978-1-86207-644-0 / 1862076448

The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization

by Fagan, Brian

Publisher:Granta Books



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About the book:

A professor of anthropology by training, Brian Fagan traces the effects of climate change on civilisation over the past 15,000 years--a period of prolonged global warming that has accelerated in the past 150 years. In particular, he's interested in how civilisations have responded to, or been radically altered by, changes in environment. One of Fagan's most compelling examples is a detailed history of the city of Ur in what is now Iraq. Once a great city in one of the world's earliest civilisations, it first thrived thanks to abundant rainfall and then suffered severely when the Indian Ocean monsoons shifted southward, changing rain patterns. By 2000 BC its agricultural economy had collapsed, and today it is an abandoned landscape, an assemblage of decaying shrines in the harshest of deserts.

Fagan views this event as pivotal. It was, he writes, "the first time an entire city disintegrated in the face of environmental catastrophe". But it wasn't the last: in his epilogue, which covers the last 800 years of human history, Fagan explores the climatic upheavals that left 20 million dead in famine-related epidemics in the 19th century. He notes that today 200 million people barely survive on marginal agricultural land in places such as northeastern Brazil, Ethiopia and the Saharan Sahel. If temperatures rise much above current levels and rising seas flood coastal plains, the devastation could dwarf any disaster mankind has previously known. Fagan doesn't offer easy solutions, but he presents a compelling history of climate's role in the background--and sometimes foreground--of human history. --Keith Moerer,

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