Exploring forgotten chapters of climate history
This is something I think about all the time. We craft a narrative to make climate change easier to understand, boiling it down to a simple cause and effect (even to the point of blaming the witches!), but in doing so we leave out all of the thousands of contributing factors that influence our ecology over thousands and even millions of years. Nothing is simple when it comes to the weather!
What a wonderful piece! It led me down this path of thought:
The pervasive nature of human exceptionalism means that our climate conversations always revolve around what we do *to* the earth. Instead of helping us understand what our roles are within an ecosystem, it allows us a degree of separation that desensitizes us to our negative impact. It also leaves us feeling helpless to do anything about it.
I think it’s important for people to see more examples like this one. These examples can provide “lightbulb” moments where a more meaningful connection between us and the planet can be established.
This fits nicely into the work I’ve just started on how reconnecting to our sense place can lead to a better world.
This was informative and insightful. Thank you!
I did not know about the Little Ice Age. I knew most of the Christopher Columbus stuff, sadly. But I'm always glad to see people talking about it. And the theory of how indigenous peoples played a climate mitigation role (if I read that correctly) is new to me, though not really surprising? I can't really explain why, though.
Excellent essay, Claudia. While I did know most of this, it is great to have it presented so eloquently!
You've really done your research on this topic, Claudia - bravo! I'd heard about the Little Ice Age (the ice fairs on the Thames etc) but hadn't realised there were so many global interconnections at play.
You might be interested, on a different historical tack, in this recent study related to large mammal scarcity driving primitive hunting technology: https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/1000802
This is definitely one of the best essays I've read on the subject. I've heard of all of these things, but I think the way you've set it out, so logically, and as Elle Griffin says, written so beautifully, sets it apart.
One question I've had, because this has been mooted, is do you think the present increases in temperature are part of a cycle spanning several hundred, if not thousands, of years? As you highlight in your article, there are several cycles of varying lengths, from decades to millennia.
Well this just blew my mind... no I hadn't heard of the little ice age, much less about all the factors that went into it. When put plainly, of course it makes sense that such a sudden death of so many people would of course have global effects, even moreso when you know supposedly primitive cultures did not in fact merely exist on the land but also greatly altered it. So many grand narrative thoughts...
It's part of French school history lesson, which I get to experience second hand (they did Louis XIV last year), but mostly part of research for my projects, mainly Spherean, Carter and TMWWD, all have elements of weather and cataclysmic events as part of the premise in one way or another. My Scrivener Research folder is bursting with articles, and curiosity is leading me down so many rabbit holes, before you know it the day has passed I haven't written a word but am enthralled reading about permafrost, methane reservoirs, ice ages, e.g. Younger Dryas, cause of climate reversals, impact of industrial revolution, and so forth. Then there's of course NASA, which is a bottomless well of information.
https://climate.nasa.gov/explore/ask-nasa-climate/2953/there-is-no-impending-mini-ice-age/ and https://climate.nasa.gov/extreme-weather/
Fascinating. And then I go and read up on stuff like X-Points (referenced in the last Chapter in Carter).
Highly recommend the book 1491 by Charles Mann — not sure if you'd read that one Claudia, as part of your research? It goes into a lot of depth on the Conquest of the Americas (the land we live on was not discovered, as we've been taught, it was conquered and beaten into submission) that isn't taught in schools, including the fascinating immunological reasons for the massive casualties the native Americans suffered from European diseases. It's one of the best books I've read on the topic.
There is a great deal we don't learn in schools, and really should. It worries me that so many people commenting here had not heard about the Little Ice Age—that speaks the wrong kind of volume about our educational system. Then again, learning is a life-long affair, and I'm so glad for Substacks like this one.
Fantastic piece, Claudia. So well articulated, too.
I didn't know about this (or if I did it's long buried in my mind). I had no idea about the impact of destruction in The Americas. The thing that always gets me with looking back over data is the duality of the vast sense of time (hundreds of years of this creeping in) yet equally the tiny fleck of time that it is in Earth's history. The latter makes the human impact even more terrifying.
I did know about the Little Ice Age and even a little about how Native Americans burned large amounts of forest undergrowth every fall to encourage grazing animals and kill ticks and blackfly larvae. I've also seen some documentaries about new discoveries in how much of the Amazon basin was agricultural. I hadn't put it together, though. Excellent work!
This was such an interesting read, Claudia. I honestly had no idea that the Little Ice Age ever happened. I'm not surprised about the human contribution to its onset, however. I feel like writers in particular are poised to grasp the idea of cause and effect in ways that non-writers might not be. When we create our own little worlds, and spend hours and hours within them, how can we not?
"If Character A does X to Character B, Y happens to Characters C and D, and Z happens to Characters E and F."
I think that in short is why I get so irritated when I meet people who truly don't believe that humans have played a role in climate at all. It isn't often that I meet them, I'll point out haha, but I just don't understand how a brain arrives at that.