Victor Hugo on Epidemics and Climate Change (1865)

Victor Hugo writing in 1865 on climate change, the environment, and our present moment:

“A plague is a warning. Inhabitant, let your first care to be to disinfect the house. There is a duty to global health, which the thinker sees, and that man owes to the world.

“Meteorology, which is undergoing a gigantic revolution, is at its [unknown]. It is the beginning, but the implications are clear. The control of the atmosphere, to a certain extent, is within man’s capacity. Man obviously acts on climates. The hardness or softness of the fall, the earliness or the delay of winter depend on a wall of ice that forms or does not form north of the continents. One day this formation will be scientifically regulated. When man controls the poles, he will control the seasons [as well].

“Everything is progressing. Science advances, level by level. Man begins to understand that he can control the rivers, regulate the torrents, discipline the waterfalls, graft a canal to a river, turn the tap of a lake, run the water over the ground at his will. One day, he will likewise control the clouds. He will be master of the storm as he is master of the lock. He will command the rains.

“The domestic workings of the globe are barely sketched. The laws of global health make it possible to distinguish some of its principal parts, but that is not enough to coordinate this work. Our planet needs a method [of governance] that man has not yet created.”

[Note: This text is from a collection of Hugo’s unpublished notes that was published after his death. Apologies for the rough translation. Online:…/Proses_philosophiques/Les_Fleurs]



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William Nuttle

William Nuttle

Navigating a changing environment — hydrologist, engineer, advocate for renewable energy, currently writing about the personal side of technological progress