The Year without a Summer?

In 1816, average global temperatures fell. A strange fog drifted across the Northern Hemisphere. Sunlight dimmed. Crops died due to unusual amounts of dust. What caused “The Year without a Summer?”

What was the Year without a Summer?

“The Year without a Summer” was indeed a strange year. It was most apparent in the northeastern United States, Atlantic Canada, and western Europe. These regions experienced a heavy summer frost which killed off crops, summer snow, persistent fog which reduced and reddened the sunlight, icy lakes and rivers, and rapid temperature changes. In turn, these factors led to rising food prices, famine, riots, arson, looting, disease, and death.

What caused the Year without a Summer?

The Year without a Summer lasted past 1816, into 1817, and possibly into 1818 as well. What could’ve caused such an extended period of climate change?

Well, most scientists attribute the event to the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. Incidentally, Mount Tambora was the largest eruption of the last 1,300 years and one of the three largest eruptions of the last 2,000 years. Along with four other significant eruptions between 1812 and 1814, Mount Tambora kicked up huge amounts of volcanic dust into the upper atmosphere, which served to block incoming sunlight. Making matters worse, this occurred during a period of significantly reduced solar activity.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The Year without a Summer was one of the most horrible ones in recent history. But even in bad times, good things can sometimes arise. The volcanic dust in the upper atmosphere led to a period of incredible sunsets, which were immortalized in J.M.W. Turner’s paintings (including the one at the beginning of this post). The vast crop failures also caused American families to seek out better growing conditions. This led to the settling of western and central New York as well as the Upper Midwest.

Joseph Smith’s family was one of those who left New England. His move to Palmyra, NY was an essential step in his founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (it should be noted that past periods of violent climate change have often resulted in the growth of new religions). Also, large amounts of rain in Switzerland led Mary Shelley and John William Polidori to stay indoors for most of the summer. During that time, Shelley wrote Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus while Polidori wrote The Vampyre.

Still, the event must be remembered for the awe-inspiring destruction it wrought throughout the world. In many ways, it’s reminiscent of the Black Death, which may have been caused by the loading of cometary dust into the upper atmosphere. “The Year without a Summer” serves as a reminder of how much we depend on nature for our survival…and how easily it can be taken away.

What is the Report from Iron Mountain?

In 1967, Dial Press published a book called Report from Iron Mountain: On the Possibility and Desirability of Peace. It remains one of the most controversial works of all time. Who wrote the Report from Iron Mountain? What does it say? And most importantly…is it real?

What is the Report from Iron Mountain?

The Report from Iron Mountain purports to be the findings of a 15-man Special Study Group. It hints that it was commissioned in 1963 by the Department of Defense and was produced by the Hudson Institute, which is located at the base of Iron Mountain in New York. The purpose of the supposed top-secret study was “…to determine, accurately and realistically, the nature of the problems that would confront the United States if and when a condition of ‘permanent peace’ should arrive, and to draft a program for dealing with this contingency.”

The Report from Iron Mountain states that from a historical perspective, war has been the only reliable way for a government to perpetuate itself. Fear of an enemy will cause civilians to accept government intrusion into their lives. Also, war creates loyalty for political leaders. But during times of peace, people begin to turn against taxes and intrusion.

“The war system not only has been essential to the existence of nations as independent political entities, but has been equally indispensable to their stable internal political structure. Without it, no government has ever been able to obtain acquiescence in its ‘legitimacy,’ or right to rule its society. The possibility of war provides the sense of external necessity without which no government can long remain in power. The historical record reveals one instance after another where the failure of a regime to maintain the credibility of a war threat led to its dissolution, by the forces of private interest, of reactions to social injustice, or of other disintegrative elements.” ~ Report from Iron Mountain

The Report from Iron Mountain sought to find a credible substitute for war and considered several ideas such as an alien invasion. However, aliens were ultimately discarded for an “environmental-pollution model.” In passages that are eerily prescient of the current global warming debate, the Report proposes that people would be willing to accept a lower standard of living, higher taxes, and increased governmental intrusion in order to “save Mother Earth.”

