Climate Action

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| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Pinar Gökcin Özuyar, Tony Wall

Climate Change in Human History

  • Maria Rosário BastosEmail author
  • João Pedro Cunha RibeiroEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-71063-1_30-1

Definitions

Climate change’s definition is clearly presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), and it reports any change over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity (IPPC 2014). Here, the impact of climate change on Man and his societies will be analyzed from his earliest ancestors to the present day. It is important to highlight the importance of the climate and its variability in the evolutionary process that led to the appearance of the first Men and then the first Homo sapiens, as well as the process of bio cultural evolution that was developing in those early days. Analyzing cultural capacity and human resilience to climate change, we will debate the interaction between Man and environment and their ability to influence each other. Discussing when anthropogenic impact (human actions) overlap the natural one in the determination of climate change, we enter a period in which some authors call to Anthropogenic (Human Age). This period is characterized by the abnormal occurrence (in space and time) of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, tsunamis, hurricanes, and storm surges (among others).

Introduction

Since there is life on Earth the atmosphere that surrounds it has been modified, altering and conditioning the survival of the various living organisms that have emerged and developed there. The changes in temperature and circulation of the atmosphere and oceans, creating different thermal changes between air, sea and land, have led to the change of the planet’s climate, determining extinctions of varying dimensions as well as the flowering of new life forms. Mankind and their ancestors did not escape this reality, obviously in a dimension proportional to the length of their life cycles.

After the tropical conditions that allowed the dispersal of the first anthropoid primates between Africa and Eurasia during much of the Miocene, a slow cooling occurred, that isolated the populations confined since then to the tropical forests of Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. And it was precisely among these latter populations that the bipedal primate appeared. They were identified by archeology, paleontology, and genetics as the earliest direct ancestors of the first Men, the hominis.

The recognition of this reality was the product of more than two centuries of research in various areas of knowledge, which led to the determination of the great antiquity of Earth and then of Man himself. We have since tried to understand the conditions under which Man’s emergence and subsequent evolution took place, without forgetting the environmental context in which it occurred. Themes that are still the subject of multiple debates about the facts that are being clarified and the interpretations that surround them.

But if among these facts the recognition of the profound climate changes that accompanied Man in its long existence was soon identified, the importance or impact of these changes as a conditioning or determining element is far from consensual.

The determination of the great antiquity of Man, based on the evidence of contemporaneous evidence of the remains of human activity with ancient extinct animals, was established in the mid-nineteenth century, in parallel with the formulation of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and the recognition of the existence of an Ice Age. However, if the connection between these different realities was suggestive from an early stage, the complexity of each one of them and the difficulty in correlating them temporally with each other was not easy.

The study of the variation of percentages of oxygen isotopes conserved in the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica or in the sediments deposited in deep seabed’s, together with the development of new methods of radiometric dating, made the situation change, over the last decades. The glacial climate cycle that settled on Earth just over 2.5 years ago (Ma) has since that translated into more than fifty cold phases, interspersed with short periods of warming. This has allowed for a correlation between such climatic variations and many of the most significant episodes of Human History. But it is also important to recognize the significant climatic variation that since the end of the last glacial period marked the phase of continuous warming that then settled.

In smaller historical time it is possible to recognized impressive climatic oscillations, such as Little Ice Age and its consequences in anthropic behavior. Nowadays some authors of different scientific areas trying to relate climate changes with some of the most significant moments of Human History.

The impact of the human activities of latest historical times in this complex reality is being discussed. This situation, gaining significant amplitude, could justify the recognition of a recent period in the History of the Earth called Anthropocene: the period when Man overcame nature in determining the variation of climate.

Origins

As far as the evolution of Man is concerned, many see in genetic variation, in several adaptive behaviors (such as competition), or in the increase of cognitive capacity itself, key elements for its development. The impact of climatic variations on the evolution of mankind, however, has had an increased recognition and the recent contributions of epigenetics have given new breath (Osborne 2017).

