Climate change: It may well be the most significant challenge of the 21st century—or any other. But how much do we know about the impact that significant climate change had on societies in the past?
In Nature’s Mutiny, historian Philipp Blom examines the Little Ice Age, the great climate crisis of the 16th century, and traces the powerful—and often expected changes—it had on Europe. This is not, by any means, a dry treatise. Blom begins by reflecting on a painting of a winter landscape by the Dutch artist Hendrick Avercamp. On the surface it appears to be an idyllic depiction of a community enjoying the ice. But there is more to be seen here. Blom writes, “Avercamp’s landscapes describe this frigid world and hint at the new social order that would emerge from it.”
The Little Ice Age lasted a century. It brought about harsh frosts, poor harvests and significant changes in European societies. Blom’s analysis encompasses economics, philosophy, commerce and migration. Throughout, he addresses one key overriding question: “What changes in society when climate changes?”
Blom’s conclusion is a sober one. He writes that “it is possible, perhaps likely, that the current economic and political principles of highly developed societies—growth and exploitation—will result in their decline or even collapse.”
There is fear, Blom tells us—something we already know. But he also affirms, “There must be hope.” Blom’s compelling examination of how societies and cities adapted to unexpected change in the past is both fascinating history and a timely title for our own time.