The rise of civilization

Increasing evidence points to recent global warming as a consequence of human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation coinciding with rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. But scientists also know there are natural variations at work on the environment at the same time. One of the biggest questions climatologists must face is how to tell the difference between natural change and human impact as it occurs now and into the future. Experts point out that future change will require people to adapt and make educated decisions. They also suggest that in order to fully comprehend and predict future change, it is important to look at the experiences of past times and learn from them. By looking at the rise and fall of ancient civilizations, one may assess present vulnerability to future environmental change.

According to Gerald Haug, a professor of geology at the University of Potsdam, Germany, in an interview with National Geographic News, toward the end of their collapse, the Maya faced desperate times. Their cities were overcrowded, and agricultural production was not meeting their demands. Even though the Maya had successfully dealt with shorter droughts in the past, they were not prepared for the long-term drought that finally dealt their civilization its final blow. Haug said if the Maya had been able to hold out a couple of years longer, they may have survived; but they had no way to know the drought would eventually come to an end. Other societies have survived past climate changes by changing their behaviors in response to environmental change. Three centuries after the Mayan empire collapsed, the Chumash people on California's Channel Islands survived severe droughts by transforming themselves from hunter-gatherers into traders.

Haug says the Maya collapse can serve as a good lesson today. When droughts happen, they cause several hardships: crop failures, malnutrition, disease, competition for resources, warfare, and even sociopoliti cal upheaval. But Haug stresses that "We can handle climate change if we're prepared for it. The Maya were not prepared."

The beginnings of civilization can be traced back to the development of the land through the conversion of wild lands into agricultural lands. Agriculture originated around 10,000 b.c.e. in at least five different places. Turkey and the Middle East began cultivating wheat, barley, peas, and lentils. People in these areas also raised sheep and goats. In Southeast Asia, people began to grow vegetables and raise pigs and chickens. In South America, agricultural development began independently in both the Andes and the Amazon regions. Northern China and West Africa also began their own development of agriculture.

Climate played a large part in making these farming areas productive. Temperature, amount of rainfall, and dependability of seasons all contributed to the success of supporting populations. Experts believe that the origin of agriculture and the spread of civilization are phenomena of a warm climate.

When historians look at past civilizations worldwide, they find a common thread linking them repeatedly. All of these great cultures assumed that good weather was guaranteed and would always continue—the climate would never change. Unfortunately, the recurrent pattern of history has been for civilizations to originate, grow and flourish while the climate is favorable; and then fall when the climate turns bad. This sense of false security has doomed civilizations time and again. And although other factors always play a part in determining the success or failure of a society, such as internal conflict, war, trade and economics, and other social factors, the droughts, famines, and pestilences caused by climate change take a predominant role in the survival of most societies, such as the Maya, Anasazi, Mesopotamia, Akkadian empire, Vikings, and others. According to Harvey Weiss, professor of archaeology at Yale University, "The historical lesson . . . is that those societies had no knowledge of what was happening to them and certainly no historic knowledge of what could happen to them, where we have both."

0 0

Post a comment