Dec. 18, 2006 -- Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of the Climate by William F. Ruddiman (Princeton University Press, 2005) received the 2006 Science Award. The $2,500 award is given annually by the Phi Beta Kappa Society.
"Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum" is the first book to trace the full historical sweep of human interaction with Earth's climate. Shifting the focus on global warming away from the highly charged political and media debates that dominate the issue, Ruddiman offers a fascinating look at our past to see what we can learn about climate change and what can be done to curtail it in the future.
"The immediate motivation for this book was to try to convey the excitement of making a fresh new scientific discovery about unexpectedly early human effects on climate," Ruddiman explained.
"As the writing proceeded, I also found myself thinking about two audiences that I thought would enjoy seeing an up-to-date example of how the scientific process actually works — the part of the public with a natural interest in science, and students thinking about entering the field of climate research," said Ruddiman. "These considerations led me to embed my discovery within the longer history of human interactions with the climate system."
Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum is a "remarkably lucid and ambitious essay," said Roger Hahn, chair of the Science Award committee. "It uses solid scientific data to treat issues significant not only for science, but with major societal implications."
Providing startling facts and insights, Ruddiman details how humans overtook nature as the controlling force of the climate. The climate had once changed due to small changes in Earth's orbital patterns, but the discovery of agriculture nearly 12,000 years ago and the advent of farming and crop irrigation added significant carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere. With brilliant detail, Ruddiman explains precisely how humans have affected the climate through innovations more pastoral than industrial.
Ruddiman is the author of Earth's Climate: Past & Future, and has published many articles in Scientific American, Nature, and Science as well as various scientific journals. He recently retired as professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, following many years as a Doherty Senior Research Scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.
About the Phi Beta Kappa Society
Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation's oldest academic honor society. It has chapters at 276 institutions and more than half a million members throughout the country. Its mission is to champion education in the liberal arts and sciences, to recognize academic excellence, and to foster freedom of thought and expression. Among its programs are academic and literary awards, lectureships, a fellowship, a professorship, and publication of The American Scholar, an award-winning quarterly journal. For more