Ancient empires crushed by changing climate — not that you should worry

Elizabeth Kolbert continues her exploration of climate change in the second of a three-part series in The New Yorker. She begins with a look at the world’s first great empire, founded 4,300 years ago on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Around 25 years ago, archeologist Harvey Weiss uncovered one of that empire’s great cities and — through careful analysis of the layers of sedimentation — discovered that, around 2200 B.C., all signs of life (even earthworms!) abruptly vanished. His theory, controversial at the time, was that “climate change,” namely a vicious drought, had wiped the city out. Paleoclimatologist Peter deMenocal verified Weiss’ theory by studying sediment cores from a nearby sea. Since then, the theory that cultures rise or fall based on the contingencies of climate has been applied to the disappearance of a number of civilizations around the world. Meanwhile, NASA scientists say present-day climate change is accelerating. Care to connect the dots?