Monday, March 17, 2008

Brian Fagan's "The Great Warming"

Brian Fagan is emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His books on the interaction of climate and human society have established him as a leading authority on the subject; he lectures frequently around the world. He is the editor of The Oxford Companion to Archaeology and the author of Fish on Friday: Feasting, Fasting, and the Discovery of the New World; The Little Ice Age; and The Long Summer, among many other titles.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations, and reported the following:
The Great Warming tells the story of four centuries between A.D. 800 and 1200, when global temperatures were, at times, a little warmer than today. This-so-called Medieval Warm Period witnessed year after year of bountiful harvests in Europe. Medieval populations rose rapidly, thousands of hectares of forest vanished before the axe. Cereal crops grew in Norway, vines in Central England. Page 99 takes us to the Arctic, where ice conditions were more favorable during the warm centuries, a time when Norse voyagers sailed to Iceland, Greenland, Labrador and Newfoundland. The Norse also came in contact with Inuit hunter in Baffinland, who craved iron and exchanged it for walrus tusks. Why walrus tusks? Because they were the way in which the Greenland Norse paid tithes to the mother church in Norway.

Page 99 is in the middle of Chapter 5, which describes how warmer conditions in the Far North led to major changes in Norse and Inuit society, many of them revolving around trade in iron artifacts and iron ore. Europe and the Arctic may have flourished during the warmer centuries, but, while researching the book, I was astounded to find evidence of widespread, even epochal, drought throughout much of the Americas, into the Pacific and Asia. The Great Warming tells the story of these droughts and points that computer projections for future droughts make those of a thousand years ago look puny in comparison. This is the silent elephant in the room, a major consequence of global warming that has not received the public attention it deserves.
Read excerpts from The Great Warming and learn more about the author and his work at Brian Fagan's website and his blog.

--Marshal Zeringue