The Philistine

Global Warming, It’s Always a Shore Thing

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of global warming.

Biologically speaking, human beings may have emerged 200,000 years ago. Geographically speaking, they apparently spread to cover the entire Old World of Afro-Eurasia some 50,000 years ago. But socially speaking, our paleolithic progenitors didn’t amount to much. It may have taken a dozen ancient hunters working together to bring down a woolly mammoth, but you don’t have to be very social to organise a hunt. Just ask the English.

You can only hunt and gather your way so far down the road to civilisation, and that’s not very far. Meaningful human society only becomes possible when people put down roots and put up walls. The anthropology profession may not like to hear that, but Bruce Pascoe gets it. You can’t claim native title to “no fixed address”.

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The earliest known permanent human settlement is Jericho, whose own walls famously fell to the blows of rams’ horns. The first village at Jericho is believed to date from around 9600 BC. It’s probably no coincidence that 9600 BC is also the conventional date given for the end of the last Ice Age. As the glaciers retreated, the truly big game got scarce, and people switched from hunting mammoth to herding sheep. Sheep’s wool turned out to be much more spinnable than mammoth wool, mothers starting knitting baby boots, and the rest is, well, history.

It is just possible that human society got its start in Jericho, smack in the middle of the land that God would later promise to Abraham and Moses. (God may be “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth”, but no one ever said He was fair.) Soon after the death of Moses, Joshua led the ancient Israelites into Canaan, and Jericho was the first city to go. The Israelites “utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword”. Joshua went on to flatten Ai, Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Debir and Hazor, but it’s Jericho that gets all the press.

Jericho lies 850 feet below sea level, but it is a mere forty miles from the sea. If it weren’t for the intervening hills, it would be completely swamped by water from the Mediterranean. In fact, it has been suggested that the fabled walls of Jericho were actually flood levees. But cut off as it was from Mediterranean trade, it seems more likely that ancient Jericho was a remote desert village than a bustling desert metropolis. For the first three thousand years of its settlement, Jericho didn’t even have pottery. If Joshua really did destroy “all that was in the city”, it may have been because there wasn’t much worth keeping.

As attractive as the Holy Land is to the holy, most reasonable people prefer to live by the sea. That was even more true in the ancient world than it is today. Until the coming of the railway, moving anything overland was hard work, with the sole exception of meat on the hoof. Inland life was fine if you were a shepherd watching over your flock by night. For everyone else, the ocean was where the action was.

But where was the ocean? Back in the glory days of prehistoric Jericho, sea level was 200 feet lower than it is today. That suggests that all the best neolithic city sites are probably now resting, undiscovered, under 200 feet of water. The world map looked very different ten thousand years ago. Albion didn’t become an island until 6100 BC. The Black Sea was a blue lake until 5600 BC. When archaeologists excavate neolithic settlements that are now on dry ground, they’re uncovering the remains of the uncouth mountain folk of deep antiquity. All the truly civilised cities probably went the way of Atlantis.

Sea level rose by an average of more than three feet for every century between 9000 and 4000 BC; it’s no wonder that every ancient culture has a flood story. The Bible’s flood story doesn’t say exactly where Noah lived, but the Epic of Gilgamesh gives a similar account of “the” flood, and Gilgamesh was the king of Uruk in what is now southern Iraq. He seems to have reigned around 2700 BC. Gilgamesh got the story from an old man named Utnapishtim who claimed to have actually lived through the flood. Fortunately for him (but unfortunately for us), Utnapishtim was immortal, so the fact that he was still alive to tell the story in 2700 BC doesn’t do much to fix the exact date.

Noah’s descendant Abraham washed up in Ur sometime around 2000 BC. Ur was then on the shore of what is now the Persian Gulf, some fifty miles to the south-east of Uruk. Abraham would have heard the flood story first-hand from his great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather Shem, who lived to be 500 years old. Shem was a young man of ninety-eight when his father Noah rounded up his family and loaded them on the ark. That places the biblical flood sometime around 2400 BC, more than two centuries after the reign of Gilgamesh. Maybe it was a different flood.

Either way, it seems a safe bet that amidst all the floods of the neolithic Middle East, “the” flood took place somewhere around the Persian Gulf. The flood story may be an almost historical memory of a catastrophic tidal wave that hit Mesopotamia in the 2000s BC. That’s the romantic view. Or it might be a much dimmer memory of the slowly rising sea levels that submerged some of the primest real estate of the neolithic world way back between the 8000s and 6000s BC.

The oldest known city site in Mesopotamia, Eridu, dates from 5400 BC and is just a few miles from Ur—that is, the ancient coastline. Ironically, despite the ensuing rise in sea level, Ur and Eridu are now stranded some 150 miles inland. Salt water initially inundated the flat, marshy plains of southern Mesopotamia, but then sediment from the Tigris-Euphrates river system built the land back up again. The net result is that any earlier cities that might once have dotted the shores of the ancient Persian Gulf would now lie 150 feet under the muds of Basra.

