[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-Water]: Morgan on Grove and Adamson, 'El Niño in World History'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Mon Dec 3 21:41:54 MST 2018

Best regards,
Andrew Stewart 

Begin forwarded message:

> From: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
> Date: December 3, 2018 at 11:40:43 PM EST
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-Water]:  Morgan on Grove and  Adamson, 'El Niño in World History'
> Reply-To: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
> Richard Grove, George Adamson.  El Niño in World History.
> Basingstoke, United Kingdom  Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.  xvii + 245
> pp.  $99.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-137-45739-4.
> Reviewed by Ruth Morgan (Monash University)
> Published on H-Water (December, 2018)
> Commissioned by Aditya Ramesh
> _El Niño in World History_ is a tour de force of climate history.
> Together, Richard Grove and George Adamson shed new light on the
> dramatic extent to which El Niño has shaped the human past. Reading
> the historical record in light of El Niño's global reach not only
> implicates the phenomenon in thousands of years of social and
> environmental change, but shows how different societies have
> responded and adapted to its diverse effects. In doing so, they argue
> that the increasingly sophisticated study of the El Niño-Southern
> Oscillation (ENSO) has helped to improve disaster preparedness and
> diminish human vulnerability to its impacts. They speculate, however,
> that the "discovery" of El Niño in the public imagination since the
> 1980s and 1990s has combined with concerns about anthropogenic
> climate change to magnify climate anxieties about the risks that the
> phenomenon poses in the twenty-first century.
> In the preface, Adamson lays out the challenges and opportunities of
> undertaking a project such as this, of honoring a giant of the field,
> while providing his own innovative insights in climate history. Here
> he sets out his approach to bringing Grove's manuscript to
> publication, explaining that he has not tried to "finish" this work,
> which was partially drafted prior to Grove's accident in late 2006.
> This logic accounts for the structure of the book, such that parts 1
> and 3 are written by Grove, on the "millennial history of El Niño"
> and its role in the incidence of epidemic disease, and parts 2 and 4
> by Adamson, with his account of the history of science of El Niño
> and the Southern Oscillation, and its cultural significance in the
> twenty-first century.
> These complementary halves explore both the historical effects of El
> Niño on human societies and the changing ideas of what El Niño
> constitutes. As the authors point out, these histories are contingent
> upon each other: the reconstruction of El Niños past is reliant on
> the scientific understanding of the phenomenon at the moment that the
> reconstruction was undertaken, while new insights into the behavior
> of El Niños in the past shape how the phenomenon is understood in
> the present. In the late 1970s, US oceanographer William Quinn
> pioneered the reconstruction of El Niños using references to El
> Niño-related phenomena in the Spanish colonial archives of Peru
> prior to the nineteenth century. Using this method, Quinn was able to
> establish a series of El Niño events from the early sixteenth
> century, when Spanish explorers first encountered the Pacific Ocean
> and recorded variations in sea level, temperature, and rainfall, as
> well as damage to infrastructure and changes to marine life.
> Quinn's chronology has since been corrected and advanced using
> evidence derived from documentary and natural archives, as Adamson
> explains in his history of the science of El Niño and the Southern
> Oscillation. These records provide the basis for Grove's detailed
> reconstruction of historical El Niños in this book's first section.
> Here, Grove reaches back into deep time to examine the impact of El
> Niño on societies in the deep past, from the shift to the modern El
> Niño regime in the mid-Holocene to the late nineteenth century. This
> long temporal span allows for identifying the changing frequency and
> strength of El Niño events in the context of longer-term climatic
> trends, such as the Medieval Climate Anomaly, the Little Ice Age, and
> since the 1970s. This record, as Grove shows, suggests the influence
> of El Niños on economic cycles as well as catastrophic economic and
> social events over the past five thousand years. Based on
> palaeological evidence, Grove speculates as to whether emerging El
> Niño conditions contributed to the emergence of settled agriculture
> and the intensification of Australian Aboriginal land use in
> semi-arid areas between 5000-3000 BP. Severe El Niños in the late
> third millennium BCE may have also caused economic and demographic
> crises in Egypt, the fall of the Akkadian Empire, and even the
> decline of the Harappan Indus Valley civilization. Rapid
> environmental changes around 1200 BCE may also have been the result
> of severe El Niño conditions, precipitating events such as drought
> in Greece and the decline of the Mycenaean civilization, and floods
> on the Hungarian plain and large-scale migration into Asia. Frequent
> and powerful El Niño events between 800 and 860 CE may have also led
> to the collapse of the Maya civilization.
