Constant Climate Determinism

Climate change has been of scholarly interest since Charles Darwin's (1859) writings on the causes of evolution of species. To the natural scientist, however, the issue over the following century was largely one of evolutionary and geologic time frames: the atmospheric environment at a particular location could be considered to be a given constant. In the writings of Hippocrates (circa 400 BC) On Air, Waters and Places, hydrometeor impacts or "meteorotropisms" could be observed, but resultant human responses were predetermined aggregates of long term exposure to particular constant environments. Subsequently the concept that culture itself was a product of long term adjustments to climate was afforded a scholarly basis by natural and human scientific exploration, and description by Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Ritter (Riebsame 1985). By the end of the nineteenth century, all embracing climate determinism had become the prevailing paradigm of climate-human interaction, leaving little room for notions of either environmental change at the sub-evolutionary scale, or free will.

Unfortunately, the tenets of climatic determinism became associated with social policies and bigotry. Following the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States had acquired substantial tropical possessions in the Caribbean area and the Pacific Ocean, and to thousands of colonial administrators, teachers, engineers, soldiers, and missionaries, concern about the climatic conditions in the new colonies was widespread. Amongst the "core" ideas held then about the interconnection of climate, race, and empire (Schumacher 2002), the most virulent case of universal determinism was made in a widely read and influential book Effects of Tropical Light on White Men by US Army Medical Corps Colonel Charles Woodruff (1905) "it is quite likely that everyone who lives in the tropics over 1 year is more or less neurasthenic" He also noted the unavoidable effects of tropical exposure to include mental depression, hypochondriasis, amnesia, migraine, melancholia, skin diseases, tuberculosis, cardiac problems, anemia, menstrual irregularities and general irritability. Woodruff was an adherent to Hippocratic notions that at the larger scale, racial characteristics were determined by the climate milieu. He was convinced that the superior white race would never find it possible to acclimatize to tropical conditions, where they could not expect to thrive, and therefore should remain within their own cooler latitudes. They should rule from afar. Here we might be tempted also to jest that Charles Woodruff had inadvertently made a most astute observation: the adaptation of American colonists of the tropical climate zone is their inability to adapt! Or alternatively, avoidance of a stress situation is a powerful tool of adaptation.

While impacts of atmospheric hazards on the human condition have been either recorded or implicitly recognized throughout written history (Lamb 1977), neither adaptations by physiological exposure nor personal decisions were considered to be of particular significance until academic geographers became the chief protagonists of climatic determinism. In USA, Ellen Churchill Semple (1911) and Ellsworth Huntington, and in Australia and then later Canada, Thomas Griffith Taylor (1959) while espousing less radical notions of climatic impacts than those of Hippocrates or Woodruff, believed that both human evolution and cultural development were interlinked and depended upon the characteristics of particular climates, some being more favorable than others. Tropical neurasthenia, ranging from alcoholism to lack of social control, affected all peoples.

In terms of academic, social and political influence, this softer climate determinism reached its apogee with the prolific writings and sweeping visions of Huntington (1907, 1916, 1924a, b, 1927, 1945). His works were both widely read and for a time were at the forefront of the modified paradigm. To his credit, Huntington attempted to advance Hippocratic ideas on health, performance and social development away from subjective qualitative statements of the preceding years. He tried to establish optimum temperature, humidity, weather and climate conditions in terms of quantitative data obtained for physical and mental work (e.g. factory production, library usage, college examination), and assess societies with objective indicators used even today in United Nations documents on development (e.g. birth rate, death rates, infant mortality, literacy, income). Huntington's analysis suggested that optimum performance temperature was near 18°C and then in comparing isotherm patterns to mapped distributions of the available social indicators, he arrived at a map of "climate energy". It revealed that with the epicenter on eastern USA, the Atlantic littoral was the most beneficial for human settlement. Thus, at the height of European colonialism, the philosophy of climate determinism had triumphed in many quarters, and especially in questions of settlement within Aristotle's long ago defined "torrid" climate zones.

Had Huntington stopped at this stage of his research, his version of climate determinism may have remained largely unchallenged. The problem was that Huntington was also unhappy with the previously vague concepts of affected levels of cultural achievement. Huntington decided to quantify levels of "civilization" by sending a detailed questionnaire to selected outstanding individuals across the world, asking for subjective assessments of national achievements on a large variety of criteria that he believed revealed levels of progress. It was this questionnaire, heavily biased towards technological advances and industrialization, his sampling procedures that were also weighted in favor of the developed European world, and lack of responses that made his map of aggregated civilization scores anathema to many social scientists, including fellow geographers. That this map well coincided with climatic energy unfortunately was interpreted as bogus evidence for climatic causality of group superiority. Indeed, within the then burgeoning quantification in social sciences and especially economic and human Geography, climatic determinism was considered to be totally discredited.

This determinist - free will schism, within the domain of the social sciences, has been extensively re-examined in climate - culture interactions by what can be described as multi-factorial historical studies (Toynbee 1945; Markham 1947; Carpenter 1968; Chappell 1970; Bell 1971; Ladurie 1972; Bryson and Murray 1977; Lamb 1977, 1982, Post 1977; Parry 1978; Pfister 1978, 1981; de Vries 1980; Fischer 1980; Lee 1981; Shaw 1981). The critical role of environmental forcing also has been reinterpreted within the new and exciting integrative fields of sociobi-ology (Wilson 1975) and evolutionary psychology (Cosmides and Tooby 1997).

In Collapse, Jared Diamond (2005) presents an original compromise to the ancient debate by demonstrating that society has choice, depending upon preference for appropriate action or inactivity in crisis situations, following which chance takes over. In this treatise, Diamond proposes five interdependent vulnerability factors that determine survival or demise of groups of peoples. Two are environmental quality and related decision making and management skill; two are human functions of information flows and hostility by neighbors, and the other adaptability to climate adversity and specifically its change. (Diamonds hypothesis framework is subsequently shown as part of the integrated model of adaptation (see Fig. 11.6 of this chapter).

To the above authors, whether implicitly or explicitly, critical to human social development and indeed survival, has been a question of their inability to adequately respond to extreme fluctuations in weather, changes in climate and earth resources. To Hans von Storch and colleagues (Stehr et al. 1996; Stehr and von Storch 2000; von Storch and Stehr 2006), there has been sufficient evidence to vindicate Huntington's multidimensional determinism.

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