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Behringer W., A Cultural History of Climate — 2010

Behringer W., A Cultural History of Climate — 2010

I received the invitation to review this book during the same week — 16−20 November 2009 — that over 1,000 emails to and from climate scientists in the Climatic Research Unit at my university found their way into the public domain. In the months since, climate science and climate scientists, and particularly these scientists who were concerned with reconstructing past climates, have been subject to phenomenal scrutiny. The so-called —Climategate— has triggered a scientific controversy that will in due course play a central role in any cultural history of climate in the 21st century. The author of A Cultural History of Climate, German historian Wolfgang Behringer, could hardly have foreseen this latest turn in the story of climate change. The book was originally published in German as Kulturgeschichte des Klimas in 2007, but has only recently been translated into English. Yet Behringer was prescient in using the so-called —hockey-stick— graph — a graph showing estimated land temperature for the northern hemisphere over the last 1,000 years — as his opening framing device for the book. He observes that our efforts to reconstruct histories of physical climate can never be separated from the meanings that become attached to such reconstructions, and that these meanings emerge from particular political and cultural contexts. For Behringer, this key observation would seem to provide the rationale and motivation for his book. As he concludes on p. 217: —We cannot leave the —interpretation— of climate change to people ignorant of cultural history—.

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