Climates Then and Now

Betsy Hart
Posted: Mar 01, 2007 1:47 PM

I never get to see new movies, unless they are kids' fare. Four of them, one of me, do the math. I rent "my" movies, which at my pace means I'll be seeing "The English Patient" around February of next year.

The same is true for books. That's the long way of explaining how I happened only recently to pick up a delightful little tome that came out in 1999, "The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at The Turn of the First Millennium" (Little, Brown), by noted British historian Robert Lacey and journalist Danny Danziger.

It's an incredibly interesting and fast-paced read.

But there were a couple of pages for which I really had to slow down _ when the authors reveal what is commonly known about the climate of the time. It turns out it was a heck of a lot warmer than our own.

They note that "archaeological evidence indicates that the years 950 to 1300 were marked by noticeably warmer temperatures than we experience today ... Meteorologists describe this medieval warm epoch as the 'Little Optimum,' and they cite it as the explanation of such phenomena as the Viking explosion into Russia, France, Iceland and the northwestern Atlantic." Oh, and during the Little Optimum (as in "optimal"), conditions were such that, contrary to both today's conventional wisdom and the reality of later, colder centuries _ the relatively well-nourished people at the turn of the first millennium grew to statures similar to our own today.

Who knew?

Well, apparently a lot of people. The authors note: "The northerly retreat of icebergs and pack ice under the impact of warmer temperatures is a plausible explanation for why Lief Eriksson was able to sail around the top of the Atlantic as far as Newfoundland in or about the year 1000." And it's why Eriksson and his seafaring band described that far northern land, in which they were excited to find grapevines growing, as being so "warm and fecund," as the writers put it, that Eriksson called it "Vinland." Read: "Wineland."

Interesting. It turns out that in the year 1000, it's known that Earth was 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it is now. Yes, up to 4 full degrees warmer. "Edinburgh enjoyed the climate of London, while London enjoyed the climate of the Loire valley in France," note Lacey and Danziger. (All this is readily confirmed in other sources.)

Now, let's fast forward, oh, say, 1,000 years or so to today's educated, enlightened, baby-boomer generation, which has _ as the baby boomers of course discover everything for the first time _ revealed to us the phenomenon of "global warming."

What's more, it turns out that today's baby-boomer leaders, such as former Vice President Al Gore, know exactly what Earth's temperature should be. Think about it: Unlike anybody before them, the baby boomers know the correct temperature of the planet! Incredible. Interesting again, the correct temperature corresponds exactly with the temperatures the baby boomers were born into.

It really is all about them.

So much insight for one generation. Not only that, but the boomers have figured out that it's mankind's actions that are primarily responsible for any temperature variations we experience today. It seems the baby-boomer generation is the one that can profoundly impact, for better or worse, the physical well-being of the planet in a way no other generation has ever been able to do.

Of course, that means the baby boomers have the moral right to demand that all human beings everywhere fundamentally change their lives, economies and standard of living _ except for all the boomers who like their big cars and houses _ because Earth depends on them.

That sure is a lot of responsibility to shoulder.

The authors of "The Year 1000" note that what C.S. Lewis calls the "'snobbery of chronology' encourages us to presume that just because we happen to have lived after our ancestors ... we must also know better" than they. "But," the writers continue, "whether today we display more wisdom or common humanity is an open question."

Actually, I'd say that when it comes to today's baby boomers, as a generation _ that question is answered.