NEVERTHELESS, the Little Ice Age had a profoundly disruptive impact on human civilisation, particularly in the temperate zones of Earth’s higher latitudes and especially in Europe.
Yet while the climatic effects may have been felt more acutely in Europe, the cultural and historical consequences were global. These include, of course, European expansion into Africa and the Americas.
As I indicated earlier, the global temperature decline was only about 1° degree (2° degrees at most).
But the social, political and economic impact of the chill was magnified by the fact that Europeans had become acclimated to a prolonged stretch of very clement weather, which preceded the Little Ice Age.
This was the so-called “Medieval Warm period” or “Medieval Climatic Optimum”. By whatever name, the warm weather made possible large population (40 million to 60 million peasants) and the expansion of agriculture, such as grain and grape production, far into northern latitudes.
It was reportedly during this period, for instance, that the Vikings left Norway and colonised Greenland, the world’s largest island — and now one of the coldest inhabited land areas on the planet — and other point around the North Atlantic, including Canada.
According to the History Channel (Geo 165 Study Sheet), the Medieval Optimum ended “abruptly” in the 14th century (1300s), when the climate in Europe suddenly turned frigid.
This dramatic change marked the beginning of a 500-year period, when temperatures fluctuated but were generally cooler than today.
In an Internet publication, entitled The Little Ice Age In Europe, Scot A. Mandia observes that “Western Europe experienced a general cooling of the climate between the years 1150 and 1460 and a very cold climate between 1560 and 1850 that brought dire consequences to its peoples”. .
Every aspect of European life was affected. Between the two coldest peaks of the period, the growing season shrank by 15 to 20 per cent. This affected virtually all forms of agricultural activity adversely – resulting in drastic reductions in food supplies.
Added to this, Mandia found, were the ravages of parasites for which the climatic changes were favorable. One of these was Fusariun nivale, an organism that thrives in snow, and which devastated food crops. A fungus known as ergot blight attacked grain that was stored in cool, damp places.
During cold, wet summers, Mandia says, “whole villages would suffer convulsions, hallucinations, gangrenous rotting of extremities and even death” because of the effects of this organism — and possibly, he speculates, because the damp grain fermented just enough to produce an LSD-like chemical.
(“LSD” is a hallucinatory drug that was popular among U.S. hippies and upper class whites in the 1960s.)
The areas that were climatically suitable for growing grapes receded southward by more than 400km. This virtually eliminated Britain as a wine producer and concentrated the French wine industry in the southern part of that country.
To be continued…
By J.K Obatala
Source: TheGuardian Online