Global climate change, as a direct consequence of anthropogenic carbon emissions, is the most pressing environmental issue of today. We already see warming and its consequences for food production, geopolitical stability, and the health of the oceans. With this present and future reality staring us down, why dwell on the past? What can history offer, given that the scale of contemporary climate change and its environmental consequences are essentially unprecedented?
A deeper understanding of past climates can help us to understand both some of the local and regional consequences of warming and the socio-economic and cultural implications of such change. Historical research can identify climate instability in the past, as for instance, the cooling of the Little Ice Age or the 1816 “year without a summer.” Cultural responses to cooler or warmer periods can help us to understand why people are frightened by the prospect of climate change, and what kinds of behaviour arise from such fear. We can see the economic impacts of changing climates, their scope and scale; we can unravel how it is that we conceptualise climate and its broad environmental effects and how the structure of our inquiries (whether scientific or otherwise) influence our understanding. Moreover, the human experience of climate is very much a product of imagination and representation. Stories and lessons from droughts, storms, and other – often isolated – weather events, are carried forward by memory and culture and shape how we deal with anticipated and unanticipated climate changes, with direct influence upon science, representation, and politics. These key questions about human social life, must connect, in turn, to a rigorous understanding of how exactly climate changed, for how long, and with what environmental consequences.
Answers to questions about past changes in the physical environment can be found in physical and documentary records and as part of oral traditions. The latter two sources are the richest in terms of understanding both past climate change, and its social, cultural, and economic context. Physical records (lake sediments, ice cores, tree rings, etc.) offer the richest, most reliable evidence of past climates but have little to tell us about the human dimension. All are necessary to the study of Canadian climate history.
The resources available on this site are intended to facilitate and encourage the study of Canadian climate history, whether you are interested in the country as whole, or in the weather in Dauphin, Manitoba, in August, 1905, as just one example. The goal is to promote the study of climates past. The resources are wide-ranging, drawing upon materials found online and in archives, or that exist simply as data. As a place to start, you should consult our bibliographies, view some of our archived lectures or visit some of the other networks of climate historians. To find relevant archival materials or climate data for a particular time and place, you should use our reference database. You can also work with archival materials, held at the National Meteorological Library and Archives in Devon, Exeter, UK. If you have material to add, please contact Liza Piper (email@example.com), we are always looking to expand.