History of Civilizations and Climate Change

As the history of civilization proves, we are not the first who have managed to influence the Earth’s climate.

Since 2014, each year the scientists have been warning that that was the hottest year since 1880. The Earth’s pre-industrial average temperature was 57. 3 Fahrenheit or 13.6 Celsius. According to numerous sources in the past several years, the planet’s temperature has risen for more than 1 degree Celsius while an increase of just one more degree could mean a disaster of epic proportions. The Earth’s surface temperature has been continually rising for forty years. In June 2016, the average temperature was 1.3 Celsius above the pre-industrial level and all signs show that it will continue to rise.

Researchers from all over the world agree that this is our own fault and if we wish for our civilization to grow and prosper, we need to take immediate action. As the history of civilization proves, if we create our own doom, we wouldn’t be the first. Humans before have managed to influence the Earth’s climate and cause their own destruction.

Current state of things

Does the term crazy scientist sound familiar? Well, that’s the term most relevant authorities used to describe scientists who first started pointing out the dangers of prolonged emissions of CO2. For those of you unfamiliar with this gas, it’s what made Venus boiling hot and what creates the greenhouse effect. Since the start of the industrial age, enormous quantities of this gas have been released into our atmosphere. Nobody knows what effect it can have on the future of our planet because it never happened before. What we do know is that our home is warming up. The consequences are numerous and they include melting of the polar ice caps, which in turn could cause sea level to rise by 10 to 40 meters. Just this scenario could wipe out the civilization as we know it.

In November of 2015, world’s greatest powers met in Paris to discuss the strategies for tackling the dangers of the global warming. The result was the Paris agreement which aims to:

Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.

On April 22, 2016, 179 countries signed the agreement in New York, but only 20 countries ratified it, which is not enough for the treaty to enter into force. This could be a historic point for our planet because it takes a collective effort from all the countries in the world to stop what could be the downfall of our civilization.

Climate change and the birth of culture

In order to get to the point at which we are able to influence Earth’s climate, our species needed the climate in which it could thrive. The Last Glacial Period ended around 12.000 years ago, which allowed our civilization to flourish. The most important factor for the growth of a civilization is a steady source of food. Areas of our planet with warm climate gave birth to the first great civilizations like Egypt or Mesopotamia.

Science, art or any form of culture would be impossible without the adequate resources that allow the people to dedicate a sufficient amount of time to them. Before the first empires, humans were mostly hunters who spent their time in search of food, much like all other animals. Somewhere between 7000 and 5000 thousand years ago, the Earth’s climate stabilized, resulting in a period of prosperity. Still, by burning a lot of trees, our ancestors prevented an ice age some 6.000 years ago. Human’s ability to interfere with the climate has been around much longer than most of us think, and the declines of Egyptian or Indus civilizations could be partially related to the impact they had on their environment.

Examples of major climate crisis can be traced in much more recent history. Medieval Warm Period took place from 900 AD to 1200 AD and Little Ice Age lasted from 1300 AD to 1700 AD. The results of both these events were hunger, epidemics, and wars. Culture and science decline each time weather conditions change because the primal needs and instinct for survival take over. If the Earth’s atmosphere continues to absorb high amounts of greenhouse gasses, we might witness the greatest climate change since the Last Glacial period.

Despite all of these factors, mankind isn’t the only one to blame for the great shifts in the Earth’s climate. The amount of sunlight and other cosmic circumstances play a large role in the faith of life on our little planet.

Space and the climate on Earth

There would be no life on Earth without a number of cosmic factors that influence Earth’s climate. Our planet’s distance from the Sun is considered to be perfect for the development of life. More importantly, Earth’s rotation plays a huge part in determining whether we are headed for an Ice Age or a Warm period.

The angle of the Earth’s axial tilt changes in relation to the plane of the planet’s orbit. It goes from 22.1° and 24.5° in approximately 41.000 years. The lower angle causes less insulation and conversely the higher angle results in a higher amount of insulation. Scientists think that all major changes in the climate are caused by the variations of the angle of the Earth’s axial tilt.

The current shift is going toward the 22.1° angle and at this point, we should be witnessing the first indications of an Ice Age, but this isn’t happening because of the global warming. Simply put, Earth is heating up instead of cooling down. It seems like we are able to disrupt processes that take thousands of years just by producing ridiculous amounts of CO2. The fragile balance of conditions that made life on Earth possible could easily be disrupted if our civilization doesn’t realize what it is doing to the environment that gave us life.

The history of carbon dioxide emissions

The Anthropocene or the anthropogenic era is an epoch in which civilizations are so advanced that they have the ability to have a significant impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystem. It is the common opinion that the anthropogenic age started 200 hundred years ago with the Industrial Revolution. Scientific studies have discovered that the levels of C02 and CH4 first altered Earth’s atmosphere thousands of years ago.

The early cultures started the process of deforestation, some 8000 years BC, which caused the planet to progressively warm up. Processes similar to this one, which increased the level of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere, repeatedly happened in the history of civilization. Some of the major catastrophes in the past, like bubonic plague, were accompanied by an increase in CO2 emissions.

The amounts of greenhouse gasses that are currently being released into the atmosphere are the highest ever recorded. If cutting and burning trees 8000 years ago stopped an Ice Age, could you imagine what thousands of cars and factories can do to our planet? Hunger, wars, and diseases are an optimistic scenario, what is more likely to happen is that temperatures will rise so much that the surface of our planet will become inhabitable and the air will become unfit to breathe.

This is a turning point in the history of civilization and it will take a collective effort from all people on Earth to protect our planet and continue the growth of our species. Hopefully, we will not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors, mistakes that caused them years of hardship.


  1. Earth Policy
  2. Wikipedia
  3. Springer
  4. The Conversation

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Zeljko D.

Zeljko D.

Željko D. is an art historian and an artist. He balances between his work as a writer and a photographer. He is probably at his best when he combines words and images. Željko is known for his passion for underground art. He has collaborated with a number of respected art institutions and likes to share creative energy with others. His view may be avant-garde but deep down he is a book-loving guy who enjoys researching and constantly discovers new things.