Guest Opinion by Dr. Tim Ball
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana (Original quote from his book The Life of Reason, much paraphrased.)
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its supporters urge action because the planet and humans are threatened by global warming. We must modify our behavior, mitigate the warming, or die by the millions. In the centuries prior to the First World War (WWI) these reactions were classified as climatic determinism, the idea that human behavior is dictated by climate. As one research group explains.
Climatic determinism has a very long and checkered history. It gave a framework for thinking about the relationship between the human and natural environments by making the climate a demiurge of social universe.
Later, they explain why they are discussing the concept.
While most of such thinking has been discredited, in recent years, the omnipresence of anthropogenic climate change has caused a resurgence of similar ideas, causing scholars and commentators to ask if these represent a revival of climatic determinism and, if so, with what consequences?
The truth is, it should not have been discredited or abandoned. Shakespeare said, “The devil can cite scripture for his purpose.” This doesn’t mean we discredit or abandon them. A complete analysis is required about why the concept was abandoned and how it was used and misused for a political agenda.
The history of the hypothesis of climatic determinism illustrates the fundamental difference between Science and Social Science. A scientific hypothesis is validated by predictive success. Social Science hypotheses invalidate themselves, because humans react to the predictions and alter the outcome. The latter failure is due to something that cannot be quantified – free will.
Failed predictions caused the IPCC to adopt the term projection as early as the second Report (1995). Their projections continue to fail because they blend invalid and inadequate science with the inherent failures of social science. The entire theme behind the Club of Rome, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Agenda 21 and the IPCC is neo-Malthusian. Populations, especially when industrialized, will outgrow all resources. They chose global warming and latterly climate change as the dangers imposed, in a modern form of climatic determinism that ignores their belief in evolution.
Climate Influence On Evolution and Human History
We commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. Hopefully, we learned from that history, but, ironically, history indicates we don’t. World leaders forgot the lessons of World War I very quickly, as the Treaty of Versailles demonstrated. Treaty failures, skillfully exploited by Hitler, resulted in World War II becoming a continuation of the problems. In fact it was one war with a brief interlude.
Appropriately, we commemorate the sacrifices and losses of people. We acknowledge the positive changes that occurred because of the wars, such as the role of women in both Wars and the emancipation of colonial regions. What we rarely remember are other casualties of war, usually ideas or intellectual pursuits.
As a graduate student in the 1960s I escorted Professor Fisher, from the University of Durham, on a tour of Winnipeg, Manitoba. We passed an English style lawn bowling facility. He asked about it, given the climate of the region. I somewhat flippantly suggested it contradicted the philosophy of climatic determinism. He angrily replied, “Don’t mention that vile topic again.”
I became interested in the topic for a few reasons, but mostly because scientific studies of natural changes omitted humans as an agent. For example, variables listed as part of soil formation included, parent material (rock), weathering, organic agents and chemical activity. The “organic agents” did not include humans. It was part of the ongoing, but essentially ignored, debate about humans as animals.
At about the same time, I became aware of the work of a conference and subsequently an important book by William Thomas titled Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth. The concepts came from George Perkins Marsh, an earlier author I also knew from research for my Honors Thesis, “Some Philosophical Considerations of Humans as a Source of Change”. You can study history and geography separately, but you only have clear understanding when you put them together. I hold that history is the play and geography the stage and only by combining them understand and find appropriate solutions.
Products of the Earth: Climatic Determinism Misused.
Climatic determinism is a subset of environmental determinism, which was effectively resurrected as part of social Darwinism. Resurrected, because it was an idea rooted in many early philosophical works from Ancient Greece through to the present.
For example, Montesquieu, the French lawyer and philosopher wrote about it extensively. As one history commentator wrote,
In his famous book, The spirit of laws, French philosopher Montesquieu proposes the controversial theory that geography and climate can influence the nature of men and societies.
The rider, “controversial theory” is wrong. It wasn’t controversial when written, relatively new, but not controversial.
At the end of the 19th-century Darwin influenced Friedrich Ratzel’s influential book Anthropogeographie (French version). It was a book grossly misused by Adolf Hitler, but gave academic justification for what he did. Karl Haushofer, a German General in WWI, was a keen student of Ratzel’s His views were transmitted to Hitler by Haushofer’s assistant, Rudolf Hess. Anthropogeographie included the term lebensraum to describe how a more powerful state will occupy weaker states as it expanded – a natural process he called the organic state theory.
Seeking or misusing academic justification for political action is common since the emergence of universities. Global warming is just a recent example as Gore and others misused the ideas of Roger Revelle.