According to the Turnover Pulse Hypothesis, this process would preferably have taken place in moments of marked environmental change, characterized or not by an increase in aridity, when more specialized species may have been extinct and, therefore, less well adapted. Speciation would focus on more general species, susceptible to adapt to the new environmental conditions (Potts 2012).

For Variability Selection Hypothesis the evolutionary process of Man would not focus on a certain significant moment of the change in its environmental context. It would be the unpredictable variability of this context that would highlight the species with a more adaptive flexibility, favoring them in evolutionary terms (Potts 2012).

But in the context of these relations between the first Men and their environment, the importance that periods of greater climate stability may have had in their evolutionary process is also recognized. It allows for the development of competitive behavior between different species, favoring certain characteristics or adaptive behaviors in the detriment of others (Maslin et al. 2015).

These different hypotheses of development of the evolutionary model do not excluded each other. It is also assumed that the evolution of a particular species may even have occurred at certain moments with the intervention of these different processes or with some of them (Maslin et al. 2015).

If we go back to the origins of the earliest direct ancestors of Man, there are some (few) fossils, where it was sought to glimpse the development of the bipedalism. The fragmentation of a good part of these fossils remains did not allow clarifying this hypothesis; however their possible association with bipedal locomotion could be due to the prevalence of climatic conditions responsible for savannah expansion (Domínguez-Rodrigo 2014).

However, this view was contradicted by the reconstitution of the paleoenvironmental context of Ardipithecus ramidus, a fossil that presents clear climbing adaptations, verifying that they would have lived in a fairly wooded habitat (Potts 2012). But if this interpretation did not allow many researchers to continue to advocate the appropriateness of the so-called savanna hypothesis, it was also considered that the Ardipithecus (as well as the Australopithecus that followed them) lived in different ecosystems. This forced these hominines to develop bipedal and arboreal skills that would allow them to adapt to both open spaces and much more wooded areas, surviving in different times and spaces to the climatic variations that have led to the aridity and to wetter phases.

The evolution of the hominines had, later on, important developments with the extinction of the Australopithecus, the appearance of the Paranthropus and the emergence of the genus Homo. These events occurred in East Africa between about 3 Ma and 2 Ma, coinciding with the installation of the glacier climate cycle, when the intense cooling of much northern areas was locally accompanied by phases of pronounced aridity (Potts 2012).

The appearance of Man is not only witnessed there by the identification of their oldest known fossils, but also by its association to knapped stone tools used in the processing of animal carcasses. This suggests a strategy of more intensive exploitation of available resources, in a context where the existing environmental conditions would determine their scarcity, apparently favoring the Turnover Pulse Hypothesis (Maslin et al. 2015). However, recent studies recognized a more variable pattern in the reconstitution of the paleoenvironments that in the region followed the evolution of the first Men. Aridity phases being interrupted by periods in which increased humidity and precipitation (determined the growth of the great lakes of East Africa), opening the door to Variability Selection Hypothesis or even explanatory models of evolution, where the different hypotheses of interaction between Man and the environment would be combined.

When around 1.8 and 1.7 Ma the first Men began their diaspora, going out of Africa for the first time, the environmental conditions were also not very different (Maslin et al. 2015). Dry and humid phases occurred in Africa, during which more complex knapped tools occurred locally, with the production of bifacial artifacts from Acheulean. The scenario that also accompanied the appearance of the first modern men in Africa – Homo sapiens – was not very different. The recent research of this reality has not ceased to bear fruits, due to the recognition of the antiquity of early Homo sapiens, with the identification of fossils dating back some 300,000 years and also the significant variability of traits among its oldest representatives (Hublin et al. 2017). In association with archeological contexts geographically dispersed by Africa, they suggest a polycentric origin for these populations, in connection with fragmented habitats and ecosystems. It was a situation in which the succession of periods of increase of dryness or humidity was decisive for the creation of refuges where these populations evolved in a relatively isolated way (Scerri et al. 2018).

