Climate Change Has Helped Bring Down Cultures

Humanity has weathered many a climate change, from the ice age of 80,000 years ago to the droughts of the late 19th century that helped kill between 30 and 50 million people around the world via famine. But such shifts have transformed or eliminated specific human societies, including the ancient Sumerians and the Ming Dynasty in China, as highlighted in a review paper published January 30 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Epidemiologist Anthony McMichael of Australian National University surveyed how human societies fared during previous episodes of extreme weather brought on by climate shifts. The big threat is changes to food production, or as McMichael puts it “the drought-famine-starvation nexus.” And we’ve never weathered a climate change so big, so rapid and so widespread as the one we are now busily creating by burning fossil fuels, notes McMichael.

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