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  • In the Shadow of Melting Glaciers: Climate Change and Andean Society by Mark Carey
  • Nicolas E. Gordon (bio)
Mark Carey, In the Shadow of Melting Glaciers: Climate Change and Andean Society(Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010). vii + 273 pp. Bibliography. Index. ISBN: 978-0-19-539606-5.

At this point in the early twenty-first century, one would be hard-pressed to pick up a newspaper or turn on a television and not find something related to climate change. Everyone is in in the act, from former vice presidents of the United States (Al Gore) to fossil fuel extraction companies (ExxonMobil). While some political and cultural groups have suggested that climate change is an invention of the political left, the vast majority of scientists now agree that global warming is a scientific reality and have begun to study its effects on humanity. To date, most of this scholarship has been written by social and natural scientists who have focused primarily on predicting the influence of future climate situations. 1 Recently, however, historians working in environmental history, a hybrid field started in the United States during the 1970s that utilizes both the findings of the natural sciences and the historical record to analyze how populations interact with the environment over time, have taken up the study of climate change. 2 These historians, instead of trying to predict future disaster, look to historical and contemporary situations in an effort to gain a better understanding about how climate change has both been influenced by and made an impact on humankind. In his book In the Shadow of Melting Glaciers: Climate Change and Andean Society , historian Mark Carey contributes to this growing literature by exploring the relationship between the Peruvian peoples living in the Callejón de Huaylas, and a series of massive floods and avalanches related to glacial melting that devastated the region starting in the mid-twentieth century along the north-central mountain range known as the Cordillera Blanca. He discovers that despite the ever-present danger posed by freshwater [End Page 469] lakes that formed from glacial melting, the residents of the valley resisted expert advice from natural scientist and engineers to relocate and instead the local communities called on these technocrats and the Peruvian government to avert future disasters. Though he finds moments of considerable effort on the part of scientist and politicians to mitigate the effects of climate change in the region, Carey identifies officials from both the government and multinational corporations who, instead of trying to help these victims, used the disaster events to attempt to push these people out of the valley, in a process that he calls “disaster economics” (P. 10). With these mainly indigenous peasant residents out the way, these administrators hoped to put in place a series of hydroelectric power plants that rely on the freshwater lakes to produce electricity for Peru’s major cities. As a result of the interdisciplinary nature of Carey’s study, In the Shadow of Melting Glaciers will find wide appeal in both the scientific and humanistic communities. For historians and other social scientists, Cary’s book provides, among other things, a greater understanding of how indigenous knowledge of the natural world functions in the context of climate change, especially in relation to government and scientific initiatives to combat the situation. Similarly, for natural scientists, Carey’s work offers a chance to reflect on how scientific studies, outside of the lab, function in social and political contexts, particularly where native peoples are involved.

Carey opens the first half of the book with the narrative of the devastating glacial lake flood that swept through the town of Huaraz in 1941, killing nearly 5,000 people. Though this event brought national attention to the region and the growing problem of glacial retreat, according to Carey, efforts to mitigate future disasters by the central Peruvian government proceeded haphazardly for the remainder of the 1940s. Not until another flood destroyed the newly constructed Cañón del Pato hydroelectric plant in 1950 did the Peruvian president, Manuel Odría, set out to systematically deal with these issues by creating the Control Commission of Cordillera Blanca Lakes (Lakes Commission). Throughout...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2164-9731
Print ISSN
2166-4072
Pages
pp. 469-472
Launched on MUSE
2014-06-11
Open Access
No
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