The dispersion of these populations of anatomically modern Men out of Africa ran from 100,000 onwards, conditioned by rhythmic climatic variations. In Eurasia the process is probably related to a context of replacement of the archaic populations surviving there, not without previous processes of hybridization between the populations involved, now properly documented by genetics.

In Europe, this process lasted 45,000 years, during a period marked by a global climate cooling, which was accompanied by significant variations with a millennial or secular expression, during which new populations arrived but also during which the extinction of Neanderthals was recorded. The occupation of globe areas where the presence of Man was still unknown occurred almost simultaneously. First with the early arrival of the first Homo sapiens to Australia (Sahul) (there are more than 50,000 years ago), and much later to America, crossing the lands of the Bering Strait (around 14,000 years ago, with the descent of sea level in the peak of the last glaciation).

Occupying the most distinct ecosystems, from the tropics to the Arctic, as well as arid and coastal environments, or through areas of significant altitude, these first Men became a successful species on a world scale. Corporating a new ecological niche – “generalist specialist” – not only through their presence in the most diverse environments, but also through their ability to adapt to them (Roberts and Stewart 2018).

The end of last glaciation opening the door to challenges for the humanity. Since then our planet has known and punctuated by oscillations of lesser expression, which accompanied human societies from the post-glacial period to present day.

From Post Glasciar to the Great Empires of Antiquity

After the last glacier maximum, which lasted between 24,000 and 30,000 years, a warming process began, particularly well-marked from 14,000 years onwards, with the end of the Younger Dryas, which had its full expression at the beginning of the Holocene, 11,700 years ago (Shuman 2012). Since then, a retreat of major ice masses has been witnessed, accompanied by a rise in ocean waters from 14,000 onwards, when the melting process began to significantly affect Antarctica.

But this phase of Earth’s environmental history, if it corresponded to a “Long Summer” that marked the development of human civilization on the planet, was also accompanied by climatic variability with a differentiated temporal and spatial expression, which investigations have are seeking to identify and characterize (Fagan 2004).

In Northern Africa, for example, between 11,000 and 5,000 years, the position of Earth’s axial tilt, conditioned by the “wobble” cycle, precession, determined the development of the African Humid Period (deMenocal and Tierney 2012). Well documented in the geological records and in the iconography of the locally rock art, where pontificate scenes of pastoralism and hunting antelopes that were crossed with large African herbivores in a Green Sahara divided by old lake basins. The end of this humid period coincided with the expansion of pastoralism in the African continent and the development of Ancient Egypt civilization around the Nile, which allowed for the slow absorption of the populations expelled from the Sahara.

The 8200-Year Event was a very different expression, which translated into an abrupt cooling, registered differently in much of the Northern Hemisphere for a period of a century and a half (Shuman 2012). The phenomenon resulted in a catastrophic discharge into the Atlantic from the icy waters of Lake Agassiz, formed by the gradual melting of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, which still covered part of North America. This resulted in a strong disturbance of the Atlantic Southern Overtunning circulation (AMOC) and also in a marked cooling of the climate of vast Northern Hemisphere regions, accompanied by severe droughts in some areas.

The climatic changes that have taken place throughout the Holocene have been reflected in the development of prehistoric societies. Beginning with the adaptations to which changes in available resources led to the transition to the post-glacial period, with a greater sedentarization of populations and intensive exploitation of smaller species, in particular of river or marine origin. This resulted in the emergence, although often in a differentiated way in space and time, of Mesolithic communities, in a process that later, in the zones of temperate latitudes favored by the presence of animal and vegetable domesticated species, was translated by the appearance of the first Neolithic societies.

