Climate remains a focus of public debate whatever the distractions of credit crunches, wayward parliamentarians, or a general election. These two books look specifically at the impacts of climate change, and what they mean for us all.
Wolfgang Behringer’s A Cultural History of Climate was first published in Germany in 2007, but his analysis of the history remains broadly up to date. He takes us rapidly through the changes of the Holocene epoch: the 10,000 years of the current warm period when humans developed first agriculture, then towns, then hierarchical societies, and learned – or did not learn – how to adapt. They may even have helped promote climate change through the destruction of forests and other man-made changes to the Earth’s surface. Throughout, Behringer rightly emphasises the other factors driving change, from volcanic emissions to occasional meteorites.
So far many have ignored the role of climate in the history of China, the end of the Roman Empire, the rise of Islam and the relative prosperity of Western Europe in the so-called medieval warm period, which ended at the beginning of the fourteenth century. No one