Research suggests (but does not prove) that the Great Dying of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas gave rise to the Little Ice Age

A Feb. 4, 2019 Guardian article entitled “A third of Himalayan ice cap doomed, finds report: Even radical climate change action won’t save glaciers, endangering 2 billion people,” highlights the current state of affairs as it relates to climate change.

Click here for previous posts about climate change >

The Little Ice Age

When we look at climate change, we look back at what is called the Little Ice Age of some centuries ago.

A Jan. 31, 2019 BBC article, entitled “America colonisation ‘cooled Earth’s climate,’” has added to my understanding of how the Little Ice Age may (possibly) have come about.

The opening paragraphs read:

Colonisation of the Americas at the end of the 15th Century killed so many people, it disturbed Earth’s climate.

That’s the conclusion of scientists from University College London, UK.

The team says the disruption that followed European settlement led to a huge swathe of abandoned agricultural land being reclaimed by fast-growing trees and other vegetation.

This pulled down enough carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the atmosphere to eventually chill the planet.

It’s a cooling period often referred to in the history books as the “Little Ice Age” – a time when winters in Europe would see the Thames in London regularly freeze over.

“The Great Dying of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas led to the abandonment of enough cleared land that the resulting terrestrial carbon uptake had a detectable impact on both atmospheric CO₂ and global surface air temperatures,” Alexander Koch and colleagues write in their paper published in Quaternary Science Reviews.


The Quaternary Science Reviews paper of March 1, 2019, pp. 13-36 (see link in previous sentence) is entitled: “Earth system impacts of the European arrival and Great Dying in the Americas after 1492.”

Did the Spanish empire change Earth’s climate?

I recently have come across (via Twitter) a Feb. 29, 2016 article by Dagomar Degroot at entitled: “Did the Spanish Empire Change Earth’s Climate?”

An excerpt (I’ve broken the text into shorter paragraphs) reads:

Back in 2003, palaeoclimatologist William Ruddiman proposed that humans were to blame for preindustrial climate change, in a groundbreaking article that shocked the scientific community. Two years later, he thoroughly explained and defended his conclusions in book called Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate. Ruddiman argued that humanity had slowly but progressively altered Earth’s atmosphere since the widespread adoption of agriculture. Some 8,000 years ago, communities in China, Europe, and India made room for agricultural monocultures by burning away forests.

According to Ruddiman, the scale of deforestation was enough to steadily increase the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Then, from around 5,000 years ago, rice farming and, to a lesser extent, livestock cultivation slowly raised atmospheric methane concentrations. Ruddiman concluded that the cumulative effect of these anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions was to gradually increase average global temperatures, and perhaps ward off another ice age.


An additional excerpt reads:

A growing body of scholarship now provides evidence for these relationships. However, there are many questions that must be answered before we can confidently conclude that depopulation helped trigger the Grindelwald Fluctuation, let alone other episodes of climatic cooling. For instance: did the cooling effect of sixteenth-century reforestation in the Americas overwhelm the warming influence of contemporaneous deforestation in China and India? Were invasive species introduced by Europeans into the Americas incapable of preventing reforestation? Was the pace of depopulation, and in turn reforestation, really so fast and so universal that it could substantially reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations over the course of a few decades?


Anthropocene epoch

The reference to the Little Ice Age brings to mind the concept that we are living in what has been called the Anthropocene epoch, as highlighted at a March 13, 2015 CBC article entitled:  “Was 1610 the start of the Age of Man? New epoch in Earth’s history in which humans are the dominant agent of change.”

An Aug. 29, 2016 Guardian article, which focuses on 1950 as compared to 1610, is entitled: “The Anthropocene epoch: scientists declare dawn of human-influenced age: Experts say human impact on Earth so profound that Holocene must give way to epoch defined by nuclear tests, plastic pollution and domesticated chicken.”

An Aug. 1, 2018 Progress in Physical Geography article is entitled: “Three flaws in defining a formal ‘Anthropocene.’”

The article argues “that the use of an informal, flexible ‘anthropocene’ is preferable to the constraints that would be imposed by defining a formal ‘Anthropocene.’”

Winning the West with Words (2011)

As I’ve been reading Global Crisis (2017), I’ve also been searching for studies about Indigenous history. Some studies, that I’ve found so far, are listed at a previous post entitled:

History of Ontario includes Indigenous history

Among additional studies that I’ve come across is one by James Joseph Buss entitled:

Winning the West with Words: Language and Conquest in the Lower Great Lakes (2011)

A blurb for the study (I’ve broken longer paragraphs into shorter ones, for ease in online reading) reads:

Indian Removal was a process both physical and symbolic, accomplished not only at gunpoint but also through language. In the Midwest, white settlers came to speak and write of Indians in the past tense, even though they were still present.

Winning the West with Words explores the ways nineteenth-century Anglo-Americans used language, rhetoric, and narrative to claim cultural ownership of the region that comprises present-day Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

Historian James Joseph Buss borrows from literary studies, geography, and anthropology to examine images of stalwart pioneers and vanished Indians used by American settlers in portraying an empty landscape in which they established farms, towns, and “civilized” governments. He demonstrates how this now-familiar narrative came to replace a more complicated history of cooperation, adaptation, and violence between peoples of different cultures.

Buss scrutinizes a wide range of sources – travel journals, captivity narratives, treaty council ceremonies, settler petitions, artistic representations, newspaper editorials, late-nineteenth-century county histories, and public celebrations such as regional fairs and centennial pageants and parades – to show how white Americans used language, metaphor, and imagery to accomplish the symbolic removal of Native peoples from the region south of the Great Lakes.

Ultimately, he concludes that the popular image of the white yeoman pioneer was employed to support powerful narratives about westward expansion, American democracy, and unlimited national progress. Buss probes beneath this narrative of conquest to show the ways Indians, far from being passive, participated in shaping historical memory – and often used Anglo-Americans’ own words to subvert removal attempts.

By grounding his study in place rather than focusing on a single group of people, Buss goes beyond the conventional uses of history, giving readers a new understanding not just of the history of the Midwest but of the power of creation narratives.


Public relations and the language usage that power sometimes creates

I’m reminded of the power of public relations, a topic I’ve explored as a volunteer with a focus on public education.

A previous post regarding this topic is entitled:

Public relations in the United States and China

A related theme concerns the fact that, at times, power (and, indeed, the persona that seeks power) creates its own language usage, according to which up is down, in is out, and big is small – a theme that I’ve explored at previous posts including one entitled:

What is the ideal size and branding for a given city?


A Feb. 11, 2019 CBC article is entitled: “50 million deaths in the New World drove cooling in the Little Ice Age: European contact led to massive depopulation, which in turn led to climate change.”

Also of interest is a study entitled:

Nature’s Mutiny: How the Little Ice Age of the Long Seventeenth Century Transformed the West and Shaped the Present (2019)

A blurb describes the latter study as “An illuminating work of environmental history that chronicles the great climate crisis of the 1600s, which transformed the social and political fabric of Europe.”

As well, I am very highly impressed with what I have read to date of a study entitled:

The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century (2014)

A blurb reads:

Osterhammel describes a world increasingly networked by the telegraph, the steamship, and the railways. He explores the changing relationship between human beings and nature, looks at the importance of cities, explains the role slavery and its abolition played in the emergence of new nations, challenges the widely held belief that the nineteenth century witnessed the triumph of the nation-state, and much more.