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The Way the Wind Blows

The Way the Wind Blows: Climate Change, History, and Human Action

Roderick J. McIntosh
Joseph A. Tainter
Susan Keech McIntosh
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    The Way the Wind Blows
    Book Description:

    Scientists and policymakers are beginning to understand in ever-increasing detail that environmental problems cannot be understood solely through the biophysical sciences. Environmental issues are fundamentally human issues and must be set in the context of social, political, cultural, and economic knowledge. The need both to understand how human beings in the past responded to climatic and other environmental changes and to synthesize the implications of these historical patterns for present-day sustainability spurred a conference of the world's leading scholars on the topic. The Way the Wind Blows is the rich result of that conference.

    Articles discuss the dynamics of climate, human perceptions of and responses to the environment, and issues of sustainability and resiliency. These themes are illustrated through discussions of human societies around the world and throughout history.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50578-9
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. xv-xvii)
  6. Map
    (pp. xviii-xviii)
  7. Chapter 1 Climate, History, and Human Action
    (pp. 1-42)
    Roderick J. McIntosh, Joseph A. Tainter and Susan Keech McIntosh

    Within only a few years, concern over the climate has evolved from the province of specialists and unheeded doomsayers to the front page, top banner, of the tabloid press (fig. 1.1). Climatology has emerged into public consciousness to the point where it is routinely discussed not only in the mainstream media but also in publications that typically report alien abductions, reproductive aberrations, and biblical portents. Yet even within these latter publications, anomalous weather and climate are now presented less as freaks of nature than as emerging norms.

    As amusing or annoying as tabloid journalism may be, it is quite unnecessary....

  8. Part 1 Climate, Environment, and Human Action

    • Chapter 2 Climate Variability During the Holocene: An Update
      (pp. 45-88)
      Robert B. Dunbar

      Our view of Holocene climate variability is rapidly changing, based in part on increased knowledge of large-scale climate systems such as the Southern Oscillation, Asian monsoon, North Atlantic Oscillation, and Pacific–North American Pattern that interact and impart climate variability to far-flung areas of the globe. There is also a greater appreciation for the diversity of climate variability. Early suggestions of globally synchronous cooling and warming, such as the Little Ice Age and Medieval Warm Period have given way to a better–documented view that late Holocene climate variability is expressed as multidecadal temperature anomalies of about 0.5 to 1.5°C...

    • Chapter 3 Complexity Theory and Sociocultural Change in the American Southwest
      (pp. 89-118)
      Jeffrey S. Dean

      Scientific perspectives on the relationship of human societies to the natural environment have ranged from doctrinaire environmental determinism to the contention that environment has minimal impact on human societies. Most scientists, however, occupy positions between these two extremes. While few would deny that behavioral adaptation to natural environmental variability is an important factor in sociocultural change and evolution, equally few would maintain that environment alone determines the resulting adaptive configurations. The degree to which environment actually influences culture is a situational issue that must be ascertained empirically. Specific instances illuminate the general processes that drive sociocultural adaptation to environmental stability,...

  9. Part 2 Social Memory

    • Chapter 4 Environmental Perception and Human Responses in History and Prehistory
      (pp. 121-140)
      Fekri Hassan

      Archaeologists have often invoked climatic change as a causal factor in cultural transformation; however, the mechanisms by which climatic change influences culture remain obscure. I contend here that a consideration of how people perceive environmental change is essential for interpreting possible cultural responses. Environmental perception is a function of the past experience that is available to an adult. Such experience is framed by inherited worldviews and values and by cultural strategies of cognition and action. Perception of environmental change is shaped by the expectation of an acceptable range of variation of certain culturally significant environmental cues. Severe successive Nile droughts...

    • Chapter 5 Social Memory in Mande
      (pp. 141-180)
      Roderick J. McIntosh

      All that archaeologists (and indeed many historians) have ever done is to interpret the traces of past peoples’ actions on the world as those peoples perceived the world. If this is a fair mission statement of archaeology, many archaeologists are at the brink of despair. How, many ask, can we reconstruct motivations, intentions, and culturally conditioned perceptions if the subjects of the inquiry are long dead, long past any interview (see Dean, p. 110)? How does one get into the mind of the long dead? For an archaeologist, it can be particularly frightening to be asked to consider, not how...

    • Chapter 6 Memories, Abstractions, and Conceptualization of Ecological Crisis in the Mande World
      (pp. 181-192)
      Téréba Togola

      For the last three decades, perhaps no single subject has occupied the attention of scholars acquainted with West Africa more than the desertification of the Sahel. No doubt, most of this interest was stimulated by the stark images of suffering caused by the severe drought that hit the Sahel and savanna belts of intertropical West Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. To understand the origin of this crisis, numerous research projects, including geomorphological and paleohydrological, as well as archaeological, were conceived and carried out in both the Sahara and the Sahel. Some researchers wished to know if the Sahel drought...

