Climate change's most deadly threat: drought
Anthropologist Brian Fagan uses Earth's distant past to predict the crises that may lie in its future.
Spring is on its way back to northern latitudes. In many locales, it will arrive earlier than "normal," yielding, ostensibly, a longer growing season, a hotter summer, balmier autumn, and future winters will lack their ferocious post-Pleistocene bites.
Brian Fagan believes climate is not merely a backdrop to the ongoing drama of human civilization, but an important stage upon which world events turn.
As it turns out, the anecdotal evidence of climate change in this, the 21st century, shares much in common with a historical antecedent, the Medieval Warm Period, circa AD 800 to 1200, that radically shaped societies across the globe.
The Medieval Warm Period was a time when the capacity of agriculture rapidly expanded and enabled people to flourish in Europe. Yet elsewhere, extended lack of rainfall, or too much of it, brought famine, plagues, and wars.
This bout of global warming was followed by the Little Ice Age that lasted roughly from AD 1300 until the middle of the 19th century and cast Europe and North America back into a big chill. Since then, mean global temperature has been slowly and steadily rising, accompanied by huge leaps in agricultural output and skyrocketing human population.
Today, climate experts tell us that over the past two decades, temperature has registered an alarming unnatural spike and is expected to keep climbing.
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