to invest in some renewable energies. Contact your local government in order to see the different programs available in your area.

Run the dishwasher when it’s full instead of half-full in order to save energy and money. It’s sacrilege to turn it on with just one or two dishes inside. You’ll be surprised at how many dishes a dishwasher can load. Think carefully about where you place each dish for optimal storage in the washer.

If you utilize a dishwasher, avoiding using it until it’s filled up. No matter how many dishes you have in there, it still uses the same level of energy. Run your dishwasher using the energy-saving mode so that you can air-dry dishes and save energy.

Take advantage of solar energy to heat your home’s water without breaking the bank. Check into investing in a water system that is solar-powered. You may pick between a direct or indirect circulation system. The indirect one is your best option if you have to worry about frozen pipes in the winter.

TIP! Find out what energy options your community has available. Investigate costs for using those utilities, and be aware of any legislation about energy costs.

If you try to promote living sustainably then use your heater as little as you can during winter. Wrap up your family in warmer clothes and make use of your fireplace for added warmth. Cooler air is better for sleeping anyway, because it prevents airways from becoming dry.

Now you should see how you can make use of green energy technology in your home. You have the necessary information, now it’s time to put it to use in your life. Once you begin, you’ll be surprised by the great results.

Books that Support or Deny the Concept of Global Warming

Books that Support or Deny the Concept of Global Warming

Books that Assistance or Refute the Concept of Global Warming

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Source: Flickr

International warming is gone over in two main kinds of books. Some would certainly have you believe there is no problem in any way. Others speak of evidence of worldwide warming, dangerous consequences, and also options to worldwide warming. Reviewing a variety of books on worldwide warming offers a balanced point of view.

Possibly one of the most widely known publication on international warming is Al Gore’s publication A Troublesome Reality: The Planetary Emergency situation of Global Warming as well as What We Can Do Regarding It. Gore’s publication reveals reasons individuals wan to conserve he planet from threats such as international warming. It likewise implores world leaders to stands up as well as hears the cautions of an environment in crisis.

An opposing viewpoint exists in a publication labelled Unstoppable Worldwide Warming: Every 1,500 Years. Guide, composed by Dennis T. Avery and also S. Fred Singer, is a disagreement that global warming is a cyclical occasion that has actually taken place slowly and methodically throughout background. Scientific information backs up the insurance claims and demonstrates why nobody must be worried concerning global warming, in the authors’ opinions.

However, there is clinical feedback that sustains the insurance claims of global warming risks. A publication called Global Warming: The Full Rundown provides facts and also theories about the structures of international warming as well as climate change. In it, the future of the world as well as methods in order to help minimize international warming are described.

Children can learn more about the subject by checking out a publication called This Is My Planet: The Youngsters’ Guide to Global Warming. Jan Thornhill, the author or guide, gives the surprising truths regarding the swiftly happening adjustments induced by global warming, as well as how that is happening. Dealing with the younger target market, though, she is careful to spray guide without a lot of hope and methods for children in order to help transform the situation.

The Down-to-earth Guide To Global Warming, by Laurie David as well as Cambria Gordon, is an additional book that makes use of a little bit of humor to go over a major subject. It not only has facts about the genesis of extreme global warming, however it teems with brilliant photos. As one more publication for elementary kids, it gives ways for kids to eliminate international warming in every local area of their lives.

A fun as well as intriguing book on global warming is The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Manual: 77 Important Abilities to Quit Environment Adjustment. David de Rothschild, the writer, created guide to be a jokingly look at a survival overview targeted at enduring international warming. At the same time, it provides vital feedback concerning ways to enhance the setting. It is a friend publication to the Live Earth Concerts in July of 2007 that occurred throughout a 24-hour duration around the globe.

It is easy to locate publications concerning worldwide warming. Lots of are targeted at the children who are alongside inherit the planet. Some emphasis greatly on scientific information. Others depend on humor to inform their tale. Some are even a straightforward telephone call to arms to any individual that will certainly assist suppress international warming. Global warming is a subject worth research and also there are lots of publications to check out it.