Often some analyzes focus on more specific case studies, using particularly precise data, as happened recently with the analysis of the oxygen and carbon isotopes of a stalagmite from the cave of the SW Peloponnese that allowed to accurately date the paleoclimatic record that accompanied the end of Late Bronze Age in the east Mediterranean (Finné et al. 2017). Associating the 3150-year-old destruction of Nestor’s Mycenaean Palace in Pylos to a short humid period, which was nevertheless preceded by an arid phase sufficiently expressive to be associated with the collapse of the local agriculture which determined their destruction.

With an economy largely based on the development of agricultural activities, the Empires that later came to flourish around the Mediterranean were often conditioned by the climatic variations that occurred. The Roman Empire, by its geographic dimension and temporal duration, knew a distinct incidence of climate change in its different provinces and throughout its history (Brooke 2014). In any case, in a global way, the development of the Empire took place in a hot period that marked the final part of the Holocene, between 250 BC and AD 400, which is generally designated as Roman Warm Period. Initially marked by relative climatic stability and marked warming, accompanied in some areas by increased humidity and in others by relative aridity. This allowed the development of viticulture to the west in somewhat unusual latitudes, while to the east, increased humidity around the Black Sea allowed the local increase of cereal crops.

From AD 200 onwards, stability gives way to the west to some turbulence, with the development of a colder and drier climate, which preceded the division between the Roman Empire of the East and the Roman Empire of the West. A pronounced later drought in the middle of the fourth century led groups of shepherds to explore pastures further south, pushing the barbarians against the frontiers of the Empire.

A Troubled Story

We are absolutely aware that the division of mankind’s History in epochs is controversial and does not possess an adequate meaning (that is to say: it is according to reality). In truth, these periods vary depending on the global region which we are referring to. Not only that, but they generally focus on a quite European paradigm of Historical division. Nonetheless, we will employ conventional methods of periodical division, but only because of the ease and accessibility (in terms of content exposition) and of comprehension of the particular highlights we have chosen. When it comes to Medieval Age, for instance, one of the parameters used to establish its beginning is the fall of the Western Roman Empire – assumed as a symbolic moment of change – the deposition of its emperor: Odoacer (in 476 AD). This means that, at the turn of the fifth century, there is a fall of certain cultural and civilization parameters that leave an empty space that later would be occupied by Arabs (that congregate and maintain the essential principles and writings that preceded the Greek and Roman civilizations). In the West of Europe, this happened due to the priests of the Catholic Church, a movement that became known as Patristic. One of the most important figures of the Patristic was, unarguably, St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430 DC). Moving on to the content that interests us here (climate), St. Augustine wrote, in his Confessions: “What is time? If no one asks me this, I know it; but, if they do, and I wish to explain it, I know nothing else.” Because it was written in Latin, the notion of time here may be translated as chronological time. However, some authors (like the Portuguese geophysicist and climatologist José Pinto Peixoto, 1922–1996) have adapted the sentence in a way in which time was interpreted as meaning “climate.” In other words, the sentence should be read as following: “What is climate? If no one asks me this, I know it; but, if they do, and I wish to explain it, I know nothing else” (Peixoto 1995). In truth, as far as our analysis is concerned, it is irrelevant how the term is interpreted (even though we adhere to the chronological interpretation of said term). Both chronological time and climate were, then, empirical realities, resulting of what is called phenomena (which simply means “what was being perceived”). However, it’s important to distinguish climate from atmospheric states. People would, necessarily, experience the phenomena of atmospheric states (cold, warmth, rain, dryness, etc.), but they were unaware of what the climate would be, and they were even less aware of climate changes. We are talking of a pre-instrumental period. This is important because we must remember that certain instruments with higher precision used to analyze climate changes had not yet been. Not only that, but this analysis also implies the possession of a series of meteorological indexes that were also non-existent at that time. In fact, both of these things would only become a reality between the fifteenth and the seventeenth centuries (with the invention of the pluviometer, thermometer and the barometer – which allow for a rigorous reading of humidity, temperature, and atmospheric pressure). Even more important than this, however, is the change in the traditional notion of climate (which happened in the twentieth century). This change relates to how the average normal conditions of the atmosphere were viewed; at first they were viewed as a random phenomenon, but later where interpreted as a dynamic one – one which could provide us with models of future predictions.

