A lofty but neat article on cities as heat engines within the context of the laws of thermal dynamics.
The City As Engine: Energy, Entropy And The Triumph Of Disorder : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR:
'via Blog this'
This article had me thinking about one of my favorite schools of history: environmental history. In part this school looks at the interactions of human beings with the natural world as well as the ways that the environmental factors have influenced human history. It's a way of approaching the past that shows some very different patterns of information than those seen in the traditional historical studies of states or peoples. It unearths at lot causes that originate in that natural world and then resonate through the behavior of people in nations and tribes.
The various cooling periods like the Little Ice Age, volcanic winters at the start of the European medieval period, droughts during the decline and reorganization of Mayan civilization, are dramatic examples of this. Ones with effects like famines, population declines, migrations, or something as prosaic as the switch from wine to beer consumption on what are now the British Islands. Subtler effects like the flow of water through the environment, studies of available woodland resources and and how those woodlands change under human management also exert clear formative influences on groups of humans when looked at in the long run.