LTE: A brief history of climate change from 25,000 B.C. to the present

Dear Editor,

Okay, you’re right, I wasn’t there 27,000 years ago. And we don’t have any record of it. But science tells us about it.

We may start with the vast ice fields that covered much of the temperate zones. When they had spent a hundred centuries or so gouging out the valleys, lakes, and ground, climate change prompted their retreat back toward where they had originated. Beginning with the melting of the great ice caps that had crept down from the poles, the modern configurations of the continents took shape. Over a dozen or so thousands of years, the warming of the planet settled down to a much warmer state.

Then came a subtle reversal. History tells us of the movements of peoples during the earliest of historical epochs.

For example, before the oceans rose to their present levels, a land bridge connected Siberia with what is now Alaska. The ancestors of Native Americans crossed that bridge into North America. The Indo-European peoples migrated from their home area north of the Black and Caspian seas into western Europe, the Middle East, as far as India. Why did they do this? Because the great plains from Central Europe to Mongolia were becoming colder, and the peoples wanted to live in warmer areas.

Move ahead another few thousand years – during which who knows how many heat and cold cycles took place – and more migrations took place, in South America settlements in the high Andes seem to indicate that they were much warmer than today. Early tribes in Mongolia invaded China, their cousins in the central Steppes of what is now Russia raided into what is now Iran. Why? Because of the cold of their homelands.

The Romans, to the contrary, were enticed to expand into central and northern Europe during a warm period about the time of Christ. Heat might well have contributed to the abandonment of Meso-American cities in the warm areas and their movement to less oppressively hot climates.

Would the equatorial warmth have prompted the migrations in the Pacific that led to the settlement of Micronesia?

But soon came the cold of the late Roman Imperial period, during which the nomads of the Eurasian Great Plains pushed into China again, into the Middle East, and against the so-called barbarian tribes of Europe. This led to the collapse of kingdoms and empires, especially the Roman Empire. Ancient writers tell us of the frozen Danube and Rhine, which facilitated the onrush of the Goths, Vandals, and Franks. When those peoples had completed their work, and beginning about the time of Charlemagne, came the medieval warm period, which coincided with the development of the Aztec civilization in Mexico, Chinese settlement in the north, and the movements of the Vikings, who traded into the Steppes and founded the Russian state.

The mild temperatures prompted the Vikings to head for the Western Isles, first Iceland, then Greenland, and then even North America. Why is “Greenland” called “Greenland?” Right: it was green. The place was rife with villages and farms during this time. The Vikings fished the Grand Banks off Newfoundland for cod, of which they had a monopoly in Europe. In Africa, the Zimbabwean civilization abandoned central Africa in response to the rising heat near the Equator.

Then, climate changed again, and the cold forced the Vikings to abandon their fragile settlement in North America, their farms and villages in Greenland. The cold settled in, and for about 400 years, until about 1820, Europe was ravaged by the cold. Near famine stalked France, because the farmers refused to plant potatoes, which the Irish survived by adopting the tubers. The cold in Asia prompted the Mongols to sweep into the warmer, settled civilizations from South China to India, the Middle East, even Eastern Europe.

Now, for the latest two centuries, a warmer period has settled in, that is likely to last for a couple of more centuries, irrespective of human efforts to hold it back, like King Canute ordering the tide to stop. Whether human activity is making it more severe I cannot say. The ideology of the left finds an almost fanatic religious belief in the blame of humans for climate change, and yet, they harbor another faith that humans reverse matters and can stop it, if only we surrender ourselves to the machinations of government.

That is beyond the scope of my little historical overview.

But climate change has been with us for many thousands of years, and likely will be with us for many more, if we survive.


Bruce Graham

Chester, Vt.

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