I recently checked out of book electronically that I am glad I did not pay for. It sounded good. The title was, The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations. The title sounded balanced. It seemed like it would give me an honest view of the historical tie between civilization and climate. I have read enough to know that the weather effects things powerfully, just like politics. I began reading with great anticipation.
The book started off with some solid information.
“THE MEDIEVAL WARM Period was named half a century ago by a British meteorologist, Hubert Lamb. He wrote of an era from about A.D. 800 to 1200 that he pieced together from a jigsaw of climatological and historical clues: four or five centuries of relatively amiable climate that brought good harvests to Europe and permitted the Norse to land in Greenland and North America. The Medieval Warm Period gave way to six centuries of highly unsettled climate and cooler conditions: the Little Ice Age.” (Emphasis in original) Kindle location, 75-79I knew about this but having it in print like this told me that the author was not going to give a snow job and ignore common knowledge. We have had climate change and global warming before. It is in the record.
As I kept reading the author began to slowly and subtly adjust the set of his sails. I came across this.
“Europeans built cathedrals and the Norse sailed to North America during the Medieval Warm Period, but the picture of the warm centuries that’s emerging from the new research depicts a climatic villain as much as a hero. There was indeed warming, in most places reflected in milder winters and longer summers, but the temperature differences never amounted to more than a few degrees. Nor was everywhere necessarily warmer. In the eastern Pacific, the same centuries were cool and dry. These were times of sudden, unpredictable climatic swings, and, above all, of drought. Extended medieval dry cycles helped topple Chaco Canyon and Angkor Wat, contributed to the partial collapse of Maya civilization, and starved tens of thousands of northern Chinese farmers.” Kindle location 88-94.This still seemed balanced. I had no problem with this. Let the evidence fall where the tree grows.
Then I came to the following quotation:
“The prolonged debate over anthropogenic global warming is over, for the scientific evidence documenting our contributions to a much warmer world of the future is now beyond the stage of controversy.” Kindle location 175-76At this point I began to realize that we were listening to an Al Gore clone. In fairness to the author, he was writing in 2008 before some of the revelations of scholarly lack of ethics began to come out, but to parrot the line that “the debate is over” shows a lack of understanding of the scientific method and ignorance of the scope of the data. At this point I was beginning to wonder if I would finish the book. If I wanted a propaganda piece for the Sierra Club I could read the Times, LA or NY.
What made me stop reading was a chart that the author included to show the extremes of temperature change. I can’t cut and paste a chart the way I can a quote. Let me try to explain the problem. Charts and graphs can be skewed by the scale you use for your points of reference. On the chart in question the author had a scale on the bottom representing a century for a very short length. The dates went from A.D. 1000 to A.D. 2000. On the side he had the temperature change in tenth’s of a degree with a very large distance between marks. From top to bottom the chart covered 1.6 degrees Celsius. What this did was make it look like a tenth of a degree difference over one hundred years was a major issue. So you had these enormous peaks and troughs on the chart that gave the impression of these massive changes in average temperature when they were really quite minor. The two extremes were about 1.2 degrees and were separated by a time period of 450 years. The chart was constructed to make mild changes look extreme.
At this point he moved from being uninformed to deliberately deceiving. I did not need to read any further. I know where he was going and what his conclusions would be. I could be wrong but experience and the ability to think tell me that life is too short to waste it finishing the book. If you want to read another Chicken Little, the-sky-is-falling, call to regulation, then this book should be on your short list. If you pay any attention to the actual evidence, your time would be better spent watching a soap opera.
Fagan, Brian. The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2008.
homo unius libri