Global warming has been noticeable for decades. Unlike previous warmer periods, this trend is rapid and worldwide development. Interdisciplinary research tries to identify the causes of this process and develop scenarios to slow it down.
This situation is an opportunity to look to the past to put the current processes in a historical context.
The data collected in this exhibition goes back to prehistory. Based on archaeological finds and numerous historical and scientific documents, it highlights the climatic history of Zurich from the Neolithic to the present.
Special attention is paid to the work of the Zuricher universal scholar Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (1672-1733). He was the first Swiss scholar to introduce a scientific approach and worked on a European network for weather observation and prediction.
Jakob Scheuchzer, foto from the Physica Sacra (Band I 1731). Photo: Wikipedia
He studied natural philosophy, obtained a doctorate in medicine, specialised in botany and geology, and eventually became a general practitioner. He corresponded for years with other scientists and published dozens of books and writings. Over 6 000 letters have survived and are kept in Zurich
He lifted Swiss and European research to a new level by systematically measuring water levels, drought, sunshine hours, air pressure, temperature, and precipitation, among others. He created the first data sets, which he exchanged with colleagues abroad.
The exhibition places the results of this scholar in the perspective of the present, thus painting a scientific picture and understanding of temperature changes from the Stone Age to the present.
Particular attention is paid to the Little Ice Age (1350-1840). Although this phenomenon was only scientifically recognised around 1730, it already attracted attention in Scheuchzer’s lifetime. Indeed, he observed that flora and fauna changed due to the cooling, but nature and humans adapted, as polar bears do today at the North Pole.
Even then, there were long periods of great drought or too much rain, the Rhine and Limmat dried out, and there were floods or tornadoes that split cathedrals in half (the Dom in Utrecht, for example).
The exhibition does not put global warming into perspective. It is moving faster than ever, mainly due to emissions, industrialisation and overpopulation and the subsequent exhaustion of the earth. However, it shows how societies reacted and adapted then, often with irrational measures and reactions, such as witch burnings or pogroms. In that respect, conspiracy theories or denials are relatively harmless phenomena.
And who knows, a proper analysis of cause and effect may not be possible until a hundred years from now. In any case, the Gletschergarten in Lucerne is an excellent addition to this well-documented and topical presentation.