A beautiful spring in the 'Burgh
By Ralph R. Reiland
Published: Sunday, May 5, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
If Time magazine was right in its cover story on June 24, 1974, “Another Ice Age?”, we might be making snowmen in our yards this week and doing ice sculptures on the porch for Mother's Day.
Worse, we might be packing up all our stuff and heading off to Miami to get out of the path of approaching glaciers.
Instead, five pear trees were bursting into bloom in our yard two weeks ago, along with a Southern Magnolia tree with pink blooms, an old pink-flowering plum tree that's winning its battle against borers, a Tulip Magnolia tree with purple blossoms, a North Star cherry with white blooms (for pies), a Montmorency cherry with white flowers, a yellow forsythia, a pink dogwood, purple and white crocuses, and a circle of coral, pink, red and white tulips around the birdbath.
None of that was supposed to happen. “However widely the weather varies from place to place and time to time, when meteorologists take an average of temperatures around the globe, they find that the atmosphere has been growing gradually cooler for the past three decades,” warned Time. “The trend shows no indication of reversing. Climatological Cassandras are becoming increasingly apprehensive, for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age.”
Another “ice age” — like when what is now Manhattan was buried under 4,000 feet of ice.
A report from New York City's Parks & Recreation Department says the Wisconsin Ice Sheet made its way to Long Island “about 70,000 years ago” and then retreated during “a period of warmth,” even with no Cadillac Escalades on the streets.
Then the glacier's retreat reversed itself “about 45,000 years ago,” reports Parks & Recreation, and the ice again began a southern journey, reaching New York City “about 20,500 years ago.”
And then, “18,000 years ago” during another “period of warmth,” the ice began a second retreat out of Manhattan, even with no one in the city spraying aerosol deodorant around to warm things up.
So, like a mood disorder, things run hot and cold.
Still, Time's 1974 doomsday story said a disaster was relatively right around the corner, not 45,000 years away. “Telltale signs are everywhere — from the unexpected persistence and thickness of pack ice in the waters around Iceland to the southward migration of a warmth-loving creature like the armadillo from the Midwest.”
If a massive migration of armadillos wasn't scary enough, Time added an even more timely disaster scenario. “But there is a peril more immediate than the prospect of another ice age” — mass starvation. “Even if temperature and rainfall patterns change only slightly in the near future in one or more of the three major grain-exporting countries — the U.S., Canada and Australia — global food stores would be sharply reduced.”
Time quoted University of Toronto climatologist Kenneth Hare, a former president of the Royal Meteorological Society, who said, “I don't believe that the world's present population is sustainable if there are more than three years like 1972 in a row.”
Well, we're four decades past Time's grim forecast, and there are 3 billion more people on the planet, food production has outstripped population growth, and the snowball bush and red bud trees in our yard are in full bloom while the orchid rhododendron blossoms and lilacs are ready to pop.
Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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