Commentary Magazine


Topic: Little Ice Age

Ancient Climate Change Doesn’t Bolster Environmentalist Extremism

Advocates of government measures intended to lessen the impact of global warming believe that skeptics of their theories and models are denying science. But in today’s New York Times, the environmental alarmist camp opened up a new front in their war to delegitimize their critics. According to Eric H. Cline, those who are resisting efforts to hamstring the U.S. economy aren’t just arguing with the mythical 97 percent of scientists who share Al Gore’s belief in apocalyptic scenarios about the planet’s future. In the view of this professor of classics and anthropology at George Washington University, they are also denying history.

In an op-ed published today, Cline, the author of a book on the collapse of some of the ancient civilizations of the Near East in the second millennium before the common era, opens his argument by lampooning Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe for his doubts about the warming thesis. Inhofe claims the current climate change arguments are the result of a “hoax,” especially one recent report that warned of the shifts in temperatures causing global conflicts. But Cline claims what Inhofe needs is not so much a science lesson as a history tutorial and then proceeds to give us all a lecture about how a century-long drought brought on by a warming phase in the earth’s history caused a series of famines, wars, and empire collapses in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean around 1,200 BCE. It’s a fascinating piece of history and Cline tells it well, but the problem here is not the professor’s correct assumptions about ancient climate change. The error lies in his belief that the historical record about climate change that could not possibly be caused by human behavior should lead critics of environmental alarmism to abandon their skepticism. Rather than bolstering the Al Gore school of hysteria, the more we learn about past climate change, the shakier the assumptions that are the foundation of global warming theories seem.

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Advocates of government measures intended to lessen the impact of global warming believe that skeptics of their theories and models are denying science. But in today’s New York Times, the environmental alarmist camp opened up a new front in their war to delegitimize their critics. According to Eric H. Cline, those who are resisting efforts to hamstring the U.S. economy aren’t just arguing with the mythical 97 percent of scientists who share Al Gore’s belief in apocalyptic scenarios about the planet’s future. In the view of this professor of classics and anthropology at George Washington University, they are also denying history.

In an op-ed published today, Cline, the author of a book on the collapse of some of the ancient civilizations of the Near East in the second millennium before the common era, opens his argument by lampooning Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe for his doubts about the warming thesis. Inhofe claims the current climate change arguments are the result of a “hoax,” especially one recent report that warned of the shifts in temperatures causing global conflicts. But Cline claims what Inhofe needs is not so much a science lesson as a history tutorial and then proceeds to give us all a lecture about how a century-long drought brought on by a warming phase in the earth’s history caused a series of famines, wars, and empire collapses in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean around 1,200 BCE. It’s a fascinating piece of history and Cline tells it well, but the problem here is not the professor’s correct assumptions about ancient climate change. The error lies in his belief that the historical record about climate change that could not possibly be caused by human behavior should lead critics of environmental alarmism to abandon their skepticism. Rather than bolstering the Al Gore school of hysteria, the more we learn about past climate change, the shakier the assumptions that are the foundation of global warming theories seem.

Contrary to Cline, no one, not even Inhofe, has claimed that the environment has remained static since the Big Bang. Even if we confine our study to the fraction of earth history coinciding with the rise of human civilizations that is called “recorded history,” there is no doubt that the climate has changed many times. Indeed, even if we leave the period studied by classicists and focus only on the last couple of thousand years, we find some extreme changes in climate. The Medieval Warming Period that took place approximately one thousand years ago led to Vikings settling what they called Greenland and finding fertile territory rather than the frozen wastes that currently exist there. That period of warming, which coincided with a new flowering of civilization after the depression of the Dark Ages, was followed by a period of cooling a few centuries later that took a devastating toll on Europe. That “Little Ice Age” that stretched from approximately 1300 to the 19th century led to much colder winters, especially in the period between 1600 and 1800. It was followed by another warming period that may be reaching its peak in our own time.

All of this is fact and demonstrates the impact that a changing climate can have on human existence. But none of it justifies any of the theories about human causation of warming that have become gospel among the chattering classes in our day. Indeed, the more we discuss the way the environment shifted in the period before it could be claimed that human activity or carbon emissions was causing the sky to fall, the less authoritative the talk about this new scientific consensus sounds. It may well be that humans are causing the climate to warm. But that assumption doesn’t explain why sun spots or thermal patterns would be the only possible answers for past warming or cooling periods but that natural causes could not possibly be responsible for what is currently happening.

In other words, rather than making Inhofe look foolish, Cline’s theories are a reminder that it is entirely possible for devastating climate change to occur without a single car being run or coal-fired power plant being operated. Rather than skeptics being in need of history lessons, it is those who take the talk of human causation as an unchallengeable doctrine that would do well to read up on the numerous examples of climate change that preceded the 20th century.

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