Thursday, November 03, 2011

Climate change and human crisis

In case you need anything further to depress you about our impending climate changes, Zhang et al. do a more fine-grained analysis of the effect of past episodes of climate catastrophe by bringing more quantitative scrutiny to try to confirm what scholars have qualitatively noted: that massive social disturbance, societal collapse, and population collapse often coincided with great climate change in America, the Middle East, China, and many other countries in preindustrial times.
Recent studies have shown strong temporal correlations between past climate changes and societal crises. However, the specific causal mechanisms underlying this relation have not been addressed. We explored quantitative responses of 14 fine-grained agro-ecological, socioeconomic, and demographic variables to climate fluctuations from A.D. 1500–1800 in Europe (a period that contained both periods of harmony and times of crisis). Results show that cooling from A.D. 1560–1660 caused successive agro-ecological, socioeconomic, and demographic catastrophes, leading to the General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century. We identified a set of causal linkages between climate change and human crisis. Using temperature data and climate-driven economic variables, we simulated the alternation of defined “golden” and “dark” ages in Europe and the Northern Hemisphere during the past millennium. Our findings indicate that climate change was the ultimate cause, and climate-driven economic downturn was the direct cause, of large-scale human crises in preindustrial Europe and the Northern Hemisphere.
Their data support the causal links shown in this figure:

Figure - Set of causal linkages from climate change to large-scale human crisis in preindustrial Europe. The terms in bold black type are sectors, and terms in red type within parentheses are variables that represent the sector. The thickness of the arrow indicates the degree of average correlation

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