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Politics, geological past, and the future of earth

Politik, geologische Vergangenheit und die Zukunft der Erde
[journal article]

Dörries, Matthias

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Abstract From the 1940s, new technologies, like carbon dating, ice- and sea-core drilling, and pollen analysis not only vastly expanded time horizons in geophysical and climatological research, but also pinpointed past events on a newly historical timescale. Using natural proxy indicators, these studies brought to light a series of globally disruptive events in geological time, for example, volcanic eruptions of previously unknown scale and types that had also an impact on the Earth’s climate. The past became discrete. Knowing more about the past also meant knowing more about possible futures, given that some catastrophic events have occurred repeatedly or have become increasingly predictable with the help of computer modeling. This meant that scientists' claims about the future of the earth increasingly came to interfere with politics and with traditional economic planning. The paper argues that the “new” past has come to weigh in two ways on the present and the future. First, it dwarfed the human time scale, thus in-creasing the challenge of dealing with heterogeneous time scales. Second, prehis-toric past events came to take on political significance. The deep past became part of political history, and thus of politics.
Keywords politics; natural sciences; climate; future; political history
Classification Natural Science and Engineering, Applied Sciences; General History
Free Keywords deep time; history of paleoclimatology; volcanology; geoengineering
Document language English
Publication Year 2015
Page/Pages p. 22-36
Journal Historical Social Research, 40 (2015) 2
Issue topic Climate and beyond: knowledge production about the earth as a signpost of social change
ISSN 0172-6404
Status Published Version; peer reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works