How Global Warming Made Civilization Possible

Civilization had more than a mere jump-start—warming was critical

Global Warming Made Civilization Possible: Temple of Apollo
Temple of Apollo, one of many symbols of early civilization made possible by global warming. Photo: Napoleon Vier from NL (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Civilization? Imagine that. Global warming made civilization possible, so it isn’t the bad guy, after all. If you don’t see the simple truth in this, hold on; it will become clear, shortly.

This fact of global warming automatically gets carbon dioxide off the hook. Even though CO2 doesn’t give us much in the way of beneficial global warming, it is helping to green the Earth—something the greens should be applauding, but aren’t.

But how did global warming make civilization possible? To understand this, we need to look at what conditions were like before the Holocene interglacial started.

Civilization—A Global Warming history lesson

Some call that period right before the Holocene, the most recent Ice Age, but there’s some confusion of terms, here. One definition of Ice Age tells us that both poles have to have permanent glaciation throughout the year. And that’s what we’ve had for 2.6 million years—right up to the present.

When scientists were still making the early discoveries about prehistory, they defined Ice Age as the Pleistocene Epoch, and the current period as the Holocene Epoch. The Holocene is an interglacial period—between massive glaciations. Ironically, the Pleistocene has had nearly two dozen interglacials and the Holocene is merely the latest one. So, in a very real sense, the Pleistocene never ended. We’re still in the same, 2.6-million-year Ice Age. What ended 12,000 years ago was the most recent glacial period of the current Ice Age. Only when the ice completely melts from at least one of the poles for at least part of the year will the Ice Age finally be over.

A glacial period merely means more ice, more cold closer to the equator, more and stronger storms, cooler oceans, less evaporation, scarce rain, larger deserts, more droughts, more dust, less food, and smaller populations.

Because rain was scarce, agriculture was not so easy to start. Even with irrigation, you need rain somewhere to keep the rivers flowing, otherwise irrigation becomes impossible. Cold oceans are brutally selfish. They don’t give up their water easily.

Global Warming Made Civilization Possible: Greenland
Imagine this cold and dreary climate being common during summers in New York or London. Photo of 02 Greenland, Franz Josef Fjord, by Jerzystrzelecki (CC BY-SA 3.0).

For about 95,000 years, ever since the Eemian interglacial ended, Earth was gripped in a deadly, Frozen Climate.

Then, about 20,000 years ago, things started warming up. That was nice, but about 13,000 years ago, all that beautiful warming suddenly stopped. This was the beginning of a 1,300-year return to Frozen Climate called the Younger Dryas or “Big Freeze.”

Within 50 years, climate had reverted back to its evil ways—selfishly holding onto its water, kicking up dust and generally freezing everyone in the mid-latitudes half to death.

The Younger Dryas seems to have started because several million cubic kilometers of cold, fresh water was suddenly dumped into the North Atlantic, shutting off the thermohaline (temperature-salt) circulation, including the Gulf Stream which had helped to warm up the world.

There is little danger of such a thing happening today.

First of all, the Greenland ice sheet is far smaller than the Laurentide ice sheet which covered North America about 10,900 BC, when the Younger Dryas started. The North American (Laurentide) included an estimated 18 million cubic kilometers of ice and cold, fresh water. Greenland has only an estimated 3 million cubic kilometers (about one tenth that of Antarctica, and one sixth that of the Laurentide).

Second, there is no place on Greenland for the catchment of a million cubic kilometers of meltwater. Melt from Greenland continues to flow directly into the Atlantic at a relatively slow trickle with little chance of any build-up like the prehistoric formation of the colossal Lake Agassiz.

Then, about 9620 BC—roughly the same date Plato gave for the tectonic collapse of his mythical Atlantis—something stirred the Atlantic sufficiently to restore the thermohaline circulation. Within 50 years, the warming was back on track.

The effects of Global Warming which made civilization possible

A large portion of Earth was covered with desert landscape, because rain was scarce. Global warming made oceans warmer, though this took its sweet time. With ice water draining off of the continents, oceans stayed cool for thousands of years. But finally, when a large percentage of the ice had been melted, oceans started to warm. With that warming came evaporation of water vapor. This made it possible for more clouds and more rain.

In fact, during the far warmer Holocene Optimum, the Sahara was green. And this wasn’t merely a local phenomenon—the Holocene Optimum was global, with evidence found not only in Greenland, but also Antarctica, South America, New Zealand, Australia and the southwest Pacific Ocean basin.

Colder climates see far more numerous and more dangerous storms. Why? Well, think for a moment about how wind ever blows in the first place. Hot air rises; cold air descends. These two actions create high and low pressure regions and wind blows from the cold to the hot, near the ground, and vice versa higher up.

