Showing posts from October, 2007

Smoke signals from the past

Imagine a world of wildly escalating temperatures, apocalyptic flooding, devastating storms and catastrophic sea level rise. This might sound like a prediction for the future or the storyline of a new Hollywood blockbuster but it’s something quite different: it’s our past. In a day and age when we’re bombarded with worrying forecasts for future climate, it seems hard to believe that such things could come to pass. Yet almost everywhere we turn, the landscape is screaming out that the world is a capricious place. The problem is if we don’t tune in, the message is lost. We need to decipher the past and learn from it.
In some parts of the world, a few early snapshots of the weather, recorded by enthusiasts, help us. In the eighteenth century, an interest in meteorology was highly applauded. You didn’t have to be hairy and middle aged. A clean-shaven and young Thomas Jefferson kept a weather journal; from this we know it was pretty mild in Philadelphia during the Declaration of Independenc…