Can you imagine what it would be like if scientists were discussing the deaths of millions, not in terms of moral outrage, but rather the effect on reducing Co2 emissions?
If you follow the news on global warming, you’ll have noticed an increasing trend towards studies that try and show a link between historical events and climactic changes, inevitably blaming them (somehow) on mankind in general.
Yet another one of these studies has just been released from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Laussane of Switzerland, which suggests that the little ice age can be blamed on the early American settlers:
If you read through the link and click on New Model of Man’s Role in Climate Change you will see how human's have effected climate change for over 2000 years. I've read other articles saying human's changed the climate as soon as the agricultural revolution by cutting down and burning huge amounts of forests to plant crops.
Interesting comparison to the discussion in "1491", how native Americans managed the American ecology via burning prairies and forests, and how decimation of the native Americans via disease, killing off 95% or more, and resulting in development of a "pristine state" that was really something new. Also, to consider human role in climate, there's the "Dust Bowl" - a major disaster of at least hemispheric if not global proportions.
I'd like to read that book. My brother has a copy of it and should be finished with it by now. I'll ask him to let me read it.
Information from this parallels the discussion on your map video. I'm currently rereading the book. I forgot quite a lot.
I looked up the book on wikipedia and am disappointed that Mann didn't (at least according to wikipedia) said the Indians died of disease, as though it were an accident, while in fact they were deliberately given disease to kill them. Europeans collected blankets from hospitals where people died of small pox and etcetera and gave them to the Indians with intent to kill them. Many of them had their arms cut off for not providing gold too. Also the wars that broke out between the Indian tribes may have increased after the arrival of the Europeans. There is evidence that they were running out of trees because the newer 'buildings' weren't covered with as much lime (?) stucco which needed fire to make. Does the book talk about that?
I won't disagree that there were cases of deliberate spread of disease. But this decimation of the largest # of people in human history in an epidemic, had to have occurred before the cases that you discuss. We are talking about deaths of 10s of millions of people, before the germ theory of disease was developed. It looks like, before the majority of Indians ever saw a white person, the epidemics decimated their numbers. Regardless of the reason why, the effects on the ecology would remain the same.
To be honest, I would be very surprised to learn that there even were hospitals in the 1500 and 1600s. Jenner developed smallpox vaccination in 1796, Lister published on the idea of washing hands for surgery in 1867 which was controversial at the time, and Louis Pasteur and Roberrt Koch developed the germ theory of disease in the 1870s. Before that, "most doctors believed that disease was most doctors believe diseases are caused by spontaneous generation. In fact, doctors would perform autopsies on people who died of infectious diseases and then care for living patients without washing their hands, not realizing that they were therefore transmitting the disease". I find it difficult to picture using blankets from hospitals, that were not invented yet, to spread disease using knowledge that would not become available for 300 years.
None of that is to say that there were not intentional epidemics in the 1800s. I haven't read on that, it may well be true. Also, it's not to say that the colonizers were not ruthless, racist (by modern definition), greedy, power hungry men who would not let anything get in the way of their conquest. I just don't want the idea of culpability to get in the way of the central concept that, by whatever means, and whatever moral morass there was, the deaths of 1/5 of the human population, and >90% of the native American population, resulting in the near complete loss of the Native American influence on the ecology of the Americas. That change in population is reflected in the map that you linked to.
I don't remember where I read about the intentional spreading of disease. What I recall is they collected blankets and clothes from people who died and gave them to the Indians to kill them. It was in something about after the arrival of Columbus. Are you saying that large percentages of native American's died of disease before the arrival of Europeans?
Here is one discussion about the blanket smallpox issue. "Every aspect of Churchill's tale is fabricated." I don't know how reliable this article is. It's also centuries after Columbus. Remembering that even the described episode occurred decades before doctors knew about the germ theory of disease, it seems unlikely that the episode happened. And maybe they did give blankets - not to spread disease but to comfort? I don't know, it doesn't seem likely that they would want to comfort the "enemy". Back to Columbus, why would Columbus be giving blankets away in the balmy Caribbean, and how did he know about germs when scientists didn't know yet for 300 more years? Maybe he did give away blankets, something soft to sleep on, but he plundered, not gave. None of that takes away from the genocide that occurred. It was genocide. But there was also the "oops" factor, unknown to both the initial explorers or the population that they infected, that was apocalyptic.
What the book states is that it only took limited contacts, in limited places, for infections to spread from a few individuals across the continent. During the following century, disease spread rapidly across the Americas because the population was susceptible, having never been exposed. Also some susceptibility both genetically, and culturally - they had no concept of contagion, and gathered together around the sick, instead of avoiding them - thus spreading disease. 99.99% of the people who died (arbitrary#) probably never saw a white person. Look at the modern spread of HIV. It spread like wildfire, and that took sexual or needle contact. The native American epidemic of smallpox, chicken pox, typhus, hepatitis A, and other infections do not require person-to-person contact, are spread MUCH easier and faster. The black death spread across europe like wildfire, without intentional infection. Yes, the decimation required an initial contact, but not intentional spread, and once started, was fast and unstoppable. And occurred in the 1500s, long before there was knowledge of infectious disease.
Again, I am not trying to take away culpability, and the issue here is that the loss of many 10s of millions of native Americans, and their practices - especially field burning - resulted in the reforestation seen in the video. Also, I am not a scholar, so I can't vouch for that book - someone else might debunk it tomorrow.
It looks like I'm getting the years this occurred wrong and it didn't happen until colonization of the U.S. Here's a link from the Colonial Williamsburg website that has the following:
On June 24, 1763, William Trent, a local trader, recorded in his journal that two Indian chiefs had visited the fort, urging the British to abandon the fight, but the British refused. Instead, when the Indians were ready to leave, Trent wrote: "Out of our regard for them, we gave them two Blankets and an Handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect."
It is not known who conceived the plan, but there's no doubt it met with the approval of the British military in America and may have been common practice...
This is really a different subject. I'm sorry I brought it up.
It looks like a very worthwhile read. Don't be sorry. These topics are worth discussing from multiple points of view. It's like science - we bring in evidence from various directions, and out points of view, whether they are cherished or not, are challenged and change. Im learning too.
I wonder why your last comment didn't have a reply button Sentient. I meant my remark to be a casual comment and didn't want to begin a new subject. It's worth talking about under the appropriate header. I got the book from my brother. It's not the same book you're reading 1491. This one is called 1421 The Year China Discovered America.
Steph's comment really made me realize how far off subject we were getting and it should stick with climate change.
Chris, I think that when subthreads develop, Ning stops replies after about the 4th or 5th level. Then there is no reply button. I agree with you about the subject. Thanks.
I will check out those links. I'm interested in Climate Change.