This does not invalidate that, overtime (and Medieval Age certainly was no exception) climate and its oscillations, whilst a lot less acute in Pre-Historical periods, where not felt and did not produce effects. Ferdinand Braudel, a renowned historian of the École des Analles, compares climate to a maestro, because he calls it a violent agent or, at least a powerful dominating force, capable of impacting everything (Braudel 1998).

Not wishing to be a deterministic when it comes to the role of climate in Mankind’s History, because there are many factors that come in to play (and these factors do influence it), but, at the same time, we cannot also dismiss Braudel’s claim, when he underlines the importance of climate as a major element in the evolution of Human communities throughout time.

We have to highlight what is called the Medieval Warm Period (we will simply refer to it as MWP from now on). The delineation of this period of medieval warming is not only highly discussed, it’s also highly debatable. One thing, however, is certain: from the height of global warming registered in the first centuries of the Christian era (with temperatures of about 1 °C – superior to those of the MWP or even current ones) we entered a phase of softening and then of cooling that was prolonged until the beginning of High Medieval Period. Around the seventh and eighth centuries, there is a slight inversion of the global cooling tendency that coincidentally (or maybe not) is contemporary of the Expansion that would be the Carolingian Empire in Western and Central Europe. However, the MWP truly starts around the years 900/1000 (depending on which author you consult). This is true for the Northern hemisphere, but, for other latitudes, this fact is debatable as a result of the effects of the North Atlantic Oscillation (which, we will now refer to as NAO).

Today we know that climate in the North Atlantic Basin, or more concretely in Europe is determinate by the NAO annual [or yearly] index that consists of the difference of the atmosphere pressure – at the sea level – between Stykkissholmur/Rekjavik (Iceland’s low pressure center) and Ponta Delgada (Azores high pressure center). When the NAO presents a positive index, we can expect strong winds and hot and humid atmosphere with a lot of rain fall in the winter in North Europe. On the contrary, in South Europe we verify that the winters are cold and dry. But if the NAO index is negative the result is exactly the opposite: North Europe winters are rigorous and dry and in the South the opposite occurs.

So, in every moment we have to be aware that not only that climate analysis is very complex, but also that varies depending on the parts of the world that we are addressing. Therefore, when we refer to the MWP we must be conscious that the warming was not generalized: the interaction between atmosphere and sea made the behaviors geographically heterogeneous. Despite this, it was in this warm period in the North of the Europe that the Vikings made their expeditions, arriving in Iceland (still in the ninth century), Greenland (at the end of tenth century) and in North America (mid eleventh century). We can verify a demographic increase with the consequent enlargement of cultivated areas or conquest of new land for agriculture (for example, with deforestation or drought in marshy areas). It is also the time when Western Europe decided to militarily expand to the Middle East through the holy war or Crusades (Bastos et al. 2018). On the other hand, authors such as the historian Stanley Campbell (2016) underlined the intense disturbances observed between the end of the twelfth century and the fourteenth century (in these case nothing to wonder about because opinions are divided, as some considered this as a century of recession). The focus of these perturbations were mainly centered on economic conflicts, wars and also where the ecological stress caused by the gradual worsening of the climate was beginning to make itself felt. In other words we can say that the resilience of natural and social systems seemed to approach of theirs own limits. International trade involving Europe and Asia had declined dramatically. In the transition from the thirteenth to the fourteenth century there was a widespread drought in South-East Asia. Monsoons began to fail, and Angkor, the capital of the Khmer empire (usually known for its abundance of water), had to limit water distribution (Dias 2016). The Mongol empire began to disintegrate, in Greenland the Vikings colonies declined. Entering the fourteenth century crisis began to be the rule everywhere.

