Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate

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9780691121642: Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate
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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? William Ruddiman's provocative new book argues 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. The book concludes by looking to the future and critiquing the impact of special interest money on the global warming debate.


Eminently readable and far-reaching in argument, Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum shows us that even as civilization developed, we were already changing the climate in which we lived.

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From the Back Cover:

"Bill Ruddiman's provocative suggestion of early human influence on the atmosphere will draw fire. But I stand with Ruddiman: the simultaneous upward departures of CO2 and CH4 from climate indicators, unique in 420,000 years, is probably an early footprint of humankind."--James Hansen, Director of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies

"First came Rats, Lice and History--next, Guns, Germs, and Steel. Now we havePlows, Plagues, and Petroleum, a book sure to inspire further thinking about the nature of anthropogenic climate change. Even those who question Ruddiman's central thesis--that pre-industrial humans caused enough climate change to head off a minor glaciation--will find that it serves as a great organizing principle for a thoroughly delightful and accessible romp through the physics of climate."--Ray Pierrehumbert, Professor of Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago

"Bill Ruddiman has long been considered one of the world's top paleoclimatologists. InPlows, Plagues, and Petroleum, he caps a career at the cutting edge with a great new scientific debate. The book makes for good reading, too. Humans have a long record of altering their climate system and are now changing the climate system like never before. What's more, we're doing it knowingly."--Jonathan T. Overpeck, Director, Institute for the Study of Planet Earth and Professor of Geosciences, University of Arizona

"Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum boldly and creatively revisits the role of humans in climate change. Progress in science requires innovation, and when dealing with science, Ruddiman is world-class. This book is certain to be controversial, but even if all the bold new ideas presented here don't survive intact, it will have substantially moved our dialogue on the Earth forward and focused a bright light on the role of humans--for better or for worse--in taking control over our planet."--Stephen H. Schneider, Melvin and Joan Lane Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies and Co-Director, Center for Environmental Science & Policy at the Stanford Institute for International Studies, Stanford University

"Bill Ruddiman, one of the giants of climate history, presents a controversial hypothesis for early human influence on Earth. Our ancestors clearly altered their environment in many ways, and Ruddiman proposes that humans even affected the composition of the atmosphere. Vigorous research is testing this new idea, and should lead to an improved understanding of the world, and of ourselves."--Richard Alley, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, author ofThe Two-Mile Time Machine

"This book represents a major and welcome endeavor to bridge the gap between the sciences and history. The two are brought together to achieve a greater understanding of climate change, which seems to be of increasing importance to our species. Few persons could accomplish these goals, but Ruddiman does so, and he does it well."--David C. Smith, Professor Emeritus of History at the Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, author ofH. G. Wells: Desperately Mortal

About the Author:

William F. Ruddiman is the author of Earth's Climate: Past & Future, and has published many articles in Scientific American, Nature, and Science as well as various scientific journals. He recently retired as Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, following many years as a Doherty Senior Research Scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.

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