Average annual global temperatures have risen a degree or two since the Little Ice Age ended some 150 years ago. Thank goodness. The LIA was not a particularly pleasant time.
Prolonged winters, advancing glaciers, colder summers, more frequent storms and extended cloudiness reduced arable land, shortened growing seasons, rotted grain in wet fields, and brought famine, disease and death. Coming after the prosperous Medieval Warm Period – when farmers grew wine grapes in England and Vikings raised crops and cattle in Greenland – it must have been quite a shock.
The LIA underscored how much better a warmer planet is than a colder one. Moderate warming above today’s norm would likely bring expanded cultivation during longer growing seasons in northern latitudes, fewer people dying from hypothermia during frigid winters, and many other benefits.
What caused the Medieval Warm Period to end, and the Little Ice Age to come and go, is still debated. Even the best scientists don’t fully understand what alignments of solar, cosmic, oceanic, atmospheric and planetary forces control this millennial warm-cool rhythm.
In any event, the initial warming of 1850-1900 was followed by perhaps an additional overall 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) of warming during the twentieth century. However, it was not a steady rise in temperatures, proportionate to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, as “manmade climate disaster” themes suggest. Instead, Earth warmed noticeably1900-1940, cooled slightly 1940-1975 (“most scientists” worried about another little ice age), warmed again 1975-1995 (“most scientists” feared global warming), and exhibited little change from then to the present.
The 20-year late twentieth century warming supposedly justifies demands that we stop using hydrocarbon fuels, halt US economic growth, hold back Third World development, ban incandescent light bulbs, blanket the planet with unreliable wind turbines and solar panels, make recompense to poor nations for emitting CO2 and “causing global climate disruption,” and even consider “geo-engineering” (putting dust particles or tiny mirrors into space to block the sun’s rays) to prevent warming that stopped in 1995. Even though no reliable or factual evidence shows that this recent warming was (primarily) human-caused!
These are important issues for the next Congress (and others) to grapple with. But an even more fundamental question is rarely raised, and almost never addressed.
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