tools of light

Climate and Popular Revolution

by DR. TIM BALL on DECEMBER 29, 2016


My major research interest in climatology is historical climate, but particularly the impact of climate and climate change on human history and the human condition. Climatology was always part of geography because it studies the climate of a region and the change over time. This was subsumed by the growth of climate science in which specialists studied individual pieces of the complex puzzle that are climate, usually without knowing where the piece fit. Geography and Climatology are integrative disciplines that are defined as chorology,

“the study of the causal relations between geographical phenomena occurring within a region.”

You can study history and geography independently, but they better sense when studied together. It is more informative to consider geography as the stage and history the play on that stage. This led to my researching and teaching political geography for 25 years.

Over those 25 years, I took seniors on 20 tours of Europe including visits to Pompeii. One involved focussing on the extensive signage and graffiti throughout the city, putting my Latin to use. It is where you see famous couplets like Carpe diem and Tempus fugit. A piece of graffiti caught our attention because it referenced an election. It essentially said if we get rid of this bunch of scoundrels we just get another bunch of scoundrels. This implies that people simply tolerate leadership and don’t see any difference between them, so they don’t participate in elections. Some countries such as Australia confront this problem with legislated mandatory voting. It is understandable but somehow seems undemocratic because the right not to do something is as important as the right to do it.

The question that interested me was at what point do the people rebel and get rid of the scoundrels. I asked this question not from a revolutionary perspective but from a desire of the majority to restore what they see as the status quo. With those assumptions and extensive research into the rise and fall of civilizations by people like Arnold Toynbee, Fernand Braudel, and Will and Ariel Durant I distilled the reasons down to two.

The first was a failure of the food supply. Hubert Lamb, in Volume 2 of Climate: Present, Past, and Future, identified one of the first written historical records of weather and climate, the life achievements of each Pharaoh inscribed in their tombs. A common theme was their ability to carry their people through periods of diminished food supply because of droughts. The two consecutive years of harvest failure in 1787 and 1788, which caused the basic price of bread to soar to a reported 85 percent of a peasant’s total income, became the catalyst for people getting rid of the scoundrels. The hostility between the peasants and the aristocrats always existed, as it still does in France today, but after a hard winter, they stormed the Bastille in 1789. The riots in Egypt in 2008 and again in 2011 were presented as riots for democracy that President Obama identified as “Arab Spring.” In fact, they were both food riots partly exacerbated by the diversion of US corn for ethanol that put price pressure on basic foodstuffs globally. More recently we have the food riots in Venezuela as the collapse of the socialist regime of Hugo Chavez, and his successors take its toll. Written reports by the CIA during the global cooling from 1940 to 1980 identified failure of the food supply as the greatest threat. A 1974 report said the question of projected cooling identified two key questions,

  • Can the agency depend on climatology as a science to accurately project the future?
  • What knowledge and understanding is available about world food production and can the consequences of a large climatic change be assessed?

They focussed on food supply because of the inevitable social and political unrest that would follow.

The second reason people chose to get rid of the scoundrels was subtle but equally as predictable. It is why I predicted a Trump victory from the beginning. It had nothing to do with politics. When the people sense that the scoundrels think they are in power and control because of who they are and what they believe, not at the pleasure of the people, they will react. When James I claimed he was King because of the Divine Right of Kings they cut his head off. When George III said he didn’t need the approval of the American people (taxation without representation) they defeated his occupying army and created their own government.

Of course, it is not all the people who decide to throw out the scoundrels, just the majority within one standard deviation of the norm. The political elitists occupy the left and the right and generally occupy the urban centers.

Urban areas or cities are manifestations of civilization. They develop as a society forms around an increase in the food supply that creates surplus time. As I explained to farmers alienated by the lack of concern or awareness of them or their problems, urban isolation quickly develops. It reaches a point where they forget as I explained years ago that there are no farms in the cities, but there are no cities without farms. As I explained to a western Canadian farm audience, a majority of people living in Toronto were not even born in Canada, and they outnumbered the farm population of most of western Canada. They offer more votes for the prospective politician.

Another phenomenon that is occurring is the distinctive geography and history of regions creating alienation among people who are suddenly pushed together for political control. Federalism is supposedly a political system that allows for diverse regions to work together. It is failing because as Thomas Jefferson said,

“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”

“When all government … shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another.”

In some parts of the world, people are dealing with the problem of taking control of their lives by forming groups outside the traditional parties that use political nomenclature like, Liberal, Conservative, and Socialist. Instead, they are taking on regional geographic names like the One Nation Party in Australia.

Civilizations usually emerge as climate conditions, particularly increased and more reliable precipitation, allow increased food production. This creates surplus food and surplus time in which the civilization creates its form of socio-economic structure each with a hierarchy that exists at the will of the people. A fundamental change to this pattern and therefore a significant change in human evolution occurred in Britain. Climate conditions of the Medieval Warm Period were more conducive to food production than the Little Ice Age that followed. The difference was the technological innovation that provided control over production equal to the switch from hunter/gatherer to sedentary agriculture 9000 years earlier. The agricultural revolution preceded the industrial revolution in Britain. Food production and availability is still a factor in many regions, but that puts more focus on the political and hierarchical structure.

Those at the top of the hierarchy will remain unchallenged, despite incompetence, because the citizens understand they are all incompetent to a degree. However, when the two fundamental tenets of the society, a reliable food supply and the ultimate control of the people are jeopardized, the citizens will reassert themselves.

Geography and Climatology are the original integrative disciplines that create patterns from data and then work to understand the causal relationships of those patterns. The human condition is effectively determined by the food supply and the social hierarchical structure that exists at the will of the people to manage it. Disrupt or ignore those and the people will rebel and get rid of the scoundrels who gravitate to power and control.