Climate Change

Time often shapes perceptions

A stone statue of Hatshepsut
A stone statue of Hatshepsut Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth Wilson, who wrote our cover story ("The Queen Who Would Be King") about the controversial female pharaoh who ruled Egypt c. 1479-1458 b.c., lives near the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. She was often in the museum's Hatshepsut gallery—part of its permanent collection. Once, a museum guard pointed to a large head of Hatshepsut. "That's my favorite," he said of the fragment of a statue of the pharaoh as the god Osiris. "She's got that Mona Lisa smile." Wilson remembers smiling herself: "I thought, how lovely that after all the [bad] things that have been said about Hatshepsut, there's a guard who stands watch over her with admiration and affection." At the time, Wilson's view of Hatshepsut was the standard one—that she was "this incredible shrew, a power-mad virago who had a torrid affair with her chief minister."

After she began her research for this story, however, Wilson learned that the long-held view of Hatshepsut as a usurper of the throne is almost certainly wrong. "Now we realize that she may have acted out of noble reasons. It's another reminder that history is often a matter of opinion."

The story is told that the day after J. Madeleine Nash celebrated her first birthday, in 1944, a storm that came to be known as the Great Atlantic Hurricane struck off the coast of North Carolina, where she and her mother and father, then a naval officer, were living at the time. Baby Madeleine, as family lore has it, stood at the window looking out at the hurricane and clapping her hands with glee. Even if the story is apocryphal, the adult Nash is known, as she admits, "for liking the most extreme, most violent parts of nature, everything from the big bang to hurricanes and tornadoes." The veteran science correspondent for Time is the author of El Niño: Unlocking the Secrets of the Master Weather-Maker.

In her piece for us ("Storm Warnings"), Nash finds scientists divided over whether recent increased hurricane intensity is a function of global warming or of a more natural cycle known as the "multi-decadal oscillation." For her part, Nash believes that each is “a piece of a much larger puzzle. I don’t see the debate as framing an either-or choice,” she says. “I see it as a rather different and much more important question. And that is, given that we’re now players in the climate system, how important are we? That’s the question that’s now been raised in relation to hurricanes, and it’s a question that I, for one, find extremely disturbing.”

heads up: The deadline for entries for our fourth annual photo contest is 2 p.m. (Eastern Time) January 4, 2007. For rules, please go to our Web site.