Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Did Ancient Man Start Global Warming?

New research finds that ancient (or in this case pre-historic) man may have helped to jump start global warming. Details can be found in the CNN article Study: Global warming sparked by ancient farming methods by Shelby Lin Erdman.

Erdman wrote, "The study, published in the scientific journal Quaternary Science Reviews and reported on the University of Virginia's Web site, says over thousands of years, farmers burned down so many forests on such a large scale that huge amounts of carbon dioxide were pumped into the atmosphere. That possibly caused the Earth to warm up and forever changed the climate."

Lead study author William Ruddiman noted, "It seems like a common-sense idea that there weren't enough people around 5, 6, 7,000 years ago to have any significant impact on climate. But if you allow for the fact that those people, person by person, had something like 10 times as much of an effect or cleared 10 times as much land as people do today on average, that bumps up the effect of those earlier farmers considerably, and it does make them a factor in contributing to the rise of greenhouse gasses."

Ironically, this kick starting of global warming in pre-history times may have allowed modern civilizations to develop. Ruddiman's study also postulates that the Earth was on its way to another ice age 10,000 years ago and that ice sheets were already forming in northern latitudes when ancient man started his slashing and burning method of farming. Early global warming may have averted an ice age which allowed us to be here today. Of course, the question now is, how to do we stop global warming so we can stick around? Man may be able to survive on a warmer world but our society almost certainly would be smaller and less advanced.