“Keep calm”? A critique of Wolfgang Behringer’s “A Cultural History of Climate”

  • Rüdiger HaudeEmail author
Original Article


The field of climate historiography is still young, and more internal criticism is needed. In the German-speaking world, the bestseller in this field is Wolfgang Behringer’s A Cultural History of Climate, which has also been translated into various other languages, including English. This book runs the climate change denier business. In doing so, it violates the standards of historical science. The paper demonstrates this problem by means of Behringer’s highly problematic handling of sources and literature, both in the field of history and in the natural sciences. Further, fundamental premises of the author—such as the parallelization of climate science with the witch-hunters of the early modern period or the assumption that global warming has historically always been favorable—are analyzed in the sense of a critique of ideology. Behringer’s political concern of delegitimizing climate science is wrapped up in a par force ride through earth and human history, for which the book has been widely acclaimed. But ideology comes to the surface on many pages. Thus, he criticizes the use of metaphors within climate science without understanding the inevitability of metaphorical language use within the sciences. Dealing with the natural sciences, he uses obsolete insights, confuses logical categories, contradicts himself, and violates the literature used—all these only if it is in favor of his objective. And this does not change when it comes to his own field of expertise, historical science. The essay contextualizes the criticized work within the oeuvre of the renowned author, and it presents the remarkable reception history of the book. Behringer’s call to inaction appears to be very influential indeed, at least in German language discourses of education and of journalism. In a time in which fast, decisive action is the highest duty of the international community, and of every national government, this makes his book a dangerous phenomenon.


Climate history Climate deniers Little Ice Age Political education Witch-hunt 


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© AESS 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Historisches InstitutRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany

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