According to the historian John L. Brooke (2014), around the middle of fourteenth century the world entered Pre-Modernity. He sustains his theory on two paradigms: on one hand, the communities of the “New World” began to be affected by the medieval dry’s spell; on the other hand, the societies of the “Old Word” felt the first manifestations of the Little Ice Age’s (from now on we will refer to the Little Ace Age by the initials LIA). Once more it is very difficult to establish a date for climate change, like LIA undoubtedly was. It is easier for scientists to agree about the end of LIA (around 1850 and the end of nineteen century) than about the beginning of this climate phenomenon. We have all heard of the terrifying trilogy that marked the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries with famines, pestilences, wars and death. At the end, it is possible to document the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, which announced the end of times. The famous Black Death (1346–1355), one of the most devastating pandemics in World History, probably coming from Central Europe, penetrating on the points where the Silk Road passed and causing the death of about 1/3 of the world’s population of the time. Today it is known that this disease is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, always present in rodents of the semi-arid regions of Tibet, Mongolia and Central China. The fleas of these rats are precisely the transmission vehicle of the Black Death. It is possible that, with the MWP, the moister air from the West led to the growth of vegetation with the consequent increase of communities of wild rodents. In fact, there are reports of high mortality between the late thirteenth century and the first half of the fourteenth century in areas where these animals are natural. Is it obvious that this enormous dissipation of human life was facilitated by poor nutrition of the people. This was the result of a succession of bad years resulting in the aggravation of agricultural climatic conditions that caused the devastation of crops and the incredible rise of foodstuffs prices. Is it appropriate to say that the LIA started here? The fact is that the climate is determinate by the incidence of solar radiation, atmospheric and oceanic circulation and volcanism. Now as far as the solar radiation is concerned, this period is marked by the so-called paired Wolf minimum, which may be an explanation for this negative cycle (Dias 2016). This cycle is fairly limited and from 1350 to 1400 a new cycle of a higher solar radiation incidence is registered, which corresponds to a maximum of Chaucer (Dias 2016). To add to this fact, the Iberian Peninsula was in a negative NAO, with wet and relatively warm winters. This is when Portugal conquers Ceuta, in Northern Africa (1415), which is considered by some authors the beginning of modern times.

The influence of climate on the development of European voyages to the usually called “New World” is not known. The unquestionable fact is that when Portugal began the maritime expansion, it gave rise to a new world order. This adventure was immediately followed by Spain and, later, England, Holland and France (seventeenth century). Since then, the world was never the same and there are those who consider that this was the first time so-called globalization happened. Between the mid-sixteenth century and the mid-seventeenth century, at the peak of LIA, average temperatures of winters may have been 2 °C lower than those observed in the late twentieth century in most of Europe and North America (Dias 2016). Meteorological extreme events where frequent and so it’s not strange that in the Iberian Peninsula, for instance, there’s recorded processions pro-pluvia (clamming Good to rain) or pro-serinitate (exactly the opposite) (v.g. Alcoforado et al. 2000).

In the eighteenth century, although still in full LIA, a climate amenity is already visible. Historically this is historian Eric J. Hobsbawn called The Age of Revolutions (Hobsbawn 1996). In the set of “revolutions” that mark the take-off to the contemporary period (technological, economic, political, social, etc.), it is important to emphasize the industrial revolution that began in England in the mid-eighteenth century. Some authors seems to considered that we are in presence of the beginning of Anthropocene, i.e., the turning point from which Man has taken over the command of climate changes, making the Human footprint the essential mark on world environmental system (Lewis et al. 2015).