7 August 2013, brief update on current news and forthcoming plans

7 August 2013, brief update on current news and forthcoming plans

A group of us met in early July to thrash out an agenda geared towards reaching out to academics, students and wider public. See Events page. We ended up with six directions we wished to explore, an executive summary of which is as follows:

1. the local and global: projected conference. Jonathan Coope to draft idea/call for papers (See Events)
2. History and climate change MOOC: Tim Cooper to facilitate/develop
3. History and biospheric crisis (‘anthropocene’) : possible Raphael Samuel Centre,  event,  in Conversations and Disputations series, George Yerby  to lead, Carrie  Hamilton to assist and advise
4. local workshops/events, Chris Shaw and Lesley Docksey to explore by way of Tom Paine and Tolpuddle themes  (and where we might possibly be able to get some funding)
5. compilaton of list of R!H academics and their themes as available for  local groups and their events.  Chris Callow.
6. Global Environmental Governance event, UEA, next spring. Paul Warde to consider history panel, pos. with R!H input.

Rescuing History

Rescuing History

How does one rescue history when facing the possibility that, because of climate change, there may be no more history, or at least no more human society to study what has been recorded about our past.

One could rewrite it; that’s a good starting point.  Why do I think that’s not just an option but necessary?

For over 40 years I have made period costumes for films and television.  It follows that I have an interest in social history; what people ate, wore, how they spent their days, what they were afraid of, what they dreamed of.  I’m interested in all the little people who lived their quiet lives, grew the food that fed the country, wove the cloth that made the clothes, built the houses and made the furniture – and paid sometimes outrageous taxes that had no benefits for them, were hanged for hunting or stealing a loaf of bread when they were trying to feed their families, saw their property stolen, were dispossessed by the already rich and suffered grievously when war swept the land, war planned, decreed and executed by the powerful.

I once bought The Social History of England by Asa Briggs on the strength of rave reviews.  What a disappointment!  The usual parade of kings, chancellors, archbishops and other men of power.  Oh yes, what these men did heavily influenced how the little people lived, or struggled to live, and each king’s reign brought changes, but…

There is never any real recognition of how much the state really depended on these nameless people, no recognition that without them those in the palaces would have starved and gone naked.  The temptation is always to write history which is based on the power and the money, using the records of the powerful.  The reigns of kings govern how we remember history, and how we teach the children.

There are few records of the lives of the common man and woman. For most of history the majority of them were illiterate and what they had to say would not have been considered that important or worth preserving.  Parish records show births, marriages and deaths, but nothing of the lives lived between those events.   There are some books that give a more complete picture of the people – Montaillou by Emmanuel La Roy Ladurie is a good example.  But it is based on the records of outsiders and is a study of a community in crisis, not a record of the humdrum every-day living that kept nations ticking over.

The power and the money have brought us to where we are today – facing catastrophic climate change and, judging by what’s going on in country after country, global war too.  Possibly the end of all we know and love.  The end of history as we know it too.

I am a feminist by nature, although not a rabid one.  But I remember the debates, the arguments from the late 60’s through the 70’s (and still raging) about HIStory and HERstory.  History is about winners and losers.  Herstory is about continuity.  History is about one-off events and people who did extraordinary things, sometimes glorious but often short-sighted, self-seeking or horrifically cruel.  Herstory is about everyday life where often the most extraordinary event is surviving for another day.  It is the story of the little people, women and men, people who again and again picked up the pieces of shattered lives and carried on.  We wouldn’t be here now without them, but we may well not be here in the future because of the leading players of History.

History needs to be rewritten as Herstory.  Forget the big names and the battles, the empire building and horse trading.  Study instead the remarkable ability to survive that the nameless millions have shown over the centuries, their ability also to live in relative harmony with neighbouring communities.  This is true social (and ‘sociable’) history.  The little people need to be recognised, they need to know who they were and are, the vital part they have played, unsung, through the centuries.  Most of all, they need to know and understand how important they are to the survival of the human world.

Why bother ?

Why bother ?

Thoughts prompted by the ‘Does Climate Change put a Spanner in the Works of History?’ debate at the University of London on 1 April 2011

Climate change is happening.  Anyone who has observed their gardens, the birds, the weather and the seasons over the last twenty to thirty years has seen the beginnings of it.  And it looks as if we have already gone too far to stop change from occurring at a damaging level.  We could possibly – possibly – rein in our activities to a level where the changes would be survivable, at least for some of us.  But – the world is warming up and life is going to get pretty uncomfortable for everyone.

So much of the talk about climate change, as with global growth and development, ignores the very basic fact that despite our belief that humanity is above and acts outside the rest of nature, we are talking about natural systems.  As such they will inevitably follow the ‘laws’ of nature, and whatever humanity does will have to comply with those laws.  But few humans these days live within nature.  Whether it is someone engaged in agri-business or a poor dirt farmer, we all tend to act from the view that we can somehow control natural processes to our advantage.