It’s the same story in lower Egypt. The oldest known permanent settlements in Egypt date back to the 4000s BC, but they’re all south of the Nile delta. Any earlier towns that might have existed in what is now the delta would have been first submerged, then silted over. If there were ancient cities before Jericho, they’re probably all buried in the alluvial muds of the Middle East. That may be why history, as such, began around 3500 BC. The conventional account is that 3500 BC was when the first writing systems emerged, simultaneously in Mesopotamia (cuneiform) and Egypt (hieroglyphs). The plausible alternative is that writing is much older, but everything written before 3500 BC is now inaccessible, or lost.

We are now warned that, if we do nothing to prevent anthropogenic global warming, sea levels may rise by three feet by the end of this century. A three-foot rise in one century would bring us back to the pace sea level was rising at the beginning of human civilisation. Maybe we’ll invent some better pottery. Meanwhile, although a three-foot sea level rise may be bad news for Venice and New Orleans, it does prompt a puzzling philosophical question. If industrial civilisation had happened to develop a few thousand years earlier (a blink of the eye in geological time), and sea levels were now expected to rise three feet every century due to purely natural causes, would we take action to stop such an all-natural process of global warming?

After all, the same arguments about polar bears, bushfires and the Great Barrier Reef should apply, whether the motive forces behind the expected warming (and concomitant sea level rise) were human or natural in origin. We are now urged to return to a state of nature in order to save low-lying island nations, but would we be similarly urged to respect a state of nature that was destroying them? Perhaps yes. It is not at all clear that the green lobby would advocate a massive geoengineering intervention in the face of natural global warming, rather than demand that we meekly accept our cataclysmic (but all-natural) climate fate.

Noah and Utnapishtim both embraced the Great Flood, even relished it, and adapted to it. Of course, they were both responding to orders received directly from God. We have only the Word of the IPCC. Venetians, man your gondole!

14 thoughts on “Global Warming, It’s Always a Shore Thing

  • Marcus Harris says:

    Climate change is a natural phenomenon, but it’s accelerating due to human pollution. The problem is evolution of many if not most non human species isn’t rapid enough to compensate. We’ll suffer catastrophic environmental damage unless we decelerate rapidly.
    However, only communist China has the power and control over their population to both feed 1.2 Bn people and mitigate pollution.
    Democratic nations are finally getting it and Australia is amongst the last.

  • PT says:

    Really Marcus! So why is Communist China going to INCREASE its emissions by 50% over the next decade with all this “mitigation”?

  • en passant says:

    “… only communist China has the power and control over their population …”
    You clearly cannot be a resident of the Victorian Gulag where Despotic Dandemic arbitrarily destroyed the economy, ruined our way of life, imposed dystopian ‘laws’, enabled tyranny, destroyed our freedoms and was cheered by our treasonous politicians of all shades for ‘saving us’ from a minor sniffle. The best part is that he was exonerated for having any part of the nightmare
    Well done all you masks-of-subservience wearing New Australian Sheeples! I have opted out from being one of you.
    I loved it the other day when the news reported a group of oldies protesting against global warming and the use of fossil fuels in Victoria. It was so cold in FEBRUARY they were all wearing parkas …
    Don’t forget St. Greta’s fatwa at the UN that we will all have fried & died by 9th June 2030. Not long to go, but I would like to know if we are finished in the morning of the 9th or if I will have time to fire up the BBQ and have a party.

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    This is easily the coolest summer I can recall in my 46 years living in the ACT. It says an awful lot about the gullibility and stupidity of the masses and “the madness of crowds” that we are still tolerating our governments imposing ridiculous policies in pursuit of the impossible dream of bringing the world’s, oops, sorry, I mean the Planet’s climate under control. Outrageous.

  • J Vernau says:

    “… Jericho, smack in the middle of the land that God would later promise to Abraham and Moses. … but no one ever said He was fair.”
    Yes, one of the few parts of the Middle East with no oil under it. As Leo Strauss once said:
    “The Jewish people and their fate are the living witness for the absence of redemption. This, one could say, is the meaning of the chosen people; the Jews are chosen to prove the absence of redemption.”

  • Michael says:

    Sea levels have been rising since the end of the last ice age. We’ve now emitted about 1.5 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide since the industrial revolution. About 300 billion tonnes of that will still be in the atmosphere in a thousand years. Sea levels will continue to rise. Higher ground close to the coast has always been something of a premium. People and cities will move. Bet on it. But it’s not the end of the world.

