A Science for Everyone

Climate Change: Technology and the Little Ice Age

I like the term “Anthropic Global Warming” better than the generic “Climate Change.”  Living in an area that was covered by glaciers 15,000 years ago, I have ample evidence to convince me that climate changes – my challenge is quantifying how much is human caused and how much has natural causes.  And I like a term that defines the direction of change.

English history – from the Roman occupation forward – provides records of a warm climate cooling off and entering what is termed “The Little Ice Age.”  There is a historical record of climate change, and, equally important to a Non-Malthusian demographer, the technological changes people developed to deal with the climate change is written down.

Connections, by James Burke, offers this: “Among the earliest references to the change comes from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, kept by monks for the year 1046: ‘And in the same year after the 2nd of February came the severe winter with frost and snow, and with all kinds of bad weather, so that there was not a man alive who could remember so severe a winter as that, both through mortality of man and disease of cattle; both birds and fishes perished through the great cold and hunger.” (p157)

Connections explores the connections between events and technical development.  It continues further down the page: “The chief stimulus to change was the need to stay alive through winters that became increasingly severe, as the monks had noted.  The first innovation that came to the aid of the shivering communities was the chimney.  Up until this time, there had been but one central hearth, in the hall during winter, and outside during summer.  The smoke from the central fire simply went up and out through a hole in the roof.  After the weather changed, this was evidently too inefficient a way of heating a room full of people who until then would have slept the night together.”

Ultimate History Project: “Conisbrough Castle built in the 12th century has the earliest extant chimneys.”
Ultimate History Project: “Scottish Black Houses are named for the smoke seeping from their chimneyless roofs.”

Page 159 continues:  “The building to which the new chimney was added had already begun to change in reaction to the bad weather.  The open patio-style structure had been replaced by a closed off building, built to withstand violent meteorological changes.  The new chimney, whose earliest English example is at Conisborough Keep in Yorkshire (1185) also produced structural changes in the house.  The use of a flue to conduct away sparks meant that the center of the room was no longer the only safe space for a fire.  To begin with, buildings were by now less fully timbered so the risk of fire was less, and the flue permitted the setting of the fire in a corner or against a wall. . . The hood on the fireplace prevented sparks from reaching the ceiling, and as a smaller room could more readily be heated than a larger one, the ceilings could now be lower.”

“Two major innovations occurred by the fourteenth century, at the latest: knitting, and the button.  The earliest buttons are to be seen on the Adamspforte in Bamberg cathedral, and on a relief at Bassenheim, both in Germany, near Hapsburg around 1232.   The first example of knitting is depicted in the altarpiece at Buxtchude, where the Virgin Mary is shown knitting clothes for the infant Jesus.  Both buttons and knitting contributed to closer-fitting clothes that were better at retaining heat.”

Buxtehude Madonna
First Example of Knitting

Burke’s books – Connections and The Pinball Effect are loaded with examples of how events are connected with technical development.


My Species Evolved with Climate Change

The chart below does a pretty good job of showing the climate changes that occurred as my species moved from being a general purpose biped to Homo sapiens.  It covers the last half-million years and gives the global mean temperature.  A text I read  a half-century back referred to Homo sapiens as “interglacial.”  The rises and drops in the  chart demonstrate that.  Modern man developed during climate change.  The frosts and snows didn’t support developing agriculture 100,000 years ago (as the chart below shows).

This next chart deals with the last 8,000 years – the time when agriculture was developed.  Looking at the two charts shows that there were few warming windows for hunters and gatherers to make the shift to horticulture and agriculture.  Climate change is no stranger to my species.

The charts illustrate why “Climate Change” doesn’t seem much of a theory, while “Anthropic Global Warming” can be tested.  500 million years of glaciations and interglacials may be better served by physicists and geologists than political activists. 

From my handful of somewhat related studies, I can only conclude that the warming climate came along at the right time for my species to develop agriculture . . .. and that is definitely a good thing for me.

A Science for Everyone, Wildlife

No Climax Species When Climate Changes

Half a century ago, I was exposed to the concept of a climax species – and I really liked the idea that there would be a single identifiable species of tree (or grass) that would indicate all I need to know about the climate, the environment.

I thought of the dominance of ponderosa pine and bluebunch wheatgrass on the Tobacco Plains, versus the dominant Douglas Fir/Western Larch around Trego – and the 4-inch difference between the annual precipitation that shows up with 400’ difference in elevation and a quarter degree of latitude. 

Somewhere over that half-century, I gradually came to realize that climate, like weather, changes.  A glance at the drumlins north of Eureka provides evidence of the retreating glaciers.  The old shorelines of glacial lake Missoula show that things have changed.  In southern Colorado, the same annual precipitation that supports Douglas Fir forest in Trego supports pinon pine and rubber rabbitbrush.  Entrepreneur.com explains that George Church, Ph.D.  is working on genetically recovering the Wooly Mammoth – 

The reason is this: One of the greatest threats to the earth is the melting of the arctic permafrost and its massive release of the greenhouse gasses that are stored safely in its freeze. When the herds of woolly mammoth and other animals vanished, that area became covered with a forest that keeps the earth warmer. Church is betting on the idea that a resurrected population of the mammoths, if let loose in the arctic, would chomp and stomp down the bush and trees, exposing the earth to subzero temperatures and allowing the tundra’s original grasslands to grow back. That ecosystem, maintained by the large creatures, would then effectively sequester carbon, rather than allowing it back into the atmosphere.”

Author: Liz Brody, https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/384478

Dr. Church has partnered with Texan Ben Lamm to fund this project – Lamm says it will take six to eight years to get the baby mammoths on the ground.  I had mammoth bones and teeth at the TSJC museum, along with bison antiquus from Folsom – so I have a decent idea how big the critters are.  Church is from Harvard – Boston – close to sea level.  Lamm is from Texas – a state that doesn’t have a lot of experience with continental glaciation.

I suspect your view of climate change is related to your location.  I live at 3,000 feet elevation.  A rising sea level isn’t much of a concern.  At just shy of the 49th parallel, a bit of global warming doesn’t threaten me as much as it does Texas, or Boston harbor.

Still, I’m not certain this is all that good an idea.  I don’t particularly want the glaciers back . . . and bears in the apple trees are enough of a nuisance.  I don’t know what it would take to fence out a wooly mammoth.