Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
In nature there are neither rewards norpunishments – there are consequences.Robert G. Ingersoll, 1833–1899
Identifiable consequences of climate variability and climate change provide a measure of the significance of climatic events in our lives and the world around us. In many disciplines failure to understand how a changing climate may have influenced outcomes can lead to partial or inaccurate interpretation of past events. So identifying the most important consequences provides a checklist of the issues, which require more research and are central to predicting what future changes may occur and what their impact could be. Equally important is the ability to draw on the evidence of past consequences of climate change to help our thinking about the implication of future changes in the climate.
The analysis of the consequences of past climate change falls naturally into the two areas identified in Chapter 8. First, there is the long term and often dramatic fluctuations that occurred before the start of the Holocene, some 10 kya. Then there is the Holocene with its relatively stable climate. This stability means the consequences of climatic shifts are intertwined with other events and so the central issue is whether they have played a significant part in human economic and social development. This separation does not mean there are not periods of great climatic stability before the last ice age.