A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Only a deracinated computer nerd with no sense of history could get us into a panic about 'global warming'.....

I live on a small portion of the Earth in North Kent, England, with one of the longest archaeological records in the world exhibiting continuous human occupation and industrial development. The internationally-famous skull of 'Swanscombe Man' (actually a woman), dating from 400,000 BC, was discovered in Thames gravels just four miles away, associated with working flint tools. Industry was already with us then. At Baker's Hole, some 2 miles away, there are the flint axes of 'hunter-gatherers' who inhabited the area around 180,000-200,000 BC. Other finds tell us of late-Palaeolithic and Mesolithic peoples (c.10,000 BC).

Then, from around 3,000 BC, we have the remains of a Neolithic agricultural settlement, which produced a distinctive decorated-pottery known as 'Ebbsfleet Ware'. Bronze Age and Iron Age ditches and enclosures finally give way to the remains of an important Roman religious settlement, Vagniacis, which flourished at Springhead on the local river between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD. Large burial grounds, many temples, mosaics, and a villa give testimony to the thriving economy of this Romano-British centre. Then, from Saxon times, there are the remains of a water mill, and so on, and so on. There is even a very special link with the New World, with North America, the high Algonquin princess, Pocohontas, daughter of Chief Powhatan of the Algonquin Nation, lying buried with great honour beneath my local parish church in Gravesend. And the story progresses - the site now carries the exciting, brand new and rather beautiful Channel Tunnel Rail Link to Paris and to Brussels.

Throughout this long, long, long tale, climate and sea-levels have changed over and over again, sometimes slowly, sometimes dramatically, with sub-tropical interludes, ice ages, permafrost, temperate floods, and drought. The vegetation has swung between forest and heath, open meadow, swamp land and sea, between chilly tundra, boreal forests, mixed deciduous forests, and grassland.

And, of course, the Earth never came to a crunching halt. Of course, humans have gone on, adapting and altering their lives, growing stronger, healthier, and older throughout. Today we live longer and with less hardship than any of these, our doughty ancestors.

I find it pathetic - I am ashamed - when we go into a funk over a little climate change - currently, at most, 0.7 degrees Celsius over 200 years! It is nearly obscene, with all our resources, to think that we shall not be able to adapt once again - unless, that is, we have lost our evolutionary dynamism and drive. Going back in time has never been an option, or part of the great story.

Just as Swanscombe woman could have no possible idea of the Roman wonder that was Vagniacis, neither have we about Virtualia, the city of the next 400,000 years.

Our present funk over climate is an insult to the men and women of our past.

Philip, delighted with the fascinating history of 'The Romano-British Religious Centre of Vagniacis at Springhead, Kent', just published by our excellent local historical society (2004). "A cup of wine back at the villa, Lurcius? Do you prefer it in Samian or Rhenish ware?" "Wot a snobbus!"

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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