Icebergs on the Starboard Bow . . . – Alma Boykin
And port, and behind us, and where on Earth is that global warming they promised us? And what’s with all the jokes about trees in Siberia, anyway?
People have been complaining about the weather, and noting that no one in the village/court/monastery can remember the last time X happened or it being as cold/hot/wet/dry as it is today, since the ninth day of Creation. But it was not really until the 1700s that we had the tools and resources to keep track of weather events and slowly, gradually, start compiling a picture of larger patterns, if there were any. We had stores of knowledge about local conditions and now-casting built into catches such as “wind before rain/sun shines again;/ rain before wind/the topsails take in,” and “a ring around the moon means rain,” or “red skies at morning, sailors take warning;/ red sky at night, sailors’ delight” (some places use shepherds instead of sailors.) Out where I live, we have rules such as never plant tomatoes until the mesquite blooms (because then you are safe from frost) and that if the wind goes calm during the day it signifies a major wind shift is about to occur. But these kinds of observations are not good for looking at climate, just local short-term weather.
The advent of the telegraph made some longer term forecasting possible, at least in the US. People noted that if Philadelphia reported a weather change, the next day New York City and Boston would probably have a weather change as well. But it was only after WWI, when Vilhelm Bjerknes began collecting large amount of observation that he discovered the large scale, hemispheric cold-meets-warm weather makers, which he called fronts, after the long lines of colliding soldiers in France and Belgium. Weather forecasting had stepped into the next phase. Climate forecasting remained a way off, as did climate reconstruction.
Archaeology and the Annals School of History combined to bring us climate history. Louis Agassiz, a Swiss geographer, had broached the idea of an Ice Age in the 1840s, theorizing that the galloping glaciers of the late 1700s-early 1800s had advanced and retreated before. But geologists and others had downplayed his ideas for various reasons, including differing interpretations of the evidence he presented. Eventually a few historians and archaeologists began looking at evidence of past human activities and observed that the weather had to have been different, and that perhaps people had responded differently. In the late 1800s George Perkins Marsh, a US ambassador to [country] had looked at the “modern” Mediterranean, looked at his classical history texts, and produced the book Man and Nature, a study of the effects of farming and other human activities on the Mediterranean Basin. He is considered the father of environmental history. However, he could not include any information about if the weather patterns had been different back then, because he had no way of obtaining the data. That came in the 1940s-1960s.
It was not until historians, working with multiple small-scale regional studies like those pioneered by the Annales School in France (including Emmanuel le Roi Ladurie), in North America, the Low Countries, China, Scandinavia, and archaeologists and astronomers combined their data that we realized a pattern did exist, and that the climate had changed in very major ways, although not on a strictly repeating schedule (although some hold that a 1500-year cycle does exist.) The Roman Warm Period encouraged population growth and expansion into areas that became marginal when the cold phase of the “Dark Ages” (roughly 500-850) kicked in and kicked off the Volkerwanderung, possibly the Plague of Justinian, the loss of North Sea coastal settlements, and terminated the vineyards of England (and may be remembered in the folk tales that became the Mabinogion).
The Medieval Climate Optimum encouraged a return to the uplands. Combined with the development of the heavy plow and three-field rotations, food became relatively abundant again, and the mild weather helped make major trade and building projects possible. This is the age of Chartres Cathedral, the great Champaigne Fairs, and the Germanic expansion east into the Polish and Lithuanian Marches. This is also the time of the troubadours and the Angevian Empire. But decreasing solar energy output encouraged cooler temperatures and wetter weather in Europe, ending the Medieval Warm Period and ushering in the Little Ice Age in the early 1300s. People weakened by cold and hunger succumbed easily to the Black Death, and Europe saw on aggregate a 25% population loss, with some areas suffering complete devastation and abandonment. The Four Horsemen rode over the Northern Hemisphere, and parts of the Southern Hemisphere as well, with “low” points between 1600-1650 and in the late 1700s. We are (or were) currently in a warm phase again, one that will perhaps be called the 20th Century Warm Period.
All of this would be only of interest to historians, archaeologists, and weather nerds, except that climate and energy consumption became a big political deal, with lots of money available for (the right kind of) research starting in the 1960s. The 1970s were also a time of cooling weather, which led to cries that we were all going to “freeze to death in the dark” if we were not crushed under galloping glaciers or irradiated out of existence then frozen by a nuclear winter (late 70s – early 80s version). Calls for population limits, government energy rationing, and other checks on the western economies alternated with pleas to save the whales/rainforests/black-footed ferret, and to give a hoot and don’t pollute resounded, and Earth Day (also Lenin’s birthday) became “a thing.”
Then solar energy increased, the weather grew warmer for a while, and Global Warming!!!!!! became the crisis. The Greenhouse Effect was going to turn Earth into another Venus as CO2, methane, water vapor, CO2 and the ozone hole baked us to death. That CO2 lags behind oceanic warming because as the oceans warm, they release CO2 just like warm pop gets rid of its fizz was ignored. Research funds went towards proving Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). And into this hot-house atmosphere came Dr. Michael Mann, then of UNC, later of the U of Pennsylvania, and Hansen of NOAA with a hockey-stick shaped graph demonstrating how global temperatures had abruptly started increasing around the time of the Industrial Revolution. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) picked up on Dr. Mann’s models and produced reports.
Except the climate shift shown in Dr. Mann’s research contained a few problems. I won’t go into them, in part because there is a lawsuit underway involving Dr. Mann, but among other things a number of people questioned the emphasis put on tree rings from a particular tree-ring sample from Yamal, Siberia. And the graph eliminated the Roman and Medieval Warm Periods, which were warmer than the modern warm period.
And to make things worse, the climate stopped warming in 1998. When “corrections” and urban heat island effects are removed, the global climate has actually begun cooling, in part due to declining solar radiation. The last sunspot cycle wasn’t, once you get down to cases. CO2 production globally has decreased (aside from China and India, and China has a whole lot of other environmental problems. Communism and environmentalism only go together in the West, not in the USSR or the PRC). We are likely in a cool phase that will extend into the 2030s and a little beyond, just as the US, UK, and Europe are cutting back on energy production and raising prices in order to “save the planet.”
And fluctuations in solar energy are not humanity’s fault.
The climate changes, it always has, for various reasons. It seems probable that a massive volcanic eruption in what is now the Sunda Strait ended the Roman Warm period. The sunspot lows of the Maunder and Dalton minima wreaked havoc on a global scale by causing crop losses, droughts, flooding and thus contributing a few elements to human political and social upheaval. Not that humans need an excuse to behave badly, but famine and pestilence exacerbate our tendency to mess with each other. Going even farther back, the Altithermal/ Atlantic Climate Phase that peaked roughly 7,000 years ago dried parts of the Great and High Plains out so much that even the buffalo headed off to greener pastures – literally – for decades and possibly even centuries.
If there is a lesson from all this it is: beware of science chasing political money. And be aware that the climate has changed since this planet first developed an atmosphere, and will continue changing until the Sun starts to die and burns off that atmosphere.
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