The Past as a Mirror: Deep Time Climate Change Exemplarity in the Anthropocene
During the past decades, notions of Earth dynamics and climate change have changed drastically, as anthropogenic CO2-emissions are linked to measurable Earth system changes. At the same time, Earth scientists have discovered deep time climate changes triggered by large scale and natural release of CO2. As the understanding of past climatic changes improved, they were used to envision what might happen in the near future. This article explores the use of deep time climate examples by analyzing publications on a 56-million-year-old greenhouse gas-driven rapid global warming event, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). We explore how the PETM is framed and used as an example of “extreme climatic warming” in four cases across different scientific genres. The scientific knowledge about the PETM is considered too uncertain to draw conclusions from, but our analysis shows that, by being presented as an example, the PETM may still contribute to the scientific understanding of ongoing climate change. Although the PETM is regarded as too uncertain to guide present day climate change modeling, it is still considered morally significant, and is allowed to influence public opinion and policy making. We argue that the PETM is used as an example in ways that have formal similarities with the early modern historia magistra vitae topos. The PETM example highlights the ambivalence that characterizes the Anthropocene as a temporal conception. The Anthropocene is “completely different”, but at the same time pointing to the similarity between the present and the deep past, thereby allowing for comparison to past geological events. Thus, the Anthropocene is not so “completely different” after all. Just a little bigger, a lot faster, and a lot scarier to humans.
350.org: History: https://350.org/about/#history (accessed 1/19/19).
Alley, Richard B. (2016): “A heated mirror for future climate”, Science, 352, 151–152, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aaf4837
Aristotle. Rhetorics. Translated by W. Rhys Roberts [online]. Available from: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/rhetoric.html, (accessed: 2/27/ 2018).
Brooks, Charles E.P. (1926): Climate through the Ages: A Study of the Climatic Factors and Their Variations. London: Ernst Benn Limited.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh (2009): “The Climate of History: Four Theses”, Critical Inquiry, 35:2, 197–222. https://doi.org/10.1086/596640
Chakrabarty, Dipesh (2018): “Anthropocene Time”, History and Theory, 57: 1, 5–32. https://doi.org/10.1111/hith.12044
Dickens, Gerald R., O’Neil, James R., Rea, David K., Owen, Robert M. (1995): “Dissociation of oceanic methane hydrate as a cause of the carbon isotope excursion at the end of the Paleocene”, Paleoceanography, 10:6, 965–971. https://doi.org/10.1029/95PA02087
Eriksen, Anne (2007): Topografenes verden: Fornminner og fortidsforståelse. Oslo: Pax.
Eriksen, Anne (2016): “Advocating inoculation in the Eighteenth Century: Exemplarity and Quantification,” Science in context, 29:2, 213–239. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0269889716000028
Eriksen, Anne (2017): “Time and Exemplarity,” Journal of Early Modern Studies, 6, 183–204.
Eriksen, Anne (2018): “Eksemplarisk usedelighet; Eilert Sundts bruk av eksempler i Om sædelighedstilstanden (1857),” Tidsskrift for kulturforskning, 17:1, 25–38.
Eriksen, Anne, Ellen Krefting & Anne Birgitte Rønning (eds.) (2012): Eksempelets makt: Kjønn, representasjon og autoritet fra antikken til i dag. Oslo: Scandinavian Academic Press.
Frieling, Joost, Holger Gebhardt, Matthew Huber, Olabisi A. Adekeye, Samuel O. Akande, Gert-Jan Reichart, Jack J. Middelburg, Stefan Schouten, & Appy Sluijs (2017): “Extreme warmth and heat-stressed plankton in the tropics during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum”, Science Advances, 3:3, E1600891. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.1600891
Gelley, Alexander (ed.) (1995): Unruly examples: On the rhetoric of exemplarity. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Hellerstedt, Anders (2009): Ödets teater: Ödetsföreställningar i Sverige vid 1700-talets början. Lund: Nordic Academic Press.
Hansen, James  (2011): Storms of my Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity. New York: Bloomsbury Press.
Hansen, James, Makiko Sato, Reto Ruedy, Andrew Lacis & Valdar Oina (2000): “Global warming in the twenty-first century: An alternative scenario,” PNAS, 97:18, 9875–9880. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.170278997
Hansen, James, Makiko Sato, Pushker Kharecha, David Beerling, Robert Berner, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Mark Pagani, Maureen Raymo, Dana L. Royer & James Open Atmospheric Science Journal, 2: 1, 217–231. https://doi.org/10.2174/1874282300802010217
Hartog, François (2015): Regimes of Historicity. Presentism and Experience of Time. New York: Columbia University Press. https://doi.org/10.7312/columbia/9780231163767.001.0001
Jansen, Eystein et al. 2007: “Palaeoclimate”, Solomon, Susan et al. (eds.): Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
Kjus, Audun, Ines Espås Bartolo, Anne Eriksen, Ellen Krefting, Lise Camilla Ruud, Anne Birgitte Rønning, Jon Vidar Sigurdsson & Kristoffer Vadum (2011). “Autoritet og eksempel”, Rhetorica Scandinavica, 58, 57–78.