> Grove turns to more solid ground in his examination of the behavior
> of El Niño during the Little Ice Age (c. 1350 CE-1900 CE). In South
> Asia and Southeast Asia, documentary evidence provides valuable
> insights into the historical effects of El Niño from the eleventh
> century. Compellingly, he suggests that climate conditions may have
> contributed to the spread of European empires throughout Asia, where
> agricultural societies were under the stress of disease and famine
> events associated with El Niño. Populations in Southeast Asia might
> have been less vulnerable to drought than inland South Asian peoples
> due to the availability of alternative food sources from the sea. In
> the seventeenth century, for instance, drought in the Deccan weakened
> the Mughal Empire, while in Java, crop failures and famine may have
> fostered the conditions for the spread of Islam. Subsequent El Niño
> events in the seventeenth century stimulated water conservation
> measures in the north and fostered greater reliance on trade, which
> helped to break down the isolation of South India from the rest of
> the subcontinent.
> Expanding colonial networks of meteorological observation during the
> eighteenth century prompted emerging understandings of the global
> nature of the El Niño phenomenon. The focus of Grove's study here is
> what he calls the "Great" El Niño of 1790-94 due to its strong
> global effects, the events it manifested, and the prolonged nature of
> the droughts it produced, especially in South Asia. Climate
> historians analyze his suggestion that it "may have been among the
> most severe in the available written record" (p. 88) in _T__he
> Palgrave Handbook of Climate History_.[1] In the following chapter,
> Grove argues that the impacts of the phenomenon became more
> significant during the nineteenth century. First, it could reduce the
> high levels of agricultural production on which a rapidly growing
> population depended, and thus increase the likelihood of famine;
> second, it could stimulate the spread of disease in a world that was
> more vulnerable to epidemics due to improved transportation and
> greater levels of migration. Here, he is especially concerned with
> the ways in which the incursion of Western governing structures in
> India and Africa affected traditional responses to drought, causing
> greater mortality figures than earlier episodes. The efforts of the
> colonial state to mitigate the effects of drought fostered the spread
> of disease in British India, for example. The possibility of linking
> El Niño periods with epidemics such as plague, malaria, yellow
> fever, cholera and influenza is an exciting one that Grove examines
> more closely. As he explains, most of these epidemic diseases
> flourish in El Niño conditions because their vectors tend to benefit
> from the altered hydrological conditions that result.
