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Colonialism can be detected in the planet's air and rocks, scientists say


Colonialism has been accused of much: slavery, globalisation and the creation of an international market tobacco and sugar.

But not you add another charge to the list. New evidence suggests the conquests of imperial Europeans could have even changed the eco-balance of the Earth, reports the Observer.

In a new book by UK scientists Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin, they argue the colonising of the Americas in the 16th century began an ‘evolutionary experiment’ which may continue forever.

The Anthropocene began in the 1600s a new book claims. Pictured: A painting by Agostino Brunias in which a plantation owner in America is seen with his wife and a slave or servant

The Anthropocene began in the 1600s a new book claims. Pictured: A painting by Agostino Brunias in which a plantation owner in America is seen with his wife and a slave or servant

More than that, it marked the moment humans began to shape the world, instead of being shaped by it.

In The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene the pair propose humanity’s influence on the earth now rivals that of cataclysmic events like earthquakes and floods.

Through incessant mining and plastic production we are creating changes in the Earth’s rocks that will be evident for many years.

This new epoch has been named the Anthropocene.

Debate rages over when this period began. Was it when the first colony was founded at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607? Or with the detonation of the first atomic bombs? Some suggest it started with the mass production of plastics which now intermingle with rocks in the ocean bed.

In The Human Planet Lewis and Maslin suggest the dawn of colonialism as the advent of the Anthropocene.

They argue that 1610 was the true start.

The arrival of Europeans in the Americas triggered the Anthropocene, the book says. Pictured: Fur traders in Canada

The arrival of Europeans in the Americas triggered the Anthropocene, the book says. Pictured: Fur traders in Canada

‘The arrival of Europeans, in particular the British and Spanish, had a profound impact on central and southern America,’ Maslin told the Observer.

Settlers and soldiers carried European diseases like smallpox, measles, typhoid and the flu.

These killed as many as 50 million Americans who has no resistance to their foreign illnesses.

With the death of so many of the continents native people forests began to regrow where farmland had once been tended to.

By using carbon dioxide readings from the period they calculated that by 1610 forests had reclaimed much of the continent.

Forests are more effective at absorbing carbon dioxide than crops and therefore the reforestation of farmland would have led to a drop in carbon dioxide.

At least 50 million Americans were killed during the colonisation of the Americas. Pictured: A market in the West Indes

At least 50 million Americans were killed during the colonisation of the Americas. Pictured: A market in the West Indes

Rats and other pests carried on ships across the Atlantic had a stark effect on local species.

‘A good example is provided by the earthworm. In the US, most of the earthworms you will find there are actually European, said Maslin.

‘They are better at competing for nutrients. So they have taken over the soil in North America since Europeans brought them across the Atlantic in the 16th century. That is not something you can unpick. They are there for good.’

In turn America’s own produce changed the terrain of other continents. In just decades Europeans were eating potatoes and tomatoes while Chinese and Indian cuisine has absorbed the heat of the American pepper.

In China newly imported maize was planted in lands previously thought too dry to be farmed.

This led to more deforestation and population increase.

With the pace of technological advancement only increasing it appears the Anthropocene is here to stay.

Predicting its course is difficult, the authors admit. However, the take hope in the fact that if humans can change the environment, they are able to change it for the better.



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