Hi, I'm Dave Thurlow from the Mount Washington Observatory and this is The Weather Notebook. People who live in places with 'real' winters, like me, like to joke about how cold weather builds character, but does cold also build civilizations?
According to Jonathan Haas, curator of North American anthropology at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, 'environmental adversity' does indeed encourage 'experimentation as people try to make a living in a harsh environment.' And cultural breakthroughs can be linked to the last ice age when people left Africa for Europe and eventually America, where they invented clothes, tools, and efficient new ways of hunting.
Cold weather may well have inspired -- or forced -- humankind to take a great leap forward; but let's not get carried away. It's worth recalling that some previous attempts to correlate cold with progress have led scientists to the brink of racism. Consider Ellsworth Huntington's 1924 volume CIVILIZATION AND CLIMATE which attempts to prove that Northern Europeans evolved into the most advanced race due to the influence of their bracing weather. In that same year, Seattle engineer Erwin Weber published a pamphlet claiming that cool, cloudy places like Britain, Germany, and Western Washington State produce 'energetic peoples' while those who live in sunny climes do little but laze around 'on a pile of sand.'
Huntington, Weber, and other cold chauvinists might have benefited from a winter vacation to Mexico's Teotihuacan or the pyramids of Giza. For better or worse, we humans have adapted to -- and successfully exploited - whatever climate we find ourselves in. No single type of weather holds a monopoly on progress.
Thanks to contributing writer David Laskin. The Weather Notebook is underwritten by Subaru with major support provided by the National Science Foundation.