You might think of it — it being human civilization as we know it today — as the product of a lucky greenhouse.
These days we talk about climate change mostly in terms of a threat. It represents a set of new risks to our health, our infrastructure, our relatively stable existence. But ages before humans began to adding to that change, the climate system created the perfect conditions for human existence during a period called the Holocene.
“It’s no coincidence that during that stable period of climate that we’ve had the development of human civilization as we know it,” said Jeffrey Shaman, director of the climate and health program and an associate professor at Columbia University.
“Agriculture started, human urbanization started — all this benefited because we actually had a very remarkably long period of time, 10,000 to 12,000 years of the Holocene, in which temperatures didn’t really move that much globally.”
But Shaman said our climate tampering could introduce some nasty disruptions to the climate coddling we’ve taken for granted until this point in our history. Swings in temperatures, changing weather patterns, and sea level rise could all have serious effects on human health writ large, he said. “It’s going to be more difficult to feed ourselves, there will be more heat-related morbidity and mortality.”
In the video above, Shaman helps us visualize why we should love what climate change has done for all of us — and what to do now that the climate system has our attention.