“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Friday, May 17, 2013

History and Politics of the Anthropocene: Anya Zilberstein

C17 and C18 North America
variations on themes in cultural history of climate
Samuel Williams, “Change of Climate in North America and Europe” (1790)
“The whole earth is less subject to extreme cold than it was formerly. Every climate has become more temperature, and uniform, and equal and this will continue to be the cse so long as diligence, industry, and agriculture shall mark the conduct of mankind”

1988: “Since greenhouse gases are chiefly the result of human industry and agriculture, it is not an exaggeration to say that civilization itself is the ultimate cause of global warming”

Colonial elites had a stake in talking about climate
1638: descriptions of New England include language about the climate
to produce feeling of security
Edward Long C18 response to Buffon, 1784: “phlogistic particles from myriads of reeking dunghills, from the fumes of furnaces from the fire s and smoke of ten thousand crowded cities...”
He can’t believe humans can change climate

Nova Scotia and New England thought too extreme for comfort; too cold
political decision to say it’s temperate
ideas << classics + empirical samples: Samuel Williams
center hot; poles very cold (extreme where no one wants to live, uncivilized, unable to engage in higher thought)
you want to inhabit the temperate zones

>> latitude a bad guide for guessing about climate on other side of Atlantic

1. acclimatization schemes: transportation of people, transplanting of seeds
Scots and North Britons, who don’t survive in tropical climates
arguments about bringing a certain type of person...

2. cold-climate denial
“it’s not that cold”

3. material climate change (Samuel Williams, Thomas Jefferson)

That’s the overview. Then how to link to the Anthropocene? From the proliferation of texts about the temperate zone there is a persistent ambiguity. 
C18 example: Rome, Constantinople, New England (!); Paris, Vienna, Nova-Scotia (!)
Humboldt, isotherms: New England in cold and wintry regions, not temperate at all
>> more and more global maps of climate
all models are anthropocentric: temperature, torrid, frigid defined in terms of human need
some maps depend on agricultural plants, seeds
emerging notion of nature as subject to change; unstable, uncertain
>> naturalizations of concept of temperate climate; these have become invisible to us

Q: The writers all seem in favor of climate change! Are there any antagonists? 

A: Daniel Webster. In the short term an instability might cause erosion they think. But overall, no. There has been a real reversal. Industry moderates and tempers. Wholly positive. It’s deliberate and done by human agents! vs our sense that there is an unintended, bad side effect. 

Q: climate and character? Temperate vs tropical for instance. 

A: I have looked at Samuel Johnson’s definition of “temperate.” Stereotypes about torrid people. Moderate behavior etc. I’m interested in settler colonies. Difference between settler and plantation colonies. 

Q: >> defense of liberal capitalism. Torrid zone: defense of environmentalism. 

Q: Were the French at St. Lawrence also denying cold? 

A: Yes. 

Q: Those voices who saw climate change--did they all see the same or have inconsistent notions? 

A: Yes mostly. 

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