How climate change shows up in ancient, Tolkien-esque myths
The Vernagtferner glacier in the portion of the Alps falling within the borders of Austria is said to be cursed. In ancient legend, it buried the cities Onanä and Dananä, whose ruins lie beneath its implacable mass of ice to this day. Which is all a way, way cooler story than the purely factual “climate change happened.”
According to David Bressan at History of Geology:
A long time ago there existed a rich city surrounded by fertile pastures where today is the glacier. Unfortunately the wealth corrupted the inhabitants and they wasted milk and bread to clean the streets. One day a beggar asked for a piece of bread, but the presumptuous inhabitants denied him this humble request. So he cursed the city, dark clouds covered the sky and heavy and persistent snow started falling in the mountains. When the sun reappeared, the city and pastures were gone, lost forever and covered by the glacier.
Also, Loki is down there probably.
Some historians have suggested that this legend derives from a period called the Little Ice Age, lasting from about 1550 to 1850, during which Europe cooled enough to see the advance of its glaciers.
Here's another fun fact: some scientists think the Little Ice Age was caused by the Black Death, which wiped out enough people to lead to a large-scale reforesting of Europe's fallow farmland, sucking enough carbon out of the atmosphere to cool the planet by about 1 degree F. Pandemics are not really an adequate future solution for addressing global warming, but maybe epic legends are a good approach for raising awareness. “The sunken city of Nüyörk” has a ring to it.
- Cursed Glaciers , History of Geology at Scientific American
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