New research by Professor Gwen Robbins Schug at UNC Greensboro traces the impact of rapid climate change events on humans in the last 5,000 years and also offers lessons for policymakers today. The meta-analysis of approximately a decade’s worth of bioarchaeology information was released today as a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences perspective article by a group of twenty five writers representing twenty one universities.
“bioarchaeologists who look at human remains to understand past populations have started concentrating on the impact of climate change events on past societies in recent years,” said Robbins Schug, a research associate at UC Berkeley. “We have identified proof that environmental migration, competition, violence and societal breakdown aren’t inevitable in the face of rapid climate change, in spite of popular misconceptions,” it said.
Schug and her associates examined human skeleton information as well as results from thirty seven bioarchaeology studies of populations living from 5,000 years ago to 400 years ago. Societies represented extended around the world, coming from present-day America, Argentina, Chile, China, Ecuador, England, India, Japan, Niger, Pakistan, Peru, Vietnam and Thailand.
They found that climate change was most destructive for hierarchical, urbanized societies when they were unable to adapt to environmental challenges. “Increased reliance on agriculture can be a problem,” Robbins Schug states. “Small, interconnected rural communities with high utilization of local resources and various dietary energy sources from herding, hunting, small-scale farming, fishing and collecting were more resilient,” it concluded.
Researchers discovered that urban communities with high levels of economic inequality were at greatest risk for infectious disease as well as violence when they had been pushed by climate change events. Diseases and violence spread, Schug said. “If you wish to safeguard a culture, substantial parts of the population can’t be left vulnerable,” he said. It’s a zero sum sport. “
The scientists said their current and future findings can help policymakers set priorities that reduce pandemic diseases, poverty, hunger and violence, as the earth warms.
Profitable strategies will support rural livelihoods, encourage diverse practices for obtaining food along with other resources, promote equitable distribution, retain our capacity to mobilize when circumstances need and promote mutually advantageous associations amongst organizations as well as species, Schug said.