In my own case, once I had become comfortable with the science of contemporary climate change, I began to reflect not just on humanity’s future as climate change becomes more and more obvious but on how it has played out in the past. And even more importantly in what specific ways we professional historians can contribute to this newest and historically profound challenge that faces humanity.
The core question of course is what our current climate challenge has to do with the profession of historian. Human-made climate change is after all a problem more of the present and future rather than the historical material we so often focus on. But from the perspective of at least this historian such an attitude could not be more incorrect. Historians have an enormous role to play in this great challenge.
I am of course, one of those historians who thinks that a good knowledge of the past does an excellent job in helping one understand the present and even to make reasonably educated guesses about the future. But that is not the core issue. Our relationship with the natural environment has been one of the most important factors in human history. True, for a time professional historians rejected the sort of environmental determinism which once so intrigued scholars. But to suggest climate is not profoundly important is to misrepresent much of the historical record.
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