This
book offers a comprehensive assessment of the Little Ice Age and other
climactic swings, but, before I dwell upon that, here is a historical context. Climate,
unlike weather, is viewed as something static; nevertheless, mankind has been exposed
to climate change ever since its existence, with at least eight accounted for glacial
occurrences in 730,000 years. Our precursors adapted to the worldwide but uneven
global warming since the last great Ice Age came to an end around 10,000 years
ago, with astounding opportunism; they designed tactics to endure ruthless series
of famines, years of ceaseless rainfall and unacquainted chills; they took on cultivation
and animal husbandry, which transformed daily lives and started the world’s
first civilisations, prior to the dawn of the industrial age, from Egypt and
Mesopotamia to China in the east and the Americas in the west. However, the cost
of unexpected climate change was repeatedly enormous, in starvation, illness
and agony.

The Little Ice Age started around 1300 and lasted up to mid nineteenth century.
Hardly two hundred years ago, Europe saw a cycle of bone-chilling winters;
mountain glaciers inhabiting the Swiss Alps were the least in known history, with
bundled ice encircling Iceland for most of a year. The climactic episodes of
the Little Ice Age played more than an instrumental role in moulding the contemporary
world: these episodes can be credited for setting the critically significant
context for the currently unrivalled global warming. The Little Ice Age was not
exactly a deep freeze; it was more of a series of uneven fluctuations in brisk
episodes of climate changes, few of which stayed on for more than twenty five
years, driven by intricate and still obscured interactions between the seas and
the atmosphere. Periods of extremely frosty winters and easterly wind, followed
abruptly by years of heavy spring and early summer rains, placid winters, and recurrent
Atlantic rainstorms, or to phases of famines, gentler north-easterly winds, and
summer heat waves emerged as a result of these fluctuations.

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Since
methodical weather examination commenced only a few centuries ago, in Europe
and North America, retracing historical climate changes is exceedingly complex,
with records from India and tropical Africa arriving only recently. For now,
before systematic weather-tracking started, only ‘proxy records’ availed from thousands
of tree-ring records from the northern hemisphere and fewer from the southern
hemisphere and a growing pool of ice core temperature data obtained from Greenland,
Antarctica, the Peruvian Andes among others, supplemented by incoherent data,
is all we can rely upon. We are close to understanding disparities in yearly
summer and winter temperature throughout a chunk of the northern hemisphere in
600 years.

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