The year 2018 was the fourth hottest on record for our beleaguered planet. In its Global Climate report, issued last November, the World Meteorological Organization stated that the world’s average temperature rose by around 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit from January to October.

Here in the United States, as a result of climate change, we have experienced devastating forest fires, violent hurricanes and record floods. But what will be the consequences in the years ahead?

In the dense but rewarding “Nature’s Mutiny,” Philipp Blom exhaustively combs through the annals of another period of extreme weather to show us what our future might resemble and how climate change affects everyone.

The Little Ice Age began in 1570 and lasted for more than a century. Aside from the obvious natural disasters, Blom tries to connect the 3.6 degree Fahrenheit reduction in average temperatures to larger societal movements affecting Europe at the time.

Relying on original research materials such as diaries, sermons, logs, wine harvest records and paintings, Blom focuses on an agricultural crisis that, he writes, “served as a catalyst for change everywhere, facilitating some ideas and practices — social, cultural and political — while making others more difficult or even, in the long run, impossible.”

In the 17th century, for example, the church controlled the flow of education and accepted ideas. When crops failed, and food shortages and food riots commenced, people believed God was punishing them for their “human wickedness.” They then resorted to punishing the usual scapegoats — women. Yet, despite the deaths of tens of thousands of “witches” burned at the stake, the climatic calamities continued.

With the persistence of frigid weather, the old ideas of explaining the world began to fray and new, more provable ideas were injected into the mainstream. “Educated people began to reach for a copy of Montaigne or Lucretius instead of Luther of the Old Testament.” Thus the seeds of the Enlightenment were sown.

Today’s climate crisis and that of the Little Ice Age are different. Ours is of our own making; the one that devastated Europe has been partly attributed to sunspots. (No one has quite agreed on the actual cause.)

Still, we would be negligent to ignore the past as we look toward our own uncertain future. Blom cautions, “Democracy was born out of ideas first broadly debated during the Little Ice Age. It could easily die or be hollowed out to a mere facade during our own era of climate change, as living conditions for ordinary people become harsher and the very rich take more power for themselves.”


Stephen J. Lyons is the author of four books, most recently “Going Driftless: Life Lessons From the Heartland for Unraveling Times.”

Nature's Mutiny
By: Philipp Blom.
Publisher: Liveright, 332 pages, $27.95.