Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The founding fathers and climate change

The connections between understandings of the environment and constitutional and legal issues, is a large (and relatively unexplored) topic. Over at the wonderful Public Domain Review, Raphael Calel's "The Founding Fathers v. the Climate Change Skeptics" discusses the passion with which America's "Founding Fathers" insisted that settlement of the North American continent was leading to (welcome) climate change. Building on Antonello Gerbi's learned and entertaining The Dispute of the New World: The History of a Polemic, 1750-1900, Calel shows how important the issue of climate change was to men such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison:
Far from a stronghold of climate change skepticism, as the United States is sometimes seen today, the country’s founders were vocal proponents of early theories of man-made climate change. They wrote extensively in favor of the theory that settlement was improving the continent’s climate, and their efforts helped to lay the foundation of modern meteorology.
Here's a taste from a canonical constitutional text--Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist No. 11:
Men admired as profound philosophers have, in direct terms, attributed to [Europe's] inhabitants a physical superiority, and have gravely asserted that all animals, and with them the human species, degenerate in America–that even dogs cease to bark after having breathed awhile in our atmosphere. Facts have too long supported these arrogant pretensions of the Europeans. It belongs to us to vindicate the honor of the human race, and to teach that assuming brother, moderation. Union will enable us to do it. Disunion will will add another victim to his triumphs. Let Americans disdain to be the instruments of European greatness!
Constantino Brumidi, Alexander Hamilton


  1. Interesting article. Interesting image of Hamilton, too. Haven't seen that one before. What's its source?

    1. Sorry, it's from a mural at the US Capitol. I added a link now.

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