As part of its Terra-X series, ZDF German television presented a two-part documentary on January 11 and 18 on climate and human history. Rather than pushing senseless alarmism, the ZDF series did an excellent job looking at the powerful natural factors that drive climate, and how they can do so abruptly.
Hat-tip: Die kalte Sonne.
In Part 1 “Climate makes history“, the documentary looks at how abrupt climate changes indeed occurred in the past and how they had profound impacts on the development of our civilization, thus dumping cold water on the naïve notion that climate used to be more or less steady before humans began industrialization. Part 1 looks at the period of the last ice age and through the events leading up to the Roman Empire 2000 years ago.
Part 1 begins by telling us that extreme cold, heat and prolonged droughts are nothing new and that life comes and goes with the sudden changes in climate. More than once did very early man face extinction, “especially during the last ice age,” says the documentary. It wasn’t until the world’s climate warmed up during the Holocene that the human species truly prospered.
At the 3.30 mark we see a planet deep into an ice age, with northern Europe covered in ice and sea level over 100 meters below today’s levels. The species best suited to take the cold during this period was the meat-eating Neanderthal.
At the 6:20 mark the documentary points out that the climate changes dramatically, and that the main driver of the ice ages is the sun, principally the Milankovitch cycles. But also the ocean currents play an important.
At the 8:00 mark the documentary explains how the history of the climate could be reconstructed from sediment cores. These cores, the documentary shows, tells us that there were extreme temperature changes some 60,000 years ago. According to Prof. Frank Sirocko of the University of Mainz at the 9:40 mark:
We see that there were very rapid changes in climate. The warm phases and the cold phases changed abruptly, and in just 10 years, it jumps here.”
At the 10:22 mark Sirocko continues:
At this time the Neanderthals lived in a forest type vegetation. And in 10 years they found themselves in the middle of open steppes and the wild animals they were accustomed to hunting were no longer there. Such extreme climate changes in just 10 years were a real challenge for their hunting-oriented society.”
As the Neanderthals migrated, they soon clashed with homo sapiens, who eventually emerged victorious with the last Neanderthal disappearing 24,000 years ago.
Some 17,000 years ago, the earth’s position relative to the sun led to a thawing, with warm and moist conditions taking hold, allowing civilization to eventually prosper, especially though the development of agriculture, which allowed humans to specialize. Ten thousand years ago the city of Jericho was founded (18:45).
But at about this time, a major catastrophic event was developing in North America. A huge sea on the continent created by melting ice sheets broke through a barrier of ice and flowed like a tidal wave into the Atlantic at about 6200 BC (19:35)…(see graphic at 20:05 mark). This event disrupted the North Atlantic current and caused yet again another major climate disruption. Europe plunged into any icy phase and the Middle East cooled and entered a protracted period of drought – causing Middle Eastern and North African societies to collapse and unleashing a wave of “climate refugees” to Europe and Asia.
At the 22:00 mark, ZDF makes the misleading claim that sea level rose by 120 meters as a result of this event, when in fact most of that rise had already taken place from about 18,000 BC to 8,000 BC, and not all at once around 6200 BC. Moreover Noah’s Ark was built because of rains lasting “40 days and 40 nights”, and not because of the sudden sea level rise. At the 23:30 mark the documentary shows the uncovering of ancient cities that today are located underwater.
At the 24.30 mark we see that at about 6000 BC the Sahara was green and human life flourished, as evidenced by paintings uncovered by archeologists. The Sahara, the documentary says, was a savannah rich with wildlife. At the 26:45 mark British scientist Mark Maslin tells that they found archeological finds throughout the Sahara indicating a green, life-rich Sahara.
All of that came to an end, however, because of “sudden” natural climate change about 7000 years ago – caused by a tilting back of the earth, the documentary says. At the 28:00 mark archeologists studying human remains dated the green Sahara downfall at 3500 BC. Drought and expanding deserts were not restricted to the Sahara, but they also expanded across the globe, the documentary tells us at the 28:40 mark (see yellow areas on the graphic at the 28:57 mark)…The documentary says it was “caused by a slight shift in the earth’s axis”. As a result once again history witnessed huge exoduses of “climate refugees”, especially to the Nile River region, where the technology of irrigation was eventually developed (30:30) and the great Egyptian civilization was born. Not only Egypt prospered during the Bronze Age (3000 – 2000 BC), but so did many other civilizations (33:40 mark).
By now the global warming skeptic viewer begins to sense where the ZDF is leading: “Minor changes can have huge impacts”.
So prosperous were the warm times of the Bronze Age that many societies worshipped the sun (34:45).
But the prosperity of the Bronze Age also crashed at about 1200 BC (35:25) as marauding armies pillaged and plundered wave after wave. What was the cause of the Bronze Age collapse and all the war? At the 36:15 mark the documentary looks at some scientific theories, showing that it may have all been sparked by a climate change. Clues are found in caves in Turkey (37:00). German researcher Dominik Fleitmann examines stalactites for clues telling us about the climate of the past, at the time of the Bronze Age.
Indeed an examination of a stalagmite shows that the Bronze Age coincided with a period of severe drought at 1200 BC. At this time the stalactite shows a significant reduced growth rate due to a lack of water (38:45). The documentary concludes:
That means that at 1200 BC, there was no longer any heavy precipitation in the Mediterranean region. A period of drought took hold over the entire region.”
Fleitmann summarizes: “All indication point out that it was dry and cold. A recipe for a disaster.” Massive climate change over to cold and dry conditions caused mass migration and destabilized the surrounding civilizations the documentary then explains.
Likely a climate anomaly was to blame. The world’s climate reached the coldest temperature since the end of the ice age. Precipitation dropped off massively.”
The cold period after the Bronze Age persisted for hundreds of years. The documentary tells how the cold eventually dissipated at about 350 BC, giving way to warm temperatures and more precipitation (41:00) and thus transforming the Middle East and North Africa into “a paradise of crops” – all culminating with the Roman Empire, which ZDF erroneously characterizes as a society where “every citizen enjoyed the same rights” when in fact half of Rome’s population were slaves.
But the ZDF got the last sentence of Part 1 right on why the Roman Empire prospered: “The climate was optimal“. It was warm – even warmer than today.
Overall Part 1 of this ZDF documentary is outstanding and should be presented in English. A rare hats off to the German ZDF television for this effort.
I’ll write something up about Part 2 tomorrow, which I surmise will be about the last 2000 years until today. We’ll see if Mann’s hockey stick gets confirmed or not.