Many people are worried about global warming today. They fear that the polar ice caps will melt, raising sea levels and creating environmental chaos. Such concerns are not new. The historical record tells us of many warming episodes—and subsequent cooling periods—that have bedeviled humans for thousands of years.
The ancient Greek philosopher Plato, who lived from 427 BC to 347 BC, wrote about major climate changes that were known in his day. In the dialogue, “Timaeus,” he argued that global warming occurs at regular intervals, often leading to great floods. Said Plato, “When…the gods purge the earth with a deluge of water, the survivors…are herdsmen and shepherds who dwell on the mountains. But those who…live in cities are carried by the rivers into the sea.”
In the dialogue, “Critias,” Plato wrote about weather-related geological changes. He referred to “formidable deluges” that washed away all the top soil, turning the land into a “skeleton of a body wasted by disease.” What were now plains had once been covered with rich soil, Plato said, and barren mountains were once covered with trees. The yearly “water from Zeus” had been lost, he went on, creating deserts where the land was once productive.
Plato’s student, Aristotle, who lived from 384 BC to 322 BC, also recorded evidence of global warming in his work, “Meteorologica.” He noted that in the time of the Trojan War, the land of Argos was marshy and unarable, while that of Mycenae was temperate and fertile. “But now the opposite is the case,” Aristotle wrote. “The land of Mycenae has become completely dry and barren, while the Argive land that was formerly barren, owing to the water has now become fruitful.” He observed the same phenomenon elsewhere covering large regions and nations.
Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle who lived from 374 BC to 287 BC, discussed climate change in his work, “De ventis,” which means “The Wind.” He observed that in Crete, “nowadays the winters are more severe and more snow falls.” In earlier times, Theophrastus said, the mountains there bore grain and fruit, and the island was more populous. But when the climate changed, the land became infertile. In his book, “De causis plantarum,” Theophrastus noted that the Greek city of Larissa once had plentiful olive trees, but that falling temperatures killed them all.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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