Monday, 12 March 2012

...About the Little Ice Age.

I sometimes watch an old BBC series called Connections. It's hosted by James Burke (the Jay Ingram of 1970s England) and he essentially shows how one idea/concept/event leads to another, then to another, and so on. For instance, in one episode he showed how the invention of the sewing machine led to the modern day computer. It's like 20 degrees of separation with inventions. One thing I find remarkable is he often talks about things that are very important today years before anyone would think it was an issue. He warns of climate change, resource depletion, and how technology has changed our lives (the fax machine was revolutionary back then). Bear with me for the next little bit.....


In one episode he spoke of the Little Ice Age (LIA) and how it changed everything. It occured during the 1300s when temperatures dropped (not by huge amounts, but enough) around the globe. Oceans chilled and glaciers expanded. Ever wonder why Greenland is called Greenland when its covered in ice? The LIA is why. While it was never a lush garden full of pomegranates and pineapples it was much greener when it was originally named, before the glaciers made they're advance. The LIA came after the Medievel Warm Period (MWP) meaning the most of the people in northern Europe had not known what it was like to be cold or live through a winter. The LIA was most likely casued by a series of volcanic eruptions during the mid 1200s.

Of all the ice ages you're the cutest.
So, how did the LIA impact the lives of people during the 1300s and in what ways has it led to some of the things we have today? Pre-LIA most people lived in small huts and kept their fire pits outside. With the new cold weather people now had to spend more time indoors to keep warm. This led to fire places being put into rooms of homes. The chimney then allowed for fires to be lit in two different rooms, each fire using the same chute (usually the Lords and Ladies on one side, the servants on the other). You could also build more rooms on top of existing ones and still use the same chimney. Multi-level houses were born as were steps. People also found out how to use the rising hot air to turn turbines in the chimney and attached them to spits for roasting pigs. Food was cooked more evenly, and properly, and kept more of their nutrients leading to better health and longer lives. In certain Northern European areas grapes could no longer grow for wine so they turned to beer (Wine was made in parts of the UK at one time).

Where's the bear skin?
Staying indoors meant people needed to entertain themselves and an increase in reading, writing, and painting (there are a very very very few paintings depicting winter before the LIA but many after) happened. A new hobby called 'sewing' became popular now that they needed more clothes and tapestrys on the walls to keep out the cold air. Furnitute was now more functional and decorative. Population soared due to other 'hobbies' taking place. By this time glass windows became common since they kept the cold out and let light in. Glass makers needed tons of wood to keep up with the demand and the market was already under pressure due to all the new fire places. So they looked for wood elsewhere.....namely North America.

Got wood?
Wood was eventually seen as ineffiecient and they turned to coal for energy. Which led to better smelting techniques, which led to steam engines, and trains, and further exploration. Ironically all this lead to another climate disaster and you can probably figure out the rest.

And that is what I learned today.

-Malaria is Italian for 'bad air'. Doctors believeing it was an airborne sickness.
-The cuckoo clock was invented in Germany, in the Black Forest area. Some say because it was too dark to see the clock so they had to hear it instead.
-Its 'bear with me' not 'bare with me'
-OK Go is a really really good band.

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