Climatic changes resulting from greenhouse gases will be superimposed on natural climatic variations. High-resolution proxy records of past climate can be used to extend our perspective on regional and hemispheric changes of climate back in time by several hundred years. Using historical, tree-ring and ice core data, we examine climatic variations during the period commonly called the 'Little Ice Age'. The coldest conditions of the last 560 years were between AD 1570 and 1730, and in the nineteenth century. Unusually warm conditions have prevailed since the 1920s, probably related to a relative absence of major explosive volcanic eruptions and higher levels of greenhouse gases.