What have the Romans ever done for us?

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UPDATE: WUWT reports that the climate angle was spliced in at the last minute…

“Apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?” *

Given us warmer weather, that’s what!

Just as we must get rid of the Medieval Warm Period, the inconvenient Roman Warm Period must also be dealt with, and here’s a novel way of doing it: claim that it was man-made. In a single stroke, the RWP is scrubbed from the list of “natural warmings” that the planet has experienced in recent history, helping the Cause by demonstrating that it too was anthropogenic. The ABC reports:

A period covering the heyday of both the Roman Empire and China’s Han dynasty saw a big rise in greenhouse gases, according to a new study.

The finding challenges the view that human-made climate change only began around 1800.

A record of the atmosphere trapped in Greenland’s ice found the level of heat-trapping methane rose about 2000 years ago and stayed at that higher level for about two centuries.

Methane was probably released during deforestation to clear land for farming and from the use of charcoal as fuel, for instance to smelt metal to make weapons, says lead author Celia Sapart of Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

“Per capita they were already emitting quite a lot in the Roman Empire and Han Dynasty,” she says of the findings by an international team of scientists published today in the journal Nature (link to abstract). (source)

But the per capita emissions are irrelevant in terms of climate, since it is absolute concentrations that will affect greenhouse warming. The population, as the article goes on to say, was about 300 million, barely 4% of what it it today, and without any industrialisation apart from burning charcoal. I will leave it to you to consider the likelihood of such a tiny agrarian population having a significant effect on the climate.

The ABC’s coverage is similarly disingenuous. I’m not going to pay thirty bucks for the full article in Nature (if anyone has access, I would be grateful for a PDF – Update: PDF received from a generous reader – thank you!), but eyeballing the tiny graphics published with the abstract (see above) seems to indicate that centennial scale changes in CH4 mixing ratio in the Roman period were in the order of a 20-40 parts per billion (that’s billion with a b). How the ABC can call this a “big rise in greenhouse gases” is unfortunately yet more evidence of agenda-driven journalism. It’s a tiny fraction compared with the industrial rise in CH4, which took mixing ratios to over 1800 ppb, yet the paper claims it is responsible for the significant warming that occurred around the time of the Roman empire?

However, if we could blame the RWP on the Romans, then we can subtract it from the natural warming column and add it to the AGW column. Nice try.

* Monty Python Life of Brian:



  1. Anthony Watts says:

    Simon, thanks for bringing this to attention. There’s an even bigger story behind this. It appears the Roman issue was a late addition to the paper. I’ve found original drafts and presentations that have no mention of it at all.

    A report is forthcoming on WUWT.

  2. thingadonta says:

    Next they will say the lack of volcanos in Roman times.

  3. Anthony Watts says:
  4. Let’s not under-rate The Minoan Warm Period, The Egyptian Warm Period…..


    Does it look like there is a pattern emerging gently from time?

  5. Simon;
    Now think this thing through.
    First thing that comes to mind is the engine component of the chariot – it emits methane gas on a regular basis. To add to this is the fact that their younger generation would regularly race each other in the modified chariots – some with a straight-four configuration of the chariots power plant – around the colosseum for fun and entertainment.
    There was not only the burning of charcoal to produce greenhouse gases but also the rampant pillaging and burning of the crops resulting in the release of sequestered carbon by the Roman military. This was done without any forethought of the problems it would cause for future generations.
    I can also add that a great many of their politicians (just as today) were fond of asking for the loan of ears so they may be bent. They would do this for extended periods so I have no doubt that there was a significant contribution to greenhouse gases from this quarter.

    • Streetcred says:

      Ahh, Colin ! Excellent observations ! I might also add that the behaviour of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus is, likewise reflected in that of our current feral government. There is much to be learnt from history.

  6. Rick Bradford says:

    Now, what sort of people (apart from the konsensus klimate krew) used to go in a lot for rewriting history?

    Don’t tell me, I’ll get it soon…..

  7. lol

  8. Edohiguma says:

    The Romans managed to plant wine pretty far north and in China culture and technology exploded. The MWP has its equivalent in Asia a well. Not only was wine being planted very far north in Europe, in China and Japan culture exploded again, leading to the first novel of mankind.

    Whoever wrote this study is trying to rewrite history. From my point of view as a Japanologist specialized in history these “scientists” are guilty of raping history.

    • ” leading to the first novel of mankind.”

      Sorry. Hikari Genji (great book!) was preceded by Greek and Roman novels.

  9. I don’t know, I go for those pyramid builders. They always dressed like it was always warm. What about those Israelites, I bet there was a conspiracy theory right there that no one noticed. They used to cook stuff you know, all them fires and every-fing.

  10. “it appears the Roman issue was a late addition to the paper. ”

    I can’t help but wonder if the US election was a motivation for that. Am i just being paranoid?

  11. What a total absurdity.

  12. This is as valid as “Mike’s nature trick”. lol

  13. Beate YellowBox via Facebook says:


  14. Yeahh..it was all those 4×4 Chariots that was the problem.. 😉

  15. It is worth putting the 20-40 parts per billion rise in CH4 in the Roman period into the context of CO2. CH4 is about 20 times more potent than CO2 in its greenhouse effect. So the rise in CH4 is equivalent to less than 1 ppm in CO2. With CO2 levels at around 280ppm in Roman times and taking the UNIPCCs central estimate of a doubling of CO2 leading to a 3 Celsius temperature rise, the impact is less than 0.01 Celsius.

    • Sorry Manicbeancounter, the bit about CH4 being more potent than CO2 is nonsense made up by some green person in non-peer reviewed literature apparently read by members of the IPCC. Look at the absorption spectrum of CH4. CH4 absorbs less radiant energy than CO2 (maybe one tenth of CO2) in the IR frequency range of normal earth temperatures. The effect of CH4 on atmospheric temperature is unmeasurable and can be regarded as zero.

  16. Andrew Deasy via Facebook says:

    Oh my God….

  17. …maybe it was due to the burning of all those Christians? /sarc

  18. Forf@cksakes, but these guys (warming scaremongers & fraudsters) are really desperate!

  19. What an absurd fantasy. Mayby Professor Lewandowsky can do a survey of warmist blog sites to guage the percentage of warmists who buy this crap.

  20. Old Ranga says:

    Agenda-driven journalism, Simon? That implies that someone actually did some real work putting the story together.

    Bollocks (with respect).

    This is retail journalism – just pick something off the shelves, drop it in the trolley and hand it to the checkout chick to read on air. Not wholesale journalism – where someone senses a good story, researches both the story and its background, and puts together real hard news. You know: who, what, and where followed by how and why. What first year cadets used to be trained to do.

  21. It’s one of the mysteries of history, why the Romans never had an industrial revolution. Around the time of Vespasian, Trajan and Hadrian they seemed all set to take off. Perhaps it was just that cheap slave labour discouraged technological development.

    But the fact remains, and is well known, that they didn’t – so their production of “greenhouse” gases remained low.


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