The Great Warming

by John MacBeath Watkins

From about 1000 to 1300, the world was warmer than it had been previously, and warmer than it will be until we manage to crank enough CO2 into the atmosphere to really get some global warming going.  For that reason, it is helpful to look at what happened during the Medieval Warm Period.

Vikings, that's what.  Well, that's just my favorite part.  Brian Fagan's book, The Great Warming, recounts how the climate change of that period produced winners as well as losers.  Among the winners were the Vikings, who, freed from the oppressive winters that had limited their population and sailing season, ranged far and wide, and colonized Iceland and Greenland, at least until the Little Ice Age made the Greenland climate too harsh for the farming and dairying way of life the Vikings knew.

Europe in general did quite well during the Medieval Warm Period.  Farming blossomed, helped by the invention of better methods, England produced wines, the population increased, witches burned, and the inquisition sought to save the souls of wicked sinners.  Well, maybe those last two were a coincidence.  In any case, I suspect that had the Medieval Warm Period been less kind to Europe, we'd be a lot more worried about the current warming trend.

Mayan civilization, on the other hand, disintegrated because of persistent droughts, China went through a period of instability caused by alternating droughts and floods, and the trade winds faltered in the South Pacific.

It appears we are likely to experience substantial warming before our leaders decide to deal with the problem of global warming, so a bit of review about what we can anticipate seems quite in order.

Fagan also wrote a book on the Little Ice Age that I quiet enjoyed.  It didn't end until we started burning quite a bit of coal in the mid-19th century, so perhaps until we started to overdo it, we were benefiting from global warming.


  1. So nice toknow this little bit of history!
    However, it is hard for me to equate the gentler way of life warm weather usually produces with increased witch burning! And no, the witch burning and the inquisition were not coincidences. They were both the result of increased intolerance.

  2. Actually, the classic era of witch burning started about 1480, which puts it in the little ice age. Build a man a fire, you keep him warm for the night. Set a man on fire, you keep him warm for the rest of his life.


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