Author William Ruddiman Speaks

Maggie Fried

Last Thursday, Professor Emeritus at University of Virginia and author of Plows, Plagues and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate Dr. William Ruddiman, spoke to a packed audience in Love Auditorium on the topic of human impact on the environment. In his lecture, Ruddiman explained his theory that humans began changing the environment thousands of years ago, as opposed to the widespread belief that change began only hundreds of years ago. To help the audience understand how he developed his theory, Ruddiman explained the steps he took prior to establishing his theory.

“[Ruddiman] examined core samples from both earth and ice dating back hundreds of thousands of years and found that agriculture had been performed in certain areas for a very long time,” sophomore Jen Rusciano said. “He then estimated how many places this took place in and, combined with deforestation estimates, produced an idea of the extent of human impact on the atmosphere.”

One of the central components of Ruddiman’s theory is that the start of farming in human communities accounted for the changes in the environment 5,000 years ago. This argument runs contrary to the belief that current human activities, such as the advent of industry, are the cause of environmental changes. This means that even though Ruddiman researched events that occurred thousands of years ago, his arguments about human impact on the environment affect the way in which current environmental issues such as global warming are viewed.

“[Ruddiman’s] argument is certainly compelling,” sophomore Ben Taylor said.”At first I found it hard to believe, but after reading his book and seeing the evidence I began to see how it could be possible. I don’t think his argument really influences how we should act with regards to climate change though. Whether we have been altering climate for 8,000 years or just the past couple centuries, the evidence that recent warming is happening is conclusive, and it is time to act.”

The lecture was the first event of the year for the Center for Ethics and World Societies (CEWS), which is currently in its tenth year of existence at Colgate. Although this particular event focused on the environment, CEWS hosts other events such as film screenings and conferences on a variety of topics. The CEWS website explained the center’s goal.

“[Our purpose is to engage the Colgate community in the] discussion of issues arising from the interactions of different nations, peoples and communities, with an emphasis on the ethical aspects of those issues,” the website said.

The next CEWS event will be a lecture on February 28 by J. Robert Cox, a professor at the University of North Carolina and the president of the board of directors of the Sierra Club.