Was the Report from Iron Mountain Real?

As you can imagine, the Report from Iron Mountain sent giant waves rippling throughout the world back in 1967. It became a New York Times bestseller and was translated into fifteen languages. Its authenticity quickly came under question, a debate that continues to this day.

On one hand, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it’s an authentic document. In 1967, the U.S. News and World report claimed that the report was real and that it had confirmation to that effect. In 1976, John Kenneth Galbraith (under a pseudonym) wrote in the Washington Post that he had been invited to participate in the Special Study Group.

“As I would put my personal repute behind the authenticity of this document, so would I testify to the validity of its conclusions. My reservation relates only to the wisdom of releasing it to an obviously unconditioned public.” ~ John Kenneth Galbraith

On the other hand, Leonard Lewin, who wrote the original introduction to the book, came forward in 1972 and claimed to be the author. He said that it was meant to be a satire. Supposedly, he got the idea from a New York Timesarticle that discussed how a “peace scare” led to a stock-market sell-off.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, who wrote the Report? In all likelihood, Lewin was indeed the author. In 1990, Liberty Lobby published its own edition, claiming that the study was in the public domain since it was a U.S. government document. Lewin sued for copyright infringement and received an undisclosed settlement.

The bigger question regards its authenticity. Most scholars consider it a hoax. Still, numerous groups continue to believe that the Report from Iron Mountain is genuine and that Lewin only called it a hoax on orders from the United States government. Others would say that whether its authentic or not misses the point. What really matters is that the ideas presented in the document are no longer just ideas…they are rapidly becoming a reality.

Christopher Columbus: Climate Change Villain?

Christopher Columbus, the great explorer who brought the Old and New Worlds together, has been lauded in some quarters as a hero while attacked in others as a villain. Now, climate researchers have weighed into the debate, suggesting that Columbus’s arrival in the Americas may have touched off the Little Ice Age. Was Christopher Columbus a “Climate Change Villain?”

Did Christopher Columbus cause the Little Ice Age?

The Little Ice Age was a period of global cooling “that lasted from about A.D. 1550 to about A.D. 1850 in Europe, North America, and Asia.” It affected both Hemispheres and led to colder temperatures as well as increased ice formation. The Little Ice Age was characterized by crop failures, famine, hypothermia, strange weather patterns and bread riots. How in the world could a single explorer cause all that?

Well, it’s a pretty roundabout path, according to geochemist Richard Nevle. Prior to Christopher Columbus, some 40-100 million people lived in the Americas. They periodically burned vast swathes of land in order to farm crops, leaving large charcoal deposits in their wake.

Then Christopher Columbus arrived. While his own voyages were harmless, the same cannot be said of those of his successors. Europeans quickly followed in Columbus’s path. They sailed to the New World and set about colonizing it. It’s estimated that ~90% of the indigenous population died from either war or disease during this period.

The devastation left far fewer people to care for crops. Charcoal deposits vanished and trees began to grow in formerly-cleared areas. This new flora absorbed as much as 2-17 billion metric tons of carbon-dioxide in the process. The reduced levels of this greenhouse gas left the atmosphere unable to trap as much heat as in the past. And thus, the planet cooled.

“We have a massive reforestation event that’s sequestering carbon … coincident with the European arrival.” ~ Richard Nevle, Stanford University

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

It should be noted that this reforestation theory is not a new one. And it’s not necessarily limited to the Americas either. For example, paleoclimatologist William Ruddiman has suggested in the past that the Black Death, which reduced Europe’s population from somewhere between 30-60%, reduced farming and thus, allowed for new tree growth.

In terms of evidence, Nevle and his team point to ice core samples from Antarctica. Samples corresponding to the Little Ice Age tend to have increasingly higher concentrations of carbon-13, which could be explained by the fact that tree leaves tend to absorb carbon-12. Also, the samples “suggest that levels of the greenhouse gas decreased by 6 to 10 parts per million between 1525 and the early 1600s.

