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Thursday, December 11, 2003

How long has man been influencing the global climate? -  

The vast majority of scientists who study the issue (see the IPCC report for their views) contend that humans have been influencing the global climate since, roughly, the beginning of the industrial revolution.

In a recent paper William Ruddiman has argued that, actually, man has been substantially influencing the global climate since the advent of widespread agriculture in Asia (i.e. something like 10,000 years ago) and that this influence was just increased (a lot) with industrialization. His suggestion isn't dumb (clear cutting for agriculture and subsequent farming tends to move carbon out of soils and into the atmosphere) but assessing this hypothesis quantitatively will require much more work using a variety of approaches.

UPDATE - Andrew Sullivan links (follow this link and scroll down to the entry Fisking the Guardian's Graphics to an NYTimes article on the Ruddiman paper I mention above). He suggests that the paper somehow gives 'a little more perspective' to the modern human influence on the atmosphere. This is a grossly inadaquite description: misleading at best and malicous at worst. Its a bit like saying that context is lent to the observation that DC is the most dangerous city in the US (at least, according to Matt Yglesias) now, by noting that in the past it was much less but still pretty dangerous.

What Sullivan should have said was "...follow this link for evidence that man may have been influencing the climate in relatively minor way for thousands of years before he really started screwing it up in the last 150".

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