Fewer violent storms allowed humans to establish infrastructure. More rain allowed humans to consider planting crops and settling in one location, rather than remaining nomadic.

The persistence of warming gave people a chance to consolidate responsibilities and to specialize. While some took care of growing food, others developed writing, experimented with building techniques and investigated nature itself. This was how civilization was born.

Could conditions be reversed if the Holocene were to end?

If Global Warming can make civilization possible, could global cooling make civilization impossible?

A recent talk at the Council on Foreign Relations, given by CIA Director John O. Brennan, included a discussion of techniques for cooling down the planet by filling the skies with reflective material, like what happens when a volcano erupts. I couldn’t believe my ears.

Was the CIA director incredibly stupid, misinformed, or merely psychopathic. Volcanic cloud dimming has been anything but good.

The year without summer—1816—is a good example of crop failures caused by global cooling as a result of volcanic debris. In 1815, Mount Tambora exploded and continued to erupt for many hours. It is estimated to have ejected some 41 cubic kilometers of pulverized rock into the atmosphere, weighing 10 billion metric tons. Before the eruption, Tambora measured 4,300 meters in height (14,100 feet). Afterward, it stood only 2,851 meters tall (9,354 feet).

This event in the early years of the United States resulted in massive food shortages throughout the Northern Hemisphere. From those areas hardest hit, people moved to find better conditions. And the CIA director wants more of this? How psychopathic can you get?

Global Warming Made Civilization Possible: Chart of Holocene temperatures
Temperature of the last 10,300 years from Greenland ice core proxies. This is the period in which civilization was born, made possible by global warming. Length and color of vertical bars indicate temperature. Data based on the work of Alley (2000). Graph copyright Rod Martin, Jr. Click on the image to view full-size.

According to climate scientist, W.S. Broecker (1998), the average length of an interglacial in the current Ice Age is about 11,000 years. The Holocene is already 11,500–17,000 years old, depending on how you define the starting point of interglacials. The following graph is derived from the work of Alley (2000) and shows the temperatures derived from ice core proxies in Greenland with color-coded bars. Notice how the last three warm periods are progressively cooler, and mixed with far deeper cooling between the warming periods. Could this be an indication that the Holocene is already starting to wind down?

Would civilization become impossible if the Holocene were to end?

This may seem like some kind of scare tactic, but set all emotion aside for a moment. Consider the evidence. What is a glacial period like? How would infrastructure hold up with the loss of Canada, loss of a third of the United States and the northern third of Europe? How would civilization keep running if food becomes so scarce, tens of millions are dying on a daily basis?

The warming alarmists tried to scare us with millions being forced from their homes with sea level rise. A similar problem would occur with global cooling. We have to ask: Which is the more dangerous?

With global warming, life continues, but adjustments need to be made. Species might migrate to a more compatible climate zone, but they continue to survive. With global cooling, food becomes scarce for both humans and animals, especially on land.

Global Warming Made Civilization Possible: Blizzard in summer during next glacial period.
Blizzard in Kansas City. Imagine this during the summer when the next glacial period starts. Photo: Baylor98 (CC BY-SA 4.0).

When cities like Toronto, Chicago, New York, Oslo, and Stockholm become permanently ice-bound, people will likely have to move from there to warmer climates. This is not because they can’t take the cold. The thing is, the cold will be permanent with no spring thaw and the snow getting deeper and deeper all around them.

Residents of Moscow are used to cold weather, but what if the snow stays all year long? What if the temperature never gets above –10 °C?

Even if a northern city is not blanketed with a permanent layer of snow, the surrounding land will likely receive so little precipitation, it will become a desert like Antarctica.

The biggest threat to civilization will be the loss of good farmland. Some will be buried under permanent ice. Others will be permanently desiccated by a severe lack of rain. Certainly, there will be some rain, but most of it will be in the tropics. Yes, we’ll still have tropics during an Ice Age glacial. But likely the following conditions will prevail:

  • Tropics—smaller in extent, more frequent and more violent storms, because polar cold is so much closer to equatorial heat.
  • Deserts—much larger in extent, though the cooler climate will allow those deserts to hold onto whatever wetness they occasionally get.
  • Temperate—much smaller in extent, also with more violent storms, like the Little Ice Age horrors—the Great Storm of 1703 which racked England with massive winds, and the storm which sank the Spanish Armada in 1588, not far from there.
  • Polar—becomes huge, extending across all of Canada and as much as a third of the United States. Simply because the ice cap doesn’t touch the southern two-thirds doesn’t mean the region doesn’t suffer. Nearby states will receive frequent blasts of polar cold even during the summer. Colder air and cooler, nearby oceans means the southern states will become drier. Only small pockets of temperate climate will remain squeezed by polar cold on one side and drying climate on the other.

