Plows Plagues and Petroleum by William F. Ruddiamn Essay

Pages: 10 (4273 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Weather

¶ … Ruddiman Plows

Annotation of W.F. Ruddiman, Plows, Plagues & Petroleum

Ruddiman's principal claim is that human effect on climate change did not begin in the 1800s as most scientists accept, but began thousands of years before in slow gradual changes whose impact equals that of the Industrial Revolution. He supports this claim in various ways. First, he uses an analogy of the tortoise and the hare to contrast slow vs. rapid changes. Then he shifts into a discussion of the field of climatology and its four revolutions (Hutton on the earth's age and slow change, Darwin on evolution, Wegener on continental drift, and the recent ongoing one) -- all of which establishes his credibility and provides the background premises for his view. He uses crime solving as an analogy for the scientific method he employs. Rhetorically interesting is his use of the analogy of a magician to talk about the misdirection away from more important evidence of gas concentration that occurred before the 1800s. In other words, scientists have been diverted from seeing the real causal connections. Foreshadowing his argument, he says that what ultimately convinced him was the correlation between irrigation and the simultaneous rise in methane, that is, between human history and climate change. This breaks the known trend of a natural law-based cyclic system that he argues must have resulted from human action, not nature. It is all an appeal to logos.

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Summary: Chapter one establishes his basic claim and gives background information on the scientific worldview and project that inform his analysis. It establishes him as a credible and trustworthy voice, tempered by reason and not emotion.

TOPIC: Essay on Plows Plagues and Petroleum by William F. Ruddiamn Assignment

Ch. 2, pp. 17-24. His major claim is that for millions of years, pre-humans made no change to earth's climate or environment. His evidence is that pre-humans were too small in number, too mobile, and had no technology that would damage climate. The argument is based first on an evolutionary narrative of human history for which he gives no citation and which he presumes is self-evident. Then he switches to the confirmation, through participatory science and fossil records, of Alvarez's asteroid-impact theory of dinosaur extinction. He introduces a second argument, discrediting other "oceanic gateway" theories, that earth's cooling was the result of drops in CO2 levels, which he supports through the comparison of a volcano to a dripping faucet in a tub -- an effective metaphor that illustrates balance and flux of atmospheric CO2 -- and the geophysical evidence of a decrease in volcanic activity and a corresponding polar cooling. There is a shift from narrative to causal explanation. It is logos-based. His conclusion is that pre-humans for millions of years were not responsible, based on their lifestyle, for climate change.

Summary: He deduces evident that for millions of years, humans had no impact on the earth, using appeals to pathos (astonishment, amazement) and to the logos of the narrative.

Ch. 3, pp. 25-34. Ruddiman's major claim is that the earth's orbit influences climate. Using questions about Agassiz' theory of an "ice age" and evidence for enormous ancient lakes in American and African deserts, he is led to conclude that something has been causing climate change (disappearance of lakes) in short time scales that cannot be slow tectonic changes. He finds the answer in the astronomical theory of the earth's orbit influenced by gravitation. Adhemar's view that changes in earth's orbit should affect the amount of solar radiation reaching its surface (impacting climate) began research that has since explained how axial tilt, eccentricity of orbit (distance from the sun), and precession (wobbling) affect the amount of radiation on earth. These findings are illustrated by charts, arguments, and clarifying analogies such as those of a light bulb and a top that help the reader imagine orbits. Ultimately his claims are based on citation of theoretical findings in astronomy and his descriptive narration of the process of orbit and its effects (process and cause/effect). His ability to tell the scientific narrative establishes credibility (ethos). He achieves balance by presenting opposing viewpoints (seasonal compensation for orbit effects) and pointing out their flaws (over-simplicity, homogeneity).

Summary: Using appeals to scientific advances and acceptance in the scientific community for certain hypotheses, his describes how the earth's orbit can influence the earth's climate.