  • Ian MacKenzie says:

    The Dutch have a long history of reclamation of land from fresh and salt water, resulting in some 3,000 polders nationwide, the oldest remaining dating from the 1530s. By the 1960s, about half of the country’s land, 18,000 square kilometres, was reclaimed from the sea. The process, using dykes to separate a body of water and then pump it out, is at least as old as the Romans. The Dutch even used renewable energy for their pumps (windmills). If they could do it, then so can we.
    My parents once had a beach house on a coastline subject to significant erosion during storms. Their local council refused any permits for earthworks which might have protected their property and those adjoining. One night a mysterious frontend loader dropped large rocks along the upper edge of the beach, and all the beach houses are still there thirty years later.
    We have the technology, we just need the willpower.

  • Tony Thomas says:

    “We are now urged to return to a state of nature in order to save low-lying island nations,”
    Not sure if Salvatore’s aware that the low-lying Pacific islands are expanding. See several papers by Kench at (as I recall) University of Auckland. As sea level rises, the coral builds up to stay above water – Charles Darwin was the first to notice that.. Plus a lot of sediment builds up. The “imperilled” islands (including Maldives) is a classic example of scams involved in the warming story.

  • Stephen says:

    Dear J Vernau – There’s an old joke about how an Israeli PM dies and goes to heaven and meets Moses. His question to Moses was, “Why didn’t you turn right a Sinai instead if left then we could have had the oil and they could have had the oranges”. It’s hard to tell this joke any more because over the last few years Israel has discovered some oil and absolutely huge amounts of gas in the Mediterranean sea within the economic zone. One of the gas fields is amongst the largest ever discovered any where. This promises energy independence for Israel and a longer term prospect of supplying gas to Europe as an alternative to Russia.

    So don’t despair, G-d may not have been so cruel after all.

  • ianl says:

    > ” Climate change is a natural phenomenon, but it’s accelerating due to human pollution” [Marcus Harris, above]

    CO2 is not a pollutant, Marcus, and no amount of hyperbolic guilt tripping will make it so.

    “Accelerating” – oh right. Accelerating from when ? And at what measured rate ? Compared with when ? Trending from when ? Is it temperature, or sea levels, or storms, or floods, or droughts or nice sunny days ? If it’s all these, then situation normal.

    What Marcus would call “the science” is hypothetical, speculation. We lack any reliable record long enough to answer any of these questions with surety and the “Precautionary Principle” is rancid with absolute dishonesty.

    By the way, I do greatly like Salvatore Babones sense of satire.

  • rod.stuart says:

    I think one of the greatest myteries of the modern age is that so many of the gullible sheeples swallow the line that there is any, that is ANY, correlation concerning atmospheric CO2 and air temperature.
    Where does this obscene nonense originate? It is exemplary of Edward Bernays’ concept that a BIG LIE repeated often enough is nothing but perception that is treated with reality.
    There is absolutely NO REASON to think that the two are even remotely connected. And a multitude of reasons for the contrary.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    I too enjoy Salvatore’s sense of satire.

    I am particularly heartened to hear an early instance of the world being saved by God’s mysterious front end loaders. May they multiply and defend the beaches houses of planet-saving celebrities everywhere as I am sure they will. For I am a believer, a believer that models, shown to be mostly useless in predictive value re Covid, will now be seen for what they are regarding the unproven CO2 hypothesis: equally useless in predicting anything as complex and unmeasurable in planetary terms as any minor change in temperatures and the seasons as earth turns on its axis, slowly but surely heading in the long term future towards another ice age.

    I offer up my thanks to the ineffable for the inter-glacial we are currently existing within.

  • Harry Lee says:

    Always been the case that large numbers of people embrace fantasies that the End is Nigh. Then too, there’s the self-righteous who derive their sense of saintliness from declaring that they want “the government” to save the Earth and all its peoples from the Big Bad Thing. Then there’s those with the title “scientist” who have not a clue about the essentials of actual science. Then there’s the power-mongers operating in the shadows, and in plain sight, who puppeteer these fantasists, these would-be saints, and these ignorant scientists -because major power and major money can be drained from the “the government” when Hysteria, Vicarious Virtue-Seeking, and the Ignorance of (False) Experts beseige the land.

  • petroalbion says:

    If there were to be 300 billion tons of CO2 left in the atmosphere, which will equall 0.04 ppm, not too alarming. But your claim that all human emissions will stay in the atmosphere for thousands of years is based on the mistaken assumption that human CO2 molecules are different to the natural variety. The atmosphere currently has 414 ppm CO 2 of which around 100 ppm are absorbed by the cold oceans and by the biosphere while another 100 ppm are released back into the atmosphere by warming oceans and the decay of plant matter and soil, every year. So ever year, one quarter of the CO 2 in the atmosphere is recycled including man made molecules so the average residence time of CO2 molecules can’t be much more than perhaps 6 years. Human CO2 molecules could only escape this process if they were CO3

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