It is fashionable to remark that while early humans lived in harmony with nature, the modern man abuses it. Many believe that it is massive use of fossil fuels in the post-Industrialization era that triggered global climate change. But a new model says that climate change was triggered by the burning of forests for agriculture. Though the population was smaller, farming techniques were not optimized resulting in more land use per person for food production.
He said that early populations likely used a land-clearing method that involved burning forests, then planting crop seed among the dead stumps in the enriched soil. They would use a large plot until the yield began to decline, and then would burn off another area of forest for planting.
They would continue this form of rotation farming, ever expanding the cleared areas as their populations grew. They possibly cleared five or more times more land than they actually farmed at any given time. It was only as populations grew much larger, and less land was available for farming or for laying fallow, that societies adopted more intensive farming techniques and slowly gained more food yield from less land[Agricultural Methods Of Early Civilizations May Have Altered Global Climate]
But if you put the blame entirely on the early farmer, that would be wrong. New studies show that even the hunter-gatherer managed to affect their environment, through the use of fire, translocation of animals and altering the marine ecosystem.
Rick has also found layers of sea otter bones thousands of years old in California’s Channel Islands. The layers above just had sea urchin remains. He thinks people killed the otters because they ate too many shellfish. Since otters also prey on sea urchins, the urchin population exploded. All those urchins ate up the kelp forests, creating what Rick calls an “urchin barren.” [For Early Man, It Wasn’t Easier Being Green : NPR]
But the key to remember is that, the ancient man had no choice and most of the damage was unintentional. Also there was no one to tell them the Inconvenient Truth.
“The take-home point to some extent is that humans do things to make their life easier,” Hames says. “It was really hard to make a living back then, so you know, you took advantage of the knowledge and skills you had in order to make the environment useful to you.” [For Early Man, It Wasn’t Easier Being Green : NPR]
(Photograph by author)