Is climate change cyclical?

Although most media reports on climate change focus on looming disaster, I’ve read some interesting articles recently that look backward and provide some long-term perspective.

Melting glaciers are revealing ancient human artifacts as they recede.  Beneath ice thousands of years old lies a time-capsule of the once more temperate climate that was home to our ancestors.

For over twenty years now, archeologists have scrambled to study these artifacts as quickly as they emerge, before exposure to air causes them to rot.  According to an article that appeared this past August in Archaeology, a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America:

When conditions are right, it’s as simple as picking the past up off the ground.  “The ice is a time machine,” says Lars Pilö and archaeologist who works for the Oppland County council [in southern Norway].  “When you’re really lucky, the artifacts are exposed for the first time since they were lost.”

“The next fifty years will be decisive,” says another archeologist quoted in the article.  “If you don’t do it now, they will be lost.”

Because I’m not a scientist, I can’t speak to the science of climate change.  However, my background in the liberal arts provides a way of making connections that is more expansive and inclusive than the rigorous control of the scientific method.  Not a better way of making connections, and certainly not worse . . . just different.

So while it frightens me to consider projections that 90% of the world’s glaciers may disappear by 2100, it also puzzles me to read that these same glaciers have been around for a mere 6,000 years.  According to science, humans have been around more than thirty times longer.

What was human existence like in the nearly 200,000 years before those glaciers formed?  What was the planet’s geography like when so little of the earth’s water was trapped in a frozen state?  Was quality of life seriously compromised?  If our climate reverts to its previous state, will we face challenges that humans have seen before?

Important note/disclaimer: As a scholar who studies language and communication, I’m both surprised and a bit shocked by the scornful rhetoric directed at “deniers.”  Scientists are rational, and skepticism is part of any rational discussion, so I’m pretty sure the anger does not originate within that community.  As I have no desire to engage in political hate on either the sending or receiving end, please note that I make no scientific claims in this blog post.  Just asking questions about evidence I find interesting 🙂

It’s intriguing to think about the millions of years Earth has been here and the multiple cycles of warming and cooling fluctuation our planet has apparently experienced—several of which almost certainly occurred during our species’ lifetime.

Despite all of our achievement, humans remain so vulnerable, so small, and so defenseless against the relentless, irresistible forces of nature.

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. My blog is a space for playing with ideas about creativity, innovation, lifelong learning, and the nature of "insight."
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One Response to Is climate change cyclical?

  1. I have always wondered something similar!! 🙂

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