Koselleck, Reinhart (1985): Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Kverndokk, Kyrre (2019): “The End of the World: From the Lisbon Earthquake to the Last Days,” Jordheim, Helge & Sandmo, Erling Sverdrup (eds.): Conceptualizing the world: An Exploration across Disciplines, New York: Berghahn Books, 226–239.
Latour, Bruno (1991): We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Latour, Bruno (2017): Facing Gaia. Eight Lectures of the New Climate Regime. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Lyons, John D. (1989): Exemplum: The rhetoric of example in early modern France and Italy. Princeton: Princeton university press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781400860814
Malm, Andreas & Alf Hornborg (2014): “The geology of mankind? A critique of the Anthropocene narrative,” The Anthropocene Review, 1:1, 62– 69. https://doi.org/10.1177/2053019613516291
Masson-Delmotte et al. (2013): “Information from Paleoclimate Archives”, Stocker, Thomas F. et al. (eds.): Climate Change (2013): The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
Moore, James W. (ed.) (2016): Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History and the Crisis of Capitalism. Oakland: Kairos.
New Zealand Herald (2016): “Earth is entering a no-analogue state – and it’s a bit scary,” New Zealand Herald 22 March 2016: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11609800 (accessed 27/2/2019).
Pollmann, Judith (2017): Memory in Early Modern Europe, 1500–1800. Oxford: Oxford University Press, https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780198797555.001.0001
Rappaport, Rhoda (1997): When Geologists Were Historians, 1650–1750. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Robin, Libby (2013): “Histories for Changing Times: Entering the Anthropocene?,” Australian Historical Studies, 44:3. 329–340. https://doi.org/10.1080/1031461X.2013.817455
Robin, Libby & Will Steffen (2007): “History for the Anthropocene,” History Compass, 5:5, 694–1719. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1478-0542.2007.00459.x
Schaller, Morgan F., Megan K. Fung, James D. Wright, Miriam E. Katz & Dennis V. Kent (2016). “Impact ejecta at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary”, Science, 354:6309: 225–229. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aaf5466
Schefferus, Johannes  (2005): En bok om det svenska folkets minnesvärda exempel. Stockholm: Atlantis.
Schwarzbach, Martin (1963): Climates of the Past: An Introduction to Palaeoclimatology. London; Princeton.
Svensen, Henrik, Sverre Planke, Anders Malthe-Sørenssen, Bjørn Jamtveit, Reidun Myklebust, Torfinn R. Eidem & Sebastian S. Rey (2004): “Release of methane from a volcanic basin as a mechanism for initial Eocene global warming”, Nature, 429: 542–545. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02566
Summerhayes, Collin P. (2015). Earth’s climate evolution. OXford: Wiley Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118897362
Sluijs, Appy, Gabriel J. Bowen, Henk Brinkhuis, Lucas J. Lourens & Ellen Thomas (2007): “The Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum super greenhouse: biotic and geochemical signatures, age models and mechanisms of global change”, Williams, M., Haywood, A. M., Gregory, F. J. & Schmidt, D. N (eds.): Deep time perspectives on Climate Change: Marrying the Signal from Computer Models and Biological Proxies. The Micropalaeontological Society, Special Publications. London: The Geological Society, London, 323–347. https://doi.org/10.1144/TMS002.15
Zeebe, Richard E., Andy Ridgwell, & James C. Zachos (2016): “Anthropogenic carbon release rate unprecedented during the past 66 million years”, Nature Geoscience, 9, 325–329. https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2681
Culture Unbound is an Open Access journal, indicating that all its content is freely available to anyone with an internet connection. Furthermore we publish all our articles under a Creative Commons license that specify what a user can do with a document. Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright and enable you to modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs. Culture Unbounduses a so called “Attribution Non-commercial” (CC BY-NC) license which allows users to distribute the work and to re-work it without the author's permission, but not for any commercial purposes and never without acknowledging the original author. Culture Unbound does not charge any publication fees from the authors. Authors are welcome to parallel publish their articles without embargo as long as they include a full reference to the original source.
Copyright for all manuscripts rests with the author(s). The editors reserve the right to edit manuscripts. Contributors are responsible for acquiring all permissions from the copyright owners for the use of quotations, illustrations, tables, etc. Each author must, before final publication fill, in a publishing agreement provided by LiU E-Press.