What I find most distressing about the whole climate change debate is the complete lack of urgency in any of the discussions, particularly among those who have the power to do more than just control their own carbon emissions.  Endless discussions about carbon trading, new forms of fuel (God forbid we should all stop bouncing around the planet), and of course geo-engineering.  We can surely figure our way out of this with a bit of techno-fix.  Can we?

The idea of geo-engineering is very persuasive, alluring even.  It means that we as individuals won’t have to alter our behaviour.  It can be safely left to ‘them’ to sort out.  But given how fast we are using up the earth’s resources, will we have enough available to install engineered schemes on a global scale?  To be effective, any scheme would have to cover the earth.  Could every nation manage to put aside its national interests and cooperate in global action?  And how would we pay for it?

My father was in charge of research and technical development for British Petroleum.  In the 1960’s he headed a project to turn oil into protein that could be used as animal feed.  I can remember him saying to me, ‘Lesley, we shouldn’t be using this stuff to drive around with.  We should be eating it.’  The project was successful and I remember eating some of the ham from the pig raised on this new animal feed.  This was an early example of a ‘techno-fix’ and one that, despite being very promising, was not developed further, mostly I suspect because BP wouldn’t make the money out of it that they could out of fuel, chemicals and plastics.  Yet nearly fifty years ago my father, who was wise as well as intelligent, could see that man would need food more than petrol.  Looking back, it seems to me his work was devoted to finding the most beneficial ways of using oil, rather than the most profitable.  How many other chances, ideas and routes have we missed in our pursuit for profit?  And I am absolutely sure that even if some geo-engineering schemes were put in place to help mitigate climate change, they wouldn’t be the simplest, most effective schemes, but the ones that earned the most money for somebody.

Which brings up the question of money.  The global financial institutions and the greed they inspire have long been a crash waiting to happen.  I don’t think the system can be repaired.  We can’t go back to where we were.  We in the developed countries have been living too well, too comfortably and too selfishly for too long.  And we have saddled everyone in the world, wherever they live, with an enormous debt that cannot be repaid.  We have gambled away our future, let alone the children’s future, sold the family silver and stripped our cupboards bare.  There is no way we can buy it back, not without prompting an even bigger crash.  And we cannot attain that myth of ‘sustainable growth’.  Even finance must obey natural law.  Everything grows to its natural limit and then stays there until it quite naturally dies.  Force it to grow beyond its limit and all that happens is that it falls over and dies before its time.

The way we grow and supply our food is another system at breaking point.  All major cities across the globe depend on food being shipped in from other countries.  We have lost the local food supply chains.  We have turned away from seasonal foods and expect constant supplies of ‘exotic’ foods.  The knowledge, once widespread, of how to grow food is now an unknown for most people.  We still have enough food to feed people – but most of it is in the wrong place and ends up wasted.  Monoculture with its vast fields and vast machinery creates a form of desert along with plagues of disease and pests.  The fertility of the soil is dropping and using chemical fertilisers may grow a few more crops, but they do not replenish the soil, with the result that the topsoil depth is diminishing, dangerously so in some places.  It will take very little to throw a spanner in the workings of our food supply.

For news watchers like me, there have been little hints for some time of the simmering rebellion in the minds of the poor in all parts of the world.  The events in the Middle East and North Africa have been very visible, but they were not the first and they certainly won’t be the last.  People are tired.  They are tired of struggling to live, to find work, to earn enough or grow enough to feed their families.  And above all they are tired of being ruled by the rich and tired of the rich grabbing all the rewards.  For instance:
“There is plenty of economic activity in the U.S., and plenty of wealth. But like greedy children, the folks at the top are seizing virtually all the marbles.  Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the third world blush.  As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion.”  (Bob Herbert, Losing Our Way, New York Times, 26/03/11)

It is not just the dispossessed in Egypt or the Yemen who are rising up against such arrant unfairness, though few commentators have picked up on this.  One who did was Sir Jeremy Greenstock the former UK Ambassador to the UN.  Speaking on the Today programme during the height of the demonstrations in Cairo, he warned that the governments of Western democracies were also at risk from angry citizens.  Facebook rebellions led by the young are going to become more common.  Governments can threaten to shut down the internet but when Mubarak did that in Egypt all that happened was that the economic life of the country stopped because all world trade depends on it.  The young simply moved smartly sideways and carried on with their electronic communications.

