Posted by: Dark Defender | December 19, 2008

Massacre of Indians to blame for little ice age?

A painting from during the little ice age.

A painting from during the little ice age.

There an article in science daily in which the authors argue that “the little ice age” was caused by the Colombian exchange of diseases and subsequent die off of native Americans which led to reforestation, which decreased the amount of carbon in the air which lowered global temps.

Im not buying it.  Why? The dates don’t seem to match up right.  The little ice age is usually dated as starting during the 1300s, for example using wikipedia’s table dating the start of it:

  • 1250 for when Atlantic pack ice began to grow
  • 1300 for when warm summers stopped being dependable in Northern Europe
  • 1315 for the rains and Great Famine of 1315-1317
  • 1550 for theorized beginning of worldwide glacial expansion
  • 1650 for the first climatic minimum

So it would appear that one can date the start of the phenomenon before the start of the cause identified by the scientists.  That doesn’t really speak well of the theory. 

Also if  reforestation is the cause  why didn’t the black death which killed off a good third to a half of more heavily populated Europe’s population in the early 1300’s have a similar affect?  I suppose you could argue that it did and that’s why you are getting signs of cooling before the Colombian kill off (though curiously the authors of the study don’t make this argument and can I trade mark the term “Colombian kill off”?).

But if thats the case why does the cooling persist for centuries into the 1800s when Europe and indeed the world’s population is on an upswing and one can assume deforestation especially in the America’s is going strong again and the industrial revolution is beginning?

This study just doesn’t make sense to me, im going to stick with the traditional explanations of the little ice age decreased solar output and increased volcanic activity.  Those seem much more likely explanations. 

I think people find it comforting to lay the blame for major events outside of our control at humanities feet, and that’s whats going on here.  If we accept that it was just nature there is nothing to be done, we are just at nature’s mercy.   Not very pleasant thoughts, it leaves us weak and dependent on nature.  Its much more comforting to think that we have control over nature and if only we behaved more ethically nature wouldn’t have turned on us and all would be well.

World population graph

World population graph. Note increase of population between 1500-1800. Are we to assume that reforestation caused by the temporarily reduced population of the Americas was not offset by deforestation in the rest of the world by their growing populations?


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