The “Anthropocene”

The acceptance of the Anthropocene as a geologic era that happens to the Holocene is not yet widely accepted within the scientific community. In fact, to recognize the existence of a new era in the history of the Earth, the proxies that characterize this era must be engraved on the rocks, like a geological unequivocal stratum. Most climatologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, physicists and chemical scientists (among others researchers) seems to agree on the following: (a) increase of CO2 in the atmosphere; (b) progressive melting of the ice caps; (c) mean sea level elevation (NMM). These seem to be clear indices of a change in weather patterns and therefore a climate change. However, climate change has always existed throughout the ages and the human communities as well as the other communities of living beings always had to live with them. How? By adapting themselves, trying to mitigate their effects (Freitas et al. 2018) or, worst scenario, succumbing to them – as was the case of extinct species of dinosaurs (at least of the largest), at the end of the Cretaceous (about 66.5 million years ago) when an extreme weather event (as is characteristic of long periods where climate changes occur) resulted in the collision of a meteorite with Earth. This resulted in a huge explosion that carbonized billions of animals instantaneously, raising a cloud of dust so thick, blocking sunlight and making Earth an extremely cold planet.

But we wonder if we can raise a parallelism between the end of the Cretaceous and Modernity? Did the climate change indices listed above leave records which allow us to of a new era: the Anthropocene?

The first scientist that use the term Anthropocene was the micro-biologist Eugene Stoermer in the eighties of the previous century. Stoermer was specialized in the study of diatoms and, obviously, was sensitive to results from this proxy that pointed to human-induced climatic changes. However, the term Anthropocene would only enter in to ordinary language when the atmospheric chemistry Paul Crutzer, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1995, introduced it to popular lexicon. To Crutzer the Anthropocene refers to human behavior in Earth’s atmosphere over the past centuries, and is so significant that it should constitute a new geological era.

We do note that this conviction of Crutzer is not consensual. Just like it’s not consensual that the early Anthropocene default is the unfailing mark of Man on the environment, in particular when climate is concerned. Some authors consider that the Anthropocene started about 10,000 years ago, in the Neolithic period, with the beginning of agricultural practices that caused a change of concentration of various gases in the atmosphere. Others argue that it was with the Industrial Revolution (which became widespread from the UK, in the mid-eighteenth century) and the massive use of fossil fuels that begins to increase of release of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Others think the end of the Holocene and the beginning of the Anthropocene only happens after end of World War II with the globalization of consumer behavior, always based on the use of fossil fuels, that caused the increased production of waste (such as plastic, for instance) and the great increase in the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere (Simon and Meslin 2015).

We would not discuss this matter here. We just want to underline the essential: regardless of this being a geological era -the era of Man or Anthropocene – the truth is that it seems clear that we are in a period of global warming that configures a climate change. Symptoms of this are the recurrence of extreme weather events such as occurrence of storm surges, annual occurrences of cyclones, droughts, floods, etc.

The Paris Conference, in 2015, established global targets for all countries to ensure the sustainability of the planet. The commitment is to achieve four zeros: emissions, deforestation, waste and extinction. The 195 countries that integrated the Paris Agreement adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. These countries submitted comprehensive national climate action plans in order to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C, since this will significantly reduce the risks and the impacts of climate damage. According to this goal, this will provide the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels (Paris Agreement 2015). The previous compromise perfectly shows how History and the best knowledge of the past can be useful to understand the present and preserve the future. That was the main focus of History: to better know the past in order to aptly manage the present and prevent future problems more efficiently.

We will finish with promising perspective. This new time doesn’t have to be necessarily and irreversibly catastrophic. If Homo sapiens sapiens decides to use the growing technological power to improve people’s lives protect the environment and stabilize the climate, this will be sufficient to charge the outcome.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universidade AbertaLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.CITCEM (Centro de Investigação Transdisciplinar)PortoPortugal
  3. 3.Faculdade de LetrasUniversidade de LisboaLisbonPortugal
  4. 4.UNIARQ (Centro de Arqueologia da Universidade de Lisboa)LisbonPortugal

Section editors and affiliations

  • Anabela Marisa Azul
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Neuroscience and Cell BiologyUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal