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A climatologist looks at history, or, Maunder Maximum

21 Jun 2023 | Science Notes

If you’ve watched our video “A Historian Looks at Climate Change”, in which John Robson examines historical evidence pointing to the reality of episodes like the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age, you might be wondering why climatologists don’t spend more time discussing these events. Now one has. Dr. John Maunder, President of the Commission for Climatology of the World Meteorological Organization from 1989 to 1997 and a world-renowned climatologist, so yes, he is a “climate scientist”, has published a book called Climate Change: A Realistic Perspective: The fall of the weather dice and the butterfly effect, and in it he demonstrates in no uncertain terms the reality of the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age.

Maunder has published extensive excerpts of his discussion on the blog SunLive. He begins with the observation that there was no theological reason for all the cathedrals in Europe to be built in the Middle Ages rather than at some other time. What caused the impetus was the surge in income due to the bountiful harvests during the warm centuries:

“Prior to current theories about human-induced global warming – a full 400-700 years before humans began the Industrial revolution – the Medieval warm period’s mild winters and relatively warm and even weather allowed for unprecedented crop growth, urban expansion, and the establishment of Scandinavian settlements in Greenland and North America.”

Maunder points to some of the familiar markers of the Medieval Warm Period in northern Europe.

“Throughout Europe economic activity blossomed during this period of warming. Banking, insurance, and finance developed; a money economy became well entrenched; manufacturing of textiles expanded to levels never seen before. Farmers in medieval England launched a thriving wine industry. Good wines demand warm springs free of frosts, substantial summer warmth and sunshine without too much rain, and sunny days in the autumn. The northern limit for grapes during the Middle Ages was about 500 km north of the current commercial wine areas in France and Germany.” [Emphasis added]

He then adds information proving the global nature of the warm interval.

“The medieval warm period, which started a century earlier in Asia, benefited the rest of the globe as well. From the ninth through the thirteenth centuries, farming spread into northern portions of Russia. In the Far East, Chinese and Japanese farmers migrated north into Manchuria, the Amur Valley and northern Japan. The Vikings founded colonies in Iceland and Greenland, then actually green. Scandinavian seafarers discovered ‘Vinland’ along the East Coast of North America.”

We note that Maunder is now retired, which means he is free to say what he thinks and no longer has to stick to the professional party line. Maybe as more climatologists retire we’ll actually get a real debate going. In the meantime, we’re pleased to see that the picture is the same whether it’s from a historian looking at climate change or a climatologist looking at historical change: the world was warmer a thousand years ago, long before industrial CO2 emissions began.

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