I think it entirely possible that we are reaching the edge if not the end of human history, yet in Friday’s debate there was no mention of the lessons history already shows of what happens to systems out of control.  There are several examples of civilisations that have used, abused and finally trashed their environments, resulting in an ignominious crash and in some cases, a complete disappearance of the people and their lives.  Yet most of us, including historians, will not learn the lessons history offers.  The brutal fact is that we now live in a global civilisation, so we can expect a global crash.  The environment is going to crash.  The financial system is going to crash.  The governance is going to crash.  And people are going to be so hungry, angry and desperate that life all over the earth will suffer.

From one point of view I am quite optimistic.  I don’t believe that humanity as a whole will act altruistically, or at least not until it is too late, no matter how hard some individuals will work to address the problem (the problem of course being humanity itself), but I don’t worry about the future of life on this lovely planet.  While the sun exists in its present state, the earth will keep going, and life is here.  No matter how much we destroy in our blind carelessness and greed, life will evolve into forms we can’t even begin to imagine.  So why bother?  Why try to change my behaviour and use less?  Why try to do my little best to lessen the level of climate change?  Why struggle to grow my own food and buy local?  Why learn to live on less and less money?

For starters, it happens to be the right, the moral thing to do.  Also if I love the earth, as I do, then I do it for her sake, not mine.  And there is a chance that at least some of the human race will survive the changes we have wrought.  It is surely our duty to somehow ensure that the best of us, not the worst, survive.  Our future should not be in the hands of those who mistrust everyone, who see threats everywhere, who react only with violent control and who armour themselves against life.  Those that survive should be those who have learned to share, to cooperate, to live peacefully in small communities, and who refuse to give power to any who seek it.  Most of all they should have learnt to see humanity as being no more, and no less, than a part of the life on earth; that all life’s rights are equal to theirs; that they are only entitled to their small share of the abundant riches of the earth – because I do not doubt that after all the breaking down and ruination, the earth will grow back to abundance.  It is what life does, and unlike us whose time appears to be running out, it has the time to recover its glory.

Lesley Docksey
(“Mostly retired from a career in historical costume for films and TV, I live in darkest Dorset and campaign (among other things) for the abolition of war. Got into that because of the damage war (indeed – any military activity) does to the earth, my great love. I edit the newsletter Abolish War and publish the occasional article on the internet.”)

Letter from Aberdeen to the associates of rescue-history

Letter from Aberdeen to the associates of rescue-history

Dear Colleagues,

Let me first express my joy at learning of your existence from the programme of the Anglo-American Conference, 2010. No doubt the delay was caused by my present circumstances, in active retirement for more than ten years but working most of the time away from the internet in the Aberdeenshire hills. But a weekly visit to the worldwide web always gives reinforcement to a consideration of which you will all be well aware: the vast amount of online information makes valuable discoveries difficult.

In any case, I was unable to attend the Anglo-American because of a previous commitment to another conference organised by the German Historical Institute in Moscow on War and Society in Transnational and Long Run Perspective. We had a lot of interesting discussion on aspects of the behaviour of the Wehrmacht and the Red Army in Central and Eastern Europe, the French defeat of 1940 in its context, wartime economies and famine. You can’t be in two places at once, but I consoled myself by ordering two copies of the book to which many of you have contributed, History at the End of the World?History, Climate Change and the Possibility of Closure. I gave one of them to a friend in Moscow to be passed on to Russian counterparts to yourselves if he could find them. No positive reply so far, and it could be that they don’t yet exist. I kept the other copy for myself, and have learned a great deal from it, on subjects with which I had previously been unfamiliar from prehistoric to our own times. Some of the contributions touched directly on my own recent work, which was nearly completed before my trip to Moscow. And so, regrettably, there was no time to digest your book sufficiently to incorporate its findings adequately in my own, due to be published by Anthem Press in 2011 as Minutes to Midnight: history and the Anthropocene Era from 1763.

In his Introduction to History at the End of the World?, Mark Levene writes on p. 20: ‘If, as the atmospheric physicist Paul Crutzen puts it, we are now in the era of the anthropocene in which the impact of human beings on eco-systems is the prime factor determining the behaviour and perhaps ultimate fate of the biosphere, then we surely need to pinpoint the societal and economic processes by which this has arisen.’ Crutzen’s observation is the starting point of my book, which goes on to answer in the affirmative Levene’s two questions about the human impact on the anthropocene era: ‘Is it a function of the advent of the industrial revolution, and hence of an emergent capitalism whose origins also lie in the peculiar rise of the West? In which case is the ‘damage’ done by the last two hundred years of historical trajectory, in any sense, containable or reversible?’ No doubt, you would agree that the answer to the second question must be much more tentative than that to the first. As far as I know, my book is the first to spell out, albeit in broad outline, the manner in which historians themselves have responded to the challenge of successive times since 1763, the year in which James Watt completed improvements in the steam engine and Great Britain moved closer to becoming ‘the workshop of the world’ through its defeat of France.

