Why do people live in cold climates? How did that happen? It seems counter intuitive to survival.
This is not a surprising question from someone going through a Canadian winter. You probably had difficulty emailing us, wearing those mittens and all!
How did it happen?
Well, it depends on when you’re asking this how. Are you asking about the Vikings? The Pilgrims that came to North America? Or are you asking about people of the Dorset culture who were living in Arctic areas as far back as 500BC? If you want to know why and how they got there, we’ll need to find Michael J. Fox and a time machine. While there are archeological relics and such from that time period, there are no written notes that read, “Holy crow it’s cold outside! I wish I hadn’t moved up here after evolving into a homo sapiens! What was I thinking?!”
We do, however, have insight from some of those people who came over here from England in the 1600s. William Bradford arrived at Plymouth in November 1620 after an arduous journey on the Mayflower. It was recorded in his journal, which was later published as, Of Plymouth Plantation, that indeed, 50 of the 100 settlers had died by winter’s end. According to Bradford this was due to what was referred to as ‘the great sickness’, which no doubt took a firm grip on people living in a harsh, cold environment.
Aha! That proves your point! Or are you missing the point?
Using Bradford and his cronies as an example, we should remember that they weren’t looking for a sunny vacation destination. The Pilgrims of Plymouth were looking for a place where they could freely worship God the way they wanted to. Massachusetts, though cold, was this place.
If you walk into a crowded movie theatre and the only seat left is way up the back, to the side, you still sit in it, right? Right, because you still want to see the movie. At first you feel irritated, but within a few minutes, you forget where you’re sitting — you’re too distracted by Anne Hathaway’s teeth – you’ve adapted.
Physiologically, humans don’t have the greatest tools against freezing temperatures. We shiver. That’s our thing. Our muscles spasm and that keeps us a little warmer. Luckily, we have other things going for us.
“. . . being endowed with a highly developed brain and intelligence, man has been able to create a comfortable thermal microclimate (clothing, housing, heating), thereby protecting himself, to a considerable degree, against the deleterious effects of . . . . cold climates,” says a report written for NASA by Hanna Kaciuba-Uscilkoand and John E. Greenleaf.
Human beings, like most mammals, are exceptional at adapting. In terms of Caucasians, the Pilgrims were guinea pigs in a cold-climate experiment. Sure, half of them died, but they didn’t know what they were doing. Time passed, we figured things out and now, thanks to Gore-Tex and long johns, most of us get through winter just fine.
While it’s true that living in a cold climate may be counter-intuitive to survival, our ability to acclimate counters that counter-intuition. Fun!
There’s also the crazy truth that some people actually like living in cold climates. People enjoy skiing, skating, tobogganing. Kids like building snowmen and having a reason to drink hot chocolate. And maybe there’s another, less obvious reason too.
“People live in cold climates today because they like seasonality,” says Dr. Marianne Douglas, Professor and Director of the Canadian Circumpolar Institute at the University of Alberta.
“Canadians who stick the winter out are people who like the seasons. There’s that day in late winter when you go, ‘Oh, I can smell spring coming, I can see buds on trees.’ It’s a dynamic environment,” says Douglas, “it just wakes you up.”
Lastly, Douglas points out that, while Canadians are famous for kvetching about the weather, it seems we all forget one thing: We can leave at any time. “If you think about the Inuit or the Vikings, they were all mobile, they had the capacity to move. And they chose to stay there.”
Maybe that word ‘chose’ is the ultimate answer to the question, “Why do people live in cold climates?” Well, it seems we choose to.