Prof. Brian Fagan Speaks on Water and Humanity at WVU

by Duane Nichols on April 4, 2012

WVU Distinguished Visitors Lecture:

Prof. Brian Fagan, April 4, 2012, Morgantown, WV

Brian Fagan is emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he has been on faculty since 1967.  He is author or editor of 46 books and over 100 articles in scientific journals. Three of his books are summarized below.   In his lecture at WVU he presented photographs to feature the topics in his most recent book Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind.

He said that the earth has experienced a 25% increase in global drought since 1990, due to global warming. And, severe to extreme drought conditions are expected to continue to increase.  He expressed concern about rising sea levels which will displace tens of millions of people around the world.  Already there are climatic refugees exposed to hunger, disease and death in many countries.  “Then there is fracking …….”  He said that no one knows the full extent of fresh water depletion that will be caused by the hydrofracking of shales for natural gas development nor the amount of water that will be contaminated.

Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind,  by Brian Fagan 

Book Review, Publication Date:  June 2011.

This book surveys water management, alighting on every continent and chronologically spanning from the advent of irrigated agriculture to the water works of modern cities like Phoenix, Arizona. He critiques the common impression that centralized control of water, such as that which conjured Phoenix into existence or, in ancient times, Roman aqueducts and Chinese canals, is the main theme in the story of humanity’s capture and distribution of water. He favors a bottom-up view, suggesting that local solutions to water problems were consolidated by civilizations, not invented by them. He describes village-scale technologies to support that viewpoint, going into archaeological analysis to underscore how communities such as Bali, the Maya, and Angkor Wat invested their water sources with sacredness. Well might they have ritualized water, for Fagan recounts how science indicts drought as the agent of various civilizations’ downfalls and a forewarning of our own. Supplying intriguing historical background, Fagan well informs those pondering freshwater’s role in contemporary environmental problems. — Gilbert Taylor

The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations, by Brian Fagan

Book Description from Amazon, Publication Date: March 3, 2009

This book takes up how the earth’s previous global warming phase reshaped human societies from the Arctic to the Sahara—a wide-ranging history with lessons for our own time. From the tenth to the fifteenth century the earth experienced a rise in surface temperature that changed climate worldwide—a preview of today’s global warming. In some areas, including western Europe, longer summers brought bountiful harvests and population growth that led to cultural flowering. In the Arctic, Inuit and Norse sailors made cultural connections across thousands of miles as they traded precious iron goods. Polynesian sailors, riding new wind patterns, were able to settle the remotest islands on earth. But in many parts of the world, the warm centuries brought drought and famine. Elaborate societies in western and central America collapsed, and the vast building complexes of Chaco Canyon and the Mayan Yucatán were left empty. The history of the Great Warming of a half millennium ago suggests that we may yet be underestimating the power of climate change to disrupt our lives today—and our vulnerability to drought, writes Fagan, is the “silent elephant in the room.”

The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization, by Brian Fagan

Book Description from Amazon, Publication Date: December 29, 2004

Humanity evolved in an Ice Age in which glaciers covered much of the world. But starting about 15,000 years ago, temperatures began to climb. Civilization and all of recorded history occurred in this warm period, the era known as the Holocene-the long summer of the human species. In The Long Summer, Brian Fagan brings us the first detailed record of climate change during these 15,000 years of warming, and shows how this climate change gave rise to civilization. A thousand-year chill led people in the Near East to take up the cultivation of plant foods; a catastrophic flood drove settlers to inhabit Europe; the drying of the Sahara forced its inhabitants to live along the banks of the Nile; and increased rainfall in East Africa provoked the bubonic plague. The Long Summer illuminates for the first time the centuries-long pattern of human adaptation to the demands and challenges of an ever-changing climate-challenges that are still with us today.

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