In the course of a long residence in Scotland, I have become a close adherent of some of the main views of the Scottish Enlightenment as summarised, by no means to everybody’s satisfaction by Arthur Herman in his book on the subject: ‘We are ultimately creatures of our environment’ but its changes ‘are not arbitrary or chaotic. They rest on certain fundamental principles and discernible patterns.’ Therefore, Herman asserts with his own emphasis: ‘The study of man is ultimately a scientific study.’ In this spirit, my book aims to be scientific: rational, global and evolutionary. It also suggests that history should join other sciences, humane, social and natural, in a pandisciplinarian approach to our present predicament in a manner already set out in the seventeenth century by Francis Bacon: ‘And generally let this be a rule, that all partitions of knowledge be accepted rather for lines and veins, than for sections and separations, and that the continuance and entireness of knowledge be preserved. For the contrary hereof hath made particular sciences to become barren, shallow, and erroneous; while they have not been nourished and maintained from the common fountain.’

I hope that at least some of you will be able to find the time to read Minutes to Midnight when it comes out next year, and to spread the word.

Paul Dukes: p.dukes (at) abdn.ac.uk

Julie Cappleman-Morgan

Julie Cappleman-Morgan

Being at yesterday’s conference in Birmingham (the End of History conference, Birmingham and Midland Institute, April 3 2008) and having enjoyed it immensely I’d like to suggest an idea about how academics might encourage the public into action regarding climate change, in the context of achievements of working class people of the past.

On my way home I was thinking about ways in which academics might be able to take the issues of action on climate change to the general public (that is, to drum up some motivation) and I thought others might be interested to hear my husband’s recent experience, which triggered my idea. We have both recently read ‘The Progressive Patriot’ by Billy Bragg in which he talked a little about his ancestors and working class roots.  He mentioned EP Thompson’s ‘Making of the English Working Class’ (as did Mark Levene in the conference symposium).  I have a copy of this book but have yet to read it.  My husband said it sounded interesting, so when I told him I had a dusty copy somewhere, he dug it out enthusiastically and read it daily on his commute to work.

We both have working class roots.  Rob’s family were Welsh coal miners and farmers while mine were North Essex farm labourers. Rob was intrigued to learn about the struggles, mobilisation and action of the working class again powerful others.  He had not known how much hardship they had experienced, nor how much they sometimes achieved against odds.  This is our history and we knew nothing about it! Most TV historically-based programmes are about wars and royalty!

Rob found the book quite hard to read at times due to its very academic nature (he was educated to A Level) but nevertheless he persevered.  Thank goodness for Google as, when necessary, Rob looked for more information on various incidents and names etc when he did not understand them, or where he had no knowledge of the topic being discussed.  He learnt so much from this exercise and felt that it was very worthwhile.  He felt that more should be done to enlighten the rest of the population who would be very unlikely to read EP Thompson!

His experience led me to think that many of us should be aware of our ancestors’ history in order to get a sense of how we arrived where we are and also that when enough people act together, things can change.  What I think is lacking in our society currently is the knowledge of characters from our own working class pasts who can inspire us with a sense of hope and agency.

So many people in our country feel completely powerless in terms of the decisions and actions our government makes supposedly in our names, that affect our everyday lives. As I have found myself, writing to your MP, taking part in public consultations and demonstrating seems to make little difference when the interests of powerful corporations etc are taking precedence. There must be other ways that ‘ordinary’ people can make themselves heard and take action in terms of issues surrounding climate change and the globalising economy.  What better way perhaps to inspire the public than to raise awareness of their ancestor’s achievements as well as to alert them to the potential outcomes of inactivity!

So, I was thinking that it would be great if ‘updated’ accessible books/ tv series / films based on EP Thomspon’s book were produced and put into the context of the current issues we face, i.e climate change, corporate power, neo-liberalism reaching into education etc etc, and what ‘ordinary’ citizens could achieve if they followed the examples of their ancestors.  It’s a tall order, but who better to put the wheels in motion than historians who are well versed in EP Thompson’s work, knew him personally and who also have connections at the BBC?

