Chaos in the Heavens

Chaos in the Heavens:The Forgotten History of Climate Change

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Politicians and scientists have debated climate change for centuries in times of rapid change

Nothing could seem more contemporary than climate change. Yet, in Chaos in the Heavens, Jean-Baptiste Fressoz and Fabien Locher show that we have been thinking about and debating the consequences of our actions upon the environment for centuries. The subject was raised wherever history accelerated: by the conquistadors in the New World, by the French revolutionaries of 1789, by the scientists and politicians of the nineteenth century, by the European imperialists in Asia and Africa until the Second World War.

Climate change was at the heart of fundamental debates about colonisation, God, the state, nature, and capitalism. From these intellectual and political battles emerged key concepts of contemporary environmental science and policy. For a brief interlude, science and industry instilled in us the reassuring illusion of an impassive climate. But, in the age of global warming, we must, once again, confront the chaos in the heavens.


  • A truly fabulous book -- surprising, thought-provoking and rich in historical irony. It is a necessary corrective to the narrative which makes the emergence of climate change as a matter of concern relatively recent and incremental. But it is more enlightening, more provocative and more entertaining than any mere necessity would have required.

    Oliver Morton, author of The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World and The Moon: A History for the Future
  • The upshot of this brilliant book is that historians have been asking the wrong question. For years we've been trying to date the emergence of a consciousness about the impacts of human activities on Earth's climate. But this awareness long predates modern science, as we learn from the authors' pathbreaking research. The real question, the one at the heart of their book, is why this awareness was always ambivalent and why it evaporated at the turn of the twentieth century. If you want to understand the long path to the climate crisis, read this book.

    Deborah Coen, Professor of History & History of Science & Medicine, Yale University
  • This brilliant book turns upside down the received story of climate science. Fressoz and Locher uncover a rich awareness of climate change in early modern times centered on forests and water. But with the advent of industrial society in the nineteenth century, wealthy Western nations embraced a new indifference to climate. If Fressoz and Locher are right, we need to look to the past to understand why climate mitigation has met with such fierce resistance in the present moment. Behind the climate denial of the oil lobby lies the Victorian faith in the imperturbable sky.

    Fredrik Albritton Jonsson