Ch. 4, pp. 35-45: His main claim is that scientific evidence further confirms the idea of earth's orbit influencing climate. Appealing to the reader's imagination (compare now with past ocean levels), personal example (experience of a snowstorm), and the process of ablation (snow melt), he asserts that winter is not the key to ice sheet control. Citing Milankovitch's hypothesis that summer radiation is the key to ice sheet growth, he points to evidence in radiocarbon dating of ice sheets correlated with data about past levels of summer radiation. Instead of looking at spotty ice sheet data, he looks at evidence in ocean sediment (debris) dropped when ice sheets vanished and oxygen levels in plankton shells. Then he shifts to exemplification, using typical examples from coral reefs and marine sediment that give scientists data for a history of glaciation cycles superimposed on longer-term cooling trends. This evidence points to cycles of glaciations at intervals of 41 or 22 thousand years that are aligned with summer radiation patterns. His argument explains how a process happens and works. He uses the analogy of the freeze and thaw of birdbaths to make it clear. His conclusion is that the earth's orbit controls ice-age cycles. An interesting rhetorical choice at the end is an appeal to imagine what a glacial world would look like -- this is interesting because it is hard to grasp today.

Summary: Using logos and pathos, Ruddiman explores further evidence that orbit controls climate by controlling ice-age cycles.

Ch. 5, pp. 46-54: His primary claim is that monsoon cycles, related to solar radiation cycles from earth's orbit, are another supporting proof that orbit affects climate. He supports this claim with evidence from methane increases during cycles of stronger radiation, and data to refute the opposing view that it was ice sheets. Kutzbach's proposal is advanced, which claims that rain from summer monsoon cycles explains how former wet and green areas (that are now dry) were filled. This is an application of a working climatological model from today into the past. The whole argument is an appeal to logos and process explanations based on the analogy of the past with conditions today. Monsoons and methane levels are correlated because of plant decomposition in water. His conclusion is a mantra: more Sun, more monsoon, more methane. After citing and explaining scientific support, Ruddiman switches to persuasion (opinion) to argue in the first person (self-referential) that gradual orbital-scale changes in climate were not a significant factor in human evolution. Interestingly, he claims non-expertise before giving his view, thus precluding reader's judgment and indicating a shift from "science" to "personal opinion." He thinks abrupt changes are most influential in evolution, but are improvable.

Summary: Ruddiman achieves further support for his orbital view of climate change and adds personal opinions about human evolution on the basis of self-deprecating credibility.

Ch. 6, pp. 55-60: His major claim is that humans, not nature or climate, are the primary cause of the mass mammal extinctions that occurred 12,500 years ago. His narrative of human history is an appeal to pathos (how sophisticated they were). Past glaciations had not wiped out animal populations, so it must be human predation. His evidence is that all past glaciations had the same configuration of climate factors that happened 12,500 years ago, but extinction did not occur. Ruddiman notices that the extinctions happened just as humans moved onto continents. This is an argument from example and correlation, not causation, based on a suggestive time link between climate and history. No similar extinctions occurred in Africa and Eurasia where humans were already co-evolving with animals. He shifts to pathos, appealing to imagination in narrating hunting scenarios that could have led to massive extinction. Then he shifts again to archeological evidence of skeletons at the bottom of cliffs and arrowheads embedded in them, along with population ecology studies showing that mammal species can be extinct rapidly with just slight increases of mortality rates. He knows the fossil record doesn't agree with his theory, but he dismisses it through a pathos appeal to future discoveries. Interestingly, he uses his position to assert opinion ("I will place my bet that . . ."), he uses pathos by mentioning the "tragic chapter" of extinctions and how humans today are over-influenced by Rousseau's view of the noble savage (i.e., they have an unconscious resistance to seeing ancient humans as evil), and he downplays the implication that humans were bad for their actions since it was all survival.

Summary: In this chapter, Ruddiman positions himself to start talking about negative human influence on the environment, illustrating this by the correlation of mammal extinction with the progress of human techniques and rejecting a link between extinction and climate.

Ch. 7, pp. 65-75:… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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