I am, if nothing, an optmistic idealist but what do others think?
Julie Cappleman-Morgan

The reality and urgency of human-created climate change

The reality and urgency of human-created climate change

A spectre is haunting the entire world : but it is not that of communism. If we were not aware of the spectre’s import or what it signals for the future, then 2005’s unprecedented hurricane sequence in the Gulf of Mexico – including three near- successive category-five hurricanes, Katrina, Rita and Wilma- should be our most firm, recent guides. Climate change – no more, no less than nature’s payback for what we are doing to our precious planet – is day by day now revealing itself. Not only in a welter of devastating scientific data and analysis but in the repeated extreme weather conditions to which we are all, directly or indirectly, regular observers, and, increasingly, victims.1

Yet, bizarrely, the majority of us, academics included, seem to remain in a state of denial. climate changeOr, hardly better, in a peculiar limbo of ‘disconnect’. Surely all this talk of impending apocalypse is scare-mongering of the very worst kind?  Freak weather conditions and natural catastrophes do happen, do they not? What anyway, can you, or I, do about it?  This is something for scientists, the boffins, the ones with the expertise and know-how: the people who can find ‘the’ technical fix, ‘the’ solution to the problem. Or if not them, the politicians; those to whom we have entrusted the security and wellbeing of our societies, and broader international community. To argue that we are involved in a struggle for our very survival, and that we must all respond accordingly, is, surely, not simply to invite unwarranted and unnecessary disruption, bordering on panic and hysteria, but carries with it implicit challenges to the wisdoms upon which our very ‘civilisation’ is founded.

This manifesto begins, thus, by affirming the indisputable nature of anthropogenic climate change as stated by climate scientists worldwide. The simplest most observable evidence for this – over and beyond what is being measured and quantified in the Arctic, Antarctic, Amazonia and elsewhere – lies in the accumulation, on the one hand, of none too dramatic but significantly incremental seasonal shifts which we can all see and feel around us, and, on the other, of an accelerated frequency of truly extreme weather conditions. It is true that because our climate is complex, and dependent on so many variables, that the scientists cannot predict an exact outcome. The impact, for instance, of temperature rises in the polar regions on currently moderating weather systems, such as the Gulf Stream, remains uncertain. To some extent our destiny will depend on whether the more conservative or more radical computer scenarios turn out to be correct. Indeed, with most recent estimates in the order of between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees2 overall warming by the end of this century, many questions remain. Even supposing the lower end of this range, the scientific opinion is agreed that mass species’ extinctions will be inevitable. However, current further evidence from sub-Arctic Siberia suggesting a permafrost thaw which is likely to release billions of tons of methane gas previously trapped beneath it, points to an even more accelerated warming process. With satellite picture now confirming a year by year degradation of the polar ice-sheets, the scientific talk now is all of tipping points having been reached and of an ‘ecological landslide that is probably irreversible.’ 3 Or, as Mike Davis, arguably one of the most perspicacious commentators on the relationship between the geo-physical science and human consequence, has put it,  reporting on other recent evidence of an abrupt non-linear shift in climate patterns: ’we are living on the climate equivalent of a runaway train that is picking up speed.’4climate 2

Climate change, thus, whatever the exact trajectory, represents the most serious and potentially lethal challenge to humankind in its history, and indeed existence. Unless, we can achieve the cuts in carbon and other greenhouse emissions which the scientists ask of us in a matter of a few decades – and even then it may be too late – global warming will necessarily turn ever larger areas of the planet into uninhabitable desert, cause droughts, flood, famine, pestilence, refugee flows, and death through repeated heat or cold surges on an unprecedented scale, while whole, currently heavily populated deltaic, estuarine, coastal and other regions on all continents will be harried by storm and/or inundated. This situation, then, is much more serious – not to say inevitable – than, for example, the threat of nuclear war, not least because with the former, we had, at least in theory, the ability to put the genie back into the bottle. Once out of control, the forces of nature, by contrast, will be uncontainable. It does not require too much to imagine not only the environmental consequences, most keenly in terms of the collapse of bio-diversity, but the much more immediate social, economic, epidemiological and political impact on ourselves. For some peoples of the world, atoll nations, such as Tuvalu in the Pacific, or indigenous communities in the Arctic, the catastrophe and its consequences are literally, already upon them. For the rest of us, the relationship between climate change and the potentiality of conflict, at all social and political levels – including at the nuclear level – will become all that much greater as the struggle for remaining natural and food resources, not to say habitable territory intensifies, and, thereafter, as despair over our collective inability to halt this trajectory becomes apparent, giving way in its place to an entirely social darwinian, zero-sum competition.