“6 to 10 parts per million? Wow. That’s an extremely small change and, from what I understand, far too small to account for a significant geological event like the Little Ice Age. Plus, this data can be interpreted in other ways. For example, the oceans might’ve absorbed the carbon-dioxide, “perhaps in response to cooling induced by lower solar activity and increased aerosols due to volcanoes.”

To be fair, Nevle is on record stating that reforestation in the Americas was not the only factor that led to the Little Ice Age. But he does consider it a significant one. And the idea that changes in land-use might foster long-term climate change is an intriguing and potentially viable concept.

“…change and variability in land use by humans and the resulting alterations in surface features are major but poorly recognized drivers of long-term global climate patterns … these spatially heterogeneous land use effects may be at least as important in altering the weather as changes in climate patterns associated with greenhouse gases.” ~ Roger Pielke Sr.

Still, the fact remains that a carbon-dioxide reduction of just 6-10 parts per million is far too small to account for the resulting change in temperatures associated with the Little Ice Age. At the same time, there are plenty of other natural variables out there that seem far more likely, namely orbital cycles, reduced solar activity, increased volcanic or cometary fragment activity, inherent variability of climate, and/or a slowing of thermohaline circulation. It’s even possible that it was caused by natural forces we don’t yet understand.

Future evidence could change things. But for the moment, I think it’s safe to say that Christopher Columbus and the explorers that followed him were most likely not a major factor in bringing about the Little Ice Age.

The Doomsday Seed Vault?

Just 810 miles from the North Pole lies one of the strangest and and most secure facilities in the entire world…a global seed bank of epic proportions. Could it one day save the Earth? Or is it at the center of a sinister conspiracy to gain control of the world’s food production?

The  Svalbard Global Seed Bank Conspiracy?

In 1984, the Nordic Gene Bank entered an abandoned coal mine on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, which is located in the Arctic Svalbard archipelago. Inside the mine, they secured frozen seeds of various Nordic plants. The location was chosen due to a lack of tectonic activity in the area as well as the permafrost.

By 2006, after many years of collecting and depositing seed samples, the Seed Bank decided it needed a new location to store its growing treasure chest. This facility, called the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, opened in 2008.

This seed bank cost $9 million to construct and is located within a sandstone mountain. At the present time, no research takes place within its walls. It’s just a vault, designed to duplicate existing seed banks from around the world. That way, if a regional seed bank is ruined via natural disaster, war, or in some other manner, it can be easily replenished.

Numerous high-security technologies protect the Vault from temperature fluctuations, changes in the sea level, and even terrorist attacks. It currently holds somewhere around 1.5 million seed samples with capacity to hold an additional 3 million samples. These seeds could last within the facility for several centuries, maybe even millennia.

Why do we need a Doomsday Seed Bank?

Collecting and preserving seeds has taken on increased importance these days, at least in the eyes of government officials and scientists. Specifically, fears over things like climate change, epidemics, and nuclear war, in the view of some, “creates the need for an inaccessible ark.”

“Seed saving and its role in preserving biodiversity is of utmost importance. We are in an era called the Holocene extinction, which is notable for its decline in biodiversity.” ~ Dornith Doherty, Photographer of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Dr. Wolfgang Stuppy, a seed morphologist, agrees.

“We are essentially up against a deadline to collect the seeds of plant species before they go extinct. The current worldwide economic crisis makes it difficult to raise the funds necessary for this kind of work.” ~ Dr. Wolfgang Stuppy

The Dark Side of the Doomsday Seed Bank?

However, there is a little known dark side to this story. The Vault is financially backed by a mix of governmental organizations and large corporations and foundations such as Monsanto Corporation, Syngenta Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Gates Foundation. While these groups claim to have pure motives, others are not so sure.

“The whole research agenda of countries like India is driven by what is dictated by outside agencies with vested interests; they are using state-of-the-art laboratories and trained scientists to work toward the production and distribution of genetically modified seeds.” ~ Sunita Rao, Adjunct Fellow at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment

Many researchers believe that Monsanto and other companies plan to use the Vault to eventually extend their control over the world’s food supply. And internal squabbles within the industry seem to bear this out. By gathering seeds from around the world and implementing international treaties, these companies will be able to conduct proprietary research with the purpose of creating and producing IP-protected, genetically modified seeds for all areas on earth. As you might expect, the money behind these seeds is immense.

