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Big Questions in Ecology and Evolution$
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Thomas N. Sherratt and David M. Wilkinson

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199548606

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199548606.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 28 February 2021

When did We Start to Change Things?

When did We Start to Change Things?

9 When did We Start to Change Things?
Big Questions in Ecology and Evolution

Thomas N. Sherratt

David M. Wilkinson

Oxford University Press

As we wrote the first draft of this chapter (during early summer 2007), the potential dangers of ‘global warming’ had moved up the news agenda to a point where most major politicians were starting to take the problem seriously. Our opening quotation comes from a book published in early 2006, which seemed to coincide with the growth of this wider concern with global warming. Lovelock was not alone in trying to raise awareness of the problem; around the same time another book on climate change by the zoologist and palaeontologist Tim Flannery also attracted global attention to this issue, as did the lecture tours (and Oscar-winning film) of Al Gore—the former US presidential candidate and campaigner on the dangers of climate change. Indeed, in his role as a climate campaigner Gore won a share in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. It is possible that future historians will see the period 2005–2007 as the start of a crucial wider engagement with these problems. Things may not be as bad as James Lovelock suggests—in his book he deliberately emphasized the most worrying scenarios coming from computer models, and other evidence, in an attempt to draw attention to the critical nature of the problem. However, all these worst case scenarios were drawn from within the range of results that most climate scientists believed could plausibly happen—not extreme cases with little current evidence to support them. That one of the major environmental scientists of the second half of the twentieth century could write such prose as science—rather than science fiction—is clearly a case for concern about future climate change. It also raises another important question, relating to the history of human influence on our planet: when in our history did we start to have major environmental impacts on Earth as a whole? This is clearly an important issue from a historical perspective, but the answers may also have implications for some of our attempts to rectify the damage. Our discussion of this question comes with various caveats. Many of the arguments we consider in this chapter are still the subject of academic disagreement.

Keywords:   Africa, Clovis culture, Europe, Holocene, North America, Pleistocene, Quaternary, South America

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