    • Chapter 7 From Garden to Globe: Linking Time and Space with Meaning and Memory
      (pp. 193-208)
      Carole L. Crumley

      Social memory is the means by which knowledge is transmitted from one generation to another. Individuals, not necessarily aware that they are doing so, pass on their behaviors and attitudes to younger members of their culture. To use an analogy from physics, social memory acts like a carrier wave, delivering knowledge across generations, regardless of the degree to which participants are aware of their role in the process.

      Like a coaxial cable on the ocean floor, bundles of cultural information are arranged around a central concept. Manifested as both a practice and an ideal, such concepts prompt people to construct...

    • Chapter 8 Chinese Attitudes Toward Climate
      (pp. 209-220)
      Cho-yun Hsu

      Social memory is formed and transmitted in all types of societies, from hunter-gatherers to great civilizations. The case of China represents the longest documented continuum of social memory in human history. Parts of the Chinese tradition about climate originated in remote antiquity and have been transmitted ever since. Throughout history, more people by far have participated in this tradition than in any other. In China as elsewhere, social memory concerning climate is embedded in both high-level cosmology and local lore. It is a tradition that has sustained a great part of humanity since at least the seventh millennium B.C.


  10. Part 3 Cultural Responses to Climate Change

    • Chapter 9 Three Rivers: Subregional Variations in Earth System Impacts in the Southwestern Maya Lowlands (Candelaria, Usumacinta, and Champotón Watersheds)
      (pp. 223-270)
      Joel D. Gunn and William J. Folan

      How can archaeological practices and new understandings of the earth system meet in productive interaction? Since 1958 a vast and growing array of sensors has been deployed in the oceans, atmosphere, and space. From them comes a flood of data from the earth system into the data archives of United Nations organizations and national climate programs.¹ These observations have vastly supplemented scientific knowledge of the earth system and overturned existing preconceptions of its form and structure. As a result, diverse concepts of earth system organization have emerged, among them that of biochemist Lovelock (1979), oceanographer Broecker (Broecker and Denton 1990;...

    • Chapter 10 The Lowland Maya Civilization: Historical Consciousness and Environment
      (pp. 271-300)
      David Freidel and Justine Shaw

      The lowland Maya civilization occupied a territory in southern Mexico and Central America about the size of New Mexico in the United States.¹ The environment is broadly characterized as a tropical rainforest on the karstic limestone base of the Yucatan peninsula, but both the ecology and geology are considerably more complex. The Maya are as famous for the collapse of a large portion of their civilization in the ninth century A.D. as they are for their achievements in art, architecture, mathematics, astronomy, and writing. The ancient Maya perception and interpretation of their environments, social and natural, is just beginning to...

    • Chapter 11 Social Responses to Climate Change Among the Chumash Indians of South-Central California
      (pp. 301-328)
      John R. Johnson

      The Chumash Indians of south-central California lived in a territory of high ecological diversity and natural productivity. Yet studies of the paleoenvironmental record in southern California and the Santa Barbara region in particular demonstrate that Chumash peoples sometimes experienced climatic perturbations that adversely affected their subsistence regimes (Kennett, Kennett, and Ingram 1997; Michaelsen, Haston, and Davis 1987; Stine 1994). A number of researchers have gathered archaeological and ethnohistoric data to elucidate Chumash cultural responses to climate change (Arnold 1991, 1992a, 1992b; Colten 1993, 1995; Erlandson 1993; Glassow 1996; Kennett and Conlee 1998; Lambert and Walker 1991; Larson, Johnson, and Michaelsen...

  11. Part 4 History and Contemporary Affairs

    • Chapter 12 Global Change, History, and Sustainability
      (pp. 331-356)
      Joseph A. Tainter

      Long before the advent of gender–neutral terminology, the great English poet Alexander Pope averred that “The proper study of mankind is man.”¹ Yet in policy making today the human sciences are typically relegated to a secondary role, and the biophysical sciences have carried the day. The historical sciences in particular are routinely given little consideration in the making of contemporary decisions. The origins of today’s problems are usually considered to lie no more than a few years in the past (Watt 1992). Our approaches to education and our expectation of continual technological innovation have made us averse to history...

    • Chapter 13 Land Degradation as a Socionatural Process
      (pp. 357-384)
      S. E. van der Leeuw and ARCHAEOMEDES Research Team

      This paper briefly presents some of the issues raised by the ARCHAEOMEDES Program, the first major European Union—sponsored research program on environmental issues in which archaeology plays an important part.¹ In a period in which most research on environmental matters is oriented toward the natural dynamics of our surroundings, the long–term perspective offered by archaeology has prompted us to focus specifically on the relationship between human populations and their environment. To do so, we have chosen land degradation as the central issue.

      Arguing that one of the most general ways to dissect complex phenomena such as land degradation...

  12. Index
    (pp. 385-414)