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A study of causal relations in climate and history : with an emphasis on the Icelandic experience


Due to the increased popularity of various kinds of economic determinism in history and social sciences, it is reasonable to expect that the interdiscipinary field of climate and history, climatic determinism will become a subject of increased use. In my opinion it must be avoided, for instance by considering the great complexities of the causal link between society and the climate, we should not accept that mere covariation per se is the proof for he existence of a real relationship. Also we should not try to apply phenomena, which are in fact limited to one region, to a much larger area by assuming that the observations are rather universally applicable.

The people who mainly suffered because of weathercatastrophes had no control over the economic policy and the economic resources. These were in the hands of an upper class which often saw demographic crises as blessings from heaven or as good positive checks on the population.


Most of the old societies were in a vicious circle of poverty and a low degree of technological development. Together with the fear among the societal upper strata, that change might upset the social balance these objective conditions of poverty created a resistance to technical innovations and structural changes which might have alleviated the situation of the poor.

All these factors are by and large well applicable to most of the so-called third world today. But at present we have certain advantages which our ancestors did not have. The most important of these is a better knowledge of both nature and society. The cognitive aspect for dealing with catastrophes of nature has improved. The great changes in society during the last centuries have stimulated the growth of optimism and impatience with the prevalant situation, in short the willingness among numerous sectors of the population to work for change. The jacqueries and the old rural panics have largely been replaced by organized struggle with clear motivations.

On the negative side of the balance sheet is the increased exploitation of the natural resources, increasing objectively man’s vulnerability to the climate. Related tot his is another negative factor: The great waste of resources which the increasing military expenditure in the world represents besides, of course, its role in suppressing organized legitimate struggle with clear motivations.

Seen on a global scale our capacity to deal with economic crises caused by catastrophes of nature is strikingly similar tot he position of our ancestors in dealing with such crises in their own respective countries. The institutional restraints have basically remained the same,

As the the people who mainly suffer from hunger have no control over the economic policy or the economic resources.