Some thoughts about climate change

Anyone who visits Dutch museums that feature paintings of Dutch Masters from earlier centuries quickly discovers that many artists depicted winter scenes, with lots of skaters and others who enjoy the snow and ice. While many winters in our country now pass with hardly any snow, and at most a few days of skating on canals and ditches, there were apparently also times with “real” winters. Those who dive a little into climate history soon discover that Europe experienced a so-called “little ice age” from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century, during which the average temperature in our region was about two degrees lower than before and after that period. However, as we also know from our current climate debates, two degrees higher or lower is enough to bring about drastic changes.

The “ice age” of a few centuries ago is called “little” because there have been much more extensive ice ages in the past. Science tells us that there were numerous ice ages in the past three million years. During two of those ice ages, the ice sheet also reached the Netherlands. The ice sheet carried with it an enormous amount of rocky material. From large boulders left behind in the eastern Netherlands, when the ice had melted again due to climate change, early inhabitants of the province of Drenthe built the so-called hunebeds, of which 52 have been preserved in this province and 2 in the province of Groningen. Around 3,000 B.C. the earliest farmers of this region used the boulders that came from Scandinavia to build their communal tombs–the so-called “hunebeds” (or: dolmens).

The “great” ice ages of several hundred thousand years ago, which left behind the material for the dolmens, were thus of a completely different order than the “little ice age” of which we get a glimpse when admiring the wintery paintings of which the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum has a fine selection. See:

I will leave aside for now the fact that the “great” ice ages are difficult to fit into the time frame used by the so-called young creationists, who allow at most 10,000 years for creation and everything since. I believe that we are unable to give a date for the “the beginning” of Genesis 1:1. But a visit to the Hunebed-center in Borger in the province of Drenthe makes it clear in an attractive–and convincing way—that in the course of earth’s history there have been enormous climate changes with very far-reaching consequences for mankind.

This fact places our current climate discussion in a broader context. After all, some climate changes in the past were much more drastic than what we are experiencing today. It also places man’s influence on our climate in a different light. How big is that influence, really? Are there perhaps also—-perhaps even more important—-factors that play a role? How much influence did the early inhabitants of the earth have on the changes in the climate that took place in their time?

I am a total layman in this field, but I follow as closely as I can the news coverage of the issues of global warming, and the consequences thereof that the experts foresee. I have faith in science and it seems irresponsible to close our eyes to the ever-increasing capriciousness of nature. The big difference between the time in which we live today and the time of the Vikings and the dolmen builders and other people of days gone by is that the planet has now become much more crowded. Today we have 7.7 billion fellow human beings. A thousand years ago, the world population was estimated to be less than 300 million. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the global population grew from 1 to 7 billion people! In addition, the large number of people who have populated the world in the last few centuries have used the earth and its resources in very different ways. That makes it very plausible (at least for me) that the influence of humans on the development of our climate is now very significant. And if we begin from the proposition that humans in many respects have initiated and promoted processes that, among other things, cause accelerated global warming, we must also be open to the idea that we, with more than seven billion others, can jointly do something to counteract these harmful processes. This happens partly through political will–national and international–but also through individual action. How much it helps we don’t know, but doing nothing is not an option for those who consider themselves stewards of the earth. And that is certainly the case for people who live in a country where the majority of the population lives below sea level.