Ratzel’s work applied Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” to the merging nation-states. Herbert Spencer coined the phrase. Darwin liked it and as a strong supporter of Spencer’s work, put it in the sixth edition of Origin of Species. This is all part of today’s intellectual and philosophical contradiction that people, who totally agree with Darwin, are also usually advocates of socialism, the desire to make all things equal by actively offsetting natural inequalities.
The other misapplication of Ratzel’s work by Hitler did greater damage to climate determinism. This was the claim that people from cool and temperate climates were aggressive, industrious and superior, while people from hot climates were lazy, indolent and inferior. It became the most damaging part of what happened to climatic determinism because of the clear racial superiority implication.
Many issues, crucial to understanding human history and human evolutionary history, are not properly or fully examined. The current condemnation of humans, as the cause of environmental degradation, global warming and the goal to reduce human populations, especially developed and industrialized nations are not discussed in a complete context. A fundamental assumption is human activity is not natural, which infers humans are not natural. Also, it assumes we are not continuing to evolve, which is subtly built in to such assumptions as “business as usual”.
Ellsworth Huntington and Ellen Semple Churchill were two American supporters of Ratzel’s work at the turn of the 19th-century. Huntington contributed to the rejection of climatic determinism because he also promoted eugenics. Churchill was different. She learned German and attended lectures by Ratzel. She disconnected herself from his ideas disagreeing, particularly, with his organic state theory. She incorporated the wider idea of the relationship between history and geography in the 1903 publication of “American history and Its Geographic Conditions. The point about Churchill is she didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, as happened to climatic determinism.
Drought Patterns and Human History
Huntington, like Alexander von Humboldt, also travelled extensively visiting all continents except Antarctica and wrote from observation and experience. Despite ethnocentricity and his support for eugenics, Huntington produced some fascinating observations about climate, specifically climate change, and determinism. His important work, The Pulse of Asia published in 1907 argued that the history of Eurasia was determined by the periods of drought and desiccation of grasslands. There are vast grasslands in central Asia, particularly the Tarim Basin. (Map)
Drought patterns cause a periodic growth and decline of the grasses that support grazing herds. Most important for the Mongolian people are the horses essential as a food source, but transport for a migrating aggressive people. Huntington argues that the pulse is created as the population waxes with wetter conditions and expand out to surrounding regions and wanes as the dry conditions set in. Location and orientation of the Great Wall of China appears to support the theory, as does the fear of Mongol hordes throughout eastern and even parts of Western Europe. That fear extends to the present. The British, using their standard technique of divide and conquer, split the Kurdish people into four new countries, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria.
Modern Adaptation Of Humans To Climate Change
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) drew all the attention to temperature, to CO2 and specifically warming; even most skeptics became narrowly focused. There’s no question that temperature reaches limits that force responses and adjustments. The problem is climatic determinism is mostly about changing precipitation, particularly with regard to plants and animals, including humans. Governments prepare for warming and assume it will all be business as usual. They generally don’t allow for technological advances or any other adjustments, as humans have done in the past.
Climatic determinism is interpreted to mean that people, like animals, are passive victims of change. The only adaptations are to move or die. What is overlooked in the entire discussion was the transition from humans, as passive victims, to active controllers of their destiny. It is an evolutionary transition that environmentalists oppose. Consider Ron Arnold, Executive Vice-President of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, observation that,
“Environmentalism intends to transform government, economy, and society in order to liberate nature from human exploitation.”
David Graber, a research biologist with the National park Service said,
“Human happiness, and certainly human fecundity, are not as important as a wild and healthy planet. I know social scientists who remind me that people are part of nature, but it isn’t true. Somewhere along the line – at about a billion years ago – we quit the contract and became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth. It is cosmically unlikely that the developed world will choose to end its orgy of fossil energy consumption, and the Third World its suicidal consumption of landscape. Until such time as Homo Sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.”
That was likely the source of Prince Philips comment that, if reincarnated he would return as a deadly virus and eliminate most people. That’s fine if they start with monarchies. Richard Conniff’s comment in “Audubon” extends the idea.
“Among environmentalists sharing two or three beers, the notion is quite common that if only some calamity could wipe out the entire human race, other species might once again have a chance.”
Technological advances to offset the extent of climatic determinism, include, fire, clothing, irrigation and the transition from hunter-gatherer to sedentary agriculture. Why isn’t that part of evolution? It is, but it is philosophically opposite to the basis of environmentalism. Why assume that this evolution will not continue? Of course, if the environmentalists have their way we will be doomed back to absolute climatic determinism. The hockey stick rewrote history. The historic temperature record is lowered to rewrite history. Now they want to redress and halt evolution, the very theory sacrosanct to their belief in Darwin. Confused. Of course, because they haven’t learned from history, except to rewrite it for their political agenda.