“Monsanto, the corporate food giant with influence in the last three presidential administrations (including the current one), owns genes that can be found in 90% of America’s soy. Wind inevitably blows the seeds from Monsanto crops to those owned by smaller farmers, after which the company claims intellectual property rights over the land and forbids farmers to save seeds – a traditional agricultural practice – and even sues farmers for merely “encouraging” the violation of these patents.” ~ Anthony Gregory, Sustainable Living, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Urban Farms

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Even putting that aside, I have to admit I’m still highly skeptical of the so-called Doomsday Seed Vault at Svalbard. If one wants to protect plants from going extinct, I can think of no worse way to do that than to turn over control of regional seed banks to a single, centralized fortress. While I understand the need for redundant facilities, Svalbard seems ill suited to the task.

A series of regional, independent banks freely trading samples with each other seems far more likely to help unique seeds survive disasters. In the end, the best way to ensure the future of the earth’s seeds is not to restrict them to one place…it’s to set them free and to spread them as far as possible.

Climate Change…Millions of Years Ago?

In 1850, scientists began recording semi-detailed, quasi-global temperature data. While earlier records exist, they are less reliable, and more localized. Of course, 161 years isn’t much data, especially considering that the earth is believed to be about four and a half billion years old. In order to get earlier temperature data, we have to turn to a field of science known as paleoclimatology.

Why is Paleoclimatology Important?

Paleoclimatology is the study of earth’s ancient climate. Since scientists often examine the past in order to better understand the present, paleoclimatology has huge ramifications on the wider climate change debate that rages today.

As mentioned earlier, fairly reliable temperature data exists back to 1850. For earlier periods, scientists rely heavily on proxy measurements. In other words, ancient temperatures are inferred via preserved physical objects. Dendroclimatology, or the study of changes in tree growth via tree rings, is one source of proxy data. Others include coral rings, ice core samples, differences in sedimentary rock levels, and borehole temperatures. Using these proxies, as well as observations recorded in ancient texts, scientists have been able to reconstruct temperature data as far back as 2,000 years for some areas in the northern hemisphere.

The field of paleoclimatology attempts to go back even further. It uses similar proxy sources as the ones mentioned above. Unfortunately, there are some limitations to this practice. Currently, the oldest ice cores are just 800,000 years old while the oldest marine sediments are only 200 million years old. Adding to the difficulty, these sediments have been influenced over time by chemical and physical changes. The biggest problem is that our confidence of proxy sources deteriorates the further back in time we go.

Despite these challenges, paleoclimatology scientists have constructed a timeline of historical temperatures on Earth going back about 500 million years. The chart above provides an overall perspective on what temperatures might have looked like over the course of that time period (please note that it uses a logarithmic scale).

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Assuming that the data is fairly accurate, the chart represents about 11% of Earth’s 4.5 billion year history. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to go back any further due to a lack of reliable proxy sources.

So, what conclusions can we draw from this paleoclimatology data? Well, for one we can see that there are about four cycles of ice ages and non ice ages, with about 140 million years separating each one. Second, temperatures have fluctuated fairly wildly throughout these cycles. Third, we are in an ice age as we speak. The Quaternary glaciation began about 2.58 million years ago. Surprised? Well, the reason it doesn’t feel more like an “an ice age” is that we are in a warmer, interglacial period.

Fears over a coming glacial period have existed for decades. Back in 1972, a group of paleoclimatology scientists suggested that “it is likely that the present-day warm epoch will terminate relatively soon if man does not intervene.” Thanks to scientific advances, most scientists no longer worry about so-called global cooling. In fact, most paleoclimatology scholars expect the current interglacial period to last another 15,000-50,000 years.

It should be noted that the present interglacial period, which encompasses the last 10,000-15,000 years, has been quite stable and warm compared to the previous one. This period of climate stability may be more important than it first appears. Some even think that it has been a decisive factor in allowing humanity to blossom into the present civilization we enjoy today.