Ice ages occur when long periods of colder global temperatures lead to the creation and expansion of glaciers. The cooler temperatures of the ice age cause the snows that fall to stick around and year after year glaciers grow and expand as the snow fall collects and does not melt. There have been at least 5 significant ice ages in Earth’s history and the ice ages themselves are broken into glacial and interglacial periods defined by the glacier coverage over the planet’s surface. Glacial periods denote when glaciers cover great swathes of the land and overall temperatures are lower. Interglacial periods of ice ages are when the glacier coverage retreats and ocean levels rise and overall temperatures rise across the globe. We are actually in an interglacial period of an ice age right now as we still have the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets intact. With all the screaming about global warming, that is a fun fact I did not know. We are in an ice age…
The most recent glaciation period known simply as the Ice Age lasted for 50,000 years reaching it’s peak some 18,000 years ago before giving way to this interglacial period. So global warming has been a thing for some 18,000 years now. At the height of the recent glaciation the ice grew to more than 12,000 feet thick as ice sheets spread across the globe and sea levels plunged and global temperatures dropped.
The Neanderthal were adapted to survive in a colder climate and lived mostly in Europe and Asia. Their bodies were suited for the life they lived, they were powerfully built, short, sturdy and strong. Their increased muscularity was beneficial in generating heat. Their hunter lifestyle led to very physically active lives that required lots of calories and protein to support. The game they hunted provided all that and more. Their nasal passages were adapted to optimize breathing in cold climates as tall narrow passageways increase mucosal surface area warming the air coming in.
Survival for these folks involved contending with a harsh climate, they adapted by living in the many limestone caves that dotted Europe and Asia. They had strong family groups that cared for sick and debilitated individuals. The family groups cooperated in large hunts and shared between them the bounty. The Neanderthal lived through many glacial and interglacial periods and evidence from excavations show that they adapted to and made use of the conditions they were living in. Glaciation significantly changes the land, so diets and hunting techniques and even food sources had to be adapted to over time. These major changes take years even generations to occur so one individual lived and never noticed that things were ever any different from what they encountered. The world they inhabited just was and they found ways to survive.
Looking forward from where we are, we can theorize about the changes that will occur if global warming continues. There have been instances in the history of the planet where there were no ice caps. There has been at least one ice age that totally engulfed the globe causing the earth to be one giant snowball in space. Our planet has seen extremes in climate all along its existence. The Earth is a huge complex ecosystem that our species has spent its entire history exploiting for our benefit and survival. The idea that global warming spells the end is a stretch. It may mean the end to how we do things now, but we are a creative, adaptable, imaginative people.
Climate change will affect us, everything in our environment affects us. The end of the Neanderthal has been attributed partially to climate change. Before it broke the last glaciation caused the European continent to became a frozen tundra that shrank the herds of available food sources and an already small population couldn’t over come the food shortages. By the end of the second wave of freezing temperatures the fossil records of the Neanderthal end and Homo sapiens moved in.
Our future as a people is being shaped constantly by our environment. We are being influenced and shaped by the world we inhabit, and by the things we do and consume physically, mentally and spiritually. Our ability to choose how we interact with the world around us and what we consume gives us the tools we need to persevere, overcome and even excel as individuals and as societies. The future will be what we make it. That is our power as a people.