I do not have even the slightest grasp on the science of global warming and the overwhelming amount of information that makes for the overwhelming amount of scholarly- or not so scholarly - articles requires more than just a cursory reading. What I do know is from 30 years of reading history, which if I have learned anything, is that weather is one of the main factors in the course of human history. Long before there was media attention being paid to "global warming" I spent a great deal of time studying the Vikings with the kids. While they would read age appropriate books, I would read more detailed books for better background. One of the books about Viking incursions into Europe and the British Isles gave some attention to the theory behind why they had suddenly become so active. One accepted theory had to do with the global warming of the Middle Ages which resulted in a population explosion in the North which then resulted in a shortage of farm land to be handed down to sons for their livelihood. Whether or not this is the primary reason for Viking robbing and pillaging, we can’t be sure. However, these very changes in lifestyle/farming are the evidence for the warming of the earth at that time although there are no statistics to give us the minutiae for actual contrast and comparison. Of course this period of global warming was then followed by global cooling that lasted for several centuries and resulted in the Vikings having to abandon their settlements in Greenland.
In Chapter 1 of Simon Schama’s A History of Britain, the subject is the surprise discovery in the 1850’s of a perfectly preserved domestic hamlet called Skara Brae on the Orkney Islands. It was determined to have been settled 5,000 years before. Schama writes, “Its original settlers probably migrated across the Pentland Firth from Caithness on the Scottish mainland. The sea and the air were a little warmer than they are now, and once they had established themselves…” and “On land that is now thought unfit for any kind of food crops, the Skara Brae villagers managed to grow barley and even wheat.” He goes on to describe a rather peaceful well-developed community. Later – “Life at Skara Brae must have continued in much the same way for centuries. New houses were built on the midden dumps of their predecessors, and the little colony gradually rose above sea-level. But around 2500BC the island climate seems to have got colder and wetter. The red bream disappeared, and so did the stable environment the Orcadians had enjoyed for countless generations.” This chapter goes onto describe the same problems that occurred regarding the shortage of farm land.
A standard reading series for our curriculum was The Little House Series which should not be discounted as a source of information about pioneer America and the weather that caused so much heartbreak for settlers. It was even more interesting for me because I researched the Wilder/Ingalls clans in books that were very often the result of someone’s thesis on westward expansion. It was because of this extracurricular reading that I came to the conclusion that Laura’s daughter, Rose, had actually crafted the books from Laura’s notes and amateur writing. Those books give witness to the extreme weather that characterized the Great Plains. There was never any shortage of drought, locusts, flooding, excessive snowfall, extreme cold, fantastic tornadoes that in one account landed a Puffin (?) in one of Pa’s fields, hot weather in January, the brutal winters of the 1880’s and the brutal heat of those same summers which eventually sent Laura and Almanzo to Missouri. All of this was taken in stride by the gypsy pioneers of the 1800’s because weather was always unpredictable and extreme. They were often discouraged, but never alarmed and of course they didn’t have the media circus to broadcast natural disasters in real-time making it seem as if the sky was truly falling.
If The Little House books lack the intellectual weight that is a prerequisite for consideration, I would suggest The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin. This is a book on meteorology disguised as a story about one of the worst blizzards in the 1880’s. This is the synopsis – “January 12, 1888, began as an unseasonably warm morning across Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, the weather so mild that children walked to school without coats and gloves. But that afternoon, without warning, the atmosphere suddenly, violently changed. One moment the air was calm; the next the sky exploded in a raging chaos of horizontal snow and hurricane-force winds. Temperatures plunged as an unprecedented cold front ripped through the center of the continent. By Friday morning, January 13, some five hundred people lay dead on the drifted prairie, many of them children who had perished on their way home from country schools. In a few terrifying hours, the hopes of the pioneers had been blasted by the bitter realities of their harsh environment. Recent immigrants from Germany, Norway, Denmark, and the Ukraine learned that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by natural forces they neither understood nor controlled.” I believe the weather stations were reporting temperatures of 70 degrees on the morning of January 12th. The stories were heartbreaking.
The stories giving witness to unusual weather are too numerous to chronicle here, but the last I’ll mention had to do with the War for Independence. George Rogers Clark with 180 volunteers set out from Kentucky to route the British in what is now Illinois. They set out on February 7, 1779, marching on snow, but due to an unusual bout of mild weather, they ended up marching in chest deep water having to carry their guns and powder above their heads for hours. Again this is the kind of activity that was understood to be a hard fact of life, but today would be met with the question, “What are we doing to our earth?” The idea that we can create weather, if it were true, would be a fantastic opportunity to produce an environment something akin to the weather in Camelot. Perfect seasons with perfect rainfall and just enough sun/overcast ratio. The seasonal temperatures would be characterized by steady inclines and declines. I myself would put in an order for lots of snow at regular intervals to keep it white and pretty with a gradual melt to prevent flooding and supply my garden with the moisture to produce healthy plants without me having to water in the spring. Unfortunately that has never been a reality and it never will.
While this article ( http://www.gcrio.org/CONSEQUENCES/winter96/sunclimate.html) from a friend is impressive in its comprehensive research data, we all know from the recent scandal at Britain’s Climate Research Unit that data can be manipulated (or buried), http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125883405294859215.html particularly if you begin your research with a particular outcome in mind. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harold-ambler/mr-gore-apology-accepted_b_154982.html
Science is corruptible. Whether that corruption will be taken into consideration by the adherents of Environmentalism remains to be seen
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