Sunday, February 04, 2007

Donald Sensing Poses A Question About Global Warming

What if global warming is a good thing?

He asks this with reference to this data list compiled by J.R. Dunn that appeared in the American Thinker, Resisting Global Warming Panic.

Despite the insistence of Al Gore and friends, this is far from the first time the Earth has ever passed through a climatic warming period. In fact, one occurred relatively recently, the medieval warm period, more commonly known as the Little Climatic Optimum (LCO), a period stretching roughly from the 10th to the 13th centuries, in which the average temperature was anything from 1 to 3 degrees centigrade higher than it is today. Several years ago, I covered the LCO in an article detailing the climatic history of the last millennium. But it's worthwhile to cover the highlights once more, to help put the contemporary panic into perspective.

* How warm was it during the LCO? Areas in the Midlands and Scotland that cannot grow crops today were regularly farmed. England was known for its wine exports.

* The average height of Britons around A.D. 1000 was close to six feet, thanks to good nutrition. The small stature of the British lower classes (and the Irish) later in the millennium is an artifact of lower temperatures. People of the 20th century were the first Europeans in centuries to grow to their "true" stature - and most had to grow up in the USA to do it.

* In fact, famine - and its partner, plague -- appears to have taken a hike for several centuries. We have records of only a handful of famines during the LCO, and few mass outbreaks of disease. The bubonic plague itself appears to have retreated to its heartland of Central Asia.

* The LCO was the first age of transatlantic exploration. When not slaughtering their neighbors, the Vikings were charting new lands across the North Atlantic, one of the stormiest seas on earth (only the Southern Ocean - the Roaring 40s - is worse). If you tried the same thing today, traveling their routes in open boats of the size they used, you would drown. They discovered Iceland, and Greenland, and a new world even beyond, where they found grape vines, the same as in England.

* The Agricultural Revolution is not widely known except among historians. Mild temperatures eased land clearing and lengthened growing seasons. More certain harvests encouraged experimentation among farmers involving field rotation, novel implements, and new crops such as legumes. While the thought of peas and beans may not thrill the foodies among us, they expanded an almost unbelievably bland ancient diet as well as providing new sources of nutrition. The result was a near-tripling of European population from 27 million at the end of the 7th century to 70 million in 1300.

* The First Industrial Revolution is not widely known even among historians. Opening the northern German plains allowed access to easily mined iron deposits in the Ruhr and the Saarland. As a result smithies and mills became common sights throughout Europe. Then came the basic inventions without which nothing more complex can be made - the compound crank, the connecting rod, the flywheel, followed by the turbine, the compass, the mechanical clock, and eyeglasses. Our entire technical civilization, all the way down to Al Gore's hydrogenmobile, has its roots in the LCO.

But in the late 13th century, it all came to an end.

The climate closed down. Rains ruined crops and washed away entire seacoast towns. Far to the north, the great colonies of Iceland and Greenland faltered and began to fade away. Famine returned to Europe, and with it the plague, in one of the greatest mass deaths ever witnessed by humanity. The bright centuries were replaced by the dance of death and a dank and morbid religiosity. The focus of culture shifted to the warm Mediterranean. It remained cold, within certain broad limits, for six hundred years. The chill only lifted in the 1850s, when our current warming actually began.

For more information, see also here and here.

On a truly random note, I'm wondering if the end of the little climatic optimum in roughly 1300 had anything to do with creating the colder social climate that led to the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290.

In a sense, yes. Italian banking was one of the things created during the high middle ages - which occurred as a result of the warming period. And with the rise of the pope's bankers, the rationale for keeping Jews within England ceased to be important to the king, whose ancestors had used them for loans and to create revenue by exceedingly high taxation rates.

Moreover, note that the entire period of residence of Jews in England in this early period nearly exactly corresponds to this medieval warming period: Jews arrived sometime after 1066 and stayed until 1290. (Jews were not known in England before William the Conquerer.) One would have to do much more research to support the following hypothesis, but it is certainly possible that, with the warmer weather and agricutural abundance, English society became more open to outsiders; and the reciprocal closing of society occurred as resources became scarcer and conditions generally harder.

Also, note, that in our own country, 1100-1300 marked the height of Anasazi culture in the Southwest. I wonder if, to the extent that cannabalism existed in Anasazi culture (research suggests that it was introduced to Anasazi culture through trade with the Aztecs), it, too, occurred as a result of worsening weather conditions, with agricultural crops harder to produce in the severe drought years.

Drought, no doubt, would have adversely effected hunting conditions as well.

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