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Skip to 0 minutes and 15 secondsThe Industrial Revolution was a major event in history because it changed our relationship to nature. And it was the start of global warming.

Skip to 0 minutes and 28 secondsBut to me, I think, what is interesting about looking back into history is to look at specific cases of how people have managed to change a difficult situation. And so you have societies that were completely dependent on rainfall and you have like a 100 year drought. And how do they change from being dependent and vulnerable into taking action and changing society or transitioning into another way of living or moving out from the urban areas? We have all been trained in believing in evolution. And we apply that to human history. And that's a very poor model of understanding our society, because it makes the person come out as if it was inevitable, like the logical outcome of the past.

Skip to 1 minute and 23 secondsAnd I think with such a view on history and such a view on our society today, we can't change anything. Because we kind of lose the power and the imagination of making change happen.

Skip to 1 minute and 40 secondsAnd I can see-- like when I look at history, I can see a lot of changes like breaking points in history where things could have turned out very differently. So rather than see it as gradual change towards the-- hockey stick-- that we see today, you can also choose to see history at those moments in time where it could've been different, or events could have happened in another way than what it actually did. Of course, there is a lot of micro history and so on that has been really excellent. But there's no one that's done the broad history on the basis of those micro events. So I can't give good examples.

Skip to 2 minutes and 29 secondsBut to me, if I was to write the broad synthesis on environmental history or the relationship of nature and mankind, I think I would focus on different cases of where people have had to renegotiate their relationship with nature by being forced to switch their way of living or solve problems-- environmental problems.

Skip to 3 minutes and 2 secondsAnd I think we can learn a lot from that today. Like to look at what type of organizations could facilitate that rapid change. Was it driven by individuals or was it driven by a state or a similar state organization? For instance, questions that we can transfer to our society today.

Skip to 3 minutes and 31 secondsSome historians use the [? ozone ?] problem as an example of-- as a bad example. But I think that is quite a good example of how a technological change can happen very, very fast. You can also look at some of the examples that are used as moral lessons, more or less, like the Maya collapse or cases where societies have collapsed. But if you look at the Maya society, it was an extremely densely populated society. So extremely, like there are comparisons with modern day landscapes.

Skip to 4 minutes and 17 secondsBut they managed to maintain these tunnels for a very, very long time. And often, we are so focused on looking at why they collapsed, rather than asking how did they ever manage to support this big population for such a long period of time under relative stability. They produced a lot of their food inside the town. So they were green cities. And yeah. I think that's the most central thing. And as in many, many societies that are dependent on farming, they depend on good rainfall. So they have time mitigation for the years when the rain doesn't come, because that happens all the time. And I think that is something that states at least have had mitigation for since states began.

Skip to 5 minutes and 19 secondsAnd we are forgetting this now. Every time there's a climate disaster, we're like this has never happened before. And it was three years ago that the last disaster happened. I think Joseph Tainter has a really good explanation of how societies-- complex societies-- tend to solve problems by becoming increasingly complex. So I think we can see this with a global warming discussion. Today, what happens? We make committees. And those committees make new committees. And we travel the world. We have conferences. We discuss what to do about the problem.

Skip to 6 minutes and 1 secondWhere is the solution? To some, at least, it's quite easy. We have the solution already. We don't want to talk about it. We can just do it.

Skip to 6 minutes and 16 secondsSo with evolutionary history, you tend to portray history and the present as if environmental overshoot-- global warming-- is the inevitable. Like that's the prize we have to pay for human rights, social welfare systems, and the technological advancements. But I don't believe so. And I think it's very tragic if we use history to prove that that looking is historically correct, because I think what is important is to see those events back in time where people did change, where they were interlocking, but where they did transform society. And if you look back in time, we can see that those things happened really, really fast. And if they did it in the past, they can do so today as well.

Humanity and nature: the long history of the world

What does history have to do with climate change leadership? Well everything, if you ask archaeologist and environmental historian Anneli Ekblom. In this video, Ekblom discusses why we need to reframe history in order to create opportunities for change - and how the Maya civilization may in fact be a positive example rather than a case of a civilization that collapsed.

Ekblom observes that the evolutionary history which we are all accustomed to may in fact inhibit our agency:

We have all been trained in believing in evolution and we apply that on history. That’s a very poor model of understanding our society because it makes the present come out as if it was inevitable, like the logical outcome of the past. With such a view on history and such a view on our society of today we can’t change anything because we lose the power and imagination of making change happen.

Instead, Ekblom argues that we need to understand how societies have been able to change their relationship to nature:

Of course the industrial revolution was a major event in history because it changed our relationship to nature and it also started global warming. But to me what is interesting is looking back to history in specific cases of how people have managed to change a difficult situation.

She concludes:

And if you look back in time, you can see that those things happened really, really fast; if they did in the past they can do so today.

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This video is from the free online course:

Climate Change Leadership

Uppsala University

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