The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene

I’m currently reading Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin’s The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene. In the first couple of chapters, the authors lay down some history of the human interpretation of climate change. I find it mind-blowing that we understood our ability to affect this planet’s climate through our activities, and that we were discussing it, more than 200 years ago. Geologists like Thomas Jenkyn and enlightenment giant, George-Louis Leclerc (better known as the Comte de Buffon) both wrote and gave lectures on the topic.

The authors quote Buffon as writing, in his book Epochs of Nature, published in 1778:

‘The entire face of the Earth today bears the imprint of human power.’

240 years ago! He was concerned that Earth was inexorably cooling and that this would be detrimental to life. Thus he suggested that we could alter the climate via intentional deforestation or the planting of forests to ‘set the temperature’ to a level beneficial for human civilisation.

The former person mentioned above, Thomas Jenkyn, gave a series of lectures in 1854 in which he discusses how deforestation and the draining of marshes affect the climate.

So far, the book is fantastic. As well as outlining just what a mess we’re in, there’s plenty of optimistic content about what we can do to improve the situation. I highly recommend it.

You can also hear Simon Lewis being interviewed by Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd on episode 47 of the Reasons to be Cheerful podcast.

Featured photograph: “Hurricane Florence Viewed from the Space Station” by NASA is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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