Back in the mid-1970s, Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang made Doug Peacock something of an icon of the new environmental movement — albeit a somewhat reluctant one. A writer and naturalist, Peacock says it has been difficult at times to live up to the expectations of people who still think of him as George Hayduke, the fictional ex-Green Beret and “wilderness avenger” of Abbey’s classic novel that he helped inspire.
But four decades later, Peacock is still in the fight, battling to protect both the western wilderness where he found solace after returning from the Vietnam War and the embattled grizzly bears that he says saved his life.
For his latest book, In the Shadow of the Sabertooth, Peacock digs into the distant past – about 15,000 years ago – to explore the last time human beings endured a major period of global warming. The lessons of that period, he says, still resonate today.
In an interview, Peacock explains what humankind has to learn from North America’s first human inhabitants, what it will take to save the natural world from modern threats, and why he believes Yellowstone’s grizzlies are facing their greatest threat yet.
Peacock will make two appearances at Yale next week.
Q: You’ve written about how climate change is changing the planet today, but your new book is about what happened the last time humans experienced rapid climate change — soon after they first populated North America. Why did you decide to write about this period?
Well, global warming — and the collective damage we have done to Mother Earth and all the systems that support life on this planet — is the story of my time and my generation. We call it climate change, but more accurately it’s global warming. It’s also a really bummer story. The prognosis is so damn grim that I’m reluctant to say what I really think to high school students. And I didn’t want to write a bummer book. So I thought about how I could get around this in a not-totally-cowardly-yet-constructive way. So I asked myself, ‘Well, have humans beings ever gone through something like global warming before?’ And indeed they’ve experienced one
global warming, which made a huge difference, and it was the one that happened right here in North America about 14,700 years ago. It was right after the last glacial maximum of the Pleistocene Era and the great glaciers of the late-Pleistocene began to melt and the oceans started to rise.