> After the nineteenth century, the human toll of El Niño events
> subsequently diminished, despite the occurrence of more frequent and
> intense El Niño and La Niña events than in any of the preceding
> five hundred years. Adamson explores these trends in his study of the
> twentieth century, where improved meteorological observation networks
> help him to find El Niño events associated with devastating
> droughts, floods, and famines around the world. It was the
> manifestation of these conditions in Peru in 1924-25 that prompted
> the American ornithologist Robert Cushman Murphy to prepare the first
> detailed description of an El Niño event in the area. Five decades
> passed before the United States and Peru undertook a collaborative
> effort to research the phenomenon in the wake of Jacob Bjerknes's
> linking of El Niño and the Southern Oscillation in 1969. This
> research coincided with the 1972-73 El Niño, which was associated
> with widespread drought and the collapse of the Peruvian anchovy
> fishery. Failure to predict the 1982-83 event prompted further
> attention to El Niño monitoring and forecasting, which Adamson
> explains, helped to limit the consequences of subsequent El Niño
> events in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
> Since the late nineteenth century, the forecasting of El Niño events
> has played an integral role in advancing the study of this
> ocean-atmosphere phenomenon. As Grove showed in his pioneering
> studies in the field, such as _Ecology, Climate and Empire_ (1997),
> servants of the East India Company provided the earliest accounts of
> El Niño's toll across the British Empire in the late eighteenth
> century. Under the Raj, these observations became critical to a wider
> program of mitigating natural disasters, which had become key to the
> logic of imperial governance. For the colonial state, disaster
> prevention represented a means to perform the moral obligation of
> improvement, while limiting the impact of natural disasters on
> agricultural revenue. Efforts to forecast the monsoon floundered
> until Gilbert Walker's mathematical analysis of meteorological
> relationships in the early twentieth century revealed important
> patterns, such as the Southern Oscillation--the atmospheric branch of
> ENSO. Although the seasonal El Niño current off the coast of Peru
> was well known to fishers, navigators, and scientists, it remained
> understood as a regional, rather than global, phenomenon until the
> data-sharing exercise of the International Geophysical Year revealed
> its extent. The relative strength of El Niño and Southern
> Oscillation also influenced these pulses of scientific research, with
> the latter emerging from a period of unusual inactivity in the 1950s.
> In the wake of this research, Bjerknes's landmark 1969 paper made
> three contributions to the field: it established the relationship
> between the Southern Oscillation (represented by pressure at Jakarta)
> and sea surface temperatures in the Pacific; it proposed a mechanism
> for the relationship between the Southern Oscillation and El Niño,
> the Walker Circulation; and it presented a model of El Niño
> development. Further oceanographic testing of Bjerknes's findings led
> to the development of the "canonical" El Niño model by oceanographer
> Klaus Wyrtki. Improved monitoring networks after the 1982/83 event
> shed light on what became known as 'La Niña', and the irregular
> oscillation of ENSO. The lack of El Niños in the eastern Pacific
> after 1998 prompted Japanese and Indian scientists to propose an El
> Niño-like mode in the Indian Ocean, the Indian Ocean Dipole, as well
> as an El Niño that only affects the central Pacific.
> Despite improvements in forecasting, the strength of the 1997-98
> event (and a subsequent La Niña) contributed to the growing public
> awareness of the phenomenon by the end of the twentieth century.
> Although increased social resilience and better forecasting have
> mostly reduced the impacts of El Niño, Adamson argues that
> catastrophizing media reportage of ENSO has fashioned a gendered and
> destructive identity for the phenomenon in the public imagination. He
> also points to the ways in which certain scientific terminology, such
> as an index, creates illusions of simplicity and predictability from
> complexity and uncertainty. In his final chapter, Adamson suggests
> that the wider socioeconomic and political context will continue to
> shape El Niño imaginaries, regardless of the extent to which
> anthropogenic climate change is affecting ENSO. After all, "El Niño
> is as much of an idea as it is a climatic force" (p. 213).
> Clearly, _El Niño and World History_ is the product of decades of
> exhaustive research that brings together evidence from a range of
> disciplines. Adamson and Grove's partner, Vinita Damodaran, are to be
> congratulated for their endeavors to honor Grove's work and to
> advance the exciting field of climate history. Engagingly written and
> thoughtfully illustrated, this text will become a vital reference for
> geographers and historians studying the state of El Niño science and
> its history, while highlighting potential areas for further
> interdisciplinary research on El Niño and the Southern Oscillation
> in a warming world.
> Note
> [1]. Vinita Damodaran et al., "The 1780s: Global Climate Anomalies,
> Floods, Droughts, and Famines," in _The Palgrave Handbook of Climate
> History_, ed. Sam White, Christian Pfister, and Franz Mauelshagen
> (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 517-50.
> Citation: Ruth Morgan. Review of Grove, Richard; Adamson, George, _El
> Niño in World History_. H-Water, H-Net Reviews. December, 2018.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=51772
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
> License.
> --

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