A TV Review: “Man on Earth”, Ch. 4, Dec 21st

I’ve never been at all sure about Tony Robinson.  I suspect he may be a socialist.  But he was good in Blackadder.  His Time Team shows are unfailingly interesting, if a little formulaic.  And his “Man on Earth” episode yesterday was a cracker.
Robinson has an interesting new take on climate change.  Rather than agonising about our current “unstoppable global warming”, he has looked back to see how previous human societies coped with a changing climate.  This in itself is something of a breakthrough, since it highlights the fact that the climate always changes, naturally, and that such changes have frequently posed serious challenges for earlier societies.  The alarmists invite us to believe that climate change is new and man-made, so it is salutary to be reminded that it is neither.
The programme looked at the Viking colonisation of Greenland around the year 1000 AD.  It made the point (which had rather passed me by) that there were two distinct populations in Greenland at the time — the in-coming Vikings, who were agrarians and traders, and the Inuit peoples who had a quite different life-style, as nomadic hunter-gatherers and fishermen.  The Viking colonisation seems to have been successful for several hundred years, but around 1400 AD, the Mediaeval Warm Period was giving way to the Little Ice Age.  The grass failed.  The livestock died.  And the colonists found that the trade routes — and their only escape route — were increasingly blocked by ice.  They quite simply died out from cold and starvation.  The Inuit adapted much more readily, and seem to have come through the cold unscathed.
This dramatically illustrates the fact that climate is naturally cyclical.  The world has got warmer in the last 150 years, and if you did not know about the Mediaeval Warm Period (or the Roman Optimum, around Zero to 400 AD), you might look for an anthropogenic explanation.  But if you know that similar warming took place a thousand years ago, and two thousand years ago, you will accept that the changes we have seen recently are natural and unexceptional.  Moreover you will dismiss talk of a “tipping-point” and “run-away global warming” for the nonsense it is.  No such effects were noted in those previous warm periods, despite the fact that temperatures were several degrees higher than today.
Robinson’s other example, the Maya in Central America, was perhaps even sadder, though no less instructive.  The Maya had flourished for several centuries, building great cities without metal tools.  The rains came in season, and the crops grew.  But the Maya believed that the rains came because they paid their taxes to their élites, and because their priests sacrificed virgins to the rain gods.  Then around 750 AD, the rains failed.  So in a desperate attempt to propitiate the gods, they sacrificed even more virgins, until thy realised how futile it was.  Then they assassinated the élites and the priests, and despoiled the palaces and temples.
Today we smile patronisingly at the naiveté of those simple peasants who believed that sacrificing virgins could affect the climate.  Perhaps in a thousand years time, historians will look back at our early 21st century society, and smile patronisingly at the idea that we should sacrifice our economies, destroy our productive capacity, and make drastic cuts to our CO2 emissions, in the absurd belief that we could prevent perfectly natural and helpful climate cycles.

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5 Responses to A TV Review: “Man on Earth”, Ch. 4, Dec 21st

  1. Phil Burrows says:

    I watched the program and came to a slightly different conclusion. It made me optimistic that we now have enough scientific understanding to find the reasons for the changes in our climate.

    Perhaps historians will look back at our early 21st century society and wonder how climate cynics managed to distort the science of climate change, preventing society from taking the action it needed to reduce C02 emissions.

    The cost of taking action is cheap compared with the cost of ignoring the problem.

    • John Morton says:

      Yes Phil, submitting to a global dictatorship, international monitoring, mandatory LEGAL cuts in CO2 emissions and enforced population control measures are all “worth the price” to idiots like you.

  2. Will they also remember the quotes from the famous CRU e-mails where alarmist scientists discuss how they can bury the Mediaeval Warm Period?

    “The cost of taking action is cheap compared with ignoring the problem”. So says Stern, but Stern is an outlier amongst economists — most economic analyses conclude that the costs of mitigation greatly exceed any conceivable benefits, even if you accept the alarmist position. Even the British government’s first economic impact assessment on its Climate Change Bill clearly showed that costs exceeded benefits.

  3. Nick Ormond says:

    Very interesting. I need to find some background info to back up your argument with some of my friends. Please could you show me where “alarmists invite us to believe that climate change is new” because they reckon that enviromentalists have always said that climate change has always happenend as part of a natural process, but is now being added to by CO2 etc.

    I’m also getting stuck on your quote that “No such effects were noted in those previous warm periods, despite the fact that temperatures were several degrees higher than today”. while the temperatures have got up and down over thousands of years, I can’t find any info that it was warmer than today.

    Please could you help, as I can’t find the info on ‘Man on Earth’ or anywhere else


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