Climate Change and the Health of Nations: Famines, Fevers, and the Fate of Populations

Anthony McMichael, with Alistair Woodward and Cameron Muir. Oxford Univ., $39.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-19-026295-2
Australian epidemiologist McMichael (1942–2014) focuses on the historical connections between environmental change and human health over the course of millennia. This earnest volume, published posthumously and finished with the help of Woodward and Muir, is both academic and urgent in tone. McMichael bemoans the “Faustian bargain” societies struck ages ago—gaining improvements in personal wealth and comfort at the expense of Earth’s natural resources—before providing “a basic understanding of the climate system and the forces influencing it.” He deftly defines the greenhouse effect and explains such phenomena as El Niño, monsoons, hurricanes, and drought. As McMichael looks back at past changes in climate and their effects on humans, he notes, for example, the decline of ancient Mayan cities. Debilitating droughts in the eighth century “resulted in a water-supply crisis, falls in food production, and great stress on the social and political fabric.” Disastrous weather conditions in Europe during the mid-19th century wreaked similar havoc. He winds down his discussion by examining ways that risks associated with human-driven climate change can be mitigated, pondering what measures should be taken to avert “looming environmental and social crises” in the future. Offering hindsight as well as foresight, McMichael makes a strong argument for sustainability—a straightforward appeal with which many conservationists agree. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/14/2016
Release date: 02/01/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 392 pages - 978-0-19-093184-1
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