It’s almost silent now. Once cows mooed and hoes thunked. Children played. The lonely wind, sighing through ruins of cathedral, house, and barn, is the only sound there is.
For after about four hundred and fifty years it was all over on Greenland. It got colder, and the farmers prayed and prayed for it to warm up and for the glaciers to start melting like they once had but instead the glaciers loomed ever bigger. One evening in the 1400s the leaders called an urgent meeting. They’d have to face what was happening. If it didn’t start getting warmer by this very spring the farmers would no longer be able to grow livestock feed and the farm animals would die, no, were already dying, and church leaders and farmers, wives and children, all would starve.
They had to face reality: Either give up their homes and their livelihood and move back to Norway, and do it now, now, or the very waters around Greenland might freeze and they’d be trapped.
What, after centuries of farming, even erecting their own cathedral? After success at learning which crops and which animals they could raise on Greenland? Greenland was their beloved home, all their memories were there, and they and their forefathers had worked so hard that this just could not be! The farmers argued furiously: “You’re being negative! It’ll get warmer, you’ll see we’ll be okay.” “This year I know it’s going to be warmer, and I’ll tell you, I am ready to plant!” “I’m not going anywhere, not me. This is home! This cold spell is temporary.” “Wait and see, the glaciers will soon start melting again!”
Still, they had to admit that over recent years the glaciers really weren’t melting anymore and in fact were growing and creeping closer. The growing season seemed shorter year after year. And they remembered that boy who froze to death just two feet from his house, and how the year before the soil stayed frozen so rock-solid that they never could plant. Maybe their leaders were right? Those glaciers. How long before they buried their very farms with their creep, creep, creep? Brrr, what a thought!
These scenes are of course invented but the facts are not. We know that if there had been anything, anything, they could have done to bring about global warming they would have set to work with a fury, and that a person who wanted to stop it would have been thought insane. Warmth equals life for all but a few far-north tribes while cold means starvation and death.
Erik the Red, the fierce Viking leader, had founded the Greenland colony. His name is known to every American student for his ships were apparently the first from Europe to reach the New World. It was the late 900s when he enticed boatloads of Norwegians to the rich farmland of Greenland, and by about the year 1000 almost all the land suitable for farming had been occupied. The Norwegian population is estimated to have actually reached about 5,000, living in many small communities each with its own church, for they had converted to Christianity in about the year 1000. They’d even built a large European-style cathedral, a beautiful thing. The ruins are still there. Able to read and write, they engaged in trade with Europe and lived a normal European farming lifestyle, even copied European fashions.
Later, when global cooling had wiped them out, even the Catholic Church and the Norwegian government were dismayed, for once upon a time the Church had received a good bit of money in tithes from these successful farmers and once upon a time taxes on their crops had fattened the treasury of Norway. That’s how we know Greenland had been warm enough to farm successfully; we can see the official written records of tithes and taxes. There are also shipping records of both exports and imports. There are archeological records. There is proof that farm crops were grown and when from pollen samples taken from ice cores. In other words, there is ample evidence that the world was considerably warmer, and that this was good, not bad, in recent historical times.
But the farm families knew Greenland was getting colder and that nothing mankind could do would change that fact.
But then neither had mankind brought on the centuries of warmth between A.D. 800 and 1300 which had made it possible to farm Greenland in the first place. Lasting five hundred long years, it’s called the Medieval Warm Period. Plants, animals, and mankind thrived, even art and music and literature reached new heights in the warmth, for as life got easier men had more time to devote to the arts. The death rate declined. Fewer babies died in infancy. Crops grew like never before and famine was a thing of the past. Global warming, blessed global warming, was as though God had blessed them with a bounteous gift.
But finally cooling did recur, climate being cyclical as it always is, and lasted from about 1300 on into quite recent times, in fact all the way into the 1800s. The cooling has just recently ended then, so, naturally, with the end of that cycle, the earth is now warming up. But the cold had been so severe, and it lasted so long, it’s been named The Little Ice Age, and people who have read enough history to know how bad it was naturally hope that the attempts to end global warming will be unsuccessful.
After about four and a half centuries the native Inuit tribes again had Greenland all to themselves. The Norse had farmed it from about 986 until some time in the 1400s (or possibly about 1500, for no one knows when the last Norwegian remaining in Greenland died). This civilization existed, then, longer than the U.S. has so far.
What ended it was global cooling.
The glaciers had stopped melting but without either help or hindrance from mankind.
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History of Greenland’s Norse civilization: http://www.greenland-guide.gl/leif2000/history.htm
PubMed/National Institutes of Health:
Regarding whether cold is deadlier than heat (to quote just one of many-many sources): “Average total excess mortality during the heat waves studied was 12.1%, or 39.8 deaths/day. The average excess mortality during the cold spells was 12.8% or 46.6 deaths/day.” http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1240305
Other sources are various archeological reports, histories, etc., and also the entertaining and excellent book by Jared Diamond, Ph.D., entitled Collapse, c. 2005, pg. 211-276.