The reality and urgency of human-created climate change

What then can students of a diverse human past, of its history, archaeology, geography, literatures, philosophy, religions and cultures, offer, either to understanding, or positively responding to this dread prospect? Contemporary society, as a rule, prefers to put its faith in science for answers. But is there not a role, perhaps even more than ever, now, for prescience, too? In other words, for a reformulated process of plotting the past with the foreknowledge that if we do not come to understand how we arrived at this point, how indeed we got into this utter cul-de-sac, there will be no historical future?  By the same token, historians, archaeologists, human geographers and demographers, religious scholars and indeed many others students of past societies, are perfectly aware that in many respects we have been here before: that humanity has been the prey to many vicissitudes, including climate change, and that through thousands and thousands of such crises, there have always been enough survivors to weather the storm and bring us through. Now, though, it is different: not just quantitatively, in the scale of the disaster awaiting us, but in what should be our awareness that we, ourselves, are utterly responsible for this, and that if we fail to understand the process by which we arrived here, and from that refuse to learn to respond in our own best interests – as part of a common humanity– we will, quite literally, go over the abyss.

Are historians, and other scholars of the humanities, prepared to sleep walk into that long night? And in so doing abnegate all responsibility for the future? How will our children and our children’s children – to say nothing of perhaps a very last generation of scholars – look on usfrom their increasingly woeful vantage point, at our abject and craven failure?  Climate change may still be in humanity’s gift to moderate.  The alternative is to let it run amok. For all students of human beings on this planet, indeed, it should be instantly recognisable for what it is: our last best chance to put our communities and societies on the road to survival and sustainability. Instead, we are faced with the mechanisms and juggernaut-like trajectory of an international political economy which seems almost wilfully bent on doing exactly the opposite. It is more than just a little sad that so many of us – the scholars – have consciously, inadvertently, or by default, both in large and trivial ways, become so complicit with its bankrupt imperatives. Certainly, this is not the appropriate moment for either accusation or condemnation. Nor even to challenge the redundancy of much contemporary historiography when history itself could well be coming to its final, bitter end. Instead, the way we have approached our subject, in the blithe complacency that there would be an ongoing present and future to which we could bequeath our knowledge and wisdom, is surely something we have a duty to urgently and intensely discuss.

The point of this manifesto and appeal, therefore, in the light of what we now know about climate change, is not simply to urge a rethink as to the terms of reference by which we study the past, but to make a clarion call for a new imperative. It is time we started being purposeful and useful, not just for ourselves and for our professional interests but genuinely, seriously, for the commonweal. We must now literally rescue!history for the challenge ahead. Like the practice of rescue archaeology the task before our proposition has to be founded on sound theory and good tools. However, its outcomes have also to be geared towards what is tangible and grounded. Yet because time clearly is not on our side, the exclamation mark in the midst of rescue!history is there to emphasise the extreme urgency of the undertaking.

Developing an agenda

What then is rescue!history’s immediate agenda?  On one of the second wave London CND marches in 1980, at that time against the introduction of a new generation of nuclear weapons into Europe  – and with it of an impending threat of global Armageddon, – a banner was to be seen which read ‘Historians for the right to work: We demand a continuing supply of history.’ (Significantly marching in front of it, were Edward and Dorothy Thompson, the former having recently written his famous pamphlet Protest and Survive). Rescue!history’s purpose is effectively the same as that of the banner. If humankind’s future is actually threatened with foreclosure, and students of the past (like everyone else) have a vested interest in preventing that, then surely we now have to approach that past with, at the very least, a recognition of the possibility of terminus, and – as a consequence either ask old questions anew but in a more forceful register, or perhaps alongside them add an entirely reformulated, if disturbing set of others:

How did we get into this situation, this mess?  Was there some fatal wrong turning, associated, for instance, with the rise of the West, or a predatory and globalising capitalism, or something we call modernity?  Or is this itself to take on too many modernist and Western-centric assumptions; the inherent issue of man’s relationship to nature demanding a much more long-term and more geographically diffuse approach? If so, have humans always been their own worst enemy, the aspirations for food, light, warmth, comfort and, ultimately, conspicuous consumption, demanding relentless efforts to achieve a perpetual control of the environment, and of its resource base, against the reality of what it can actually offer? Or is there historical experience which suggests otherwise; that societies can exist, even prosper, ‘in harmony’ with an even limited natural world, and that our purpose should be to ‘learn’ from deep human experience, garnered not just from archaeological but more contemporary anthropological and ethnographic studies on how this can be done?  Is it not the case that human societies have always operated close to the limits of the possible?  And if so, what such resonances from the deep, or more recent, past are inscribed in our present situation?