With so many harsh changes, people will be left scrambling for the basic necessities. How many will be able to work on infrastructure upkeep when the grocery stores have remained empty for years? What will the population of Earth be like when cold has killed millions, starvation has killed billions, and wars over meager resources have killed hundreds of millions? Will humanity survive?

Global Warming Made Civilization Possible: Tornado
Climate statistics and simple understanding of science show how global warming will make civilization safer. Tornadoes like this one will become even more rare. Photo: NOAA (PD).

The benefits of more Global Warming to civilization

Almost every slander against global warming has been a lie. While it’s obviously true that warming will melt the polar ice and raise sea levels, we need to assess how disruptive that would be compared to the disruption from the next glacial period. Here are the warming alarmists’ false claims:

  • Global Warming causes ocean acidification? Wrong! Warming forces CO2 out of the oceans. This is the effect we saw on Al Gore’s graph in his “Inconvenient Lie”—the effect Gore forgot to mention. As humans pump out more CO2 (a good thing), increased warming (regrettably not caused by CO2) will help remove CO2 from the oceans. What’s the net effect? More study is needed. But we need scientists to stop fudging with the data or to stop replacing the data with models.
  • Global Warming causes more and stronger storms? Wrong, again! Modern warming demonstrates that violent storms have decreased. NOAA graph on strong tornadoes shows a 60-year downtrend. Dr. Ryan Maue’s graphs on tropical cyclones—both counts and accumulated cyclone energy (ACE)—show downtrends for several decades. And the reason is easy to understand. Wind only blows because of temperature differences (thermal potential). When you cool the planet, you move polar cold closer to equatorial heat. Like moving two blocks of refined plutonium closer together, you get a sort of critical mass of increasing energy. Violent storms become monsters of such unbelievable size and ferocity, they become the stuff of nightmares for nightmares themselves.
  • Global Warming causes more droughts? Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Droughts are a function of this complex, non-linear system we know of as climate and weather. If you pump more water vapor into the upper atmosphere, all other things being equal, you get more rain. Where that rain goes is difficult to predict. As with all non-linear, chaotic systems, the whole is globally stable, but localities remain wildly unpredictable. Still, with more water vapor throughout the entire system, deserts will likely shrink in size more than they did 12,000 years ago. And like the Holocene Optimum, the Sahara may again become a productive grassland—fertile and green.
  • Global Warming means Earth has a fever? Groan! How wrong can you get? Hollywood got this wrong in its movie, Kingsman: The Secret Service. NASA got this wrong when it made a similar statement attempting to anthropomorphize Earth. We live in an Ice Age. We’re melting ice; not boiling water or igniting kindling. When someone calls a minor thaw a “fever,” they are being less than honest.
  • Global Warming will burn up the planet? This idea is so incredibly bad, it sounds like a bad, “B” movie. How is melting ice equivalent to burning up anything? One notion that Al Gore actually got right in his “Inconvenient Lie” was that most of the warmth will go to the poles. The tropics will remain pretty much the same, temperature-wise. The temperate zones will become a little warmer and the poles a lot warmer. In the end, the poles will become temperate and deserts will be squeezed between robust temperate moisture and thriving tropical wetness.

Our oceans will keep temperatures from getting out of control. How? If things start to get too warm, more water will evaporate from the ocean surface, creating a cooling effect with which we’re all familiar. In case you’ve forgotten, lick the back of your hand and blow on it. Feel the cooling effect?

So long as we have some cosmic rays reaching Earth, we’ll have a healthy cloud formation. And that produces even more of a cooling effect—reflecting unneeded light back into space and shading portions of the planet, reducing the overall temperature.

Our oceans are our temperature regulator. Earth cannot have a fever so long as the sun remains stable, and the liquid oceans persist.

We might lose a few million square kilometers of land along the coasts, but we’ll gain several million square kilometers more from Greenland, Antarctica and the Arctic tundra becoming warmer and ice free.

In the final assessment, we need to balance the sizeable inconvenience of moving entire cities or building dikes to protect them, against the far greater danger of glacial cold, and the potential deaths of billions of humans and trillions of land animals.

The plan to save civilization

No one knows when the Holocene will end and the next glacial period will begin. We could get lucky and enjoy another 17,500 years of blissful relative warmth and set a new record for interglacial duration, or the next glacial period may already have started.

Thermophobia Book Cover

We have two viable choices:

Prepare for the eventual glacial climate, or
Pool our knowledge and resources to end the current Ice Age.

What ideas do you have for either of these two choices? Comments?

Shameless Advertising Plug—Could this help save civilization?

If you’re as passionate about protecting life on Earth and saving civilization as I am, consider buying my book, Thermophobia. Your small purchase will help me do more research, writing and video production. I love finding new and clearer ways to present the facts and the science. You can help.

This article was originally published 2015:1218 on


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