Toward the end of the last big glaciation, some twelve thousand years ago, Earth began to warm, and quite rapidly, but then abruptly plunged back into bitter cold for a thousand years or so in an event known to science as the Younger Dryas. (The name comes from the arctic plant the dryas, which is one of the first to recolonize land after an ice sheet withdraws. There was also an Older Dryas period, but it wasn't so sharp.) At the end of this thousand-year onslaught average temperatures leapt again, by as much as seven degrees in twenty years, which doesn't sound terribly dramatic but is equivalent to exchanging the climate of Scandinavia for that of the Mediterranean in just two decades. Locally, changes have been even more dramatic. Greenland ice cores show the temperatures there changing by as much as fifteen degrees in ten years, drastically altering rainfall patterns and growing conditions. This must have been unsettling enough on a thinly populated planet. Today the consequences would be pretty well unimaginable.