When I was 12 or 13 growing up in Cornwall Ontario, we had one of the worst winters that the area had ever seen. Just before that winter, we had one of the biggest harvests that the area had ever seen. I remember picking wild grapes and the bunches were huge. There were so many pine cones on the trees that we bushels of them and the ground was still covered. At the time of the harvest, I remember some of my Mohawk Indian friends telling me that it would be a wicked winter.
Over the years I have circled back to this bit of seemly useless knowledge to reflect on what we as humans actually know about the place where we live. The native people have their own ways to record and pass down information and although it is not the most reliable, there are times when they seem to make the right call.
As a people, we live maybe 80 – 90 years and I have read that once we are dead one or two generations, we are basically forgotten. Everything that we learned and passed on verbally is gone as well. Some of us write things down, but those books tend to collect dust on library shelves until they are deemed to have very little value and are discarded.
So how to we record things that happen once every two or three hundred years? Long cycle items fall outside our short attention spans. I recently read and highly recommend a book by Richard Muller called “Physics for future presidents”. In this book there is a chapter on the history of climate. This is a good example to illustrate my point.
We have been tracking climate data since 1850 (Oldest reliable data) and since that time the average temperature of the world has increased two degrees F. After reading the chapter it becomes very clear that politicians have been using global warming as a issue to wrap campaigns around, but there is very little evidence to suggest that this upturn is not just a cycle that we can’t see because of our short life spans. Ice cores from Greenland suggest that this indeed the case.
The advent of the internet may help use to document things with longer cycles but only if we pay attention and write down and come up with a way to easily present this information to future generations.