Or again, is it the case that human profligacy and overreach in the historical record has led to the repeated destruction of polities and civilisations and that for all their ingenuity it was the repeated failure to heed what actually was staring them in the face which is what critically matters? Should we now, then, be paying more attention to those who, at the time, made the dread warnings, even though these usually entirely marginalised and despised prophets and visionaries sometimes bequeathed to us long-standing and durable world-systems? Or should ‘lessons’ on averting our own Nemesis lead to historical consideration of much more instrumental efforts aimed at technological breakthroughs, or forms of political and social restructuring, which arguably have also been responses to resource depletion, environmental degradation and, indeed, past climate change?  What human ‘collateral damage’, however, has been the by-product of such often Herculean efforts? Have not attempts to overcome limitations on what was humanly possible simply led to ever more lethal tendencies towards destruction and self-destruction, exacerbating into the bargain not only fraught power relationships between man and nature but also between man and man? Are indeed, our own worst tendencies in recent times, imperial and colonial subjugation, total war, Auschwitz, genocide, ethnic cleansing, Hiroshima and the ‘exterminist’ thrust of the nuclear arms race, not to say contemporary efforts by hegemonic powers, lesser states and corporate cartels to monopolistically control and determine the remaining, dwindling hydrocarbon reserves and other key resources worldwide, been simply harbingers of where we are heading? Is it not, indeed, in the very nature of over-complex, urban-focused, essentially consumerist yet nearly always grossly unequal polities and societies over time and space, founded repeatedly on the non-sustainable asset-stripping of everything around them, wherein lies our fatal Achilles heel? If this is the final end of all such ‘civilisations’ what is there, actually, in this retrospectively all-too-brief historical record to commemorate, celebrate and cherish?  Or, is it, in fact, pointless, if we are already at the point of no return? Can anything be garnered from recent critical scholarly trends and discourses, post-modernism, post-structuralism, post-colonialism, post-Marxism, gender studies, and the rest, which can shed light on our plight? Or is the best thing that scholars of human polities, societies, religions, and cultures can do in the circumstances is carry on as before, as if the crisis never existed and as if there were nothing we could offer anyway!

Quo vadis?

This manifesto has been founded on the premise that students of the past have a role, and an important one, in responding to this ultimate challenge of our time. Not to use our best endeavours to shed light on its unravelling would be an abnegation of responsibility of the most monumental kind. Certainly, as in all such moments where there is a time-lag between the emergence of the problem and the full crystallisation of public awareness of its fundamental import, all manner of rationalisations, legitimate and otherwise, will be utilised and sometimes articulated to avoid, excuse, or perhaps even prevent a rush to the barricades.

But for those who can, and will, this is an appeal to all scholars of the past, indeed all academics within the humanities, social sciences, and other disciplines, teachers, students (embracing postgraduates, undergraduates, and those at other colleges and schools) independent researchers, journalists and other professionals, as well as members of a broader public who are concerned with how we arrived at this point, to join in the pursuit of rescue!history. The initial aim may be simply to develop a conference to air the issues and to see where we can, if anywhere, go. The litany of questions above may be a starting point for a research agenda or, simply, the launching pad for a debate leading to entirely different directions. A conference along rescue!history lines should aim to be international, though clearly it will have to be built on a communications premise such as video-conferencing which seeks to avoids overstepping our collective ecological footprint and keeping our carbon emissions to a minimum. That said, from this initial base-line of one – but with the principled support of a wider Crisis Forum network (see below) – an invitation is extended to all those who feel they may be able to contribute ideas, research interests, administrative and organisational skills, contacts, and sources of funding, in what must of necessity, as well as good intention, involve a development of objectives through an open, exploratory collaboration.

Contact Mark Levene, Reader in Comparative History, University of Southampton, UK. m.levene@soton.ac.uk

(Crisis Forum) http://www.crisis-forum.org.uk

October 2005

Notes

  1. Acknowledged most recently, at the international level, in a World Bank environmental report. See John Vidal, ‘Climate change and pollution are killing millions’ says study’. The Guardian, October 6 2005.
  2. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  (IPCC) projections, 2001. Quoted in Mayer Hillman, How We Can Save the Planet (London, Penguin, 2004).
  3. Prof. Sergei Kirpotin, permafrost researcher, Tomsk State University, Western Siberia. Quoted in Ian Sample, ‘Warming hits ‘tipping point,’ The Guardian, August 11 2005.
  4.  Mike Davis, ‘Melting Away,’ The Nation, October 7 2005. http://www.thenation.com/doc/20051024/davis