Floods, Famines, and Emperors: El Nino and the Fate of Civilizations

Floods, Famines, and Emperors: El Nino and the Fate of Civilizations

Floods, Famines, and Emperors: El Nino and the Fate of Civilizations

Floods, Famines, and Emperors: El Nino and the Fate of Civilizations

Synopsis

In 1997-98, El Nino disrupted weather patterns the world over. Europe suffered a record freeze, the American West was hit by terrible floods and snowstorms, and drought brought famine to East Africa and forest fires to Southeast Asia.

In this groundbreaking work of "historical meteorology", Brian Fagan shows that these events were neither isolated nor new: El Nino has been wreaking intermittent havoc for at least five millennia. Integrating weather science, archeology, and the narrative gifts of a born storyteller, Fagan shows how dramatic shifts in climate have shaped peoples, places, and history since the dawn of time.

Excerpt

The whole earth is the sepulcher of famous men; and their story is not graven only on stone over their native earth, but lives on far away, without visible symbol, woven into the stuff of other men's loves. For you now it remains to rival what they have done.

-Thucydides, "The Funeral Oration of Pericles"

The damage wrought in California in 1997-1998 was not as severe as the winter storms of 1995 and 1997, but it was bad enough. We learned about El Niño long before it arrived. Satellites and computer models showed us a rapidly swelling blob of warm water--always red, like a pustule--in the western Pacific moving eastward along the equator. We were mesmerized by this expanding lesion on the earth and bombarded with predictions of approaching doom. Time, Newsweek, and newspapers around the world ran features on coming droughts, floods, and severe storms. The World Wide Web buzzed with dire warnings; California politicians orchestrated carefully stage-managed conferences to discuss preparations for disaster relief. It was the year El Niño became a household word and a social phenomenon. "Blame it on El Niño" became a nightclub joke in California.

The apocalypse came late to the West Coast. Day after day we basked in crisp autumn sunshine, the Pacific like glass, winds calm, the temperature neither too hot nor too cold. We began to laugh at the scientists' forecasts of record rainfall and record ocean temperatures. The fall rains came on time and were beautifully spaced.

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