The six great early American climate myths
Recently, in the Six Great Early American Climate Myths, Part I, I discussed three of the climate myths that the late David Ludlum, founder and longtime director/editor of Weatherwise magazine, summarized as "American Climythology." Ludlum, one of America's foremost weather historians, died in 1997. Following is a discussion of the other three myths...
The California Health Myth
The California Health Myth, one of Ludlum's favorites, apparently arose from the great attraction that California -- particularly southern California -- seemed to hold for easterners. Magazine and newspaper ads in the 1800s beckoned people to move there and if they did, they would live 10-15 years longer, they were told. The Federal Trade Commission, which might have banned such misleading ads, wasn't formed until 1914. Many people may have believed the claims, however, as the California population ballooned during this period, aided, of course, by the 1849 gold rush.
Keep reading for two more early climate myths...
The Alaskan Myth
After the Civil War, when Secretary of State William Seward advocated the purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire, Congress initially thought little of buying this "icebox in the Arctic" that was only good for Eskimos and polar bears, they thought. But Seward, who had survived an earlier assassination attempt on the night of Lincoln's assassination, was quite persuasive and eventually helped convince Congress to purchase Alaska in 1867 for $7.2 million, over $100 billion in today's dollars, by one estimate. Known as "Seward's Folly" at the time, the Alaska Purchase may be one of America's greatest land acquisitions of all, considering the importance of Alaska's vast natural resources.
But aside from its natural resources, which include oil, gold and other minerals, salmon, forests, etc., Alaska may be even more important to the United States (and Canada) in another way: security. Situated between the former Soviet Union and the rest of North America, how would the outcomes of all of the great 20th century conflicts been affected if Alaska had still been a Russian territory? What William "Billy" Mitchell, father of the U.S. Air Force, told Congress in 1935, may still apply today: "Alaska is the most important, strategic place in the world."
The Changing Climate Myth
Today, of course, hardly a day goes by when we don't hear something about the degree to which human activity is responsible for the global warming that we've experienced since the start of the industrial revolution. Therefore, it may seem surprising that in 19th century America, many people also believed, but for different reasons, that the climate was warming.
In the mid-to-late 1800s, although Ludlum documented many severely cold winters, it was clear that the "Little Ice Age," which had locked much of (at least) the northern hemisphere in its icy grip for hundreds of years, was waning. At the time, however, it was probably not widely recognized that, rather than just a milder interlude, as was thought, there was a waning cold epoch and increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide caused primarily by the start of the industrial revolution, and reduced carbon dioxide absorption caused by the deforestation needed to build homes and factories.
Instead, the prevailing theory at the time was that so much land had been cleared that solar radiation had a much greater opportunity to warm the soil, and thus the air above the soil.
Was this a credible idea? What do you think?
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